How To Make a Mermaid Skirt

Dear Costume Goddess,
Where do I find a pattern for a cabaret mermaid skirt? I'd like to make one with a velvet top portion and chiffon bottom portion. Thank you!—Sharifa

Dear Dina,
I love the mermaid style skirt that you have suggested in a couple responses, such as the pear shaped figure and the hip drape. I cannot for the life of me find a pattern for a skirt like this! I did find one that has a "swag" of material that hangs down from the derriere in back, but I want a slinky classic mermaid style skirt to wear with my cabaret costumes. Can you suggest a pattern or where to get one?

It's true, the mermaid style of skirt is surprisingly hard to find in a commercial pattern—it must not be trendy at the moment. I made my own patterns by modifying a basic sheath in one of several ways.

A. For an Easy Mermaid (pictured left) with a slight flare at the bottom, begin with a simple two piece stretch sheath pattern, and flare the lower half of each piece at the side seams. If there is a back seam, that can be flared as well.

Fringe on the hem is optional; it creates a pleasing movement, since the skirt hem itself is not ruffly. The Easy Mermaid is in Book #2, Easy Costume.

B. For a True Mermaid with a very ruffly look at the bottom, there are several methods: a two-part mermaid with separate ruffle, or a princess-seamed skirt.

Two-Part mermaid skirt, separate ruffle

The mermaid with a separate ruffle is most flattering on an average to tall figure. If you are short-legged, it may "cut" your lower body too much, especially if the two parts don't match exactly. The princess-seamed skirt (below) might be more flattering.

In either case: First, take measurements to determine your lower hip size, beltline size (where the hipband sits) and distance from beltline to knee and from knee to floor. Allow several extra inches on each measurement for seam allowance and adjustments.

The upper portion is a standard 6-panel sheath skirt. All the pattern companies have these. Of course, the waist is cut lower so that it sits on the hipline. Upper edge is finished with a casing for elastic, as usual. Make the skirt just wide enough at the top to get it over your hips easily. Extra width will gather around the abdomen, detracting from the smooth, slinky look you want.
Cut the skirt length to just below the kee. The fit should be snug, but not tight, and the seams taper in slightly to the knee. If there is no taper, the upper skrt won't have that slinky look. Practice dancing in just the upper skirt to make sure that it's not too constricting.

Replace the lower half of a sheath with a ruffle.

The ruffle may be either a gathered or circular ruffle. Use knee-to-floor measurement (with shoes if you wear them) to determine the length.

The gathered ruffle is just a long rectangle gathered at the top edge with two parallel lines of basting. The ruffle should be about two and a half to three times the width of the upper skirt where it will be attached, or even wider if it's a soft, sheer fabric like chiffon. The seam is placed at center back.

I think it's more attractive if the gathered ruffle comes to a slight point in the center front or off-center (illustrated above), rising to slightly above the knee at that point. This will also give you a little more knee room for dancing. To make this, draw a 3-4 inch point on the edge of the sheath at center or placed over one knee. Draw a corresponding point on the rectangle, but make it three times wider, since it will be gathered. It's important to sew this seam and the point neatly, so baste it first, distributing the gathers evenly. Once basted, try on the skirt again to make sure it looks and feels right before sewing.

The circular ruffle is made of two (for a 1-circle ruffle) or three (for a fuller 1-circle ruffle) half-circle pieces seamed together, the same as a tiny full skirt. Seams are on the sides for a one-circle ruffle or at center back and front sides for a 1-circle ruffle.

The "hole" in the middle of the circular piece should match the measurement of the upper skirt lower edge for a smooth seam, so it requires careful measuring. Or, the ruffle may be gathered slightly.

Staystitch and clip the circular seamline in the opening to allow the seam allowance to straighten out when sewn to the upper skirt.

The circle ruffle can also be sewn to an slightly angled upper skirt that rises over the knee. Make the ruffle several inches longer to allow for this, and trim it at the hem to adjust the length. Let it hang a while first, because like a circle skirt, the bias areas of the ruffle will stretch.

Princess-seamed mermaid skirt
I like a "princess" style or continous flare because it has no horizontal seam, only vertical ones. If you are short, a princess-seamed mermaid is more flattering, but a little trickier to make.
I started with a 6-panel sheath and inserted 6 godets (wedge-shaped pieces) into the lower seams. The godets can be from one-eignth circle each to one-quarter circle (for a very full hem).

The godets may match the body of the skirt, or be a softer fabric like chiffon. If so, you may want to make each godet a half-circle instead of an eighth- or quarter-circle, since the fabric is sheer.
Careful sewing on first one side of the godet, and then the other, will create a sharp point where the angles meet.
Instead of inserting godets, you might simply flare each of the six (or eight) panels from the knee down, but that results in some uneveness due to the slanting grain of the fabric, and the hem must be carefully evened out.

The last step for either type of mermaid is marking the hem to about an inch from the floor with shoes on if you are wearing shoes. (Allow the skirt to hang for several days first, if the fabric is stretchy.) Have someone help you measure. A tiny narrow hem looks best. ---Dina Lydia




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