Once upon a time, skirts with trains were worn by royalty only. Fast forward to 2020, and trains are as common with, well, commoners as they are with queens. Whether it’s for a wedding or some other special occasion, nothing conveys a sense of timelessness and elegance quite like a train.
In essence, a train is simply the long, trailing portion of a robe, cloak, skirt, overskirt, or dress. While all trains have the same basic characteristics, they can come in a variety of different styles.
Court train: created to be worn by nobility at formal court events, the court train has several historical variances, depending on the strict dress code in place at that particular court. In France, the embroidered train border was restricted to four inches in width for anyone who wasn’t royalty. In Britain, meanwhile, a train was required to be at least three yards long.
Double train: a double train has two basic types: a single train that’s divided into two trains, or two separate trains attached to the same dress.
Fishtail train: a fishtail train pops in and out of fashion on a regular basis, flaring out from midway down the length of a snuggly fitted skirt.
Demi-train: a demi train, as the name suggests to anyone with a smattering of French, is a “half” train formed by the back of a skirt being slightly longer than the front.
Cathedral/ Monarch train: the cathedral train (occasionally referred to as the monarch train) is the longest, most formal of all the trains, measuring up to 8 feet in length. The royal cathedral train is even grander, regularly exceeding ten feet.
Chapel train: compared to the whopping cathedral train, the chapel train is relatively modest, although it still manages to measure in at a lengthy five feet.
Court train: court trains are one of the narrowest of the trains and typically extend by up to a meter.
Sweep train: a sweep train, as its name suggests, is one of the shortest trains available, with its length just about grazing the floor.
A tulle skirt has the kind of ethereal beauty and elegance that lends itself beautifully to a wedding dress. Best of all, it’s easily adaptable, looking just as good in a mini or midi style as it does a maxi. That said, nothing quite beats the romanticism of a full-length tulle extravaganza for a wedding. If there’s a downside, it’s the cost… which can be easily avoided if you’re prepared to eschew the shops and make your own. Even if you’re a novice sewer, you’ll find the art of creating a tulle wedding skirt pretty simple: its full, slightly bouffant nature will hide any mistakes you make along the way- although if you want to keep those little mishaps to a minimum, a little practice, some basic sewing skills, and this straightforward guide should do the trick.
Before you get started on your skirt, it’s a good idea to try on various pre-made wedding dresses to check exactly what style you like, and what style suits you best (unless you’re making it for someone else, of course, in which case, this will be a slightly pointless (albeit fun) activity).
As well as trying different styles (fishtail, drop waist, etc.), try out a range of different materials. Does a 100% tulle skirt give you the look you want, or would you prefer a mixture of materials? Will a skirt with a train turn you into a vision of loveliness, or is it too out of keeping with your usual style to feel comfortable? Once you’ve decided on your perfect style, it’s time to hit the shops, stock up on material, then get down to some serious sewing.
Buy the material. While most big-box stores sell material, you may want to check out the range of online options available. On the downside, you can’t check the quality of the material with a “feel” test before making the purchase- although buy from a reputable seller, and you’re unlikely to be disappointed with either the quality or the price. As well as the tulle, you’ll also need to stock up on ribbon, elastic, and sewing supplies, depending on the pattern you end up using.
Take measurements. Remember that on the big day, you’re likely to be wearing heels. Pop the actual pair on (or, if you haven’t yet bought them, a pair with roughly the same heel height). If you’re making a detachable skirt, make sure to also put on your dress and any bulky undergarments (petticoats, bustles, etc.) that you plan on wearing.
Record the measurements from around your waist and from your waist to the floor. If you’re wearing bulky undergarments, take one measurement at their midway point (around about knee level) and another at the bottom. Use these measurements to determine how much fabric you’ll need (in most cases, 4-5 yards of tulle will be enough).
Using pattern paper, draw out a rectangle for the waistband, remembering to refer back to your measurements from the previous steps as you do. The length of the rectangle should be the size of your waist measurement with 3-4 inches added on for closures, while the width should be twice the width you want the waistband to be (along with a 1.25-inch seam allowance).
Again using patterned paper, draw out a trapezoid that narrows at the top and flares out at the bottom. The length of the trapezoid should be the same as your waist to floor measurement, while the width of the top, middle and bottom should be at least one third the measurement of the waist + undergarment measurement taken in the previous steps. Allow a few extra inches for seam allowances and as much flaring as you want at the bottom.
Carefully cut out the pattern pieces.
Using a tailor’s chalk (or any other writing implement that won’t leave a permanent mark), trace the waistband pattern onto the fabric.
Trace the outline of the trapezoid pattern onto the tulle. Using the same trapezoid pattern, draw the other two identical skirt sections.
Carefully cut out all the traced pieces of fabric.
If you’re adding a zipper, mark where it needs to go on the two back skirt fabric pieces. Lay the skirt sections one on top of the other, taking care to keep the zipper marks aligned.
Sew the seam all the way up from the bottom of the skirt to the zipper mark. Once done, machine baste the opening edges above the zipper mark and press open.
Pin the zipper in place over the machine basted seam created in step 2. Turn the fabric so that the outside part is facing you, then stitch the zipper permanently in place. Remove the pins and basting once done.
Stitch the front section of the skirt to the back.
With the skirt still the “wrong side out”, machine baste 0.5 inches from the top of the skirt. This will create a “gather” that you can pull in with the threads- you’ll need to gather the fabric so that the waist circumference is around about the same as the waist measurement you took earlier. Once finished, turn the skirt the right side out and place it to one side ready for the next stage.
If you’re using interfacing, baste it to the inside of the waistband. Wrap the waistband around the waistband of the skirt, making sure that the opening of the waistband is aligned with the zipper.
Sew the waistband to the skirt, before turning the skirt inside out.
Fold the waistband fabric in half, stitch in place along the seam, and sew your choice of closures in place.
Press the skirt with a press cloth so all the layers are smooth.
Pin the layers together from the waist to the bottom, spacing the pins every 12 inches or so.
As tulle tends to spring up, mark the hem slightly longer than you want the finished article to be. Use tailor’s chalk to draw the lines without leaving a permanent mark on the fabric.
Cut the hem using a smooth, even motion with a rotary cutter or serger blade.
Resew the seam ends that you trimmed while cutting. Remember to backstitch at the hem edge to prevent the seams unraveling.
While tulle can be a little challenging to work with, adding a tulle train to a long skirt is easy enough to master with a little know-how. Although you can make a tulle skirt in which the train is just an extension of the skirt itself, tulle is the kind of material that plays beautifully in multiple layers. If you want a full-blown, tulle-on tulle extravaganza, use the above pattern to make the skirt, and the below guide to create a stunning detachable train.
Put on any undergarments, petticoats, or slips you plan on having underneath the skirt, along with the shoes you’ll be wearing (this may sound an unnecessary step, but it’s vital in determining the right measurements). Ask a willing assistant to measure the length from your waist to the floor.
Work out how long you want the train to be and add the length of the train to the measurement from your waist to the floor.
Decide how wide you want your train to be. Some trains run from seam to seam, while others measure as little as 12 inches in width. Fold a piece of tulle to different widths to try out the varying looks before deciding on your preference.
Once you’ve worked out exactly how wide you want the train to be, sew a line of long hand stitches across the width of the tulle, around 1 inch down from the top. Add a second line of stitches just below the first. Pull the ends of the thread until the fabric is the desired width. Knot the edges of the thread and stitch in place.
Measure the train’s width at the point of the gathering stitches. Double the measurement and add an extra inch. Cut a piece of ribbon to this length and hand sew it onto the train to cover the gathering stitches.
Sew snaps or hooks and eyes every three inches along the underside of the ribbon and at the waistline of your skirt and match up the corresponding half of your skirt. Once in place, cover the snaps with the decorative buttons of your choice.
Decorate the train if desired with seed pearls or sequins, and anchor to the skirt using the snaps.
Although it’s easy enough to create your own pattern, inexperienced sewers might want to rely on patterns that have already been tried and tested by hundreds of sewers. The internet is a mine of information and is your best bet for sourcing a pattern that’s not only tailored to suit your exact needs, but is completely free to boot. Check out the below sources for some inspiration:
For physical patterns, Esty is, of course, a great place to start, offering literally hundreds of skirt patterns with everything from a fishtail train to a full-on cathedral version.
Whatever pattern you decide on, remember that tulle can be a challenge to work with… but don’t give up. With a little patience and perseverance, you’ll end up with a skirt that is 100% your own, and at half the price you’d pay for the store-bought equivalent.
If you’ve been inspired to have a go at making your own skirt by today’s post, please feel free to share with anyone else you think could do the same.