How to Grade and Size Up the 216 Schoolmistress Skirt Pattern
August 22, 2021
by Cynthia Anderson The Folkwear 216 Schoolmistress Pattern comprises two perfect companion pieces; a feminine-yet-tailored shirtwaist (blouse) and a skirt made of flattering gores with a fun box pleat in back. In 1908, this pairing would have matched and been a popular ready-to-wear item, covering pages in the Sears catalog. The beauty of these garments is that they can still be made and worn as a coordinated ensemble or as separates to be mixed in any way that inspires. Pair the shirtwaist with your favorite jeans or skirt… pair the skirt with any combinations of blouses, tops, vests, or sweaters to expand your wardrobe. Learn about the 216 Shirtwaist in the previous post Making the Scalloped Front Placket for the 216 Schoolmistress Shirtwaist. In this post this easy-to-make skirt gets it’s due appreciation.
The 216 Schoolmistress Skirt Pattern is just as flattering, versatile, and contemporary now as it was over a hundred years ago. Originally, the skirts were quite plainly cut, usually in gores with or without inverted pleats. Our pattern includes an inverted pleat that makes for easy movement. Gores are triangles that are smaller at the waist and get wider as the length extends towards the bottom of the skirt, creating a graceful silhouette. When stitched this easy construction creates an A-line that fits though the waist and hips while allowing for easy movement.
Wear this skirt short or long, made for a special occasion or for everyday. It can be worn year round depending on the fabric. I can not think of a woven fabric that would not work for this lovely skirt. Light to mid-weight wool, cotton, linen, and silk will all work. Even a mid to heavy weight knit could work if the stretch is stable. Gored skirts look lovely made of fabrics with drape or without drape. It just depends on what you like. The gore construction is the perfect canvas for getting creative and mixing beautifully curated fabrics. The bottom trim can be added to mimic the pleats on the shirtwaist or eliminate for a simple yet elegant silhouette.
Gored skirts are as easy to construct as they are flattering, and can be worn by nearly all body sizes and shapes. In this blog I will demonstrate how easy it is to grade between sizes and enlarge the size offerings, to help you achieve the fit you need. Grading the Skirt Up
All printed commercial patterns come in a range sizes, yet precious few bodies ever exactly fit one size perfectly. If you think of a pattern as a starting guide, that is meant to be altered, then you can begin to think of how to use a pattern that can be made to fit you, instead of you fitting the pattern. It would be a shame to overlook this beautiful skirt because of fit concerns or a limited size range (though the size range is quite small for this pattern).
What you are about to learn in this blog, is not a quick fix for a full bottom and/or stomach adjustment. Grading can be complex depending on the issues and is a skill that requires time and effort to learn. Learning to fit is the most perplexing aspect of sewing and the part that every sewist eventually must face. To understand fitting you have to start somewhere and grading a skirt is the perfect place to start.
The idea is to start with the widest measurement you require. For most women this is the hip measurement, however it could be the waist. The general grading rule (but not always) is to start with the widest part of your body, then tapper or grade towards the more narrow portion. To make a skirt fit, the hips and waist are the focus. For this skirt to fit properly, the waist should sit at the body’s natural waist and the fabric should gently cascade over the hips. This skirt is not meant to fit too snugly over the hips, it has enough ease or built-in roominess to allow for comfort when sitting, standing, and walking
The 216 Schoolmistress Skirt pattern currently only goes up to a size 14, which has a 28-inch waist. We intend to size this pattern up in the future, but luckily you do not have to wait. Expanding the sizes, at least by a few sizes, is not difficult when working with gores. I will demonstrate how to grade this skirt between sizes at the waist and hip. I will also demonstrate how to size the skirt up by adding to the seam allowances. One additional point, when making sizing adjustments you must make a muslin first! Yes, I know a muslin takes time and materials, but it is essential if you do not want to ruin your 'final' fabric. Grading Between Sizes Grading between sizes on a skirt is fairly simple. This is a great technique to use when your hip and waist measurements put you between sizes on a pattern. For instance, if your hip measurement puts you at a size 14 and your waist measurement puts you at a size 12. The rule of thumb for grading between sizes is that you should just be going up or down 2 sizes or less. If grading between 3 or more sizes (e.g. from size 8 waist to 16 hip) the proportions of the garment can get skewed and not look right. For large differences, there are other fitting techniques to make adjustments, but we are not covering those here.
When making adjustments, it is best to trace the pattern and not use the original. Mistakes happen and experimenting on your original pattern may end in regret. Instead, take the time to trace the pattern to experiment and learn on. To grade a pattern between sizes, trace the sizes you will be grading between to a piece of tracing paper or fabric tracing material, such as Swedish Tracing Fabric. Use a hip curve or French curve to connect the two sizes using a smooth and continuous line. Be sure to make the same exact adjustment to both side seams. In the case of the 216 Schoolmistress Skirt, the side pieces J and K are adjusted on the double notched edges (7). Because the pattern is cut two, the side seams for both the front and back side seams are adjusted. In the photos below the largest hip measurement of 38 inches (97cm) was used and graded to the smallest waist measurement of 24 inches (61cm).
Once you have graded J, then flip K over on top of J, match the double notches and waist edge to align and trace the drawn grading line. This should be easy if using Swedish tracing Fabric or another tracing paper.
Enlarging the Pattern The 216 Schoolmistress pattern currently only goes up to a size 14 with a 28 inch (71cm) waist. Luckily, this pattern can be graded up even if the size increase is fairly significant. This is done by adding more to the seam allowance edges of the panels. I am using the largest size pattern as a guide and as a starting point for the waist enlargement. Since the larger pattern sizes are limited I am focusing on sizing up and not down, but the principle is the same. Because gored skirts are made up of several panels, each pattern will need to be adjusted if the size increase is two sizes or more. This will ensure the proportions of the panels remain consistent. Pattern pieces I,J,K,M,N,O,P,Q,R, and S will need adjusting. The waist is a logical place to start, because it is a straightforward concept. For this reason I always start with the waist. However, double check the hip measurement as well. With a gored skirt design you always want some ease in the hip. You can adjust the hip measurement at the same time as the waist adjustment, if you feel confident in doing so. I prefer to make one adjustment at a time. But this is totally up to you and your skill level.
I need a 31 inch (79cm) waist measurement, so I will need to add 3 inches (8cm) to the 28 inch (71cm) waist of the size 14. To enlarge the skirt sizes, each pattern piece will need to be graded up equally, adding width on the side seam allowances. Three inches (8cm) sounds like a lot, but once the measurement is evenly distributed to all the pattern pieces, it seems less so.
To enlarge the waist 3 inches (8cm), the additional 3 inches (8cm) needs to be evenly distributed to each of the 12 side seam edges. I know there are seven gores equaling 14 edges, but keep reading and I will explain. To keep the proportions of the gores equal, the same amount of width will need to be added to the side seams of each gore that "determines fit." To do this divide 3 inches (8cm) by 12 = .25 inches (6mm). But wait a minute... there are seven gores... (7x2=14)? Yes there are seven gores, however the Center Back edge of Back M does not get additional width and there are two Back M pieces (14-2=12). The Center Back edges do not get addition width added because the idea is to keep the fabric on grain and to avoid causing complications with the pleat.
The calculation (above) results in 1/4 inch (6mm), to be added to each seam edge, except on the Center Back edge of Piece M. The red lines below indicate the edges of the pattern pieces I, J, K, and M that receive the additional 1/4 inch (6mm). Pattern piece Pleat Panel L does not get an adjustment. Keep reading to understand why.
Note: For pattern pieces that are cut on the fold (pattern piece I), only the seam edge will receive the additional 1/4 inch (6mm). Because the pattern is cut on the fold the added allowance is already built in. Now, for why pattern piece Pleat Panel L does not get an adjustment. Since the skirt is designed with an inverted pleat, the pleat does not need to be graded for each individual size adjustment. Think of the pleat as a proportional element and not one that affects fit. However, the pleat will need to be made wider if the pattern is sized up significantly. It would look odd to have a tiny pleat on a large skirt. Don't forget the accompanying pattern pieces! The waistband and hem trim edges will need the extra 1/4 inch added to their seam allowance as well. Below are all the pattern pieces used, with a red line to indicate which edge the width adjustments are made.
Grading the Hip Ok, the waist is graded up and it fits beautifully. The adjustment I made increased the width of the entire skirt not just at the waist. But what if the hip measurement is still not wide enough? Typically, with a gored skirt design plenty of ease is already built into the hip area, as much as 5-7 inches, and this particular pattern has 4.5 inches of ease at the hip (finished measurement of 42.5" at hip for largest size). So for the waist adjustment I made, I also added 3" to the hip. The finished measurement for the hip is now 45.5 inches. If you finish the waist adjustment and still want to add additional width to the hip, or you want to JUST add width to the hip (i.e. your waist fits size 14, but you want more room in the hip) you can use the pattern you created to fit your waist or use the largest size and work on a hip adjustment. Place and tape a piece of Swedish Tracing Fabric under the pattern large enough to adjust for your hip measurement. In commercial sizing, the hip measurement falls 7-9 inches from the waist. I find that 7 inches works for me, but everyone is different. However, this is where it helps to know your own body proportions. Starting with the largest size (38" hip), take the difference between your hip measurement and the largest size. For instance, if your hip is 42" (42-38=4), you have 4 inches. You can also add a little more ease to the skirt, which can be helpful if your size fluctuates. If you want to add more ease, add add 2-1/2 inches (6cm) to the hip difference measurement (e.g. 4+2.5 = 6.5). Now divide this measurement by the number of side seams as we did for the waist measurement increase. Mark the extra width on your pattern at the hip area (7-9 inches from waist). Using a smooth continuous line connect the hip width to the waist edge. Refer the Grading Between Sizes technique earlier in this post. Remember that you don't want to add too much size to the hips without also adding to the waist so the proportions of the garment don't get thrown off too much. I hope this post will help you understand how to make simple fitting and sizing adjustments to not only this 216 Schoolmistress Skirt, but to any gored skirt pattern you might have. Remember that patterns are a guide to making the garment you dream of. All aspects of learning to sew take time like any good education. Folkwear hopes to inspire and celebrate all students and teachers whether you are heading back to the classroom or the sewing studio. Don't delay... the Folkwear 216 Schoolmistress Shirtwaist & Skirt Printed Pattern is on sale through the month of August!