Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Grading a wiggle skirt

I got one of the Etsy patterns I've been waiting for yesterday and since it's been a grey day weatherwise I thought I'd skip getting the blasted buttons (you know of what I'm talking about lol). The pattern I got is a classic 60's wiggle dress. Wiggle dresses are something that I remember always wanting to wear (the other is an Edwardian dress). A wiggle has been in my dreams, but I haven't been able to find a ready-made because of my shape. I can't count all the times I've spent drooling over some sheath dress to only notice that if the bodice fits the bottom won't. And vice versa. And to have a friend who can fit into any sheath or wiggle she pleases has made me a teensy bit cross with the ready-made dresses. How lucky then that I've found the world of vintage sewing! I now have wiggle dress patterns and the resources and means to make them mine!

The new wiggle.

The problem that I have with fitting in sheaths or wiggle dresses is that I have a relatively small waist compared to my hips. I'm also a bit pear shaped, so buying patterns by bust size doesn't equal a fitting bottom part pattern. This was my first try in grading a bottom piece and it turned out okay. I think the bottom could fit even better if I took out a few more centimeters of the sides, but for a first wiggle (and a wiggle walk!) a little room is fine by me. I did the muslin as neatly as I could, cause I'm planning on maybe making a wiggle dress for my graduation (when ever that day comes). So I thought it was a good idea to rehearse the whole thing all the way through in cotton (I have a nice thrifted lavender satin waiting in the stash for the fancy wiggle).

The pattern I started out with had a bodice one size smaller than mine, so I knew that the bottom wouldn't fit me at any will without alterations. I measured the skirt pieces and checked the room that the pattern had in the hip area. I then compared that measurement to my own hip measure and figured the amount that needed to be added. On the first muslin the skirt was way too big. I noticed that I only needed to make additions in width to the back piece and none to the front (this was a kind of bittersweet moment lol). Because I'd used a fabric I didn't want to waist (and cause I was feeling lazy) I took the extra centimetres from the centre front of the skirt. I than had to move the pleats too but for me this was nothing compared with having to take the whole skirt down. So the skirt now has one seam more than the pattern, but since this is a muslin, I don't really mind it. Because I wasn't so sure if the grading was accurate I didn't take pictures of the grading process. So here's a miniature version on paper (Gertie does these and I love them!) of the changes I did on the back piece of the skirt (I apologize in advance for the poor English on the paper bits, oh brother..). The changes are only to the back piece of the pattern, but I think the same goes for the front parts as well. Also, this grading changes only the hip measurement, the waist stays the same. I figured this grading style on my own while rummaging through my head for some basic pattern alterations I've seen and read about, so if you know of a better way to do this, please do let me know!

First, trace your pattern on another paper, you'll need the original later! Measure the distance from your waist to your hips' widest part, for me this is 25 cm from the natural waistline. Mark that distance on your pattern. If your making changes on both the back and front pieces, measure the distance for the patterns separately, as the distance may vary at the back than at the front. The line is illustrated here with the broken line. The left side of the pattern is centre front, the right the side seamline.

Cut along the grain line arrow almost to the top of the pattern, but don't cut it all the way. You can stop at the seamline if your patten has a separate cutting line. Be sure not to cut into the darts.

Add the needed amount of hip ease to the marked line. For me this was 4 cm. Add the amount by parting the pattern pieces 4 cm (for me) at the marked line. Secure the opening, I used scotch tape and a piece of pattern paper.

After you've widened the hips you'll see that the hem is now too wide for a wiggle skirt. We need to make it wiggle!

The opening of the slash would need to be 4 cm (for me) to keep the skirt in its original form. Because we can't take the measure from the slash, we'll take it from the sideseam instead. To know how much needs to be taken away, measure the gap in the hemline. Substract 4 (for me) from that number. The result is the amount you'll need to take away from the sideseamline. Measure the amount (7 cm for me) from the sideseam and mark it.

The new broken line shows the new sideseam. It starts at about the point where you added the hip measure and stops at the hemline where you made the substraction. Cut the extra off but without any sharp corners at the hip. Remember to make new seam allowances to your new sideseam!

After this you'll need to straighten the hemline. Draw a new hemline in a right-angle from the centre back line and matching the sideseam. Cut the extra off.

 Now you need the original pattern by your side. You'll need to draw a new waistline and replace the noches so that they match the front skirt pattern.

 Place the new pattern on top of the old one. Trace the notches from the old pattern to the new one and draw the waistline along the waistline of the original pattern piece.

 And now youre done! The hip has been widened and the patten has been made in to a wiggle once more! Hurraa!

I didn't make any changes to the bodice pieces, although next time I'll propably add another 1 or 2 cm of length for a more comfortable fit. I've found that with vintage patterns I can go down a size in fitted bodices and more on loose bodices because the seam allowances are bigger than I'm used to. I usually sew with a 1 cm allowance, when the patterns suggest 1,5 cm. So I get room from that difference to my bodice pieces. 


Tämän sateisen ja harmaan päivän ohjelmana oli uuden mekon kaavojen muokkaus. Kapeahelmaiset mekot ovat aina olleet minulle hankalia, koska niiden malli ei valmisvaatteissa ainakaan salli kurveja, ei sitten ollenkaan. Koska itselläni on suhteellisen kapea vyötärö verrattuna lanteisiin, on sopivien kotelomekkojen ostaminen mahdotonta. Onneksi kaavoja muokkaamalla nämäkin mekot ovat nyt käden ulottuvilla! Teen ajan salliessa tekemistäni muutoksista myös suomenkielisen version.


  1. I want to use this method on a dress I am making. It looks ingenious, and also pretty easy. Thanks for sharing the instructions.

  2. Hello! I found this post via Google and it has been so helpful- I seem to be in just the same sitaution as you. I love wiggle skirts and sheath dresses but with measurements of 35-30-42 they are a nightmare to find ready-made! I am just beginning to learn to sew and I think you post will help a lot, thanks!

    I have a question, though. (sorry if I've just misunderstood). Doesn't taking in the side seam just cancel out the widening you did on the hip part? Could you explain? sorry, thanks!