Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tiered Skirt Tutorial

At long last I have managed to put together a tutorial for the tiered skirt that I made a few months ago: Variations on a Theme of Flannel. The instructions don't really lend themselves to pictures, but I decided to take a few anyway, just in case they would help to clarify. I made another skirt in plaid homespun, which is already proving to be very comfortable! So without further ado:

Tiered Skirt Tutorial:

Seams: I used ½” seam allowance on all seams (it’s easier to make calculations that way) and I serged all of the seams. When making calculations, it’s safest to round up to the next inch if you’re dealing with decimals or fractions.

Yardage: If you use different measurements, you may need to calculate your own yardage. I used 2 ½ - 3 yards for my skirt.

Calculating the tiers:

Once you read through the tutorial, you may decide you want a different number of tiers or a different length. To add tiers, simply follow the same procedure – although be aware that if you add any more tiers, the length of your hem will be astronomical! To change the length, simply add or subtract inches from the width of each tier.

NOTE: My personal measurements are in parentheses – if they match yours, you can save yourself the trouble of calculation. Even if they don’t match, they may help to clear up any confusion. You can “cheat” if your hip measurement is within a few inches of mine – just do the measurements for the first tier, and then use my measurements for tiers 2-4. No one will know that it’s not exact. Shh!

1. Measure hips (38”)

2. Add 4” to hip measurement for ease and 1" for seam allowance (43”)

3. Multiply this number by 1.5 for the second tier length (65”)

4. Multiply the number from step 3 by 1.5 for the third tier length (97”)

5. Multiply the number in step four by 1.5 for the fourth tier length (145”)

Cutting out the tiers:

6. The top tier is six inches wide, plus 2 inches added for seam allowance and waistband. This brings the total width of the top tier to 8 inches.

7. The length of your top tier was determined in step two. The top tier is in two pieces, so cut the number in half: (21 ½”) You will want to cut out 2 pieces of fabric for the top tier, 8” by (21 ½”) -- remember to substitute your personalized measurements if they are different from mine.

8. Second tier: 10” wide (including 1” of seam allowance). Use the measurement from step 3 (65”). Tier 2 will have to be pieced together unless you have extremely wide fabric! To get even tiers, divide your number by 3 (21 ½”) and then add 1” for seam allowance (22 ½”). You will cut 3 pieces, 10” wide by (22 ½”) long. My fabric was 44” wide, so I just skipped the extra half-inch and cut the piece to 22”.

9. Third tier: 10” wide (including 1” of seam allowance). Use the measurement from step 4 (97”). Once again we want even tiers, so we will need approximately 5 pieces. Divide your number by five: (19 ½”) Add one inch for seam allowance (20 ½”). For the third tier you will cut five pieces, 10” wide by (20 ½”) long. NOTE: the fifth piece will fit on the section of fabric left from cutting out the third piece of tier 2.

10. Fourth tier: 10 ½” wide (including ½” of seam allowance and a 1” hem). Use the measurement from step 5 (145”). Divide this number by 4 (36”) and add one inch for seam allowance (37”). You will need to cut four pieces, 10 ½” wide by (37”) long – you’ll be using almost the entire width of the fabric if you’re using 45” wide fabric.

Constructing the tiers:

*If you have a serger, go ahead and serge the short ends of each piece before you begin construction. Just be sure to mark which pieces go in which tier! Because of all the seams, these skirts are prone to raveling on the inside.

11. Sew the short ends of tier 1 (the 8” sides), right sides together. After you finish one seam you will have a long strip, and after the second seam you will have a circle:

12. Sew the pieces of tier 2 together, right sides together.

13. Sew the pieces of tier 3 together, right sides together.

14. Sew the pieces of tier 4 together, right sides together.

15. Press all of the seams open.

16. Now it’s time to hem tier 4 – it’s much easier to hem at this stage than to postpone it until the skirt is fully constructed. Using an iron and a seam gauge (or just going by sight, if you have good judgment), press up ½” on the bottom of the 4th tier and the petticoat (don’t worry about which side is the bottom unless you have a fabric with a one-way design or a nap). Turn up the pressed edge and press again to make a 1” hem. Now stitch all the way around the bottom of each piece on the machine. Use pins if your fabric will not hold a crease, or if you’re uncomfortable with “pin-less” hemming.

17. Make yourself a cup of tea and have a cookie or two. You are probably fed up with pressing and hemming by now, since you have just hemmed approximately 145 inches of fabric (yes, that’s over four yards!). And it’s not over yet…

18. Now that you’ve had a break, run gathering stitches around the top of the second, third, and fourth tiers. For ease of gathering, run your basting stitches at 3/8” and 5/8”. You’ll eventually be stitching on the ½” line, right between your basting stitches. When I made this up in flannel, I restarted gathering stitches at each new section within a tier. But the homespun was light enough to just run one set around the entire tier.

Marking the tiers:

19. In order to get even gathering on the tiers, you will need to mark where each seam on the tier to be gathered should go on the tier above. For tier 1, find the center back and mark the bottom edge of the fabric with tailor’s chalk or a pin.

Divide the length of the first tier by the number of pieces in the second tier (3 seams): (14”). Now measure (14”) on either side of the center back and mark.

20. Choose a seam to be the center back of the 2nd tier and mark the bottom edge of the fabric with a pin. Now divide the length of the 2nd tier (65”) by the number of seams in the third tier (5 seams): (13”). As in step 19, mark the bottom edge of tier two every (13”).

21. Choose a seam to be the center back of the 3rd tier and mark the bottom edge of the fabric with a pin. Now divide the length of the 3rd tier (97”) by the number of seams in the fourth tier (4 seams): (24 ¼”). As in step 13, mark the bottom edge of tier three every (24 ¼”).

Assembling the skirt:

22. With tiers basted and marked, you are now ready for assembly! Start by attaching tier 2 to tier 1. Using the markings you made in steps 21-23, match up the seams to the markings and pull the gathering stitches to fit. A little trick for keeping gathering tight and in place is to wrap the basting threads around a pin in a figure 8.

MAKE SURE the right sides of the fabric are facing each other. Pin profusely! When you stitch, you should be stitching at the 1/2" mark, right between your two rows of basting stitches:

23. Attach tier 3 to tier two, as in Step 22.

24. Attach tier 4 to tier 3, as in Step 22.

25. Remove the gathering stitches from the skirt and finish the inside seams between the tiers. A serger works best for this, but you can do a zig-zag stitch, as well. If you do not finish these seams, you will have huge problems with raveling and loose strings later on.

Making the Waistband:

Edit: 3/4/09 -- I've changed the Waistband directions to make a casing, rather than stitching the elastic to the skirt -- this makes it easier to adjust for a snug fit!

26. Measure your waist. Cut a piece of ½” – ¾” elastic that is a few inches longer than your waist measurement.

27. Press down a scant 1/4" on the edge of the top tier (if you have a serger, just serge the top edge instead).

28. Press down again, using the width of your elastic plus 1/4" as a guide.

29. Stitch down the casing, leaving a 3" opening at the center back. Make sure you stitch close to the folded edge to give your elastic plenty of room.

30. Attach a large safety pin to one end of the elastic and carefully feed through the casing. Make sure the elastic doesn't twist.

31. Using your safety pin, pin both ends of the elastic together. Try the skirt on to check the fit. Adjust the elastic until it stretches slightly (this will give a snug fit) and re-pin the elastic.

32. Overlap the elastic and stitch together. Trim the ends. Once the elastic is secured, stretch the back of the skirt until it is taut and sew the casing opening closed.

33. Check the skirt for fit and trim any extra pieces of thread. Adjust the skirt waistband so that the gathers are evenly distributed. If you want, add a little bit of ribbon to the center back -- these skirts have a tendency to look the same forwards and backwards!

34. Wear your new skirt to the fabric store (where you will buy fabric for your next project, of course!)


  1. Cute, cute, cute! I have made one with just three tiers (like Laura's on the S&S board) but it'd be fun to make one with four!

    Mind if I link to this on my sewing blog? I have a feeling a few of my visitors would love this!

  2. I'd be flattered! :) By the way, I check you blog regularly and very much enjoy it!

    Yours in Christ,

  3. You did a great job with this tutorial! (I followed your link from the Sensibility forum).

    Since you like making your own designs, I wanted to suggest a book you might like. My daughter (who's also a Shannon) just made a skirt using a book from the library called Sew What. It gives directions for many styles of skirts made without patterns (or, more accurately, with your own custom-drafted pattern). It gives directions for simple A-line skirts and many others.

    OC Mom

  4. I've had a few readers ask me to do a tutorial for a tiered skirt and so when I came across yours I linked to it!

  5. oh how cute! I love long skirts and I think I need to make some now!

  6. PS I'm a reformed presby my self. So your TULIP in your profile caught my eye. LOL

  7. ocmom,
    Thanks for the recommendation! I'll have to look that book up, it sounds great!

    I hope your blog readers find the tutorial useful. I love your blog -- and I love architecture and old buildings, so I enjoy your renovation stories.

    mama k,
    nice to meet another presby :)

    Yours in Christ,

  8. Beautiful!!! I love tiered skirts because they are long and DON'T need a slit! =) My dh has been expressing an interest in my learning how to sew, so I am bookmarking this!

  9. What a beautiful skirt and how simple to make! I have been sewing for years but have never made a tiered skirt. You explain it very well.

    I will be sure to try your pattern once I get my hands on some material...

    Your blog is lovely!


  10. I think this skirt is so feminine and lovely, I am just starting to get interested in sewing again. Your blog is so inspiring :)

  11. What a lovely skirt! Thank you so much for posting such clear directions on how to make it. I have a couple questions, though: What exactly do you mean by "to get even tiers" (step 8) and how did you determine how many pieces to cut the tiers into in order to piece them together to achieve the above mentioned even tiers?

    Thanks again and may the Lord richly bless you!

    In His everlasting arms,
    Cristina D.

  12. Cristina,

    By "even tiers" I mean that the pieces within each tiers should be even in length (this helps make sure that each tier is evenly gathered).

    As far as determining how many pieces to use in each tier, I based my calculations on the fabric width -- to save fabric and make it easier to calculate, I limited the pieces to 22" (half the width of the fabric). First I divided the length of each tier by 22" and rounded up to the next whole number to figure out how many pieces I would need for the tier. Then divide the tier length by that little number to find out the length of each piece in the tier (add 1" of seam allowance). So if I have a 97" tier, divide it by 22 and get 4.4. Round it up to five. Divide 5 into 97 and you get 19.4. Round up to 19.5 and add 1" of seam allowance and you get 20 1/2". So you need five pieces that are 20 1/2" long. The exception to this is the bottom tier, which is so long that it was easier to use (almost) the entire width of the fabric, rather than cutting a bunch of small pieces.

    Sorry for the complicated explanation, but hopefully that will answer your question! Please feel free to ask for more clarification!


  13. I just came across your page and it's absolutely beautiful! Thanks for the inspiration today! Have a beautiful day!

  14. Shannon, I have a question. I don't have a serger. Is there something I can do to prevent unraveling inside the skirt?

    Also, flannel is somewhat heavy--have you made this skirt with regular calico fabric? Does it work?

    God bless,

  15. Hannah,

    I would suggest zig-zagging on the edge of your seams, or even using pinking shears. You could always use fray-check -- but I think it would take a bottle (or two)!

    Regular calico will work just fine! Actually, the pictures in the tutorial are of a skirt made from a homespun. The lighter the fabric, the easier it is to gather and sew!

    Yours in Christ,

  16. Oh, thank you! That is exactly what I needed to know.

    I can't wait to try this...

    God bless,

  17. I just finished my skirt. Here is a pic of it

  18. Sorry about that last comment, my 10 month old pressed enter before I was done. Anyway, I finished my skirt, follow the url to a pic if you want to see. I used all sorts of ends to do mine. Enjoy!

  19. Kathryn, your skirt is just lovely! I hope you enjoy wearing it in New Mexico!

    Yours in Christ,

  20. I'm planning on making this soon! If you don't mind my asking, how long is your finished skirt--I got 36"? I need to tweak the length to 42", but I want to make sure I have the right starting number.

    Also, this is great. We're the same size, so this is easy! Thanks so much!

  21. Thanks for making this tutorial!! A friend sent me the link, so I had to try it, and I love the results. I made my daughter and myself matching skirts from a sheet I found at the thrift store! You can see my post about it here

  22. Such a sweet skirt! I've recently fallen in love with flannel and have been looking for a project I can use it for. Your skirt has inspired me! Off to sew!

    1. Betsy,

      I hope you enjoy the tutorial! Thank you for stopping by!



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