Modifying the Skirt Shape (changing the angle or hem)

In this post I’ll go over some pattern drafting techniques you can use to modify the shape of the skirt.  These all involve cutting, splicing, or trimming the pattern piece.  I’d recommend tracing a copy to use, so you don’t destroy the original.

Note: This post was created for an earlier edition of the pattern, so some skirt views and pattern numbers have changed. In general we recommend starting with the single-panel skirt pattern, then transferring the change to other styles of skirt and/or the skirt frame (called the under-skirt in this post).

1.  Changing the hemline

2.  Changing the angle of the sides.

1 – Changing the Hemline

1 – Start with the Skirt Block Front and Back [for newer editions, use the single-panel skirt front and back].  Draw the desired new hemline on the bottom of the skirt blocks.  If you’re going for a longer hemline, you’ll have to tape some excess paper to the bottom, so you have somewhere to draw. I recommend moving the side up or down and leaving the center where it is – that way you’re not changing the overall length of the dress.

2 – Fold the side pleat over to check the hem length on it.  It should be about 1/2″ or more above the skirt hemline.  You don’t want to risk it sticking out.  Redraw the hemline on the side pleat as I have done, if needed to maintain that 1/2″ difference.  Since you just drew on the back of the pattern, be sure to transfer it to the front so you don’t forget about it : )

3 – I just showed the front, but don’t forget the back too!  If you are making Skirt View VI or VII (single-panel), you’re now done.  Enjoy!

For gathered or pleated skirts (one long panel):

4 – Divide the hem edge into 4.  Ignore the side pleat, so you’re just dividing between the center-front (or -back) and the side pleat fold line.  If you want to be more precise, you can divide into 6 or 8 instead.  I’ve shown it with 4 here just to make a simpler visual.

5 – Measure the distance from the old hem to the new hem at each of the divisions.  I’ve written my distances on my pattern piece to the right.

6 – On your skirt front and back, divide the hem edge into 4 (or 6 or 8), the same way you did in step 4.  Mark your distances up or down from the hem and connect the dots with a smooth line.  The new line should make a 90º angle with the center-front and center-back.

For the Three-Panel Skirt (also works for Seven Panel Skirts Add-on):

7 – Fold Skirt Fronts A and C along the fold lines and match up notches with Front B to simulate how the pieces will fit when assembled.  They will be the same shape as the Skirt Block/Single Panel Front.  Lay the Skirt Block Front overtop and trace the new hemline onto pieces A-C.  Do the same thing with Skirt Backs D and E and the Skirt Block/Single Panel Back.

8.  Previously in step 2 we adjusted the side pleat so that it was 1/2″ above the new hemline.  We’ll need to do the same thing to the pleats in the 3-panel skirt.  To clarify, these are the pleats where the edges of A & B meet, B & C meet, and D & E meet.  Measure up that 1/2″ to see if you need to shave a little off the inside of the pleats.

2 – Changing the Angle of the Sides

1 – Draw the new desired angle on the Skirt Block Front (10) first.  Trace it onto the Skirt Block Back (11), Under-skirt Back (15), and Under-skirt Front (14) if using. On the Skirt Back (11), the angle will start from the top edge.  From all other pieces, it will start from the Dropped Waist Seam Line.

**Make sure they are all the same angle, this is very important! Use of a protractor is recommended**

Decreasing Angle

Increasing Angle

2 – Cut the pattern piece along the side-pleat line.  Angle it in or out so that the cut edge lines up with the new drawn line.  See the graphics below.  Redraw the edge of the pieces along the joins as needed to create a smooth shape.

Decreasing Angle

Increasing Angle

3 – Depending on how much the angle was changed, it’s possible the side pleat may now poke out the bottom, which is not desirable!  Scroll up to step 2 of the 1st tutorial (way at the top) for directions on how to modify the hemline of the side pleat if necessary.


    • Earnest Threads says:

      You’re doing nothing wrong! The side pleat sits a couple inches in front of the bodice – this is important to maintain that flat shape across the front. Look for a notch on the bottom of the bodice pattern that should line up with the side pleat.

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