Pettiskirt Sewing Instructions & Tips – Part 2

Pettiskirt Sewing Instructions & Tips – Part 2

If you have followed the first stage of the tutorial, you should have the correct fabric, cut and ready to go and all notions should have been obtained.


Step #1- Prepare the waistband/ top tier

I’m going to give you TWO alternatives for the waistband- a plain elastic waist OR and adjustable one. The basic elastic waist is a little easier while the adjustable waistband makes for a better fit and can be cinched or relaxed to fit different kids or grow with the child.

In the other tutorials I’ve found online, they tell you to use a strip of fabric stabilizer on the edge of the satin to prevent fraying. I don’t like the bulk that adds. Plus, I’m lazy, so I just use a tight zig-zag stitch around all sides of the fabric before sewing the waistband up and it works just fine for me.

Now, sew the edges of this fabric together to form a loop. Iron the seam open then fold the loop in half with right sides OUT and iron flat.

Create a casing that will allow the 1″ elastic to be threaded through. Leave a 1-2″ opening so you can get the elastic in. Your waistband should now look like this:

Option #1 Plain Elastic Waist- Cut a piece of elastic 3-4 or so inches LESS than the child’s waist measurement. Fold a 45 degree triangle on the end and attach a safety pin. Thread through the casing then overlap ends and sew flat- making sure not to twist the elastic. Sew the opening closed.

Option #2 Adjustable Waist- Cut the 1 yard ribbon into 2 equal pieces. Cut the elastic 6 inches smaller than the child’s waist. Attach the halves of the ribbon to the ends of the elastic like this:
Now, I don’t do the buttonhole thing with my machine because I’m bad at it. So, I simply sew the casing completely closed then use my seam ripper to create an opening between the stitch line and the top of the casing. I can slip the ribbon/elastic into the slit and do the safety pin threading trick again. You’ll end up with elastic in the back and ribbon hanging out either end of the slit.

Not a great photo- the safety pin is attached to the ribbon and threading through the casing. The elastic you see has not yet been threaded through the casing- it’s following the ribbon.
Pull the ribbons to tighten the skirt then tie in a bow. You only need to untie the bow if you’re tightening or loosening the skirt – the elastic has enough ‘give’ that a child can pull it on without having to tie anything. My method WILL leave the waistband seam front and center but it seems (no pun intended) to get hidden with the bow. If this really bothers you, feel free to create a button hole in the casing at the midpoint of the waistband so the seam will be in back. You should now have a waistband that looks something like this:

Note: The waistband has 2 layers/edges. This is how we will make the skirt 2 layers thick. We sew the first layer to the outside edge and we’ll sew the second layer to the inside edge. I know the layers vs. tiers thing is confusing. Layers are the front/back. Tiers are the gathered levels of the skirt.

Set waistband/top tier aside and move on to step #2.

Step #2

Skip this step if you are using rolls of chiffon for the tiers as it is unnecessary. If you cut your layers by hand, you’ll need to sew them end to end before beginning EXCEPT for the ruffle fluff (thank goodness!).

For our example, that means I would sew 4 strips together, end to end for tier 2 and then repeat that step for the second layer. For layer 3, I would be doubling the strips so I’d sew 8 strips together, end to end and then repeat that again for the second layer. There should now be 4 sets of strips, 2 sets that are 4 strips long and 2 sets that are 8 strips long. Set these aside- you’ll come back to them later.

Step #3 – Change your bobbin and thread to match the ruffle fluff, if necessary

Now, this is where you will either be REALLY glad you bought a $16 ruffle(r) foot or REALLY sorry you didn’t. I got mine on E-bay. If you are buying one (and I can’t recommend that highly enough), make sure it specifically fits your make and make and model of sewing machine. If you have a ruffle foot, attach it now.

If you haven’t used one before, they can look a little intimidating. Watch THIS little video tutorial to learn how to put the foot on the machine and load the fabric in or follow the instructions that came with your foot.

I won’t lie, it takes a little practice to get the hang of this thing but once you do, it’s like butter! The key is this, any fabric that you run UNDER the foot will NOT be gathered. Fabric you place between the upper and lower plate WILL be gathered.

To set the foot on ‘gather’ , you use the little thing on top marked ‘1’. The 6 and 12 settings are for pleats. There is a dial that shows some numbers, the lower numbers are smaller ratios while the higher numbers are tighter ratios. For example, the tightest gather for me is the number 8. That means 8 inches of fabric are gathered into a space of 1 inch- or a ratio of 8:1. Get it? I like to use a little less than that- between 6:1 and 7:1 for the ruffle fluff but you can go with as little as 3 to 1 if you’re trying to get by using less fabric- it does affect the final fluffiness though.

You will start the fabric through the foot and line it up so you are sewing the gather down the MIDDLE of the fabric- once we sew this to the skirt, the fabric will fold down over time to cover the stitch line so it will look like a double ruffle and you won’t see the stitches at all.

I did this piece in blue so you can see the pink stitch line down the middle.

If you are using a 2 or 3″ chiffon roll for the fluff, simply gather most of the roll. If you hand-cut the fluff from yardage, use the following technique:

When you come to the end of a strip, simply overlap the end with a new strip- no need to sew the fluff end to end. Whew! Do this until you run out of fluff pieces and have a long strip of fluff. If something goes wrong (broken thread etc.) while sewing this and you need to restart, just start with a fresh piece and don’t worry about attaching it to the other fluff yardage, we can do the same overlap technique when sewing the fluff down to the bottom layer if needed.

In this photo I’m using a strip of pink and a strip of blue so you can clearly see the technique. The blue is overlapping the pink- just run it through the machine that way.

If you don’t have the ruffle(r) foot, then follow the instructions in Step 6 for hand gathering below.

Step #4 – Attach the Fluff to the bottom tier

Remove the ruffle foot from the machine and put your regular foot back on. Place the bottom layer under the machine foot right side up. Now, about 1/2″ or so from the edge, attach the ruffle along the gathering line using a straight stitch.

Do this for the first AND second layers. So, for the example I’m sewing that means that the two 8-piece strips now have the fluff attached to the bottom on the right side of the fabric (opposite side from the seams).

Step #5- Attach the bottom and middle tiers

I consider this to be the trickiest part of sewing pettiskirts. You might want to take some scraps of nylon chiffon and practice this a few times with your machine before trying this on your actual fabric. You will place the shorter, middle layer (4 sections long in the example skirt) FACE UP and UNDER the foot. You want this piece to pass through the machine WITHOUT being gathered. Since this is a little hard to explain, I am showing how to do it with pink and blue fabric so each tier is easier to see in photos.

This photo shows the pink as the shorter, middle tier we are NOT gathering and the blue is the bottom tier we ARE gathering. Can you see how the pink goes UNDER the foot and the blue is being threaded between the two plates?

Now, you’ll place the bottom strip (the one with the ruffle fluff attached to it) FACE DOWN and threaded through the foot so it WILL be gathered. In case it isn’t obvious, the seam should be on the opposite edge from the one with the ruffle attached.

The bottom tier (blue fabric in the photo) will pass through the foot at twice the speed of the middle tier (pink fabric).

The pink is ungathered and the blue layer is lightly gathered. They are attached together this way as they pass through the machine. If you do this step properly, the fabrics will end up being almost equal length at the end. One was twice as long as the other but once it was gathered, it ends up being roughly the same length.
You will likely have an offset of a few inches once these two tiers are sewn together. Go ahead and trim off whichever tier is longer so that the total length of the two sewn together is the same.

Step #6- Hand Gathering

Since we’re working with such long runs of fabric, I really recommend that you use the zig-zag floss method for gathering. This method enables you to gather long runs without worrying about breaking a thread.

For the uninitiated, set the machine to zig zag and use the widest stitch (a setting of 4 on my sewing machine). Place the top edge of the second layer face down and lay a piece of floss over the fabric. Attach the floss by zig zagging OVER it. Be careful NOT to sew on the floss itself- the idea is that it slip slides through the casing created by the zig zag stitch- it should be free-flowing. Now sew the two ends of the fabric together with right sides touching to create a loop. Trim edges. Repeat this process with the second layer.

To gather, simply pull the floss. This method enables you to gather long runs without having to worry about breaking a thread. If you are frustrated with the ruffle foot or hand-gathering the whole skirt, use this method to connect all levels of the pettiskirt.

Step #7- Attaching the waistband to the middle tier

Even if you are an expert with the ruffle foot, you’ll have to use the hand gather method to connect the top tier (waistband) and the middle tier because things will need to line up perfectly. With right sides together, pin the middle tier to the waistband and adjust the gathers until you get a perfect fit.

Double check yourself here- I accidentally sewed this wrong side out once and it’s an easy mistake to make. Once it looks right to you, knot the two ends of the floss together then clip off the excess. You can re-use the floss for the second layer of the skirt. Repeat this process for the second layer.

Both layers are sewn to the waistband here. All seams are sewn so that they face the inside. The pettiskirt is totally reversible.
Optional: if you wish, you can zig zag stitch the seams of each tier. It will create a slightly neater appearance but is, for the most part, unnoticeable. Additionally, you can add 1/4 inch satin ribbon to the seams of each tier to ‘cover’ the seam and tack it down. I haven’t done this myself but it is a cute look.

Now, unless we’ve both done something wrong, you should have a completed pettiskirt! And you also know why they sell these online for $70-100. Whoever makes them earns every dime.

And it’s worth every bit of effort when you see your Princess enjoy it like this:

Hand-dyed in Salmon
Hand-dyed in Rose

It took an embarrassing number of dollars and hours to learn this skill and put together this FREE tutorial. If it has been helpful for you, please take 30 seconds to leave me a comment and let me know.

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