[Module 6] Creating the Flexible Pattern | 5. Drafting Skirts

Once you have your Skirt Working Template you can start to draft out your Flexible Patterns for your Skirts and you would simply start by placing your preserved Skirt Working Template on a piece of paper and draw around the outline ensuring that you take your pencil into the notched points for the Guidelines and Darts.

Although the following skirt shapes and styles are shown using the Skirt Working Template you can also follow the same instructions for an extended bodice for a dress, shown in Module 6 - Create the Flexible Pattern - 4a. Bodice - Extending Length. You would extend your Bodice Draft and then cut it off at the Waist Line and follow the instructions in the same way as you would for creating a Skirt Flexible Pattern for any style below. After which you would then tape the skirt back onto the bodice part of the pattern if you are going to cut the Bodice and Skirt for the dress as part of the same pattern piece or if you have a Waist seam you would keep them as separate pattern pieces. In both cases you would need to true up the Skirt to the Bodice to ensure that the Waist seams were still the same length and that the Waist Darts lined up.

There are so many different Skirt Styles that you could have designed, any length of skirt, with flare, pleats, gathers, with or without Waistbands, layered vertically or horizontally, draped, with splits etc. A good place to start then is to group up the Styles as much as possible and then start to break down the drafting to help you work out how to draft out the designs that you have drawn. The most classic Styles are shown and more will be added to this Unit as time goes on. All Styles shown are indicated on the Auxiliary Reference Style Sheets marked with a green dot.

If you would like to add any of the following to your skirt then you will need to review the relevant Auxiliary Reference Unit as you draft it out.

Prior to looking at the different Skirt Styles there are some features that you may wish to work with for any Style and rather than duplicate this information for each Skirt Style they are detailed here initially so you will need to refer to them as you need to, and they are as follows;

  • Changing the Length of the Skirt.

  • Creating a Lowered Waist Skirt.

  • Creating an Empire Waist Skirt.

  • Dart Manipulation.

  • Adding a Waistband.

  • Creating Panels in a Skirt

A Mini Drafting Template for the Front and the Back Draft of a Skirt (not to be confused with a Mini Skirt!) has been provided in order to demonstrate some of the Styles in the interests of saving paper. You are also welcome to use these Skirt Templates to have a play yourself with some of the different Skirt Styles and ideas below or use them to try out your own designs initially.

The Mini Drafting Templates are available on the Document Downloads Page .

With all your Flexible Pattern Drafts remember that for the best results you should create and fit a Test Garment prior to creating it in your fashion fabric.

Adding Length or Shortening

Changing the length of the skirt is simple. Do this first before you make any other changes to shape or style then you have the frame to work from.

To shorten the skirt just reduce the length from the Waist down to the new position and square off from the Centre Front/Back.

To lengthen it just extend it straight down in the same way as detailed in Module 6 - Create the Flexible Pattern - 4a. Bodice - Extending Length.

Lowered Waist Skirt

A Lowered Waist Skirt is simply a skirt that sits on the body lower than the Waist, and this is personal choice. If this was a design option then you may have already asked the Client what the preference is for this position and noted the Lowered Waist Depth and its circumference measurement on the measurements sheet.

To create a Lowered Waist Skirt copy off your Skirt Working Template (if you are going to use a knit fabric or some other stretch fabric then you will use the Skirt Working Template for Stretch to Fit) and then check how far down from the Waist the Lowered Waist was set at on the Clients measurement Sheet.

Concentrating on the Front Draft let’s say for the sake of this example that the Lowered Waist Depth measurement was 2”.

You would measure down from the Waist Line 2” following the curve of the Waist making marks all the way along and then firm up the line with the curved ruler. I have marked this in red pen in this example. This line will now be the top of your skirt.

You will not be adding any ease to the Lowered Waist as you want a snug fit here to stop the Skirt falling down, so measure out the Front Lowered Waist Measurement amount on the new Lowered Waist Line from the Centre Front ignoring the Dart just measure straight across it.

The measurement I am using here is 9 2/8, usually it will be around half an inch less than the side drawn but to be sure ensure that you use the measurements that you have taken.

Cross out the Dart as it is too small to work with you don’t need to use it.

Then redraw the Side Line somewhere down to the Lower Hip line or where it blends nicely.

You would run through the same process on the Back Draft, then you will need to true up the draft at the sides.

You then cut off all of the excess to be left with the Lowered Waist Skirt Draft.

To finish off a Lowered Waist Skirt at the top you have a number of options, you could;

  • Use a fold over elastic or some sort of elastic option to pull the skirt on, which works really well for stretch fabrics like knit jersey.

  • You could just use a Facing and/or a lining to give a clean finish to the top of the skirt.

  • Or you could add a Shaped Waistband onto a Lowered Waist Skirt – the Waistband would need to be a shaped one to follow the contours of the body. You can’t add a Straight Waistband onto a Lowered Waist Skirt or it will stick out away from the body at the top.

Empire Skirt

As with the Lowered Waistline we have measurements for the Empire Depth and the Empire Circumference as per the Clients preference for an Empire Waist position which is higher than the Waist by around 3”.

An Empire Skirt will usually have a facing and/or Lining rather than a Waistband which will need to be drafted as a separate pattern piece.

To draft the Empire Line you will copy off the Skirt Working Template as the starting point and ensure that you have enough paper above to extend up for the extra needed to change the Skirt to Empire height.

The Back Draft is done in the same way as the Front Draft.

The Empire Circumference measurement is usually larger than the Waist Circumference so the Side Line will have some shaping from the Waist.

Extend up along the Centre Front Line from the Waist Line the measurement for the Empire Depth off the measurement sheet.

In the example I am using 3”.

Square off from the Hip Bone Line to extend the Side straight up by the same measurement and then extend from the curved Waist Line following the curve by the same measurement.

In this photo I have drawn a dotted line off the Hip Bone Line to show how the line is squared off from here, you don’t need to draw in this dotted line.

Then finalise the Empire Line by firming up the curved line.

Square up the Dart Legs from the Waist Line up to the Empire Line, the width of the dart will therefore be the same width at this point.

The Empire Line measurement is wider than the Waist Line so to get the extra measurement back you can take it from the Dart.

So let’s say that there is 1/4” difference between the Waist and the Empire measurement. You will need to shift in each Dart Leg to by 1/8” to make up the extra ¼” needed for the Empire measurement. You will need to work out the amount to take from the Dart for your own measurements.

I have shown this here in green pen.

You can then add a little extra shaping at the side if you wish to help the Skirt hug the body by coming in at the side by 1/16” around half way between the Waist and the Empire Line and drawing a curve from the Waist Line to this point and then back out to the Empire Line at the Side.

A word about a Facing on an Empire line. You need to consider movement and bending when adding a Facing on an Empire Line, I would mark a Facing to end between 2” to 3” below the Waist Line. You would draw in the line and trace off the facing by placing paper behind the Skirt, you would also trace off the Dart. I would always thread trace the Dart for an Empire Line as it is an unusually shaped Dart. Now you will have a Dart to sew in the Facing and if you prefer you could make this into a Seam to sew which may help a little with Dart Bulk as you have a Dart on top of a Dart in this situation.

Dart Manipulation

Whether you are using an extended Bodice or using a Skirt Working Template you will have a Front and a Back Dart. As with the Bodice you can choose to use these darts as they are or change them by adding extra Darts or remove them altogether.

Adding extra Darts

You can add as many Darts as you would like and you would increase the number of Darts for design reasons or in order to add in multiple insertions to create a Flared Skirt.

We will look at the Front Draft here, however you can add Darts in the Back Draft in the same way.

Splitting the Dart into Two

A Dart can be split into two Darts and positioned anywhere you would like them to be on the Front.

Initially work out what half of the original Dart width is, this will be the width of each of the new Darts.

Draw a line squared off from the Centre Front at the level of the current Dart Point as you would need your new Darts to go down to the same position.

Here I have drawn in a Centre Dart Line on the current Dart as I am happy with the position of this Dart, I then measure out on each side the new Dart Width, which is half of its original size.

I then draw in the Dart Legs.

Then mark a Centre Dart Line around 1” away and measure out the Dart Legs and draw in these lines.

Don’t forget to true up both Darts.

Splitting the Dart for an Insertion

If you were splitting the Dart into two to create two insertions it is a good idea to reposition both Darts as you need to spread the insertions evenly around the skirt. Ideally if you split the Waist into two and a half parts then you will end up with 5 whole parts across both sides of the Front of the Skirt which means that the four insertions will have been added evenly.

The Darts are split and created the same as above it is just the position of the Darts that are changing.

Have a look at this example.

As done before a line is drawn squared off to the Centre Front at the Dart Point to show the Dart Point position for the new Darts.

The Waist has been marked off into two and a half parts (a little tricky to work out but it does not need to be perfectly exact).

The Centre Dart Lines are drawn in.

The original Dart Width is halved and shared between the two new Darts.

The Dart Legs are measured out using half of the new measurement for both Darts, the total width of both Darts should equal the original Dart Width. The Dart legs are then drawn into place.

If you are adding an insertions then you now have two Dart Points to work with to add in the insertion amounts. Insertions for an A Line/Flare Skirt are detailed below in this Unit.

Extra Darts

If you wanted to add in extra Darts then you will need to add in extra fabric at the side of the Waist as you will not have enough fabric in one dart to spread across more than two Darts.

You will need to mark out the Dart Points as before drawing a line squared off from the Centre Front. You will need to draw in the Centre Dart lines and mark out each Dart Width. If the total measurements for the new Dart Widths is larger than the original Dart Width then you will need to add this onto the Waist at the side smoothing down to around the Dart Point position.

Have a look at this example.

I have placed black lines inside each Dart to make them clearer and also added lines in the extra section that was added on the side. Notice that I have kept the height of the Waist the same in across the extra side extension.

Removing Darts

To remove a Dart from either the Front or a Back Draft if you prefer not to use them you will simple cross off the Dart and shave the same width amount from the Side on the Waist down to the Dart Point position.

In this example you can see how I had to go a little lower than the position of the Dart Point to get a smooth transition into the Side Line. A Test Garment will ensure that this is checked.

Adding a Waistband

A Skirt can be left finished without a Waistband either by using a facing and/or a lining it or perhaps binding the top edge in some way. On a stretch Fabric you could also use some sort of elasticated finishing, one that folds over the top edge from the inside to the outside is a good option.

A Waistband will give the skirt a different look whether the skirt is on the Waist, Lowered or Empire Line.

A Waistband can be any width but it can be between 1” to 2” and usually around 1 ¼”, remember it’s your design.

It is made in one piece and folded over although you could make it in two parts and experiment with a different colour or fabric on the inside. It overlaps horizontally at the Centre Back with an extension that is around the size of the button or just over.

The Waistband sits on the Waistline and so makes the skirt higher than the Waist, unless your skirt is a Lowered Waist skirt in which case you will need a Shaped Waistband as you can’t use a Straight Waistband on a Lowered Waist Skirt. The Waistband would be interfaced.

The Straight Waistband

The Straight Waistband is basically a long straight rectangle and the length is;

= a ¾” extension + the Back Waist measurement + the Front Waist Measurement + the Front Waist Measurement + the Back Waist Measurement + another ¾” extension (or whatever size your button is at both ends).

In this example the width is 1 ¼”

As this is a simple pattern piece rather than show you each step I will explain how to draft it.

Only half of the Waistband has been drafted here and as you can see it will be cut on the Fold although if you prefer you could cut out two pieces and create a seam down the front of the Waistband but that is not usual for a Waistband. The length of the piece is the Front Waist measurement + the Back Waist Measurement + the Back Extension for a button.

So in this example 7 7/8” + 6 3/8” + ¾”.

The Width of the rectangle is 2 1/2” i.e. double the finished width. A Line has been drawn down the length in the middle to indicate the Fold Line.

A Line has been drawn to indicate the extension and this is notched at the top and the bottom.

A Notch is also added at the end of the Front measurement that will join up with the Side Seam on the Skirt. Notches are added at the top and the bottom to line up with the Skirt but the top Notch would not be needed unless you were cutting two Waistband pieces rather than folding it lengthways, as this Notch would help to line up the fabric along the top.

A Grainline has been added, and you could choose a grainline across the piece horizontally or vertically or a bias Grainline which looks good with a check or plaid pattern.

The pattern piece has also been labelled and numbered.

A Shaped Waistband or a Yoke

If you are creating a yoke at the top of a skirt you would do this in the same way as creating a Shaped Waistband although you would use a wider width and so end up cutting off a larger piece.

If you have lowered the Waist Line on your skirt to a Lowered Waist Line then you will need to add a Shaped Waistband to follow the curve of the body, which is thinner as it goes up the body. You can’t use a Straight Waistband it would be too wide and stick out away from the body at the top.

As with the Straight Waistband you can cut a Shaped Waistband on the Fold but as the piece is curved you can’t create a horizontal fold s you will need to cut out 2 Waistbands and then add in Seam Allowance to allow you to join the two pieces together.

This example uses 1 ¼” as the Waistband width measurement.

To create the Shaped Waistband measure down the Lowered Waist Skirt Draft for the amount of the Waistband width, following the shape of the curve at the top of the Skirt.

Add labels to the Waistband so that when you cut it off you don’t get confused and swap pieces around.

Also add a couple of Notches to help join everything back up again when sewing.

Then add on an extension at the Centre Back for the extension for the closure as with the Straight Waistband. I had already cut out my Lowered Waist Skirt Draft so I needed to add on extra paper in order to draw the extension.

You simply then cut out off the Shaped Waistbands.

You then tape down the Back Waistband onto the Front Waistband at the Side. You may need to tidy up the curve a little at the join which may mean that you need extra paper at the back if you need to redraw the curve a little or take off any peak at the bottom where they join.

Then add Notches between Front and Back and at the Extension and on the top and bottom of the Waistband, add Fold Lines, Grainlines and labels etc.

Creating Panels

Any Skirt can be split into a number of different panels on either the Front and or the Back Draft.

What you have is basically a Style Line really that you position and then this would be cut and some Seam Allowance added to allow it to be sewn back together. By adding a Seam you are adding in more ability for control over fitting. Style lines draw the eye in a certain direction and can cause optical illusions, they are also a way to create colour blocking as it gives an opportunity for another fabric to be used.

  • A two Panel Skirt either in Front and or in the Back is created very simply by cutting out the Draft and creating a Seam at Centre Front/Back and not cutting on a fold.

  • A six Panel Skirt would be drafted as half a skirt as usual but a style line is added somewhere on the skirt Front and the Centre Panel is cut on the Fold. It is a Six Panel Skirt if the Back Draft also has Three Panels. The shape of the Style Line is a design choice but it does look good with a slight curve following the curve of the Side Line, or you could experiment with curving the other way. The position of the Style Line needs to be thought out from Waist to Base, splitting the Waist and Base measurements into thirds across the whole of the Front may be a starting point with a third for the Centre piece and a third for each of the side pieces. Or you could try creating a 6 Panel skirt with the centre panel twice as wide as the side panels.

In this photo I have drawn a couple of lines by eye to experiment with position.

  • An 8 Panel Skirt is a combination of a Two Panel and a Six Panel where you could use the Centre Front Line as the first Style Line and then your drawn Style Line to create a Seam for the four Panels across the Front and four Panels across the Back.

Skirt Styles

Straight Skirt

Whether you have extended your bodice or are working from you Skirt Working Template you really already have your straight skirt drafted out.

The Straight Skirt will come straight down from the Lower Hip Line to the desired length and really would not have any further shaping.

You will need to consider ease for walking on a longer than thigh length straight skirt and you may need to consider adding a split at the back to assist with walking. A simple Split has been covered in the Pleats and Splits heading further down.

Pencil Skirt

A Pencil Skirt is basically a Straight Skirt that is shaped inwards a little as it goes down to the Base, coming in on the Base on the Side by around 1” on the Front and the Back for a shorter skirt blending the line back up to the Lower Hip Line. For a longer skirt you could try reducing the base by up to 2 ½” but you will need to be able to walk and sit in the Skirt so a Test Garment is a good idea to try out comfort for a Straight Skirt.

You could also consider put the Skirt on the bias Grainline to get a little more give.

In the drawing above the Pencil shape comes in and then goes back out again. This flare at the bottom balances out the Pencil Skirt shape nicely and can be created by adding a separate flounce added at the base to balance out the shape, which would obviously create a horizontal seam. The flounce is basically a large Ruffle and a separate pattern piece would be required which in turn may also have its own separate lining piece.

A Line/Flare Skirt

An A Line Skirt is fitted at the Waist and has extra volume as you move downwards and it is usually cut on the fold for the Front. It looks like a letter A with the top cut off. A Line skirts can be very flattering as they visually make the Waist look smaller. However on a longer skirt an A Line cut can start to look heavy and can cut off a leg at the Calf at its widest point. You can experiment with length, volume and fabric types, for example a very flared skirt can look really summery in a chiffon or lightweight fabric and will have fabulous movement as you walk.

To draft a basic A Line Skirt trace off your Skirt Working Template or extend the bodice for a dress as usual. I am using the mini Skirt Template to save paper here but I have marked it with the appropriate measurement that you would use on your full scale draft. I have also drawn in red ink for this instruction to make the lines stand out more but you would use your pencil.

Next add an extension on the side at the Base, start with 1” to begin with you can assess if this is enough on your Test Garment.

To do this measure out 1” on the side of the Base of the Skirt and then draw this line back up to the Lower Hip Line or up to where you feel it blends in. You will be doing the same on the Back Draft so this will extend the Base out by 4” in total.

An option is to raise up the side from the Base by ¼” as the side is now on a bias and may stretch out as it is sewn. It is a good idea to stay stitch the Side Seam anyway as it is a curved seam.

Now you could leave this as the final pattern and sew it as an A Line Skirt with just the extension or continue to create more of a Flare for the A Line Skirt.

To get extra volume or Flare into the Skirt you can also add in an insertion (extensions go on the outside, insertions go on the inside of the Draft). Usually an insertion is twice the size of any extension for a flare (you are placing the extension on both the Front and the Back Draft which gives you a total on the Side being added that will equal the insertion in the 4 Skirt halves, which is giving you equally spaced extra fabric around the skirt).

You would usually add the same amount in an insertion and an extension in the Front and the Back (although you could play around with this and add in more in the Back than the Front).

To add the insertion measure halfway along the Base of the Draft and mark this point.

Draw a line down from the point of your Dart to this new measured point on the Base.

Cut down up this new line from the Base to the Dart Point.

Then cut down a Dart Leg to the Dart Point but not through it to create a pivot point and open out the Base until it is twice the space of the extension. If you still have any Dart space left you will keep it and it will be sewn.

Close out the Dart until the insertion at the Base is 2” and tape down the Dart.

If you wanted a wider insertion you would continue to open up on the base and close out the Dart

Add in extra paper under the insertion and tape down both sides all the way down to secure the cut lines.

Draw in the Base line at the insertion from one side of it to the other to tidy up the Base Line. Ensure that the measurement across this space added is the same from Dart Point to Base all the way along the line to be sure that you have an accurate length.

After drafting the Front Draft you would then repeat the whole thing on the back adding the Extension the Side bias adjustment and the Insertion in the Back Draft.

A Grainline parallel to Centre Front will work well with this design on both Back and Front Draft so draw them in and then also place Notches on the Darts and the Guidelines and if you have a long skirt you might want to position Notches at a convenient positions at least every 10” to help you line up the sides when sewing.

Don’t forget to label the draft.

Adding More Flare

You can add in more Flare by adding in more insertions although if the look you are going for is lots of volume then you will be better creating a Circle Skirt.

To add in more flare to a skirt you would cut the Skirt on a bias Grainline and also add in more insertions. To get more than one insertions you would manipulating the Dart into two Darts and then create two insertions.

Dart Manipulation is explained earlier in this Unit so refer to this to initially split the Dart.

After splitting the Dart you would mark out two and a half parts along the base just as you did when splitting the Dart into to, or measure out a similar amount that lines up with the position of the new Darts keeping in mind that the Base is wider than the Waist so you will need to adjust accordingly.

After marking out you draw a line to join the Dart Point to the position on the Base for each Dart.

Then you cut up the lines drawn to the Dart Point and also down one leg of each Dart to create the two pivot points.

The insertions can then be opened up while at the same time closing the Darts.

Depending on how much insertion you add you may or may not want to add an extension. You could experiment with adding 2” to 4” insertions and see if you feel you need to add more with an extension.

If your insertions are large and you go beyond closing the Waist Darts you will need to measure any extra you have taken up from the Waist and add it back onto the Waist at the Side to ensure that you have not reduced the Waist measurement. I have indicated here where you would do this in red pen, and you would blend down to the Lower Hip Line.

Paper is added as usual and the Base Line drawn in for each insertion.

Here you can see the Base Line firmed up and I have shaded the insertions to make it easier to see them.

After adding the insertions then raise the Base at the Side by ¼” to ½” to assist with the bias cut.

Removing the shaping at the Lower Hip Line will give this Skirt a better silhouette so I have removed this shaping, and as long as your insertions are at least as wide as the amount that you are taking off then you will be able to do this.

Add in a Grainline.

Here a Bias Grainline has been added. Refer to Auxiliary Reference Information - Draft - Truing a Draft to learn how to add in a Bias Grainline.

You would then repeat everything you did in the Front for the Back Draft.

Circle Skirt

A Circle Skirt is exactly as it reads a Skirt made out of a Circle of fabric. Obviously if you used a full circle with the centre cut out to get it around your Waist you would have a very full skirt at the hem, so you could choose to create a skirt with less volume such as a Half Circle Skirt.

The Circle Skirt is full at the hem but without bulk at the Waist and looks exquisite with a fabric that has drape as it will hang close to the body with the bias cut.

The Circle Skirt will require a separate pattern of its own you will not draft it from your extended Bodice or your Skirt Working Template, you will create a separate Circle Working Template.

There is also is no Front or Back as both are cut in the same way.

A Circle Skirt can also be made with one, two or four seams.

As the skirt is cut across the Grain some parts of it will be on the bias causing a downward stretch so it is a good idea once cut and sewn to allow this skirt to hang for a few days prior to sewing a hemline to ensure you can get it a straight as possible.

Full Circle Skirt

There are two ways to draft this skirt you can do lots of cutting and laying out of paper or you can work through a calculation, I prefer to calculate as it is less messy and faster so I will only document this method.

I draft Circle Skirts using the following calculations;

(Waist Circumference measurement + ½” of ease) /4 = ‘x’

Take x then /4 to give you ‘y’

Add x and y together to get ‘z’

Then z /2 to get ‘w’

For example if your Waist Circumference measurement is 29 ½” then the calculation would be as follows;

x = 7 ½”

y = 1 7/8”

z = 9 3/8

w = 4 5/8 rounded down to the nearest 1/8”

To draft the skirt draw a long line squared off from the side of the paper or a straight line. Set your compass to the length for ‘w’ and draw a curve from the line drawn to the edge of the paper. This is the Waist Line.

Work out how long you want the Skirt and measure from the Waist Line at intervals around the skirt until you can draw in a curve for the Base of the Skirt. In this example I set this to 18” as my ruler is this long and it is just easy for this demonstration.

Here is the Base marked out.