Beginner’s Guide to Making Skirts – The Roehampton Culottes

roehampton culottes

Two days to go until publication day so let me introduce you to the penultimate project in Beginner’s Guide to Making Skirts: the Roehampton – a divided skirt, also known as culottes.

Here’s where this project got its name….. After 7 years of working in the fashion industry as a designer and product developer for big companies, small niche companies and as a freelance designer I started to feel disconnected from my first love; the joy of making things, so I decided to have a go at teaching.  As I never do things by halves I applied and was accepted to study full-time for a year to get my PGCE in Design Technology. The university I studied at was the university of Roehampton; a beautiful campus in the leafy suburbs of south-west London close to Barnes and Putney. Wow was that a tough year. I think if you can get through a PGCE in one piece with your sanity intact, you can do anything!! I would recommend anyone who is thinking of going into teaching (at whatever level and whatever subject) to do some sort of teacher training. A PGCE isn’t the only route, I think you can do shorter, less intense courses via City & Guilds. It is such valuable training and it’s so true what they say; that even if you’re really skilled at something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to teach someone else to do it.

When you learn how to teach you learn:

  • the different ways that people learn
  • how to explain something in multiple ways
  • how to perform
  • how to multi-task
  • how to ensure every student gets enough of your attention
  • the right questions to ask to check you’re being understood by your students
  • how to pace the learning of your students so that they make progress at a speed that suits them
  • how to lead and take control
  • how to project your voice and speak clearly, not shout
  • a fascinating amount about human nature – not all of it good!
  • how to value your own skills and to appreciate the vast amount of knowledge you have
  • how to teach by showing, not doing (which is a lot harder than it sounds – I’ve heard lots of tales of sewing classes where the teacher did the sewing for the student while the student watched. There is no learning happening in such a situation.)
  • and ultimately, how to make yourself unnecessary – the whole point of a teacher is to enable the student to do the thing you’re teaching them independently of you.

Here’s a post I wrote a few years ago about how to choose a sewing teacher.

So, back to skirts, or divided skirts. The history of culottes is tangled up with politics, the military and women’s emancipation and at certain points in history have been worn as powerful symbols against various sorts of oppression. During the French Revolution working-class revolutionaries were known as the “sans-culottes” meaning “without culottes” as at that time culottes were a style of breeches worn by aristocratic gentlemen.

french revolution sans culottesFrench revolutionary “sans culottes”. Source: Google image search.

louis XVI style culottes or breechesAnd the aristocratic culottes of the same time. Source: Google image search.

Then in the Victorian era in Europe long divided skirts started to be worn by women for horse riding, enabling them to ride a horse with a man’s saddle rather than riding side-saddle. Divided skirts were then adopted more widely to liberate women to do other activities as such as gardening, bike riding and playing sport, while still maintaining the appearance of  wearing a long skirt and covering their legs as was dictated by society at the time.

victorian culottesVictorian culottes. Source: Google image search. (Not sure I’d like to ride a bike in these!)

The actual name “culotte” is a French word meaning a pair of panties, pants, knickers, trousers, shorts, or historic men’s breeches. So, that covers a lot of different garments and is the root of a lot of confusion about what culottes actually are!

roehampton culottes

I’ve given these culottes a side zip to keep them flat fronted and to be their most flattering and there are lots of variations you can make to suit your own style.

Start with the completely plain pair to get your head around the construction, then have a go at the pleated version for a really luxurious feel and the optical illusion of an A-line skirt with inverted pleat…..

roehampton culottes - pleated culottes

when you’re feeling more confident try the pockets……

roehampton culottes

and then hone your precision sewing skills with some contrast topstitching.

In this project you can also learn two different methods of inserting a zip; an invisible zip and a lapped zip.

roehampton culottes

Culottes work well in a wide range of medium weight woven fabrics such as denims, linen, cotton/linen blends, corduroy, velvet, cotton chintz, cotton poplin, lightweight wools, and stretch woven fabrics that have some elastane. They will also work well in lighter weight woven fabrics such as crêpe; these fabrics will create much more luxurious, dressy culottes.

Watch out for the final skirt in the book tomorrow!

I’m now taking pre-orders for signed copies of the book. You can order yours hereNOTE: You will be charged when you place your order, but your book won’t be sent until publication day on 25th October.

All photography is by Julian Ward © Cico Books with styling by Rob Merrett. Illustrations are by Wendy Ward.


2 responses to “Beginner’s Guide to Making Skirts – The Roehampton Culottes

  1. This pattern totally sold me, I’m off to add the book to my amazon wishlist! I love culottes for summer because I don’t like my thighs rubbing together, but I prefer skirts to shorts. Can’t wait to make them!


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