I spent some time collecting and reading contemporary dressmaking and tailoring manuals of the 19thC and made a few updates to my quick start guide. The beauty of authentic dressmaking techniques in in the use of the grain of fabric to create elegant lines but to also be very easy and fast to cut. Once cut time is spent in fitting to the waist and any trimmings.
Most fancy fabric of the era was 20-30″ (50-75cm) and so we can easily replicate that by dividing a regular 60″ (150cm) length right down the middle.
A survey of the dress in Patterns of Fashion supports this method. The wools and linens could be up to 50″ wide but the panels that make up each gore of a skirt rarely go over 20″ (50cm)
I have used this method very freehand before but have created 1/10 scale diagrams that each fit on an A4 piece of paper. However it is not necessary to print at any size as the measurements are indicated on each diagram below.
1) Lay your fabric face up on your cutting surface. This will ensure any stray fibres from the surface will stick to the reverse rather than the face of the fabric. I have simply limited my diagrams to fit an A4 piece of paper and so my length is fairly arbitrary. However it produces a very neat and not overly conservative skirt.
2) Once laid flat and smooth bring the selvages together to lie across the side furthest from you.
3) Now fold the top selvage back to lie along the fold.
4) Along this new fold measure 120cm from the right hand side. This is to fit a person with a hip height of approximately 110cm (42″).) The extra 10cm (4″)is according to dressmaking manuals of the time suitable for turnings at hem and waist. This allows for some freedom in adding a train.
From there measure 15cm (6″) perpendicular and draw a line/pin this line. This is the waist edge of the front gore.
5) From there mark/pin a line to the bottom right corner. This forms the sides of the front gore- this diagonal line will measure close to 125cm.) Cut this piece from the waist so as to avoid cutting the lowest layer of fabric. This piece will eventually form the back panel of the skirt.
6) Once cut remove any pins and open the top layer open again and align the selvages once more. There will be a gore shape cut out of the top layer.
7) Now starting from the top left corner measure along the selvages to 125cm to match the length of the diagonal sides of the front gore. These will form the fronts of each side front gore.
8) We do want the side back gores to have the same waist measure as the side fronts so next start at the bottom left corner and mark 15cm perpendicularly (up the cut end.) Next mark a line between each of these points. This will form the back of each side gore. This diagonal line will wind up approximately 130cm.
9) We do however want the side back panels to be slightly longer and so we take a measure from the bottom left corner and follow the fold for 130cm. This forms the front of each side back gore that will match the side front gores. Cut straight along this line and then cut the diagonal line marked earlier. You can cut the small section above the waist of the side front gores or you can leave it. Also cut along the fold to separate the side back gores.
In this way you will easily tell which ifs the front and which is the back gore- the front gores will have the selvages!
10) Once you have cut away the side gores you will be left with the last piece. This will be 150cm long, ideal for the back skirt panel. There will also be a piece left on top from cutting the front gore.
11) To make the back panel first remove the extra fabric by cutting down the fold. This piece can be used for a bodice (ideal for a ball gown style) or other pieces.
12) Now take the cut edge and bring it up to lie along the selvage.
13) Fron here measure from the top left corner and mark at 140cm along the top. From there cut a straight or curved line to the lower right. This forms the curve of the bottom of the back panel.
14) next it is best to line up all the pieces in order. Remember the side back gore will have a cut front while the side fronts will have the selvages. Align all pieces in line with the selvages.
15) From here 19thC dressmaking manuals once again differ from modern advice as we now join each panel from the hem up.
16) It is best to start from the back and so use the straight cut sides of each gore as support for the diagonally cut. It is best to gently smooth the fabric up towards the waist on the diagonal cuts.
I recommend basting these seams from hem to just below hip height. All shaping to fit over the hips is done on the form or the figure. This is a subject deserving a separate guide dedicated to discussing it.