Tutorial: Patternless Full Gathered Skirt

There are some very exciting things coming up on the event roster! At the end of the month I will by putting on my foot wigs and spending a weekend in the Shire at ALEP 3.5, and immersive Lord of the Rings themed event at the Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, KY. It is actually a smaller, halfway point event between two larger, triennial ALEPs (which stands for A Long Expected Party). Along with my coworker Hannah W., I will actually be leading a workshop on Saturday about taking a commercial pattern to the next level. We’ll be teaching how to fit a mockup, and discussing seam finishes, trimming options, fabric choices, and other ways to make your costume wow.

Standing at just five feet tall and with an almost obsessive love of food, I will obviously be dressing as a hobbit. I watched the birthday party scene from Fellowship multiple times (and then the rest of the movies for good measure), and dug around through the costuming special features and put together a list of everything a stylish hobbit woman needs:

  1. a peasant blouse with half-length sleeves
  2. a vaguely 18th century sleeveless bodice which closes in back and usually has some embellishment on the center front panel (different fabric, lacing, embroidery, etc…)
  3. (optional) a shawl or other tucker worn loosely around the shoulders with ends tucked into the front of the bodice
  4. a full, gathered skirt which ends about mid-calf
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This picture is a bit grainy, but you can see that almost every hobbit woman is wearing some variation on that outfit. (The exception being the woman in blue/grey in the front who seems to have gotten an extra costume from some 18th c. set film.)

The first item I set out to create is probably the easiest: the skirt. No need for a pattern on this one, you can make it all by yourself! This skirt isn’t just for hobbits either: it’s great for many eras (especially for petticoats), and can be made any length–you could even make yourself a cute shorter skirt to wear this summer!

Fabric Choice

Start with the fabric: you want something light-to-medium weight, anything extremely heavy won’t gather as well. The hobbit ladies seem to have gone mostly for a medium-weight, so their skirts have a nice drape. Some of them (including Rosie) also have multi-layered skirts, which makes for a fun variation.

For my hobbit, I chose a linen/cotton blend from Renaissance Fabrics. They carry it in lots of colors if you’re interested! I also made myself a petticoat, which is exactly the same thing, but I put a bit of lace on it which will show beneath the skirt.

Amount of Fabric

How much fabric you need will depend on your height, the desired length of your skirt, and the desired fullness.

The easiest way to make a skirt like this is to use panels the entire width of the fabric. This means your seam allowance will be the selvedge edges, and you will not need to finish the seams.

I am 5 feet tall, with a 28″ waist (remember when measuring your waist, find the place where your torso can bend to the side without moving your hips). I used 2 pieces of 44″ wide fabric, making a total skirt circumference of 86″ after sewing. The total fullness is a little more than three times my waist measurement, and is almost as full as gathering can handle–much more and I would have had to do cartridge pleats to contain all of the volume, and that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Depending on your size and the width of your fabric, it may take three or four widths of the fabric to get to your desired fullness, but I wouldn’t try to gather any more than 4 times your waist measurement into a waistband. For the hobbit skirt, I would say 3-3.5 times your waist measurement will do it. You don’t have to be exact, as I said it’s easiest to work with multiples of the fabric width.

Example: if your waist measures 40″ I would recommend three widths of 44″ fabric or 2 widths of 54 or 60″ fabric. Any of these options would make a nice silhouette, though they don’t come out to exactly the same circumference.

To figure out the length of your skirt, have someone measure from your waist to your desired length (mid-calf, floor, knee, whatever your like. Hold the top of the measuring tape against your body and the bottom slightly away, since the skirt will stand out from your legs when worn. I would recommend measuring at the side of your body, starting at the waist and bringing the tape straight down from your hips.

My finished skirt needed to be 29″ long in order to hit at the hobbit’s preferred mid-calf length.

To know how much fabric you need, add together:

  • your finished skirt length x the number of pieces required for your desired fullness
  • a generous 6 inches for seam allowance and hem
  • an extra 12 inches to cut a waistband and placket and allow for another if one gets messed up

Divide your answer by 36 to convert to yards.

For me, this added up to 2.11 yards. I bought 2, which meant slightly less wiggle room, but easier ordering.

Make sure you read every step through to the end before beginning!

Cutting

With fabric in hand, it’s time to move on to cutting. You’ll rarely cut anything as simple as this skirt: it’s just a bunch of rectangles.

To begin, make sure that the cut edge of your fabric is straight and runs perfectly perpendicular to the selvedge (finished) edges of the fabric. Measure down the selvedge edge your desired skirt length plus six inches (for me this was 35″). Cut straight across the fabric. Do this until you have as many pieces as you will need to get your desired fullness (two for me).

From the remaining fabric, you will cut the waistband and the continuous lap placket. (The placket is the piece that will finish the slit where your skirt closes, don’t worry, I’ll explain more about that later!) If you have an odd number of skirt pieces, the placket will be unnecessary.

I wanted a 1.5″ wide waistband, which means my piece had to be twice that wide, plus 1″ for seam allowance–4″ total. Your total may be different depending on how wide you want your band to be. The length of your waistband will be your waist measurement plus 2 inches (1 for seam allowance, 1 to allow for overlap).

Cut the waistband with the short edge parallel to the selvedge edge.

Your continuous lap is slightly trickier, but not by much. It should be 2″ inches wide. To figure out its length, subtract your waist measurement from your hip measurement (make sure you measure at the widest part of your hips). I usually add  5 more inches to make sure I have plenty of room. That made my lap 2″ x 14″. Remember, if you have an odd number of skirt panels, you will not need this piece.

Construction

Step 1: Sew your skirt panels together around the selvedge edges.

You can use a 5/8″ or 1/2″ seam allowance if you like, or you can simply follow the line where the selvedge meets the main fabric. Press your seams open.   **if you have an odd number of pieces, leave an opening at the top of one of your seams 1/2 the length of your placket piece. This will be your center back

Step 2: Find your center front and center back.

You will now have a large tube of fabric. Lay your tube on a flat surface and arrange so that the seams are directly on top of one another (if you have two seams). Mark each side of the folded tube. These will be your center front and center back.

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**if you have three pieces, arrange your tube with the slit you left to one side, then mark the opposite edge

***if you have four pieces, arrange the tube with two seams lined up left of center and two lined up right of center. mark both edges just as you would with two pieces.

Step 3: Sew your continuous lap placket **if you have an odd number of pieces, you can skip this step, but you may want to neatly whip stitch the seam allowance to the skirt on either side of the center back slit to keep it in place.

Decide which mark is your center back. Lay it out on a flat surface like an ironing board and measure straight down from the mark 1/2 the length of your placket. For me this was 7 inches. Draw a line from the CB mark to this point with chalk or a water-soluble marker.

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Cut a slit down this line.

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Fold your placket in half and mark the center with chalk or a water soluble marker.

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Line up the mark on your placket with the bottom of the center back slit.

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Open the slit wide and pin the placket along one side, then the other. The skirt fabric will bunch a bit at the center, but don’t worry about it, this is totally normal.

I find it’s best to sew this part with the placket down so that you can see the slit in the skirt while you work. Start with a 1/4″ seam allowance at the top of one side. Stitch towards the bottom of the slit, gradually bringing your seam allowance down so that it is about 1/8″ when you reach the bottom of the slit. Leaving the needle in the fabric, raise the presser foot and pivot the fabric so that you can sew up the other side of the slit. Lower the foot again and stitch the other side, gradually widening your seam allowance to 1/4″.

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Begin at 1/4″ seam allowance.
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Gradually narrow the seam allowance as you stitch.
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It’s okay if the placket is a touch off at the center, but try to keep the two layers lined up as much as possible as you shrink the seam allowance down to 1/8″.
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Leave the needle in and pivot the fabric so that you can sew up the other side.
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Gradually widen your seam allowance back to 1/4″.

Press the seam allowance towards the placket. Your placket should now look like this:

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Turn the skirt so that the wrong side of the placket is facing you. Decide which side of the skirt you would like to overlap the other. On the overlapping side (for me it was the one on the left with wrong sides out) fold the placket edge in so that it touches the seam. Fold it in again to enclose the raw edges. The seam will now be at the edge.

Do this to within an inch of the bottom of the slit.

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On the other side, just fold over the edge of the placket, then fold again so that your first fold rests on the seam, encasing all raw edges.

Do this to within about an inch of the slit bottom.

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Hold the skirt as it will be when worn, with one side overlapping the other. Now that everything else is in place, you will be able to place the last few pins. You may have to fold, unfold, and adjust a few times before you get everything to lay just right, but don’t get discouraged!IMG_1828.jpg

Once everything is pinned, slip stitch the folded edge of the placket down to skirt. At the bottom of the slit, simply pass the needle from one side of the placket to the other between layers so that you can slip stitch the other side. The placket should remain folded at the bottom as you sew.

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Slip stitching down the edge that will overlap when finished.
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Passing to the other side of the placket at the bottom of the slit. Be careful as you sew this area to make sure you encase all raw edges.
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Slip stitching back up the side that will be overlapped.

From the right side of the skirt, your finished placket should look like this:

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Pat yourself on the back, the hardest part is over!

Step 4: Sew gathering stitches

Use chalk or a water-soluble marker to mark halfway between the center front and center back on each side (if you have two pieces, this will be your side seams). Starting at the center back, sew two rows of gathering stitches (this can be either a long running stitch by hand or the longest straight stitch on your machine) all the way around the top of the skirt. Begin and end your stitching just outside of the placket. Leave very long tails of thread at each end. If you are using very heavy fabric for this project, use a heavy duty thread to prevent breakages while gathering!

Step 5: Prepare your waistband

Fold your waistband in half lengthwise and sew along each short end, stopping at least 1/2″ from the open edge.

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Trim your seam allowance, making it especially small at the corner.

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Turn the waistband right side out and press along the entire length.

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Mark the center front and the sides with chalk or water soluble marker by folding the waistband in half, then folding each half into the center.

Pin the right side of the waistband to the center front, sides and center back of skirt, matching your marks. Be careful to leave the inside edge of the waistband free. I pinned mine out of the way.

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Pinning the inside of the waistband out of the way.
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Pinning the waistband to the skirt at the marks.

Pull up the gathering stitches by holding the thread ends and carefully sliding the fabric along the threads so that it bunches. Work very slowly so that your thread doesn’t break–believe me, you don’t want to get most of the way through and have to start over again! You may have to un-pin and re-pin as you do this to make gathering easier, but always make sure you line up the marks.

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Once you have your skirt gathered to fit the waistband, make sure the gathers are nice and evenly distributed, then pin securely in place.

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Sew the skirt to the waistband using a 1/2″ seam allowance. Make sure that you keep the inside of the waistband and the voluminous skirt fabric out of the way of the seam!

Trim your seam allowance to 1/4″.

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Press the seam allowance towards the waistband. Unpin the inside of your waistband and fold the edge under. Pin the folded-under edge to the skirt at the waistband-skirt seamline so that it encases the raw edges.

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Slip stich the inner waistband in place.

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Your skirt is nearly finished!

Step 5: Closures

You have plenty of options–you could put on buttons, skirt hooks, snaps, hooks and eyes, or even tie your skirt closed with ribbon or cord. I had some hook and eyes lying around, so I used them. My skirt overlapped enough that I could put them only on the waistband, but if you find that your skirt is gaping in the back, put another in the center of the slit.

Make sure you try the skirt on before sewing on the fastening so that you know how much it should overlap.

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Step 6: Hemming

Hem the skirt to your desired length–this is easiest if you have another person who can pin up the hem while you wear the skirt, or if you can try it on a dress form. If neither of these options is possible, determine how long your skirt needs to be, then lay it on an ironing board and use a tape measure to measure straight down from the waistband  and mark where you would like the hem. Do this all around the skirt.

In my case, I had already made a lace-trimmed petticoat, so I put that on my dress form and pinned up the skirt so that the lace showed beneath the hem.

You’re finished!

Here’s my finished skirt and petticoat, and a peek at my in-progress hobbit bodice.

You now have the tools you need to make any variation you may desire on the gathered skirt. You could make a sassy short skirt, a period petticoat, or even gather two different colors of lightweight fabric into a single waistband and hem them at different lengths to create a layered look à la Rosie Cotton!

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! If you have any questions please leave them in the comments–I’d love to help!

Hannah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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