6 tips for making a perfect pettiskirt!

So, it's widely known that it doesn't get much cuter than a little girl in a pettiskirt. Making them, however, can seem overwhelming.

Never fear!  Below I compiled some of my go to tips on how to go about sewing your very own!

 I find them downright addictive for my girls.  They are usually available for sale but if you are thinking about making one it helps to have somewhere to go for help on how to.  Now I'm not about to write a tutorial on how to make one; if you are looking for that there's a fantastic website you can go to right here. But what I am going to do is give you a few tips that I figured out myself the hard way to help you make a one of a kind pettiskirt!

1.) Pettiskirts are very forgiving.

While making a pettiskirt if you waiver a little off stitching a straight line or your cutting isn't completely perfect, remember these words and know that in the end you won't even be able to find your little folly.

2.)Pettiskirts are very adjustable.

  They can fit a range of ages.  One pettiskirt could fit a 6 month old up to a petite 4 year old because of the elastic adjustable waistband.

If you do want to make one for an older child or yourself, just make the tiers a little longer (*instead of 5" tiers, I would do 5.5" tiers for approximately ages 5-8, 6" for preteen ages, 6.5" for teens, and 7 or 7.5" tiers for adults unless you wanted a shorter skirt.  The finished length for a 7.5" tiered skirt would be ~22.5" and the finished length for the 5" tiered skirt would be ~15") and the ruffle fluff length increased to 2.5" for ages 5 to preteen and then 3" long for teens and beyond. 

For the record:







                           W I D T H


*A pettiskirt will traditionally have 3 tiers, and there are 2 layers of those tiers to make one pettiskirt.* Please do not mistake one for the other!

3.)  Fabric Choices & Sources.

There is no real substitute for nylon chiffon when it comes to pettiskirts.  It's starchier than regular nylon but still super soft (seriously, my little one couldn't stop "eating" it while I was making a recent skirt for her sister!), and it won't fray like regular chiffon.  Tulle could work I suppose, but it's waaaaay itchy so i would recommend putting in an underskirt as well and omitting the fluff (I can't see it being necessary and I wouldn't wear one all on it's own like a nylon chiffon one could.)  You want to use the nylon chiffon for the bottom tiers for both layers and for the ruffle fluff.  As for the top tier of the two layers, I'd say 95% of people make them from satin.  Satin is nice, and I have used it twice for pettiskirts, but for a more individual, fun look I like to used lightweight printed cotton.

Oh! and if you do decide on a printed cotton, use non-directional or make sure you keep track of what the skirt's top tier will look like in the end (I recommend pressing the fabric so that it's easier to keep track of what side is up and what's the inside tier and the outside tier.)

And as for the ribbon, grosgrain is best.  You don't want a painted ribbon because it will rub off from being tied in a bow.  If you don't have ribbon that suits your fancy, I have used yardage before.  Just double the width and add a small seam allowance (and use the same length of fabric that you would have for grosgrain ribbon plus a half inch for seam allowance at the short visible end) and turn it out.  Press.  Top-stitch if you desire. 

4.) Tools & Supplies.

  • First off, you want the right needles. nylon chiffon is stretchy so you want to use a size 70 or 80 stretch or ballpoint needles for your sewing machine and serger (if you are using one).

*Side note* Why would you use a serger?  Well, it's a matter of preference.  I know how my 4 year old plays, and she may step on the skirt from time to time when she gets up from sitting on the ground or wherever.  In an effort to extend the longevity of the skirt, I choose to first gather and stitch the seams together on the sewing machine and then finish the seams off on the serger.  Try to match the thread to the colors in your tiers as best as possible since these serged seams will be seen.

  • Eventually, in my tips, I'll will be going over how I cut the chiffon and how to gauge how much you need and all that. In order to be successful at cutting, I absolutely recommend you use rotary blades. Scissors will not be at ALL as precise and man o man will you get tired of cutting all that chiffon! Don't forget a ruler as well. You want to keep that fabric down so you can cut straight!

  • A lot of pins. I have another confession: I hate pinning. I do. Wholeheartedly. If I can get away with not doing it, I will. Especially something as monstrous as a pettiskirt! So believe me when I say: you must pin this thing or you will end up with uneven gathers and a lot of headaches!!!!! The most necessary pinning is the tiers to each other and definitely the ruffle fluff to the bottom tiers of both layers. It really made me so much happier in the end!


While making what is now my fourth pettiskirt, I had another revelation in regards to making the perfect gathers:  while pinning the second tier to the third tier, remember how many yards you used for your second tier and convert that in to inches (for example, 5yards= 180"). Then, depending on how long your third tier is, divide that into 180 to get how long each section of the third tier should be between seems after they are gathered.  So- I am making this particular pettiskirt with a 180" for the second tier and I am using 12 yards for the third tier (I know it doesn't add up but I wanted to use four colors for the third tier and I wanted an even amount of each color :-p).  So 180 divided by 12= 15 so I want each of my colors for the third tier to be gathered to 15". Does that make sense?

  • Lots of thread and prefill your bobbins!!! Not so much fun to keep stopping and filling your bobbins. You're going to need about 5 or 6 filled bobbins. If you see that you are low and you are about to start putting in your gathers, just set your old bobbins to the side and put a new one in. You can't run out while you are gathering or you won't be able to adjust it later. You can use those other bobbins again when you are attaching things (like fluff to tier or tier to tier).

5.)  Math.

So this next part is the brain-crunching part!  I know, when I decided to learn how to sew I never knew how much math was going to be involved!  In all my pettiskirt tutorial quests, I never once found one that talked about how to figure out yardage; only that they recommended buying the pre-cut rolls of chiffon.  That's great if you don't mind spending more money & you don't want a multicolored wonderskirt!  But me?  I love color!  So, I had to do some major brainstorming to find out how much yardage I was going to need in order to cut my own tiers and fluff for both layers.

 Ok, grab your calculator!  For this example I am going to use my 4 year old's waist measurement.


*Keep in mind when I say how many "yards" that I am talking about 5" for the tiers by whatever amount of yardage we come up with.  (And that goes for the 2" ruffle fluff too.)*

So, for our example, the waist is 21".  For the top tier I am going to multiply 21" x 2= 42". I need a piece fabric double the length and double the width. My top tier then is going to be 10" x 42".  So you'll need a little over a quarter of a yard (not a fat quarter, lol) of whatever you want your top tier to be. 

For the second tier, take your top tier width (42") and multiply that by 5 (for fullness)= 210".  To translate that into yardage divide that by 36= 5.833.  Let's round up to 6.  So my second tier of chiffon is going to be 5" x 6 yards.  (Double this for second layer for a total of 12 yards for both).

For the third tier, double the second tier. 5" x 12 yards (Double this for second layer for a total of 24 yards for both).

For the ruffle fluff, triple the third tier.  2" x 36 yards (Double this for second layer for a total of 72 yards for both.)

Yikes!  Now you know why people buy them! (And why they can get so pricey! Boy, they are a lot of work!)

Now, how do we apply those numbers to figure out exactly what to buy?  How many yards do we actually have to buy?

Well, since we're buying our nylon chiffon here, selvage to selvage one yard of fabric is 54" long by 36" wide.  So, we can get a lot of cuts out of that, right!?! Right!

To figure out how much per yard exactly, we have to do more math!

We need six 5" x 36" cuts of fabric meaning: 30" x 36" for the second tier (which is a little over half the length).  Multiply this times two for both layers and you get a total of 60" x 36" or a yard and six inches for the total second tier.

Third tier we need twelve 5" x 36" cuts of fabric meaning: 60" x 36" (about a yard and a quarter).  Multiply this times two for both layers and we get a total of 120" x 36" or a 2 and a half yards approximately for the third tier.

For the ruffle fluff we need thirty-six 2" x 36" cuts of fabric meaning: 72" x 36" (a little under a yard and a half). Multiply that by two and we get 144" x 36" or approximately (a little over 2 and a half yards so we'll round up) 3yards total for the ruffle fluff.

Add this altogether and we need approximately 7 yards of nylon chiffon fabric (at 54" selvedges) to make one pettiskirt with a 21" waist measurement.  Don't worry about your leftovers; they make great additions to tons of other projects!


Well, that was the hardest part! Good job for keeping up! Trust me, it hurt my brain the first time I tried to come up with all that!

Now to cut all of that yardage, let's make our plan of attack.

  • second tier: 6 one yard cuts for top layer and 6 one yard cuts for bottom layer. Total: 12 one yard cuts for second tier (5"x 36" per cut)

  • third tier: 12 one yard cuts for the top layer and 12 one yard cuts for the bottom layer. Total: 24one yard cuts for the third tier (5"x 36" per cut)

  • ruffle fluff: 36 one yard cuts for the top layer and 36 one yard cuts for the bottom layer: Total: 72 one yard cuts (2" x 36" per cut)

So, if you are thinking about doing multiple colors for the tiers and layers of the skirt, play around with the math above and the colors until you find that winning combination!

Adding a pettiskirt under a skirt can give the perfect poof without even being visible!

6.) Gathering & Tension:

I've tried them all and I'll tell you their pros and cons.

The traditional baste and pull

Pros: even gathers throughout and you control them. 

Cons: Oh, geez, this would take FOREVER!  You would want to stop at every seam and start new thread trails so that you don't worry about breaking the thread of a super ginormous gather.

The zigzag over a piece of string.

Pros: Sturdier that the first method

Cons: Just as interminable and not as reliable as you think.

Gathering foot and/or ruffling foot

Pros: Well these little devices do perfectly even gathers

Cons: not adjustable even on a long stitch length. So if you find you gathered too much or not enough, by the last couple of yards you'll find yourself scrambling to get it to fit your tier and it just won't look right.

Gather each gather as you go

Pros: Well, it is essentially the same as the ruffling foot except you have to use like a seam ripper to tuck each fold manually.

Cons: Well, plenty. It wouldn't be very adjustable since it would be one long stitch and you could slip and your seam ripper could get stuck under your needle and the needle could break! Not to mention how long this would take.

Cranking up the tension on your sewing machine

Pros: No special gadgets, you can see how the gathers are coming along, and if done on a long stitch length it's pretty adjustable as well. Make sure you give yourself looooong thread trails before and after for gathering.  18" before and 18" after should be pretty good since you can adjust gathers up to a yard more.

Cons:  thread could break while adjusting gathers and perfecting tension is an art/work in progress.  And it yield different results on different machines.

Use a serger

Pros:  Well, you have a sturdier gathering structure.  How do you use a serger to gather?  Crank up your tension on just the needle thread(s) (if you are using both needles).  How much? Well that depends on how deep you want your gathers.  For normal gathering with quilting cotton I use a 6.  Just play around with it.  Now set your differential setting all the way up (that's the part that actually moves the fabric along).  Lastly, turn your stitch length up to it's longest stitch.  How wide doesn't matter much but make sure it's wide enough to catch the fabric properly.   I know it's tempting to just go all Speedy Gonzales since there's so much to gather, but be steady.  The differential will make it go through fabric so much faster.   Make sure you keep an eye on making sure the fabric is really getting gathered. One more thing!!: Make looooonnnnnng thread chains on and off (enough to adjust sufficiently, and by that I mean like a yard on each trail.) and then to adjust the gathers, pull the needle threads only!!

Cons: Well, you'll see those nasty serger threads, so unless you are doing solid colors, are using that as a coordinating feature, or are sure that will be hidden, think twice about this attempting method.

Stef from Girl.Inspired did a pettiskirt tutorial and it is absolutely beautiful!  It actually negates the whole "ruffle fluff part and she just adds a tinier bottom layer!  I am so going to try this next time!  She also adds a lining which would look adorable in any substantial and beautiful apparel fabric!!  Yeay! Stef!!!

Okay, I think that about does it!  Please feel free to comment me with any questions and I will try to tackle them for you!  Once again, for a full tutorial on attaching the tiers, and putting in the elastic, etc. make it and love it has done an excellent job!  *Also* check out made by bronwyn for another excellent resource on making a pettiskirt.  I will post more as an edit if I pick up any more magical tricks in the future. 

Thanks for stopping by!!!!!!!!

hugs + stitches + many many smooches,


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