1930s Sew-along with Norma: Draping the Skirt Back


Close-up of illustration for draping a flared bias skirt without side seams. The Plumb Line is marked by the solid line at the side seam. From “Draping & Designing With Scissors and Cloth 1930s” by Sandra Ericson.

This skirt is part of a dress I’m making for the 1930s Sew-along with Norma.

Draping the back of the skirt introduced me to a concept called “The Plumb Line” as a way to mark side seams after draping fronts and backs of skirts or bodices. This proved very useful since the skirt seams were on the bias. After allowing the grain to settle over 2-3 days I noticed that the hem line “grew” more uneven and the side seam I’d marked with pins also slanted a little to the front.

In the close-up of the illustration of a bias skirt drape, the grain line marked before draping is a broken line. At the side seam there is a solid line with a little circle at the bottom. This is a tape measure prepared to measure the Plumb Line. I’ll explain how this is done as the photos of the drape present the process. It will make more sense once you see it in place.

Draping the back went better than the front because I knew where I wanted the flares. I recommend marking these places with pins on the form. This preparation helps you better assess the placement of each flare. If I had done this I would have saved time fussing with the flares while I was draping. When it came to the depth of the flare I went by eye and tried to create the same arrangement that was in the front. I judged by viewing the flares from the side as each one was draped.

Draping the back skirt and finding the Plumb Line

1. 3″ in from the lengthwise grain a straight line is drawn in tailor’s chalk along the full length of the fabric. This line is pinned to the CB line on the form. The fabric is smoothed towards the side seam with pins placed along the waist or hip or wherever the skirt will be sewn.

2. At the point where a flare is wanted, make a clip, put a pin in the form. While holding the fabric, move it downward so that the flare forms. Pin the fabric again. It will begin to move lower and lower as more clips are made and flares created. I found that 2-3 flares between on each side between CF-Side and CB to Side were enough.

3. The first flare is formed.

4. I looked from the side of the form to compare how the spacing and depth of the flares looked on front and back.

5. The flares look good enough so I’m ready to conclude this part of the skirt. I marked a tentative side seam in chalk on the form. Then I took the front and back off, transferred the pin marks to the fabric using tailor’s chalk. The side seam was then thread traced.

6. The excess fabric at the sides was trimmed off. Then I overlapped the front over the back and pinned at the hip and the end of the dress form. I let the fabric hang for 48 hours so gravity would work on settling the lengthwise grain.

7. The Plumb Line was ready to be marked. The weight allows the tape measure to fall perfectly straight. To set up the tape measure I checked the distance from the armplate to the floor. About 1 to 2″ above the floor I planned to pin my weight.

The weight was created by taking a handful of coins and wrapping them in a washcloth. A rubber band used to hold the washcloth in place around the coins. I then pinned it to the place I’d marked on the tape measure.

The top of the tape measure was pinned next to the side seam. Then I let the tape measure hang and settle.

I then checked where the side seam needed adjustment so that it would now be marked along the place where the tape measure was at the side.

After this the next step was to measure up from the floor where the cutting line for the skirt will be. Everything was taken off, trimmed and then pinned back together.

In the next posting are the photos of the finished drape.


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