Fishtail skirt tutorial

Like my sewing projects themselves, this tutorial promises to be a bit slap-dash but with a lot of heart. But after the success of my New Year’s Eve dress, I feel it is a community service to show y’all how to turn an ordinary pencil skirt into a flouncy saucy fishtail. Coffin dress begone!

So, let’s start with The Principle.

The principle is to add volume without adding width to the whole skirt, thusly the fishtail is forced to go all crenulated and flouncy. Individual results may vary according to the drape of your cloth; jersey and the like will flop down completely, while a stiff woven will stick out impudently. The fabric I used was somewhere in the middle, interlined with voile. Cutting on the bias is critical to optimise the hang.

You start with your pencil skirt back piece (Fig 1). I can’t help you here, you’ll need to have one you’ve prepared earlier. Next you mark about an inch or two below your bum. This is the high point of the curve you’ll carve out the back. By starting the fishtail a bit below your most protruding point, you’ll get a sassy little curve in and out. Huzzah. Werq. Gently curve down out to the side seams, cutting on the fold to make sure you’re symmetrical (Fig 2)

Now you’ll draft your fishtail piece. I’m going to get a bit symbolic here but fear not. Its top edge (x) needs to be the same length as the curve you’ve carved out but should be flatter. The sides of the piece (y) are the same length as the sides of the bit hacked out of the skirt back, only they are angled outwards so they’re on grain, or almost on grain. I’ve paired the lines in Fig 3 in purple and orange so you can see what I mean.

The big difference that gives you the flounce is that the hem of the fishtail is a big, sweeping curve. You can experiment with all three parameters – top curve, side and bottom hem curve – to increase and decrease the flounciness of your fishtail. I’ve drawn in three possible hemlines in back to demonstrate. Obviously, the deeper this curve, the lower down the hem will fall. Be careful not to make it so deep that you’ve got some bridal trail action (unless that’s what you’re after) which will seriously impede your dancing.

The last step is to add seam allowance to your fishtail. And lo, you have a pattern.

Principles are all well and good but if you’re like me, the Practice can be quite different indeed.

More diagrams. Fig 4 shows you a nice piece of fabric perfect for making your fishtail piece. The green checks show the grainlines. Then in Fig 5, I show the easiest way to get a bias fold: start with a perfect square then fold in half, matching all the edges, to get a triangle. The hypotenuse will be a perfect bias fold, 45 degrees to the fabric grain. (Ha, and you thought you’d never use high school geometry again.)

Finally, on to marking out the fishtail piece. If you’re principled, you’ll have a paper pattern to lie out here and cut out. Enjoy your lofty position because here come the scrappy method. For my skirt there was no pattern. I just hacked at the skirt back itself and used that to mark a fishtail piece directly on to fabric. Bold! Lazy! Half-arsed! But brilliant! I stretched out the folded skirt back piece to get the flat curve at the top, angled out the hacked-off straight edge to get the fishtail edge, and just eyeballed the hem curve. The critical thing is to get the first section of your edge at a perfect right angle to the bias fold (see the wee red squares in Fig 5.). If you don’t, you’ll have a V-shape in the fishtail piece. Too hard. Stick to gentle curves.

Then, sew curves, then sew skirt back to skirt front. Done. Time to sashay.

OH. I also nipped in the edges of the skirt front an inch or two, so the front skirt was tapered. You can do this because of all the extra room your fabulous fishtail grants you. It’s the mullet of skirts… business at the front, par-tay at the back.

Do tell me if you use this tutorial! I wanna see your fishtail!

12 thoughts on “Fishtail skirt tutorial

  1. This is a beautifully done tutorial — I love the use of x and y, but then I’m a huge nerd. I am totally trying this some time! Thank you for taking the time to write this out!

  2. An excellent and easy to follow tutorial, thank you for sharing! (Personally I think more pattern drafting tutorials should use a bit of high school geometry)

  3. Whilst I really love your yellow polka dot fishtail dress, this is far too much like high school maths for me! But clever you for figuring it out without a pattern.

  4. Thank you am making a pettibone style wedding dress and need the swish at the bottom, will put up a photo when done

  5. Just used your instructions to add a lovely flippytail to a frivolous dress i’m making with drunk pink elephants on it. So easy when you know how!

  6. Just wanted to say that I have just used your method to add a fish tial to an existing dress.
    It worked a treat and takes it from a fitted pencil skirt to a fab gown.
    Many thanks for your tutorial

  7. Pingback: Sixty six sewing techniques | sixty six stitches

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