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Skirting the Issue: How to Draft Skirt Patterns

There’s only one remaining problem. Really, it’s not even a problem, it’s just more of a mental block.  See, a gore looks like this:

a single gore
A basic gore, or panel, made by the pattern we just drafted.

And we’re all used to seeing period pattern images that look like this:

Alcega's farthingale pattern

It’s just a couple of panels and some triangles, right? ;)
top of alcega's skirt front
Pay *very* close attention to the top of the skirt front...

It just doesn’t look like a modern gored skirt.  Our pattern piece, on the other hand, looks exactly like a piece from a modern gored skirt pattern. I mean, there’s no two ways about that, unless we….

chopping up the gore pattern
Fold it in half and chop off the sides a little below the waist.
chopping up the gore pattern
See the side gore? Hack it in two, starting a little below the tip (shown at right). We're starting our cut below the tip so that the resulting joins are staggered.
finished chopping
Flip the smaller side gore over, so the two triangles form a rectangle.

Well, you know, that does look somewhat familiar…. This is the extremely fabric-efficient way to pattern and cut a gore, especially if you’re stuck working with 22″ fabric. It works out well for fabrics that look kinda the same right side up and upside down and front to back (because the pieces get flipped round), so that you can save money making your support skirt. You wouldn’t do this on, say, a ludicrously expensive venetian silk brocade, because all those lines would really mess up the pattern and we’d be back to where we were before the waist seam, but now with an extra seam at the waist.  That would be silly.

So, I hope you’ve learned a thing or two about the how-tos and where-fores of skirt patterning, and that you’re still glad you started reading this monster.  All skirts come from one of these three basic cutting plans, and now you know how to make them all. Throughout history, the only thing that really changes is how much fabric is in the skirts, how curvy the gores are, and whether the skirt itself is suspended from the waist of the wearer or attached to the body of the gown (usually it’s the later, incidentally.) That’s it. Funny how much there is to say about something this awe-inspiringly simple, isn’t it?

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  1. Denise
    Denise October 1, 2010

    Wonderful tutorial! It explains so much to me! Such as: why the skirt on my first Irish dress, while simple to make with its rectangle skirt panel, look awful when I wore it!

  2. Denise
    Denise October 1, 2010

    Thank you! Thank you!

  3. missa
    missa October 1, 2010

    You’re welcome! I’m glad it helped. :) Check back in the next couple of days – I’m working on an ebook on the specifics of drafting gores. It will include info on controlling fullness at the waist and hem, and how to draft gores to match specific angles. (Just in case anyone is trying to reproduce that darned Alcega farthingale…)

  4. Irmgard
    Irmgard October 5, 2010

    omg, I think my brain just exploded from the brilliance of this post! (actually, it first exploded when I read that (paraphrasing) gored skirts were wasteful of fabric. um, whut? you get a LOT more bang for your buck with gores! :)

    Thank you for yet another incredibly fabulous tutorial!!!!

    (I will say, though that I think there *are* some examples of rectangular skirts later period, but that they appear to have *way* more than 2 or even 3 times the hip measurement… especially mid-16th c German dresses…)

  5. missa
    missa October 5, 2010

    Thanks, Irmgard – you’re totally right. There are regions and eras that do go back to the rectangular cut. (The Pompadour styles are my fav example. There are gored examples, but the height of the era makes amazing use of rectangle skirts and an extremely sophisticated bodice cut to make that back-that-flows-from-the-shoulders look work.) I think it’s fair to say that no one in the 1500s too advantage of the gore for a totally smooth, controlled skirt like the Spanish. The rest of Europe started to put far more fabric into the tops of their gores.
    I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! :) (ps – I think the notion that gores are wastful comes from modern cutting plans, were we waste fabric to avoid extra seaming. We forget that aesthetics have changed over time!)

  6. Anna-Carin
    Anna-Carin October 9, 2010

    Am I right in assuming that when you use the square root in calculating the waist radius, you start out with the crosscut area of the waist, as supposed to the more frequently used waist circumference? ;-)

    I’ve followed your site for some years, and I really enjoy your writing style – and being prone to perfectionism, I appreciate your healthy attitude to research vs cutting corners! Can relate to the sewing/programmer background too. I love the idea of historical style clothing, though unfortunately I can’t see a place for it in my life at the moment. I based gowns for my wedding and MSc degree ceremony on designs in Patterns of Fashion 2, and they really made me feel very special!

  7. missa
    missa October 9, 2010

    Hi, Anna – You’re correct, and I’m all wrong – I really meant to use the circumference formula instead of the area formula. Yipes! Thanks for the great catch. I’ve corrected it in the post. You know the really silly part? I have pictures of both my calculator and my notes showing that I was doing the circumference formula. (I double-checked, because the base of the neck of the bottle is a hair larger than the top, and I wanted to make sure I had a good number.) I think I just really like square roots…
    Thank you!

  8. pip
    pip September 15, 2013

    This post is just wonderful. I found your site when researching patterning and I am so glad I did! I appreciate the passion you have for the art of clothing and the evolution of fashion aesthetic. I hope your web store will be up soon so I can check out your e-books.

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