Gussets and Inserts
Ever make a shirt that was too tight across the chest or
restricted arm movement? Ever make a pair of pants that were
too tight in the seat? Ever make a skirt or shirt that was
too narrow to fit over your hips? Ever wonder what tailors
in period did to fix these same types of mistakes? Venture
forth, intrepid costumer, into the Land of Gores and Gussets!
History, Definitions and Uses -
Gores and gussets are specific types of fabric inserts. Widely
used throughout the Renaissance in the construction of underwear,
gores and gussets can also be found in clothing throughout
Eastern Europe and Central Asia in the construction of outer
garments. These types of inserts are very ancient. Gores and
gusset insertions can be found in all sorts of garments in
period. In rectangular construction techniques, gores and
gussets form the foundation for shaping the garment around
Gores, also known as Godets, are generally triangular shaped
pieces of fabric inserted into a slash or a seam to give extra
fullness to a garment.
Gussets are usually square or diamond shaped pieces of fabric,
sewn in under the arm or crotch of a garment to allow for
more range of motion.
Some excellent examples of gores and gussets can be found
in the text Cut My Cote. A man's shirt, probably French, 13th
century shows the insertion of a gore into the center front
and center back of the shirt (fig. 1). Another example is
a woman's shirt, probably Italian, 17th century showing square
gussets inserted under the arms (fig. 2).
The magic of gores and gussets comes not only from where
they are inserted but how they are cut from the fabric. Notice
in the definitions above the use of the words 'triangular',
'square', and 'diamond' shaped. That means
bias! Oh, come on! Bias is our friend
The Mechanics -
As stated above, gussets are nothing more than square or
diamond shaped pieces. Most of the time, even a small gusset
can alleviate a tight arm in a garment. In Renaissance underwear,
there is no really specific formula for how big or small gussets
must be. Most of the time they are made from scraps and this
tends to inhibit their size more than anything else. For outer
garments, however, the size of the gusset needs to be enough
to add the required width to the garment so that it hangs
and wears well. To add give to a pair of pants, simply insert
the gusset after the front and back seams are sewn but before
the inseams are sewn. The operation is exactly like inserting
into the underarm of a garment.
It is best to insert gussets after the arm piece has been
sewn onto the body piece but before the side seam is sewn
together. If you are planning on flat felling or french seaming,
you will need to plan for those seams during the insertion
Patterning gores requires nothing more than a piece of string.
Begin by making the slash in the fabric. Using the string,
measure out the length of the slash and add about half an
inch for seam allowance. Taking that measurement, place a
pin in one end of the string and pin it to a piece of pattern
paper. Using the other end like a compass, draw the sides
and the lower edge of the gore. Make sure to add seam allowances
to the sides or the gore will end up being slightly smaller
than you may have intended.
|Step 1: Pin your string to just above the
top of your slash. Measure the length of the slash
and mark the string.
||Step 2: On the fabric chosen for the gore,
pin the top of the string to the fabric. Using the
mark in the bottom of the string either draw or cut
out the gore.
|Step 3: Continue using the string as a guide
until you have your gore or gore pattern.
Gores can present a special problem during the insertion
phase. Unlike gussets, which are inserted into a two-seam
apex, gores are frequently inserted into slashes in the fabric.
This presents a problem since the point of the gore must be
sewn into the end cut of the fabric. Further problems arise
when french or flat felled seams need to be applied. There
is absolutely no way to flat fell the seams of a gore. There
is a way to french seam the seams of a gore. It can even be
done entirely by machine. Most of the time, however, I'll
leave the point to be finished by hand.
If the above method makes you want to scream, try the two
alternate methods presented below.
Alternate Method 1:
Step 1: Cut the slash as before but open
it up and round the end.
|Step 2: Measure and cut gore as usual. Insert
as described above. With the rounded end on the slash,
however, it will ease around the gore point with much
|Step 3: Finish up and iron as describe above.
This particular method lends itself well to french seams
and is specifically used in the construction of rectangular
pants. French seaming gores without a messy top is possible,
especially when using 'springy' fabrics such as wool.
Step 1: Cut the slash but open it up by
cutting it at an angle, as above. Measure and cut
the gore as described.
|Step 2: Insert gore as described above. The
angle makes it even easier to round the corner. French
seam as usual. You may want to ease the french seam
around the corner by hand.
Selected Bibliography -
Cut My Cote
Dorthy K. Burnham
Royal Ontario Museum,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada 1973
Costume Close-Up; Clothing Construction
and Pattern 1750-1790
Linda Baumgarten & John Watson with Florine Carr
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation
Quite Specific Media, NY 1999
Period Costume for Stage & Screen;
Patterns for Women's Dress, Medieval-1500
Players Press, Inc.
Studio City, CA 1996
The Art of Manipulating Fabric
Chilton Book Company
Radnor, PA 1996