Thursday, August 23, 2012

Tiered Maxi Skirt Tutorial

Here it is, the tutorial for the tiered maxi skirt that I have lived in all summer long and don't anticipate giving up until the snow flies.

I made this skirt using a skirt I bought at Target as my pattern so that's where I got my measurements.
If you are woman's size large, this tutorial is perfect. 
If you are thinner, go eat something would you? 
Ha! Seriously though, you should be able to adjust it. Maybe just start with a muslin to make sure the fit is right.
2.5 - 3 yards fabric
          Lightweight fabrics are best. The fabric here is quilting cotton and it made for a heavier, warmer skirt 
          (which will be nice for Fall, but is too warm for right now)
          Voile and other light weight natural fabrics are probably best
          I haven't tried this skirt in knit but I think that would be really comfortable as well.
Rotary cutter and ruler (or good old fashioned scissors)
Elastic--I used 3/4" because it's what I had on hand, 1/2" would work o.k. too
Iron and Ironing board
A safety pin
Straight pins


1.    Cut out your three tiers.
The following dimensions are for a size Large skirt. If you are a smaller size you can subtract inches from the width of each tier (keep the proportions), or just attempt it with these measurements and use less elastic. Your skirt will just be more full.
Cut 2 rectangles for the top tier,  24" x 9"
Cut 2 rectangles for the middle tier,  32" x 15"
Cut 2 rectangles for the bottom tier, 38" x 19"
Something to be aware of, if you have a directional print you'll want to be extra alert as you sew pieces together. Make sure the front and the back pieces have the print all going the same way as well that as the print from tier to tier is pointed in the same direction.
2. Sew the side seam on each tier.
Put the right sides of the first tier together and sew the short ends of the rectangle together, using a 1/2" seam allowance. You're just sewing one side seam right now.  Repeat for the next two tiers.

Remember to double check and make sure your fabric pattern is all going the same direction if you don't have an all over print.
3. Finish your seams so they don't fray over time.
Use your preferred finishing method. You could cut the fabric with pinking shears or you can zig zag the edges.  
If you are using the zig zag stitch you want it to be right on the edge of your fabric. I just sew the two layers of fabric together here because I'm too lazy to sew each layer on it's own.  In 4-H, we used to zig zag around every piece of fabric before we started sewing anything. You can do that too if you want. I just find this way is quicker (and uses less thread) and I'm all about short cuts.
4. Iron your seams flat.
If you sew, your iron needs to be your BFF.  Nice crisp seams make everyones life easier.
5. Make your elastic casing.
Locate your first tier. It's the shortest one.  Bring it back to your BFF, Mr. Iron.  On the long side, turn under about 1/4" of fabric and iron it down.
Then fold that over another inch and iron again.  This will create your casing for your elastic once it's sewn.  If you like to pin things, pin this down after you iron it. I rarely use pins. I prefer to live on the edge.

If you want to include a tag, decide which side will be the front and which the back and pin your tag under the casing in the middle of the back panel. I forgot my tag on this skirt. No biggie. Front and back don't really matter for the fit.
Once you've ironed and pinned (if you so desire), sew the casing.
Take a straight stitch right down the edge. You can see there at the top of the photo, I like to get really close to that edge. I line it up right with the inside of my presser foot.

6. Insert your elastic into the casing.
I use a very technical and mathematically advanced method for determining how much elastic to use. Are you ready for this? Get out your graphing calculators. . .

Take your elastic out of your package and wrap it around your waist.  You want it to be just a little stretched so that your skirt stays on but not so much so that it's uncomfortable.  You've worn clothing with elastic waistbands before, just go with what feels right.

Make sure you have about an inch extra from that comfortable stretchy point then cut the elastic.  This is SUPER forgiving because elastic is stretchy so don't sweat it and stress and measure. Just guesstimate. I promise you will be o.k.

And for goodness sake brush that stray white thread off of your pants. And wear a shirt that doesn't have holes in it next time, k?
Take a safety pin and pin through one end of your elastic, like so.  The safety pin is going to give you something to grip as you pull that floppy elastic through your casing.
Put the safety pin in the casing and push it through.
You will continue to push and grab and pull until the elastic is all the way through your casing.  You want to be careful that you don't pull the other end of your elastic all the way into the casing or you will have to start over.

That's fabric paint on my ironing board cover. Gross, right? Time for a new cover.
If you need to you can use pins to secure each end of the elastic in the casing while you take it over to your sewing machine. You want to stitch down the elastic on both ends so it doesn't slip as you sew the rest of the skirt, so take a line of stitches down and back right on the edge. Make sure you are catching the end of the elastic in there.
Now, this part is purely optional, but I hate when my elastic flips and flops around inside that casing so I'm going to run a few lines of stitching through it.  Start at one end and sew a straight stitch all the way down to the other end. You'll have to pull the elastic taught so that the fabric is flat as you sew.  Once you get the hang of it, it's not hard.
I ran two lines of stitches down the elastic. This is what it will look like when you are done and you've let the elastic spring back into place.
7. Gather the tiers.
Since each tier is progressively wider than the last we will be gathering them slightly before sewing them together.  For this, I use the gathering cheat. If you've never done it, it may just rock your world.

First, you want to increase your thread tension. How much you increase it depends on how tight you want your gathers. The wheel on top of my machine is my tension wheel. Normal tension is right around 4 on my machine and 9 is maxed out. You'll note I've got it set on 7.  I'm not looking for super tight gathers for this I just want a soft gather.

Also, you need to adjust your stitch length to a longer stitch. If you have good eyes, you'll note that my stitch length is set to 5. That's as long of a stitch as my machine can do.  Again, the stitch length you choose will effect how gathered your fabric gets. In this case, longer stitch equals more gathered.
Get a scrap piece of fabric and play around just to see how this all works before you dig into your skirt ok?
Do you see how the fabric gathers up as it goes through the machine? Those loose gathers are exactly what you are going for.  Lighter fabric will gather up more tightly than quilting cotton will so I can't stress enough how important it is to play on some scraps first to get the feel.
When you have figured out how to set up your machine to achieve a loose gathering stitch go ahead and sew a line of gathering stitches at the top of the second and the third skirt tiers.  Make sure when you are determining "top" and "bottom" that the pattern on your fabric is all going in the same direction. (Are you tired of that reminder yet?)

Before moving on to the next step, set your tension back to normal and adjust your stitch length back to normal as well!!!
8. Sew the tiers together.
Now take your first tier and your middle tier and put them right sides together with the bottom of the first on the top (gathered part) of your middle tier. Match side seams.
Pin the living day lights out of it. (Says the seamstress who hates pins)  Seriously though, pin the whole darn length of it. It should match up fairly well because of the gathering but you can adjust by adding in your own gathers or pulling out a bit of the gathering as needed.  The ends should match up and the seams should match up. That's what you are going for.
Start at one end and sew the top tier to the middle tier.  I've found it easier to sew with the gathers on top and the flat side on the bottom. It just feeds though my machine better.

Use about a 1/2" seam allowance.
Switch over to a zig zag stitch and finish that seam!
You may have some rouge gathering stitches that show on the right side of the garment (if you are anything like me and can't sew a straight gathering line to save your life). Take a minute and pull those now if they bother you. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. Depends on how eager I am to finish and how well hidden in a busy print the stitches are.
Once you've pulled and snipped those excess threads, iron down that seam. I will look much nicer and more crisp once it's been well ironed.
So you could stop right now and just sew up that side seam, hem it and you'd have a cute little skirt.
I, however, was going for an ankle length maxi skirt so we need to attach the last tier.

You do this the same way that you attached the first two tiers. Take your last tier and, right sides together, line up the top (gathered side) of the last tier with the bottom (flat side) of the middle tier.  Match the seams and the ends and pin the heck out of it.  Sew together with a 1/2" seam allowance. Finish your seams with a zig zag. Pull excess gathering threads that show on the right side. Iron the seam.
9. Sew the side seam.
Get out your pins again, you are going to need them.
Put the right sides of your skirt together along the final side seam. Match the top and each seam for the tiers. Pin it all the way down.  Don't worry if it's not totally even at the bottom. You can fix that when you hem.
Start at the top of the skirt and sew your side seam all the way down the edge of your skirt.  I took a slightly deeper seam allowance here (a more traditional 5/8" seam). I don't really know why. I just felt like it would have more staying power. Make sure you backstitch at the beginning and the end of your seam.  

Backstitching is taking a few stitches backwards. It "locks" the thread. Just a bit of added security.

Finish this seam with a zig zag stitch and iron.

You are almost done!!

10. Hem!
If you want, put the skirt on now and see how it fits. Spin around. Admire yourself in the mirror. Resist the urge to stop now and leave the hem raw. People WILL notice. (Unless it's knit! If it's knit it won't fray so you can skip all the hemming and seam finishing you lucky dog you!)
Take the skirt off and head back to the ironing board one last time.  Turn under 1/4" of the hem and iron it down.  If you are 5'4" like me you should be able to fold up about 1" and iron that down for the perfect hem length.  
Go ahead and sew that hem and you are done!

This is such a forgiving and easy skirt to wear. If you are a whole lot taller than I am you may need to adjust your bottom tier length. OR add a contrasting band around the bottom.
Confession:  I didn't have enough of the navy ikat fabric so I added a contrasting band around the bottom of the skirt I made for this tutorial.  I cut two rectangles for my band the same width as the bottom tier (38") and about 6" wide. I sewed the two band rectangles together on the short end and ironed that seam.  

I folded that long rectangle in half, wrong sides together and ironed it. Then I pinned the raw edge to the bottom edge of my skirt before I sewed up the final side seam.  I sewed the band onto the last tier and then sewed up the side seam.

I'm sorry I didn't get pictures of that part of the process. Let me know if you need further explanation of how to do that.
So there you have it! Now go sew up a few for yourself. I promise you will want to live in this skirt. It's the best.

If you sew any of these for yourself, I'd love to see photos! Feel free to link to your blog or Flickr stream in the comments.  If you leave a comment and desire a response, please make sure you aren't a "No Reply commenter" or if you are, leave an e-mail address so I can get in touch! Thanks! And enjoy.


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  1. I think I want a skirt. I love the blue with the red trim!

  2. You're a rock star. I Love that red hem too, and Ikat is my latest obsession, although I don't have any of it.

    1. Aw, thanks! I saw that Ikat go on sale for 50% off a few weeks ago and couldn't resist.

  3. What a wonderful tutorial! You did a great job. Love your blog and am following along! Have an amazing day....I'm looking forward to seeing your next project!


  4. Hi there, I wanted to make this as a surprise present for my grandma who lives out of state. She usually wears XL size . I wondered if you could guesstimate the additional inches from your tutorial.