Thursday, 21 June 2012

Elastic Waist Skirt

       Very easy! No patterns, no zips, perfect for beginners. 
Based on your measurements for a perfect fit. 
Choose how you want the skirt to look, how wide or narrow, the length, high waisted, on the waist or hipster.

I've made two versions of this skirt, but you can use the instructions to make it how ever you want. 

I used secondhand fabric for both skirts, each skirt cost about $10.50 Australian to make, $8.50 for the elastic and about $2 for the fabric. 

Stuff you need

Light weight fabric, washed and ironed
Wide elastic, at least 5cm / 1.9 inches or wider
Sharp scissors, kitchen or household scissors from the supermarket are fine
Small sharp scissors, not essential, but useful
Unpicker, not essential, but useful if you make a mistake
Thread in a colour to match your elastic
Tape measure, if you don’t have one, use a non stretchy piece of string and measure it against a ruler

You'll also need a sewing machine and iron. 

The scissors, pins, unpicker, thread and tape measure are available at some supermarkets.
The wide elastic is available from fabric stores, you can also get it at online fabric/haberdashery stores and Ebay. 

Choosing your fabric

This skirt is best suited to light weight fabrics like cottons or poplin which also have a little bit of 'stiffness' or body, so the skirt will be quite full, 'poof' out at the hem. Light weight synthetic fabrics like satin and knit fabrics like t-shirt jersey will make a skirt that drapes more, that hangs rather than 'poofing' out.

How much fabric and elastic you’ll need

To work out how much elastic you need, decide how you want the skirt to fit – high waist, on the waist or below the waist.

Measure yourself where you want the waistband to sit. 

To this measurement, add 2cm / .78 inch ease, this gives you a bit of room to move, without it your skirt will be too tight.

Next add seam allowance, 3cm / 1.18 inches (1.5cm / .59 inches at each end), and that’s how much elastic you need to get.

So, it's waist measurement + 2cm / .78 inches ease + 3cm / 1.18 inches seam allowance = amount of elastic required

As an example, the short cherry print skirt was made to sit just below my waist, my measurements were: 115cm + 2cm + 3cm = 120cm

If you are not sure exactly where you want the skirt to sit, put on a skirt that fits the way you like and measure where it sits at the waist - take the skirt off first, so you are measuring your body and not the skirt as well. Alternately, you can get a bit extra elastic, do the measurements right on the waist and then add 10cm / 4 inches or so and play around with it in front of the mirror. When you are happy with where you want it, pin it together.

How much fabric needed is based on the elastic measurement.

For a full skirt, very poofy, use double the elastic measurement for the amount of fabric to use. For the short cherry print skirt I used double the fabric to elastic. You can use even more fabric if you want a very full skirt.

For a straighter, less full skirt, use the elastic measurement plus half again. The black print skirt was made using the elastic measurement plus about half again.

 The length of the skirt, from the waistband to the hemline can be whatever you like. If you are not sure what length to make it, I would recommend taking the measurement from a skirt that is a length that you like.

When you have the skirt length measurement, you need to add seam allowance for the top edge only, so 1.5cm / .59 inches. Plus at least 2cm /  .78 inches for a narrow hem. A wider hem will give your skirt a bit of extra width, make it more poofy. A wider hem needs about 6cm / 2.3 inches.

Fabric width measurement
Elastic measurement + extra (same as the elastic measurement again for a full skirt or half the measurement for a straighter skirt) = Fabric width

Example: For the cherry print skirt, to my measurements: 120cm + 120cm = 240cm

Fabric length measurement
Fabric length measurement +1.5cm / .59 seam allowance + hem = total length

Example: For the cherry print skirt, to my measurements: 31cm + 1.5cm + 2cm = 34.5cm

These measurements give you the amount of fabric you will need. For the cherry print skirt example, I cut the fabric to measure 240cm by 34.5 cm.

Sew elastic to make the waistband

Pin the elastic together, 1.5cm / .59 inches from the edge, sew the seam and iron so the seam is flat.

Skirt side seam  

If you don’t have an overlocker, pin the side edges together, 1.5cm / .59 inches from the edge, so the right sides are together. The right side is the side that will be on the outside when the skirt is finished, the wrong side will be on the inside.

sew the side seam and press flat

Turn the raw edges under by about .5cm / .19 inches and press flat.

Sew the raw edges under, as shown. 

This gives a neat finish that will not fray.

If you have an overlocker, overlock the raw edges first, then pin the edges together, 1.5cm /.59 inches from the edge, so the right sides are together. The right side is the side that will be on the outside when the skirt is finished, the wrong side will be on the inside. Sew the side seam and press flat.

Stitch lines for the gathers

Using the widest possible stitch on your machine sew straight along the upper edge of the fabric, about .5cm / .19 inches from the edge, starting and finishing near the seam but not going over it. Do another line of straight sewing .5cm / .19 inches from the first. Don't back stitch at the beginning or end and leave a few centimetres / inches of loose thread at both ends.

Mark the opposite side

Lay the elastic and the fabric flat with the side seam to one side. 

Mark the opposite side from the seam on the elastic and the fabric with a pin.

Gather along the top edge

Pin the fabric to the elastic, matching the the seams. The fabric seam should sit flat on the elastic seam, overlapping by 1.5cm / .19 inches. 

Match the pins marking the opposite side and pin together the same as the seams.

Gently pull the two rows of threads to gather the fabric. Be careful not to break the threads, because you'll have to unpick the stitching and sew it again. 

Start at the side seam and gather to where you have the pinned on the opposite side, then do the gathers on the remaining fabric, working towards the pins again.

Gather the fabric until it is the same size as the elastic, so that you can lay the fabric along the elastic. Make sure your gathers are even across the fabric and knot the loose ends of the threads to stop the gathers from coming undone.

Pin the fabric to the elastic all the way around, laying it flat on top, overlapping 1.5cm / .59 inches.

Set the sewing machine to a medium size zig zag stitch. Starting at the side seam sew the fabric to the elastic waistband. If your sewing is not super straight, don't worry too much, it won't be that noticeable when you are wearing it. 

When you have sewn the fabric to the waistband, check all the way around inside and out that the fabric and the waistband are stitched together firmly. Sew over any areas that are not sewn down, using the unpicker or a little pair of sharp scissors to unpick if needed.

Trim any loose threads.

A zig zag stitch is used because it will stretch with the elastic, whereas a straight stitch won't stretch and the thread will snap. 

The hem

For a narrow hem, fold  2cm / .78 inches of the fabric over to the wrong side, then under 1cm / .39 inches and pin. 

Stitch close to the top edge of the hem. 

For a wide hem fold over 6cm / 2.3 inches of the fabric over to the wrong side, then under 1cm / .39 inches and pin. Stitch close to the top edge of the hem. 

Check that the hem is sewn all the way around, that no bits were missed and trim the threads. 


If you would like to add pockets to your skirt, you'll need a bit of extra fabric. You can use the same fabric as the skirt or you can use a different one. I used a plain black for the pockets on the black print skirt. 

To make a medium size pair of pockets, cut two rectangles 7cm / 2.7 inches by 33cm / 12.9 inches. Or you can make them whatever size you would like.

Fold and pin the edges. Leave a gap, about 8cm / 3 inches at one side near the fold.  

The fold will be the top edge of the pocket.  

Sew around the edges, leaving the gap open. 

Trim the lower corners, taking a little triangle off each, being careful not to cut too close to the stitching.

Turn the pocket inside out through the gap, use a pencil to gently poke the lower corners into  nice square corners if you need to. Tuck the edges of the gap in so it looks the same as the side seam and iron flat. 

To decide where you want your pockets to go, put your skirt on and with some pins try different placements.

When you are  happy with where the pockets should go, lay the skirt flat and measure from the hem to make sure the pockets are straight and even. Pin to the skirt.

Sew to the skirt close to the edge. This will sew the pocket to the skirt and sew the gap used to turn the pocket closed at the same time. 

Your skirt is now finished
Wear and enjoy!

I would love to see the skirts! Send photos to the email address above. Please let me know if it's ok for me to post the photos or not.  

Please contact me if you need help with these instructions or if you have suggestions for future tutorials. 


  1. This is absolutely wonderful, thank you.

    --from a fattie just learning to sew.

  2. This is great! The only problem I have is that I don't know how to use a sewing machine. If you had any tutorials on that I'd love those, but if not don't worry, I'll look up someone in my town to get lessons (I have an ancient Singer from around 1940).

    I've also realised I am going to have to make my own clothing, rather than rely on the shops. Sure, it's getting better, but when you're into the alternative scene (like I am) the choices are limited. Also when you're on a tight budget (no designer stuff for me - I'm just not into it).

    Anyway ... I'm waffling. Keep up the great work xxxxxx

  3. Can I please make a polite request for future posts? Could we please have a printable format too? I just tried to print this off to take with me for fabric shopping and it was 13 pages long! A link to a plain print version would be most helpful.

    Otherwise, thanks for this, I just got a sewing machine and I'm planning on starting with some cute print skirts.