What is a gusset?

Two anonymous parties with opposing views on the definition of gussets are collaborating on a project that I will publish as soon as it’s ready. While not yet published publicly, the opinions of each are already stated (in the forum) so I thought it might be fun to read how you would define a gusset while we’re waiting. Even though your comments aren’t likely to change the opinions of said parties, input would be very useful in guiding the project authors to cover contingencies, eliminate ambiguities and answer any questions.

Are you game? Okay, so what is a gusset?

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  1. kay says:

    Reinforcing plate that transfers load from beams or trusses to load bearing columns. Oops, wrong subject.

    How about:
    An inserted piece of fabric that provides or improves shape, ease of movement, or fit improvements in a garment or sewn item, typically constrained on all edges. Can also improve ease of construction or provide reinforcement (as in the circular pieces often seen at the ends of beach balls where the gores converge.) As opposed to (though on a continuum with) a godet, which has a primarily decorative purpose and is usually free on one or more edges.

    An interesting question, and one I’ve never heard a precise definition of. Could a boxing strip on a pillow be a gusset? The top of a common sleeve placket? — that would be more akin to the gusset in armor, a plate that covers and protects a joint.

    Coming from the home sewing world, I think of gussets as primarily kludges — much like the gusset KF used to fix those pants with too-short extensions. Although the extensions themselves are a form of gusset, divided and grafted on to the pattern.

    How about an easier question, like the difference between hirsute and hirsutulous?

  2. Vesta says:

    As a complete non-clothing designer, my experience of gussets comes from the outdoor sports world. It’s used to mean a strip of fabric sewn in somewhere to increase ease of movement. For instance, climbing pants would have gussets to allow for high stepping motions.

  3. dosfashionistas says:

    A gusset is a piece of (usually bias) fabric inserted into a garment to facilitate movement. Example: Ballet costumes often have large circular gussets inserted at the underarms, half on the sleeve and half on the armhole. (I once spent 3 months sewing for a production of “Swan Lake”.)

  4. Marie-Christine says:

    Mmm.. I think it’s dofashionista’s definition I’ll second. kay starts off very well indded, but gussets are not kludges, they’re clever pieces of engineering. Same thing, different perspectives :-).

  5. David S says:

    Some gussets are kludges. Some are clever engineering. Some technical clothes use gussets for reasons other than ease of movement, for instance, to put a seam somewhere it doesn’t rub on sensitive bits, or to change how force is put into the cloth when the wearer moves. Some of them are done for style, too, so you can use a different fabric in the gusset.

  6. Kathleen says:

    After all this back and forth on kludges, I had to look it up on wikipedia which says:

    A kludge is a workaround, a quick-and-dirty solution, a clumsy or inelegant, yet effective, solution to a problem…

    Personal experience, some are kludges like the one I put in Mr Fashion-Incubator’s pants, some are finely engineered and yet others are so ineptly engineered that taking them out increases range of motion, improving the fit.

  7. Jeannine says:

    From the world of handbags, the gusset is the side of a bag, sometimes a separate pc of material, sometimes just a sideseam with a pleat or dart.

  8. Britannica says:

    I’ve heard of people using gussets in tricky facings, so they aren’t strictly for fit or ease.

    How about: a piece that’s function is purely to improve the performance of the major pattern pieces?

  9. beth says:

    then there’s the british version, which i believe is slang for the crotch in panties. technically, it probably does conform to the descriptions of extra pieces of fabric used to improve design (mobility, comfort, etc) but the way it is used as slang always refers to panties.

  10. Sabine says:

    After the last explanation I got and in regards to all the different things one calls gusset, to me a gusset is one of three things:
    1.an inset piece of fabric in a stress zone to reduce the direct stress on the seams by “spreading the weight load” over to the fabric via a different angle to the seam
    2. an inset piece of fabric the …well what david said, about the sensitive pieces.
    3. an inset piece of fabric for whatever reason :D

  11. Sonia Levesque says:

    I had not thought of the British version… we Canadians do borrow more than Americans from the U.K. We indeed call the underwear (and pantyhose) cotton lining in the crotch a “gousset” in French too. :-)

    @ Jeannine : On handbags and cargo pockets – anywhere you have that extra piece to add shape and room – we call it a “soufflet”, like on accordeons, you know? I checked the translation, and the English of soufflet is… a gusset (!) or bellows. lol

    And to answer about my definition of the gusset: it is usually found under the armhole or at the crotch to add ease for movement. As others have pointed, usually seen in dance and sportswear. I’ve seen ovals, but mostly diamond shapes.

  12. Sair says:

    As a leotard maker I put a gusset in at the crotch to make it a point of less stress (and I’m sure for modesty reasons too).

    I have used a gusset in a side panel of a ballet tutu too, to give it flexibility and movement.

    I have always referred to the crotch piece of pantyhose as the gusset. It seems to be a very common term here in Australia.

  13. Elaine says:

    I think a gusset can also be used in the underarm or crotch, etc. so the main pattern pieces can be more rectangular and thus save fabric….or in other words, make those garments made with rectangular pieces more comfortable (greater range of motion) even when closer fitting. Probably evolved with garments as they went from the woven rectangular pieces to more fitted garments.

  14. Jim says:

    I purchased a gusset pillow today with a 2 inch gusset. I asked the salesperson what that meant but she didn’t have a clue. I believe it means that there is a 2″ edge inserted between the upper and lower fabric covers for the pillow. This type of pillow is meant to be good for those who sleep on their sides.

  15. David W. Gaddy says:

    Harking back to the discussion on “gusset” and related, back in Fashion-Incubator 4 Mar 2010: How might one properly describe the removal of, e.g., a square piece of fabric in the center of a military signal flag, replacing it with a piece of the same size, but contrasting color, either by sewing on the latter and removing the under-piece, or removing the formerand stitching in-place the latter — the purpose being to maintain the original thickness of the flag material? The term ” inset'” (verb or noun”) seems imprecise? (Advance thanks from a visiting lay-person.)

  16. Jan says:

    Very useful conversation. I once made a dress of woven cotton harvest print with simple straight sleeves for my 11-year-old niece. Turned out it was too small through the upper arm and the bodice was too tight across the back. Seems like my grandmother inserted gussets under the arms for a similar reason so that’s what I did.
    I inserted a long triangle of fabric, almost to the elbow, in the sleeve, and a shorter triangle under the arms then reassembled the sleeve. The first one was a kludge. Never heard that term before but inelegant work-around is accurate. I did better on the 2nd sleeve.
    I realized I was basically enlarging the sleeve, which could have been done before I cut the thing out, and; I was doing it by means of a reverse dart. Whereas a dart takes out a triangle of fabric for fit, I was inserting a triangle, i.e. making a gusset, to make it fit.
    She loved the dress and wore it several times that fall before she outgrew it. So that’s what I know about gussets.
    And while I make a lot of bags with flat bottoms, I’ve never thought of that little triangle I sew across and then tack down or remove as a gusset. Hmmm.

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