As all of us who study historical fashion know, our foremothers had all sorts of ways of changing the shapes of their bodies in keeping with the current trends. Of course, we all know about stays and corsets, and hoopskirts are all but notorious, but we can’t forget about all the ways that women have shaped their backsides over time! Bum rolls, false rumps, bustle pads and other forms of hip and rear padding have been coming in and out of fashion for centuries. Sometimes we forget that, if you’re looking for a small waist, padding out your hips goes a long way towards achieving that goal. The contrast of large hips makes the waist look even smaller.
There are many kinds of stuffing you can use in your padding, but I have a definite preference.
Fiberfill is always available, but it’s hot, gets lumpy and flat easily, and it’s basically a million pieces of microplastic, which I try to avoid putting into the environment whenever possible, especially for my hobby.
Wool roving is also a choice but has the same problem of eventual flattening. You’ll also have to buy either Fiberfill or roving (unless you have sheep), while my other options are free!
Fabric scraps are always around in any costumer’s studio. My first rump was stuffed with these, but it was very heavy, because you have to pack A LOT of fabric scraps in to get enough volume. It also, inevitably, will eventually deflate.
That leaves my favorite option: cork! Cork is lightweight for the amount of volume you get, and is much less prone to being slowly crushed by the weight of gowns and petticoats. Cork is also a very historically accurate material for this kind of padding. In the 18th and 19th century, the cork was generally carved into blocks of the right shape and size before being covered in fabric and attached to a waistband. Today, though this may still be possible, it’s a lot easier to repurpose the corks that many of us already have lying around!
Of course, whole wine corks would make for a very lumpy and uneven stuffing, so it’s necessary to process them down into something a bit more effective. You will need:
Lots of corks
A large pot
A serrated knife
A cutting board
Before you start, you’ll want to go through your corks and make sure that none of them are synthetic. It’s usually pretty easy to tell the difference. The synthetic ones are generally very smooth around the outside, and spongy on the ends. In these images, the two top corks are both real, the bottom one is fake. You can also see that the two real corks have cracks where the corkscrew went in, while the synthetic one has a clean, round hole.
Your cork should be larger than an un-boiled cork, and be squishy and pliable. In these photos, the cork on the left has been boiled. The one on the right has not.
Cut your cork in half lengthwise with a serrated knife. I found it was easier to cut it part way and then just tear it the rest of the way. You want to work pretty quickly, as the cork will become harder quickly once out of the hot water and steam. Don’t try to work so fast that you cut yourself!
I have read about people grinding whole corks in the food processor, but that didn’t work for me at all. There was always one cork that got caught on the blade, effectively capping it and rendering the whole thing useless. Go ahead and try that if you want, and I wish you better luck than I had!
Cut each half in half lengthwise again.
At this point, if you need smaller pieces, you might try the food processor again. For my purposes, these 16ths were just fine. (Remember, the smaller your pieces, the more cork you will need to stuff something, and therefore the heavier it will get. I would only go smaller than this to stuff quite a small pad.)
If you’re just getting into historical crafts, and you need a little something to do with your hands while at an event that is cheap, portable, and easy to pick up, lucet cord may be a great option for you!
There is some controversy about when exactly throughout the course of history lucets were used: if you are interpreting in the medieval period, or in the 19th century, you’re probably pretty safe–between those two periods you may want to do a bit of your own research or check with the site or group that you are interpreting with before you demonstrate it at an event.
That said, lucet cord is simple to make, and makes a nice, strong cord that can be used for drawstrings, lacing, trimming, and any other use you can find for a nice bit of string.
What You Need
Here’s the great thing about luceting: you only need two things!
A lucet. This is the shaped wood that you will use to hold your loops of thread as you work. You can buy a basic one for $5-$10, or spend a bit more if you want one with some pretty fretwork or other ornamentation. Just search the word ‘lucet’ and you’ll come up with plenty of options, and you can also usually see them around at events from vendors that sell basic sewing supplies.
Thread or yarn. Exactly what you want to use will depend on the final use and look you are going for. Basic heavy linen thread will make a nice strong cord. Making a cord from yarn can make a great accent for knitting or crochet projects. In these photos I am using a green size 10 crochet thread because I was looking to match the color of a particular fabric. Experiment away!
I will go through the process in pictures first–there will be a video of the process lower down!
These next few steps can get a bit frustrating until you have built up a little cord. Because there are no knots yet, there is nothing to hold everything in place, which makes things a bit delicate. Be gentle and try not to get frustrated–it will get easier soon! You will be repeating these steps over and over again to create your cord, but I will go through them a couple of times so that you can see how it works as you begin to build up a bit of cord. It will seem complicated at first, but as the cord begins to build up, the process becomes simple and feels more natural.
Continue to work slowly and carefully until you have a little tail of cord built up, at which point you will be able to speed up a bit.
This is the point at which the process really solidifies and feels the same as it will through the rest of the cord.
You can see the tightening process in more detail in this video:
If you enjoyed this, it is just the beginning! This is a very basic lucet cord. There are many other variations on the art, including multicolored variations using different colored threads. Go out into the world and use more things, and perhaps I will add more tutorials here later!
Due to an overwhelming amount of demand on my social media as I’ve been posting process photos of my new green Spencer, I went ahead and put together a little tutorial on the style of trim I’m using.
Rouleaux are, quite simply, thin, bias-cut strips of fabric sewn into tubes. You probably have quite a few bits of rouleaux in your wardrobe without even realizing it in the form of spaghetti straps, coat hanging loops, and other utilitarian elements. However, these tubes aren’t just useful, they can also be beautiful.
Rouleaux trim is simply taking a rouleaux tube and stitching it down to a garment in the shape of a design, creating a beautiful, wearable piece of 3-dimensional art. While it is relatively uncommon (though not unheard of) today, rouleaux trim is was very popular in the early 19th century, particularly in the 18-teens and ’20s. I would not be at all surprised to see it crop up throughout the 19th century, but until I have examples of that, I will withhold a verdict. Similar techniques, however, were certainly employed though the 1800s and early 1900s using soutache braid, cord, or other thin, flexible items to create a design. If you want your pattern to match your fabric however, rouleaux is truly the way to go. All the early 19th century examples of rouleaux I have seen have been made with matching fabric to the main garment. They have also all been outer garments like spencers and pelisses, rather than gowns. That doesn’t mean those aren’t out there, just that I haven’t seen them–always keep an eye out for examples, don’t just take my word for it!
I’m going to show you how I do this technique. It’s the sort of thing that there are probably many ways to do, but this is the one that works for me.
You can read all about the spencer featured in the tutorial photos here.
Preparing the Bias Strips
Before you can make beautiful, rouleaux-trimmed garments, you’ll need to start with a whole lot of thin, bias-cut strips of fabric. It’s possible that some in the 19th century were done with strips cut on the straight grain as well, since it is a more efficient use of expensive fabric. I haven’t had a chance to examine any of these garments up close enough to be able to see the grain of the fabric, but based on how neatly the extant examples of rouleaux trim go around curves and tight corners, I would guess that many, if not all, are cut on the bias.
Note: What is the bias, you may be asking yourself? Bias cut pieces are cut diagonally across the grain of the fabric, rather than parallel to the selvedge edge (the finished, uncut edge of a length of fabric).
You can find the bias of a fabric using a marked cutting mat, a set square, or any other device that will show you a 45° angle to the selvedge of the fabric.
From there, you can simply cut parallel strips based on your first angled cut. The width that you cut your strips is entirely up to you (within reason), depending on how thick you would like your rouleaux to be. If you’re unsure, do a test piece a few inches long first, just to get an idea of what size you’ll get. I ended up going with half-inch strips, which got me a nice tube about 1/8″ wide out of my lightweight cotton twill fabric. Your mileage may vary depending on the thickness of your fabric.
I used a rotary cutter along my ruler to get strips. You can also use your ruler to draw lines and cut with scissors, whatever floats your boat and gets your some bias strips.
Next, you’ll need to sew your lovely bias strips into one very long bias strip. (Of course this depends on exactly what you are doing. If one bias strip is enough to do your entire design, obviously feel free to skip this part.
In order to keep your bias flexible, and your tube thin, you will need to sew the pieces together with the grain of the fabric, rather than across the bias. To do this, line up your two strips, right side to right side, at a right angle. At this point, you may have edges that line up nicely because they were the selvedge edges of your fabric, and are therefore already little 45° angles. If not, you will need to trim the ends to 45° angles so that they line up as in the photo above.
You will notice that the corners of each piece hang over the edges. This is exactly what you want. Stitch from one inner corner to the other. You want a nice, small seam allowance for this. This angled seam with keep the bulk of the seam allowance distributed along the strip, rather than all piled up in one place.
When you have finished sewing all your pieces together, press the seams open very well. You want the extra fabric from the seam allowance to be distributed as much as possible, so the last thing you want is for it to fold up on itself.
Sewing the Rouleaux
If you like, and if your fabric is light enough, you can bypass this entire method by sewing a narrow seam allowance on your machine, and turning the strip right-side out using a rouleaux turner (these little tools look like a thin piece of wire with a loop at one end, and a little latch hook on the other, and can be found at most fabric/craft stores).
HOWEVER, there are several reasons why you may want to/be forced to make your rouleaux by hand. First of all, you may prefer to hand sew for the sake of historical accuracy. Second, your fabric (like mine), may be a bit too thick to turn right-side out once you’ve sewn your desired size of tube, even with the seam allowance trimmed very tiny. I nearly cried when I realized the several yards of rouleaux I had sewn wouldn’t turn the right way out, no matter how hard I tried. I had already trimmed the seam allowance down to 1/16″, and every effort to turn the tube shredded the seam allowance until the piece was useless. If I wanted to use this technique, I would have needed to make my rouleaux much wider, which would have completely destroyed the delicate finished look I was going for.
Luckily, I put on my thinking cap, and came up with this technique inspired by the rolled hem in order to keep all of you from pulling your hair out the same way I did.
Start yourself off by pressing the edges of the very end of your strip into the center on the wrong side of the fabric, like so:
At this point, I like to hand the end of my strip to my sewing bird in order to take some of the tension out of my left hand. Using a sewing bird or clamp to hold your fabric in place is a great way to help yourself if you experience pain while hand sewing, or if you want to avoid pain in the future, or just generally want to make your life easier. If you don’t have a sewing bird or clamp, don’t worry. You can put the end under something heavy, use a regular old clamp to clamp in to the table, pin it to the knee of your pants, pin it to the arm of a chair or couch. Basically you have lots of options, but I do recommend that you find a way to hold one end still while you work. It will allow your to work much faster.
Here is a video illustrating the whole process of holding the folds in place, stitching, and pulling tight:
Attaching the Rouleaux
Before you can attach your rouleaux, you will need to draw or trace a design on your fabric. You can draw it out with a pencil or water-soluble marker, trace it with tracing paper and a wheel, prick and pounce, or use whatever other transfer method may strike your fancy. I based my design on the pink spencer shown above.
Note: I stitched my rouleaux to both the fabric and lining. Since the fabric is a light twill and therefore has a slight stretch, I wanted to make sure it had the structure of the linen lining to support the heavy trim. Your fabric may be sturdy enough to hold the trim by itself.
Note: these instructions are for a pattern that allows the ends of the rouleaux to disappear into a seam allowance. If your design is in the middle of a piece, far from a seam allowance, you will need to begin making your rouleaux by folding up the short end of the bias strip so that your tube has a finished end, and doing the same at the other end of the tube.
From now on, your stitch pattern will be as follows:
This process of moving the rouleaux above and below the stitching line as your sew will help keep tension even along the rouleaux, and ensure that it sits directly on top of the line, rather than leaning to one side or the other. Be careful not to pull your stitches too tight, or you could end up puckering and shrinking your entire garment piece!
Continue to stitch in this pattern. Here is a video to help you:
Now that you have the basic process down, here are a couple more tips to help you at tricky parts of your design.
Tip #1: Tight curves
When going around tight curves, take smaller stitches through the fabric to help the rouleaux follow the pattern smoothly.
Tip #2: Sharp corners
When making sharp corners, make sure your last stitch in the fabric before the corner comes up precisely at the point of the corner in your design.
Tip #3: Close parallel lines
When sewing rouleaux designs, you will often find yourself travelling back along a line to create a double thickness of rouleaux. When this happens, it can become tricky to maintain the stitching pattern we’ve established above.
In this case, use the thumb of your off hand to press the working rouleaux up against the first line of rouleaux. Stitch down into the fabric, and then up through the rouleaux like so:
The first rouleaux will help support the second and keep it standing upright. Once the two lines diverge again, continue in the usual stitch pattern.
Once you have completed your design finish off your rouleaux and thread just inside the seam allowance of your garment piece.
Ok! You’re all ready to go and create beautiful designs using rouleaux trim!
As always, if your have any questions, or if your would like to request a future tutorial, feel free to comment below.
For today’s lesson, I am going to focus on one technique that will allow you to do a couple of very useful things. It’s a very helpful little trick to keep your work looking neat and tidy.
It’s not complicated, and once you’ve learned it, you’ll find that a whole new world of possibilities opens up.
As far as I can tell, this technique doesn’t have a name, so I’m going to refer to it as a “false stop” because that’s exactly what it is: behaving as if you’ve finished the work, but actually moving on instead.
My old lap hoop, sadly, has broken off of its stand, and I need to fix it, so this tutorial was photographed in a small hoop, clamped to the edge of a table. This is a great solution if you can’t invest in a hoop with a stand right now, but you have other embroidery hoops around.
Imagine you have embroidered a motif, like this cute little flower:
It’s finished, but there’s no clear way to get from the flower to the next part of your pattern. You could cut the thread, but goodness, who wants more ends to weave in when you’re finished?! Not I.
So instead, you follow these simple steps:
Now that you’ve seen how useful a false stop can be for moving your thread from one place to another without breaking it, I’ll show you another way to use the same technique: turning sharp corners.
You may have noticed that tambourwork doesn’t like to go around corners. The turning stitch tends to distort and stick up in an effort to make the turn. Fear not! This can be avoided.
This technique comes in incredibly handy while working a complicated tambour motif.
I hope you have found this tutorial helpful. As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!
There has been enough interest in my new Tambour project, that I thought I would start putting up some how-tos! It’s not the sort of thing that I can do all in one go, so I will be putting up several lessons over the course of the next few weeks and months.
I will be focusing on lace in these lessons, since that is how I primarily use tambour at the moment. I may expand this in the future as I work on other projects, but all the techniques you see here are basically the same for work on woven fabrics.
A bit of history: Tambour is a form of embellishment that originated in or around India many hundreds of years ago, and eventually spread to Europe in about the mid-1700s as tambour embroidered textiles became popular there. While at first tambour-work was all imported, by the late 18th century it was a popular pastime for wealthy women, and became especially beloved as an embellishment for the diaphanous dresses of the 1790s and early 1800s. Tambour lace remained very popular until sometime around the 1840s, when machine-made lace really began to take over.
Today, I am going to walk you through three basic steps:
Preparing your materials and starting the thread.
The basic tambour stitch.
Finishing the thread at the end.
What you will need:
A free-standing embroidery frame/hoop. Round ones are usually seen in images of women working tambour at home, while large rectangular frames are used by professionals working on entire garment pieces. Your frame can be floor, table, or lap sitting, but must leave you free to use both hands.
A tambour hook/tambour needle–these come in a range of sizes depending on your fabric and thread. I believe the one I’m using in this tutorial is a #90, but to be honest I put it in the holder a long time ago, and I’m not completely sure! You can get varieties both with or without a latch. I prefer without, but feel free to experiment if you find that you have trouble holding onto the thread without one!
A hook holder–this is the wooden handle that holds your hook while you work.
Fabric–I generally work lace on cotton bobbinet, but you can also try your hand at silk net, muslin, linen, silk chiffon, or any number of other fabrics. I would not recommend trying to work tambour on tulle from your basic fabric store. This isn’t one of those times when starting with cheap and working up to the nice stuff is helpful. Basic synthetic tulle is too flimsy, and tends to catch on the hook, and you will end up pulling all your hair out before you go far. Please don’t decide you hate tambour because of an experience with synthetic tulle!
Thread–any non-divisible thread will do (i.e. no embroidery floss). I am using DMC Cordonnet Special in size 70. Embroidery threads like this are nice because they have a lovely finish, and they work up into crisp, substantial stitches. If I want something very fine to fill in motifs, I use plain Gütermann 100% cotton sewing thread.
A pair of pliers can also come in handy, but are optional.
I like to shop in the Lacis Museum online store for my tools. You can find both a lap frame like the one pictured in this tutorial, and a table-standing tambour frame on this page. You can find hooks and holders here. You can find all of these things other places by googling the items, but they all tend to be the same products sold through different retailers.
On my Pinterest page, you will find a board of Tambour Resources, which I will try to keep updated as I find new or interesting suppliers. Note that I won’t necessarily have personally tried all of the things pinned there.
Step 1: Prepare your materials.
You will want to transfer your design to the fabric before you place it in the hoop. Since I am just demonstrating the stitch at this point, I did not draw a design, but there will be upcoming tutorials in following a design where I will discuss it in more detail. I use a blue water-soluble fabric marker to mark designs if I will not be demonstrating to the public in period clothes while I’m working on them. (Always test your marker on a swatch of fabric first to make sure it comes out). Otherwise, I draw it in pencil, which generally rubs away enough to be un-noticable by the time the project is finished, or I baste over the design in very fine white thread that will be hidden by the work when finished.
Step 2: Secure your thread.
On the underside of the fabric, wrap the end of your thread several times around the pin until it feel secure. Leave the working end of the thread connected to the spool. If all goes well in a piece of tambour-work, you will not need to cut the thread at all until the end.
Step 3: The Basic Stitch
I suggest that you read through this entire step a couple of times before trying it yourself. Having all of the information in your head before you begin will help avoid confusion.
You can see in the video that I both wrap the thread and rotate the hook clockwise. Doing both in the same direction makes it easier to catch the thread in the hook. I then “unrotate” the hook counterclockwise above the fabric, so that it untwists the thread loop as I move to the next stitch.
Don’t worry too much if you drop the thread, or accidentally take your hook out of the loop. Simply put it back through the loop, and the next cell, and continue. Do be careful, though, if you pull on the working thread while the hook is not through the last loop, the entire work can unravel! This is great if you realize you made a mistake in the design and want to go back to fix it–you can simply pull the thread until the mistake is gone, reinsert your hook into the free loop, and carry on as if nothing happened. But it’s not so great if you just got the hang of things and accidentally pulled out all of the beautiful stitches you just painstakingly chained together!
Once you’ve gotten the hang of how to make the stitch, the most important thing to focus on is tension. If you don’t hold the thread taut enough in your off hand while you embroider, the stitches will be loose and sloppy once the hoop tension is released. If you hold it too tightly, it pull the stitches too tight, the fabric will pucker. Focus on letting the thread glide lightly between your thumb and finger below the fabric. Think of the gentle, flexible tension you feel when pulling out the bobbin thread on a sewing machine.
Step 4: Finish your thread.
Step 5: Weave in your ends.
I cannot stress this enough: do this as you go! How do I know this? Because I regularly leave my ends until I finish a project because weaving in ends is BOOOOOORING and I always want to put if off. But believe you me, weaving in ends is about 10,000 times more boring if you leave twenty or more of them until the end of a project and you have to spend hours weaving all of them in at once. Learn from my mistakes. Much better to do it as you go. Luckily, if you are good at plotting out a path for your design, you should be able to do a single tambour motif, or possibly more with only two ends to your thread. In later tutorials, I will show you how to skip from place to place in your design without needing to cut the thread, and other fun time-saving tricks.\
And now: weaving in ends.
Do the same with any other loose ends, and trim any excess thread.
You can lean more in Lesson 2, which covers following a simple pattern, including advice on transferring your pattern, deciding how to work through it, and going around curves!
Keep your eye out for more tambour tutorials coming soon, and if you have any special requests or questions, please feel free to ask!
I have another button tutorial for you today! This is for Death’s Head Buttons, a lovely kind of thread-covered buttons that can be seen on clothes through the 18th and into the 19th century. They mostly appear on menswear, but I have also seen what look to be Deaths’ Heads on a woman’s spencer (the resolution on the photo isn’t perfect, so I can’t be 100% sure), most likely part of a riding habit. I particularly like them for waistcoats.
These are a bit fiddly, so don’t give up if you have trouble the first few times. I have made plenty of these, and I still find myself starting over! Be patient, and you will be making your own thread-covered buttons in no time!
What you’ll need:
Thread–you’ll want an attractive thread on the heavier side. My example is made with silk quilting thread. Don’t try to use an all-purpose or fine thread, or you may be wrapping until the end of the universe!
Cut a piece of thread long enough to wrap your entire button. For my 3/4″ button, I used about 4 yards. You can actually cut it when you get close to done wrapping, but I find that I get more annoyed by the thread twisting because it is still attached to the spool than I am by the propect of running out of thread if I didn’t calculate well.
Step 2: Begin your wrapping.
This is the part of the process where it is easiest to drop things. Work slowly and carefully, and be patient. Try not to be frustrated if you have to start over a couple of times. Whenever possible, support the wraps with your fingers while rotating and wrapping.
Rotate and wrap the thread twice more, so that there is one wrap across each quarter of the button. Make sure that the threads on the edge of the button are sitting neatly next to one another, not overlapping.
Continuing in the same pattern, wrap a second layer of threads.
Step 3: Place your pin.
DO NOT let go of your thread while you are doing this. Make sure you keep your tension.
Step 4: Continue Wrapping
Step 5: Anchor the wraps at the back.
Once you are sure that things are anchored well, you can remove the pin.
Step 6: Anchor the final wraps at the front.
Because the final few wraps at the center front of the button didn’t get woven into the rest of the wraps like the earlier ones do, you need to anchor them in place at the center.
At this point, make sure that everything is laying nice and smooth,
You can now tie your thread off at the back of the button, and you’re finished!
Remember: Be Patient, Move Slowly, and Don’t Give Up!
Throughout the 18th century, as well as in the end of the 17th, and beginning of the 19th, men’s shirts were fastened with clever little buttons made of thread. These were simple to make with basic thread that anyone would have around the house. They were also durable through washings, and comfortable enough to have pressed against one’s neck beneath a cravat.
You can buy your thread buttons if you like, but I’m here to show you how to make them yourself! They’re very simple to create. Chances are that once you’ve done it once or twice you’ll be able to knock one out in no time whenever you need it!
What you’ll need:
Heavy linen thread
A pencil, knitting needle, dowel, or other stick with a 1/4″ diameter
Step 1-Tie your thread around the sizing guide
Step 2-Wrap your thread
Step 3-Cut your thread
Step 4-Move the thread ring from the sizing guide to your needle
Step 5-Pull thread through
Step 7-Buttonhole stitch around the ring
Step 6-Create the shank
Step 7-Wrap the shank
You can now make quick and easy thread shirt buttons whenever you need them!
I hope you found this tutorial helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I will answer as best I can.
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:
a peasant blouse with half-length sleeves
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…)
(optional) a shawl or other tucker worn loosely around the shoulders with ends tucked into the front of the bodice
a full, gathered skirt which ends about mid-calf
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!
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!
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.
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.
**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.
Cut a slit down this line.
Fold your placket in half and mark the center with chalk or a water soluble marker.
Line up the mark on your placket with the bottom of the center back slit.
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″.
Press the seam allowance towards the placket. Your placket should now look like this:
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.
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.
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!
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.
From the right side of the skirt, your finished placket should look like this:
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.
Trim your seam allowance, making it especially small at the corner.
Turn the waistband right side out and press along the entire length.
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.
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.
Once you have your skirt gathered to fit the waistband, make sure the gathers are nice and evenly distributed, then pin securely in place.
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″.
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.
Slip stich the inner waistband in place.
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.
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.
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!