Mermaid tail

I’m so happy with this simple method for making a mermaid tail that I can’t wait to share. The basic idea is to take a straight skirt, gather the bottom into a tail shape, with a gap at the side for the wearer’s legs.

This is the first one I made. It’s tucked in at the hip to give the angle I wanted. This works very well, and I like the look of it, but when I made the second one* I cut it at an angle. The first method is simpler, but there’s something unsatisfactory for me about tucking.

Here are the step-by-step instructions:

Step 1:
Cut out a rectangle of fabric, big enough to make an ankle-length straight skirt for the wearer. For a 5 year old I went with 100cm wide, and longer-than-I-needed. You want to select a fabric with at least some stiffness to it, or be prepared to prop the tail end out with something stiff.

Step 2:
Hem rough edges.

Step 3:
Fold in half along the length, right-sides together.

Step 4:
Fold it like a paper fan.

What you see here is the right-side of the unfolded half, as well as the folded part. This takes a lot of trial and error, at least for me**. I ended up with pleats about 4cm wide. Note that the right-side of the folded section is on top. This is important – you want to leave a gap between the edge of the tail and the first pleat.

Similarly, you want leave a gap on the “closed” side, so when the whole thing is pleated there should be a central pleat which you will not sew.

Step 5:
Pin the pleats.

I actually pinned the first half before folding the second half.

Each pleat needs two pins: one about 12cm from the bottom of the tail, and 3cm from the edge of the pleat, and one about 15cm further along (so 27cm from the bottom) and 2cm from the edge. This is what makes the gather narrower near the bottom of the tail.

You should be pinning the wrong-side of the fabric, so the excess fabric will be gathered inside the tail.

Once you have all the pins in, go back and check if you were actually progressing slowly further from the edge (as illustrated above) rather than staying in a straight line.

Step 6:
Sew from pin to pin in a straight line.

You can get away with fudging a bit. It would be very hard to get all the distances strictly equal, and it’s unnecessary in my opinion.

Step 7:
Close the tail *wrong-sides together*.

The bottom of my tail is the selvage of the fabric, but if it weren’t it would have been hemmed in step two, so there’s no need to do the seam inside-out. Anyway, fins should have sharp edges.

Sew from the bottom of the pleats (about 12cm from the bottom) down to the bottom, across the bottom to the other side and up to the bottom of the pleats. Bottom bottom bottom. a heh. It must be getting late. Don’t forget to sew back and forth to reinforce the ends of this stitching on the open side, this is going to be under a fair bit of pressure.

Step 8:
Shape the waist.

As mentioned, you can do this straight (and tuck it in at the hip), but for this iteration I had my little model stand on a chair while I fiddled with the skirt till I was happy. I gave it lots of slack around the back to let the tail sit comfortably in front. (I had used the full width of the fabric – selvage to selvage – so I had plenty of fabric to make it the shape I wanted).

I made a wide, double folded hem for the waist, because I wanted to insert a wide elastic at the back. This is one of those parts of dressmaking where I really make it up as I go along. I eventually realised that I needed to add some pleats at the back of the waist to take up some slack so that it could be sewn to the hem. I also ended up fiddling with a pencil to push the elastic down along the hem. Better planning would have made this much simpler, but that’s just the way I roll, yo.

Is there a name for this square-with-a-cross for securing ends? Well that’s what I used for securing the ends of the elastic in the waist.

Step 9:
Close at the hip.

Once the waist was finished I put the waist right-sides together and sewed from the waist down about 12cm. Again, make sure to reinforce. You need to leave a big enough gap for the wearing to walk comfortably (this was the main aim of this design).

Photography: it is not my thing

Please let me know if you make one of these. I’d love to see pictures, especially if you make improvements.

My next post will be about the hula-skirt of waves I made to disguise the legs that mermaids don’t have.

* Kidlet admitted less than a week before the party that she didn’t like the colour of this one. She was lucky that I wanted to have another go and this time take process shots.

** When I was in school there were girls in my class who seemed to have a preternatural ability to fold a page into a fan evenly. From this perspective I can see that they had probably just make a lot of fans, but then I felt like I was missing some secret knowledge.


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