Basic Skirt Block

I was wondering what to wear for the OWOP! (One Week, One Pattern) project: this is the initiative organized by Tilly and the Buttons where for a whole week from Saturday 24 March we wear and post pictures of garments made from a single pattern.  Now, were it summer, I’d have worn the many dresses I’ve made from either of my two favourites patterns: Burda 7378 or New Look 6459.  But the weather at the moment is capricious so I’m going with the various skirts I’ve made from the Basic Skirt Block which I’ve drafted by following the instructions in the Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing.  

If you’ve never drafted a pattern and would like to give it a try, this is a simple way to start (don’t let the amount of verbiage below scare you!).  You’ll end up with a block (or sloper) suitable for making a knee-length skirt fitted to your shape by means of two front and two back darts.  As I only had a remnant of this beautiful, faux leopard fabric from here, the skirt I made turned out a mini, but the process is exactly the same, only the length is shorter. 

You will need:

Equipment: a tape measure, a long ruler, a triangle/set square, paper (newspaper or wrapping paper on the plain side), pins and a sharpened pencil.  And a long mirror!  If you want to add seam allowances (see Step 4) to make a skirt pattern out of the block, I recommend one of these sewing gauges that I can’t live without.   

Measurements in cm:

Hips (at widest point) e.g. 100cm

Waist circumference e.g. 70cm

Skirt length from waist e.g. 50cm

Tip: not sure where your waist is?  Tie a string firmly around your middle and it’ll settle at the narrowest.  If this seems higher than you’d like your skirt to be, don’t worry as we’ll be “dropping the waist” in Step 3.

Tip: if you’re unsure of your desired skirt length,  stand in front of a mirror whilst holding a towel over your bare or stockinged legs.  Raise and lower the towel whilst looking at its edge and your legs in the mirror.  When you find the view that’s the most flattering, measure from the waist to the towel edge. 

Creating a Basic Skirt Block

There are three steps to creating the BSB:

Step 1: Skirt Back

Step 2: Skirt Front

Step 3: Shaping the Waist

Please note that the block includes ‘ease’ but no seam allowances (ease is the extra width given to a garment to ensure that it’s not skin-tight).    Seam allowances are added in Step 4 so that the BSB become a pattern.   Keep your original block (it’s the “master pattern”) and you can use it for other skirt patterns (I’ll be developing it into A-line and pencil skirts in future blogs) or to check against measurements of any commercial patterns you might use. 

Step 1: Skirt Back (click to open PDF diagram)

Using a ruler and a set square, draw a rectangle A-B-C-D where:

A – C = Skirt length (i.e. 50cm)

A – B  = Hips divided by four, minus 0.5cm (e.g. 100cm/4= 25cm -0.5cm = 24.5cm)

Label each line:

A – B Waistline

C – D Hemline

A – C Centre Back

C – D Side

Mark a new point E on the waistline by measuring 2-3cm from B to A.  If your figure is of the “straight up and down” type, go in 2cm, but if your waist is relatively narrow compared to your hip, go for 3cm.  I’ll opt for 3cm, so my A-E=21.5cm. 

Mark a new point F on the side by measuring 15-25cm from B towards D.  This marks the widest part of your hip. The widest part of my hip happens to be very low on account of something technically known as ’saddlebags’ so my point F is 25cm below B. 

Next, join points E to F with a gentle curve which should mimic the side of your waist going down to the widest part of your hip.  Look in the mirror to get an idea of the shape of your curve.  If you need a guideline, join E to F with a straight line then draw a curve some 0.5-1cm beyond it.

To draw the dart, find the midpoint between A and E and from there draw a vertical line perpendicular to the waistline.  This is the fold line of the dart and it should measure 15cm (or 1-2cm longer if your hipline is low like mine).  To decide on the width of the dart, divide the waistline by 4, and subtract 1cm.  The difference between this number and the length A-E is the total width at the top of the dart, half on each side of the foldline.  So using the above measurements:

70cm/4=17.5cm 

17.5cm- 1 = 16.5cm 

21.5cm-16.5cm=5cm

5cm/2=2.5cm

Mark the dart by drawing diagonals from the waistline to the bottom of the foldline.  Cut out the Skirt Back, making sure all the letters and labels are on the block.

Step 2: Skirt Front (click to open PDF diagram)

Copy the rectangle A-B-C-D for the Skirt Back and make two modifications:

a) Widen the block by 2cm to the left: extend line B-A by 2cm to create point a.  Extend line D-C by 2cm to create c.  Join a-c.  The waistline a-E is now wider than at skirt back and in my example measures 23.5cm.

b) Front dart is located by finding the midpoint between a and E.  From here, make a 12cm (1-2cm longer for a low hip) foldline at right angles to the waistline.  To establish the width of the front dart, divide the waist measurement by 4, add 3cm, then subtract this figure from length a-E.  So in my example:

70cm/4=17.5cm

17.5cm+3=20.5cm

23.5cm-20.5cm=3cm

My front dart is 3cm wide.  Draw the two diagonals on each side of the foldline, narrowing  from the waistline to the bottom of the dart.  Cut out and label as in Step 1. 

Step 3: Dropping the Waist (click title to open PDF)

Here, the waistline of the two blocks is shaped to the figure.  First, drop point A on the Skirt Back by 2cm to a new point WA.  Fold the dart and pin it closed.  Draw a smooth curve from E to WA.  Keeping the dart pinned, cut along the line of the curve.  Repeat the process for the Skirt Front.  If you like to wear your skirts lower-slung than mine, you could use a sewing gauge to mark a lower waistline and slice into the block again.    

Step 4: Making the BSB into a Skirt Pattern

This means adding seam allowances, cutting instructions and grainlines to a copy of the block.  For the Skirt Back, copy the block onto another piece of paper (or trace it:  I use the cheapest greaseproof paper) and add seam allowances of 1.5cm for the waist, centre back and the sides and 3-5cm to the hemline.  Label with “Cut 2“, mark the zip placement on the centre back if you wish, draw the grainline and cut out along the edges of the seam allowances. 

To add seam allowances to the Skirt Front, copy or trace to another piece of paper and 1.5cm seam allowances to the waist and the side, and 3-5cm to the hemline.  Draw a foldline on the Centre Front side and label with “Cut 1 on Fold“.  Cut out.

Making up the Skirt

After what might seem a lengthy and labourious process, you might want to rush out and cut your fabric right away.  Unless you’re using a dispensable fabric, I’d urge you to test out your pattern on some calico or a dust sheet: yes, it’s time to ‘fess up and admit that the Reader’s Digest formula for the BSB is not foolproof and may need tweaking.  My ”ghost skirt” demonstrated that I could have done with a more generous hip allowance and a tighter waist.  It didn’t take long to adjust my BSB and pattern and the final result fits perfectly.  Though it might be a bit short and cougarish.

10 thoughts on “Basic Skirt Block

  1. Hello I am having a hard time with the darts can u help me they are as follows
    Back From A-E is 21.30 cm
    Front From a-E is 23.30 cm
    Waist is 30 inches 76.20cm
    Please tell me my dart width

    • Hi Kia,
      Just in case it’s not clear, I’m using the symbol “/” to mean “divide”.

      Back Dart
      76.2cm(waist) / 4 = 19.05cm
      19.05 – 1 = 18.05cm.
      I’ll round this off to 18cm.
      21.30cm – 18cm = 3.3cm
      The back dart width is 3.3cm, with half on each side of the line in the middle (which is the half-way point from A – E). As it’s an odd number, maybe it would be better to round off to 3.2cm or 3.4cm so that the dart will have 1.6cm or 1.7cm on each side of midpoint.
      For the Front Dart:
      76.2cm / 4 = 19.05cm
      19.05 + 3 = 22.05cm
      23.30cm (A- e) – 22.05cm = 1.25cm
      This is a narrow dart! Try increasing this to 1.4cm so that it’s 0.7cm on each side of mid-point.

      Hope this helps.

      To make your skirt “pencil”, just elongate to the desired length with the sides straight down and parallel to the centre (i.e. like a pencil). If the skirt is very long and narrow, you’ll need to add a kick-back pleat when you develop your block into the pattern or it might be too tight to walk in!

      Let me know how you get on.
      Best,
      Marianna

      • Ok block came out amazing!!! But I have two questions for the wasit band how do I draft that because the waist is curved do I just do a big square lol what are the measurements A-E and a-E on the fold do I minus or add anything? Also when we drop the waist u do lose 2cm of your dart do you extent that 2cm to make up for it? Just want to make sure I dot my i’s n cross my T’s after I get the waistband I am going to start on the lining with invisible zipper I saw u posted a link to lining a skirt but I am sure I will have a million questions hope I am not driving u nuts with all my questions but a sewer I met in a store gave me some advice she said don’t be afraid to ask and because I am I am learning thanks so much for your time

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  6. Loving your website, thank you for all the great information, I will make a skirt block and hope it turns out well. Loving your daughter’s skirt and I am really enjoying The great british sewing bee, more of this on TV would be great as I have had enough of the cooking programmes. Thank you.

    Marie
    Melbourne
    Australia

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