Polka Dot Farthingale: Part Three

Making a Polka Dot Farthingale: Part Three at MorganDonner.com.

The farthingale is completely done!  Wooo!  Here’s the final video showing how I put the skirt together:

If videos aren’t your thing, here’s a transcript with pictures!

The pattern for a farthingale skirt is actually quite simple, it is an a-line skirt and consists of two rectangles and four triangles with a bit of waist shaping.

The 16th century Alcega pattern here shows one way to lay out the pattern for efficient cutting. There is some debate as to where you should attach the triangular gores, but I decided to go with what made sense to me, which is rectangular sections in front and back, and two gores on each side, at your hips. It’s generally a good idea to attach your bias edges to straight-grain edges, so that the bias can’t stretch over time.

Skirt Layout. Polka Dot Farthingale: Part Three – Morgan Donner's Sewing Party at MorganDonner.com.

I pin all of the skirt pieces together to make sure that I have the layout how I want it, and then machine sew the seams. This is a fairly clear image of what I am doing , you are going to want two of those guys.

Now I can try on the skirt, but the waist is a little big, so I’ve done some temporary gathering in the back and a little pleating on the sides to keep it from falling down. The bodice from Part 2 comes back on now, and once I get everything tightened up, I can tuck the skirt up under the bodice and mark out where the waist seam will be with some chalk, especially in the front where the point is.

With the skirt flat, I can use my chalk marks to determine where center line for the waist of the skirt will be.   It will need to open a bit in the front, so next I will split the skirt down the center a couple inches.   First I make a facing out of some scrap fabric and mark the center of the facing with chalk.  Pin the facing in place, sew around the drawn line very, very close to the edge, maybe a quarter inch out. Then I cut between those two seams right on the chalkline and flip the facing in towards the inside of the skirt. All of the raw edges get turned in and pinned to keep everything in place. With a bit of off-camera hand sewing, that facing is neat and finished, and the waist seam can also be finished with some whip stitches. I try to keep my stitch on the front side of the fabric as tiny as possible to help keep them invisible.

Now we can attach the skirt to the bodice!  I use lots of pins to keep things centered in the front and back, and evenly pin the rest of the skirt fabric onto the waist of the bodice.  This is similar to cartridge pleating, but I am not pleating the fabric first so…. maybe cartridge gathering??  Whatever you call it, this sewing is best done by hand, and I gather the skirt fabric slightly between each stitch to take up the excess, especially towards the back of the garment. When done this will have a nice gathered effect on the outside.

The skirt is falling nicely from the bodice so we can start hemming. Normally a friend would be very helpful here, but since I am working alone today, I will just have to take up the bottom hem as evenly as I can, and then adjust as needed.

I got these flat spring steel bones on Amazon to use as hoops. It is hard to see if the skirt is too long without it being properly expanded to it’s full circumference, so I am inserting the spring steel into the pinned hem. This is only temporary.

When I tried the dress on again, I was a little alarmed by how big the skirt was.  But instead of panicking, I decided to spend some time in the outfit to see how I feel about it before making any drastic changes. I want to see if the length of the skirt will bug me as I walk around, and if the fit of the bodice works for me. This is my first time wearing a hoop skirt, so I also want to get a sense of how annoying it will be to walk through doorways, sit down, and generally go about my day.

So I am going to take a break from sewing, and spend some time around the house getting coffee, doing some dishes, and reading.

The results are in! I have decided that while the hem seems to be even enough, it’s a bit too long because I keep stepping on the bottom hoop. So I am going to just cut right at the current pinned hemline, which will both even things up and shorten it by about an inch.

I also feel like it is definitely wider than I would like, so I am pinning some new darts in the middle of each gore.  I am going to remove about 12 inches total from the hem.  I make the seam allowance narrower as I near the top of the skirt, as I don’t want to also remove width from the hip area, that area is fine.
Now that the skirt is fixed, I can start creating the channels for the hoops. The illustrations of 16th century hooped skirts often show bands of contrasting color holding the hoops and I like the look of that.

I am cutting long strips of bias tape from this silver silk fabric . I am using this handy dandy card to mark out the same width down the length of the strip. Connect your strips of bias, and be careful as you pin, you don’t want to flip which side the seam allowance is on.  One side of your tape will be smooth, and the other will have many seam allowances to iron down.

I am going to attach a band to the hem of my skirt and finish the edge of the hem at the same time by sewing the silk band on the inside of the skirt then flipping it up so it shows on the outside. Basically I am making a facing, except its on the outside instead of the inside. With the help of a ruler and iron I am getting everything neat so that I can pin the new band in place.

To figure out the placement of the next row I measure approximately where I would like it to be and then add a piece of tape to my ruler so I can very quickly keep that same distance between rows throughout the entire second band and all subsequent bands.  It’s a little faster than looking for the number each time you measure.
I generally will sew one edge of a band or guard with the machine, and after it has been ironed and pinned, I will hand sew the other edge of the band. This way I avoid visible machine stitching on the outside of my historical garment. If I wanted to go the extra mile, I would hand sew both edges of the band to the skirt, but screw that.

I left a couple inches open on each channel so that I could still insert the spring steel hoops. Once I insert each hoop, I cut the excess off and tape each end so they don’t poke through my fabric. There are more professional ways to finish the edge of the steel, but tape works for now. The steel needs to overlap by at least several inches so that they keep a round shape in the skirt. If you cut them too short, they will form a pointy teardrop shape instead.

Now that all the hoops are in, let’s see how things look.

Not bad, the narrow width is definitely better and the overall size looks good. The back of the hem is touching the ground a bit, and the front could be a little higher as well. The top hoop is too big at the moment, see how it sticks out a bit more than the rest? I will need to reduce the size of the hoop and tape it in place.
Rather than make a new hem, I am going to reduce the length of the skirt by taking a tuck a couple inches up from the top hoop. Tucks are great since it means I don’t need to undo my bottom hoop and there are a lot of visible tucks on dresses in 16th century portraiture.  Perfect!

I am using the ruler to mark the depth of the tuck, and pinning it in at the base.  A little more off-camera sewing, and ta-da!  All done!  Enjoy some photos and footage of the finished farthingale!

Lady at Her Toilette, 1590.


Next, I will be making a red gown to go over this!  Till next time, good night!

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