A Victorian-Inspired Skirt

Image of a woman with long black hair smiling to the camera wearing a polka-dotted T-shirt and a Victorian-inspired black skirt with with two layers with the top skirt with two channels raised to created a bustle effect
The Victorian Inspired Skirt

The tutorial for this Victorian-inspired skirt was one of the first projects I really, really wanted to make when I started sewing. At the time, I did not understand that fabric can make or break a project. I remember waiting until I felt confident enough to handle drafting the pattern on my own and sew perfectly straight rows of stitches to tackle this project. When I finally sewed it, I used some really cheap, awfully slippery, and probably very flammable red satin fabric I had bought for dirt cheap at a store in the Los Angeles Fashion district. I don’t have to tell you that it was a disaster.

Image of woman back to the camera with long black hair wearing a polka-dotted T-shirt and a Victorian-inspired black skirt with with two layers with the top skirt with two channels raised to created a bustle effect
The Bustle Effect, Back View

The fabric frayed like crazy. Because it was so slippery, the seams would slide all over and not match. The topstitching looked crazy. I sewed the first skirt, inserted the strings to create the draping effect, and the whole thing just looked bad. Instead of realizing that the problem was the awful fabric, I blamed the poor results on the difficulty of the project (not particularly difficult) and my sewing skills (good enough at the time to complete the skirt given the right choice of fabric).

Image of woman sideways to the camera with long black hair wearing a polka-dotted T-shirt and a Victorian-inspired black skirt with with two layers with the top skirt with two channels raised to created a bustle effect
The Bustle Effect, Side View

This happened about nine years ago. It was not until I finished my Summer Goth Skirt that I remembered this tutorial. I had a bunch of beautiful thick cotton sateen I got from Joann. To be on the safe side, I ordered three times more cotton string (also from Joann) than I would need. I had the last of summer vacation staring down at me and asking, how are you going to spend me? Sewing a Victorian-inspired skirt, summer, that’s how.

Pattern

The pattern for the Victorian-inspired skirt is self-drafted following the tutorial instructions from Cathrin Åhlén’s blog, Katafalk. The only really essential measurement is the waist. Once you have your waist measurement, you are going to divide it by 6 (because you will end up with six panels). Then, you will take the resulting number and add seam allowances to both sides of each panel.

Image of the original tutorial
The Original Tutorial

So, here is your formula: waist/6 + (seam allowance x 2) = measurement of the top of the panel. Keep in mind that your side seam allowances should be wide enough that you can sew them into channels. I started with 1″ allowances but after sewing the muslin, I narrowed them to 3/4″ of an inch.

The length of each panel, the width of the hem, and the width of the ruffles are up to you. The tutorial assumes a long skirt, but I don’t wear anything much longer than below the knee. For me, the length was 20 inches, and the width of the hem was three inches wider than the measurement of the waist (9 inches).

Image of the two skirt panels, one to be cut on the fold and the other to be cut flat, on a cut of black fabric with pattern weights on top
The Skirt Panels

The original Victorian-inspired skirt does not have a waistband, but I decided that add one for a more finished look. My waistband was six inches wide; after being folded in two and accounting for seam allowances, the finished waistband is 2 1/8″ wide. I cut the waistband longer than what I needed just because it was easier than trying to get an exact measurement. If you plan on adding a waistband, remember to add seam allowances to the top of your six skirt panels.

Image of woman with long black hair wearing a polka-dotted T-shirt and a Victorian-inspired black skirt with two layers with the top layered raised by two channels in front
Partially Raised Front Channels

I made the ruffles six inches wide—this width already included 5/8″ of seam allowance and roughly 1/2″ for the hem. I really wanted to reduce the amount of math in my life, so I came up with a number that I knew would give me enough width even after all the seams had been sewn. If the skirt were longer, I would have made the ruffles wider to balance the whole project.

The pattern ended up with four pieces: the waistband, one panel piece cut on the fold (half of the panel), one pattern piece cut flat (whole panel), and one ruffle to be cut four times.

Size

Since this is another self-drafted project, you will use your own measurements to create the pattern. As mentioned before, the only measurement that you will really need is your waist. I like my skirts just below the belly button, so this is where I measured, but this is a matter of preference.

Remember to add seam allowances to each side of the panels (and on top if you plan to add a waistband). If you forget your seam allowances, you will end up with a skirt that is just too small to fit you. Because your seam allowances will become the channels for the string, make sure that they are wide enough so that you can thread the string through.

Fabric

Detail image of cotton sateen from Joann
Cotton Sateen

This cotton sateen is from Joann. It has a lot of structure and a nice, subtle sheen. Pressing is an issue, though. Using the iron directly on the fabric leaves shiny marks (I know because it happened to another project). I used an organza pressing cloth for all the pressing and ironing I did—one extra, annoying step that resulted in nicely-pressed seams with no shiny iron marks. This fabric is heavy, so the skirt ended up quite heavy; this is definitely not a skirt for hot days.

Construction

Cutting the Pattern

You will cut six panels for each of the two skirts. The top skirt—the one with the channels—is two inches shorter than the bottom skirt (my preference). For each of the skirts, you will cut two panel pieces on the fold, four panel pieces flat, and two ruffles on the fold. You will cut only one waistband on the fold since both skirts will be combined to make one layered skirt.

I had a small meltdown as I tried to determine the right side of the fabric after cutting all the pieces. I am so glad I followed the advice of Pauline Erato from Petite Font and purchased a magnifying glass lamp. This thing is amazing! I was able to quickly find the right side of the fabric and start sewing.

Detail image of the corner created by the side seam and the hem showing an angle smaller than 90 degrees
The Pointy Corner

Remember that time when I talked about squaring up the corners of the pattern so that you don’t end up with distorted seams? I seem to have forgotten my own advice. I did not square up the angle formed by the side seam and the hem. When I sewed the side seams, they ended up weirdly pointy at the hem—actually, I should say, weirdly double pointy. I let it slide because I knew the ruffles would hide this abomination. So, more than a suggestion, here is a warning: Square up your corners so that you don’t end up with hems that have horns.

Installing the Zipper

I started sewing the skirt by installing the zipper. The zipper is on the side because the skirt has no center back seam. I always stabilize the zipper opening so that there is no puckering when sewing the zipper tape. I used an invisible zipper as a matter of preference, but a regular one would work just fine.

Making the Channels

Once your zipper is installed, press the seams open, and you are ready to create your first channels. I sewed the channels with the wrong side of the fabric facing up. I serged the seams to finish all raw edges, and I used the finished serged edges to guide the topstiching. If you don’t have a serger, you can mark a straight line very close to the edge of the fabric and use it as a guide. If you are using a marking tool, test it on a piece of scrap fabric to make sure you can wash/rub it off.

Detail of a sewing machine foot sewing a line using the serged edge of the fabric to sew the channel
Using the serged edge as a guide to sew the channels

I created the holes for the string before I sewed the channels. I was afraid that if I tried to create them after the channels were completed, I could end up poking a hole through the skirt itself. I used the muslin to decide where I wanted the holes to go. I placed one hole two and a half inches from the hem and the other nine inches from it. I used an awl to pierce the fabric and gently forced it through the hole to make it big enough for the darning needle I used to thread the string.

Image of awl piercing black fabric
Awl Piercing the Fabric

If your topstitching is not perfectly straight, that is not the end of the world. If you use thread that matches your fabric, the stitches will look almost invisible from the right side of the project. Besides, when you use the channels to bring the panels up, no one will be able to tell how straight (or not!) your stitches are.

Sewing the Skirts

Once the zipper seams and channels were done, I sewed the remaining four panels. It is much easier to sew the channels before you have all the panels connected. There are going to be two seams (four channels) that you will have to finish once the whole skirt is sewn together, but I didn’t find it too difficult to handle the fabric to get the final channels done.

Image of the finished Victorian Inspired Skirt flat on a hardwood floor
Victorian Inspired Skirt, Flat

The second skirt is sewn exactly like the first; the only difference is that you have to leave an opening where the zipper should be. It does not really matter which layer gets the zipper. Either way, you are going to have to topstitch around the zipper to secure the two skirts together. Just keep in mind that you will need to leave an opening for the zipper.

Adding Ruffles

With both skirts completed, it was time to add the ruffles. For each skirt, I cut four ruffles pieces. I used the whole width of the fabric (60 inches) for each ruffle piece. I finished all raw edges with the serger. I sewed together two ruffle pieces for the front and two for the back. Then, it was time to gather each 120″ wide ruffle. It took forever to sew three rows of gathering on each ruffle. Because the fabric is so thick, it was really hard pulling the threads to create the gathers. My hands were hurting halfway through the process.

Detail image of ruffles
The Ruffles

I marked the middle of the skirt (front and back, top and bottom skirts) and matched it to the center seam of the ruffle. Working from the edges of the ruffle, I made the gatherings, making sure that everything looked nice and even. I used a lot of pins to keep the pieces together. Finally, I folded the serged edge once and used it as a guide for the hem. The gathers look SO good! So good, in fact, that I am planning a one-layer skirt with the ruffles sewn on the outside.

The Waistband

The most troublesome part of the whole project was the waistband. It all started out fine. I interfaced the piece with the usual Pellon SF101. I wish I had some black interfacing because after cutting into the buttonhole, some white is showing. The buttonhole was a nightmare. My machine could not handle the thickness of the waistband. Not wanting to admit defeat, I tried and tried and tried. The fabric looks like someone attacked it with an ice pick. I finally gave up and free-handed the buttonhole.

Detail image of a buttohole showing some white because of the white interfacinng
The Messed-up Buttonhole
Threading the String

Once the skirt was completed, I inserted the string into channels. The string is 2mm black cotton cord I got from Joann; I think it is used in jewelry making. I used a darning needle to thread the string through the holes and into the channels. I had to flatten the cord to make it fit through the eye of the darning needle; the process was easy and quick.

Detail of a hand holding a darning needle threaded with cotton cord showing how to thread the cord through the holes and into the channels of the skirt.
Threading the Channels
And the Button

I had a top I loved, but it got too small and old as the years went by. When it was time to dispose of it, I removed the buttons. I used one of the buttons for this skirt. I think it works perfectly on this skirt, and it helps hide some of the hot mess that the buttonhole is. I am very proud of my small attempt to recycle materials.

Detail image of recycled button
Recycled Button
The Victorian-Inspired Skirt

I love this skirt so much! I wish I had figured out sooner that the fabric was the culprit of my past failure. I could have worn the hell out of it during my most prolific goth club days. Now that my social life is non-existent, I can hang this beautiful skirt and swoon over it every time I open the closet.

Image of woman with long black hair wearing a polka-dotted T-shirt and a Victorian-inspired black skirt with two layers with the top layered raised by two channels in front
Victorian Inspired Skirt, Ready for the Club

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