How to Sew a Gathered Skirt Without Gathering Fabric
Learn how to sew this pretty, beginner-friendly, gathered skirt with pockets!
You can create it without even knowing how to gather fabric on your sewing machine.
That’s right, no parallel basting stitch to pull, hoping that they don’t break on you. The elastic waistband will help you create these beautiful gathers. Let’s get sewing! 🙂
Welcome to this beginner-friendly sew-along tutorial showing you how I made this gathered skirt with an elastic waistband!
The special thing about this skirt is that you don’t need to know how to gather fabric with your sewing machine.
No parallel basting stitches at all that you have to carefully pull. (Side note: they is a much easier way to gather fabric using your sewing machine and it involves using a wide zig-zag stitch. But more of that another time.)
There are 2 main categories of pieces involved – the skirt pieces (large rectangles) and the pockets.
Speaking generally, to produce a nice gathered skirt, you must times your hip measurement by at least 1.5. This minimum would produce a dartless A-line gathered skirt.
For more flare, simply times your hip measurement by a higher number. In this tutorial, I will times my hip measurement by 2.5.
Main features of this tutorial/skirt:
• No pattern needed.
• No gathering the fabric on the sewing machine.
• Elastic waistband, perfect for fluctuations in your waist measurement.
• Minimal waste fabric cutting (sustainability).
• No darts.
• In-seam pockets!!
• Rolled hem (using a handy technique).
Make sure to read through the entire tutorial (including the project review at the end) before making your own version!
A note about measurements: I work in imperial measurements (inches), but I have included the metric (cm) conversions in brackets. Since I have to round these conversions to the nearest 0.25cm for ease of reading, these conversions are not 100% accurate.
Tools & Fabrics
Here’s what you will need:
• Sewing machine (obviously 😉)
• A new sewing machine needle (the correct size for your fabric)
• Overlocker machine or any tools you need to finish your seams
• Your lovely fabric and matching thread
• Tailor’s chalk or another marking tool of your choice
• Fabric scissors or rotary cutter and cutting mat
• Elastic band – length equal to your waist measurement. I will be using a 1” (2.5cm) wide elastic.
• A long ruler, preferably a wide one.
• 2 sturdy safety pins.
In terms of fabric, you can make this skirt in any light to medium weight woven fabric you like. I haven’t yet tested this tutorial using knit fabrics.
In this tutorial, I will be sewing with this lovely turquoise medium-weight cotton poplin.
Good news! You only need 4 simple measurements to make this skirt, which you can take yourself.
The 4 measurements are:
Waist circumference (W)
Measure the circumference at the point where the top of the waistband will rest on your body. For many women, this will be at the smallest part of the waist (called the ‘true waist’), while others prefer the skirt to sit above this point. You are free to choose.
Make sure your measuring tape is parallel with the floor.
Hips circumference (H)
Measure the circumference at the widest part of your hips.
Make sure your measuring tape is parallel with the floor.
Waist to desired length (DL)
This measurement is from where you measured your waist circumference to the point where you want your skirt to end. Don’t add any hem allowance yet.
Waistband height (WB)
This is just how thick you want your waistband to be. I always make my waistbands 1.5” (3.75cm) wide, but it’s all down to preference. Your waistband height must be at least a little larger than the width of your elastic.
What direction does your print run in?
Before we start our calculations, we need to take a close look at our fabric.
If your fabric has a print design, you must first see if the design runs widthwise or lengthwise along the fabric. This will determine the fabric quantity and how you cut your fabric.
If the print design of your fabric runs widthwise (along the weft grain), it will look like this:
Let’s call this type of print, type A.
If your print design runs lengthwise (along the selvedge a.k.a warp grain), it will look something like this:
Let’s call this print design type B.
In the case of stripes, you can choose which direction you want the stripes to run in.
Some print designs are completely symmetrical from all angles (e.g. some dots and star patterns) or don’t have a clear “up” or “down”. In these cases, you can treat them like type A (as you will soon see, type As often use less fabric to make gathered skirts).
Unicolour (one colour) fabrics (like the one I use in this tutorial) can also be treated like type As.
A nice, gathered skirt will be a few times larger than your hip measurement. In my experience, 2.5 is a good multiplier. The larger the multiplier, the more flared the skirt will be (and the more fabric you will need).
Here’s the formular I used:
Skirt width (imperial) = (H x 2.5) + 1” seam allowance
Skirt width (metric) = (H x 2.5) + 2.5cm seam allowance
The 1” (2.5cm) seam allowance is made up a 0.5” (1.25cm) seam allowance on each side of the skirt pieces.
Here is my personal calculation:
Lily’s skirt width (imperial) = (45” x 2.5) + 1” = 113.5”
Lily’s skirt width (metric) = (114.25cm x 2.5) + 2.5cm = 288.25cm
Now to calculate how long the skirt piece will be.
To calculate the skirt length, you will need your desired length (DL) and waistband height measurements (WB).
The formula for this is:
Skirt piece length (imperial) = DL + WB + 0.5” + 0.75”
Skirt piece length (metric) = DL + WB + 1.25cm + 2cm
The 0.5” (1.25cm) is the seam allowance of the waistband which will be folded and concealed (you will see how to do this later).
The 0.75” (2cm) is the hem allowance. Feel free to change this.
My calculations are:
Lily’s skirt piece length (imperial) = 32.5” + 1.5”+ 0.5” + 0.75” = 35.25”
Lily’s skirt piece length (metric) = 82.5cm + 3.75cm + 1.25cm + 2cm = 89.5cm
I’m only 5 feet tall, so this almost a maxi length for me 😉.
Note: We must add WB to DL, even though DL technically already includes the waistband thickness (remember, DL was measured from where the top of the waistband will rest on your waist, to your desired length). This is because the waistband will be folded inwards, thus WB is technically included twice (is doubled).
You will see a visual representation of all these calculations in the next section. We will be looking at the differences between type A and type B.
TYPE A VISUALISATION
Here is the visual representation using my calculations for type A fabric:
Since my fabric is unicolor, I can treat it like type A fabrics. As you saw in the calculations, my skirt width needs to be 113.5” (288.25cm).
The width of my fabric is 58” (147.25cm), so I can cut 2 pieces to cover my skirt width (58” x 2 = 116”, which is about (294.75cm)).
Any easy way to calculate how many pieces you need is to divide your skirt width by your fabric width. So, mine is 113.5” / 58” = 1.96 pieces, so I just rounded up to 2 pieces.
This is very convenient for me and helps me to keep fabric wastage to a minimum.
However, this might not be the case for everyone. For example:
• If your hip measurement is 33” (83.75cm), then your skirt width from the previous section of this tutorial would have been 83.5” (213cm). If your fabric width is the same as mine (58″), then: 83.5” / 58” = 1.4 pieces needed. You have 3 options: 1. use 1.5 pieces and use the remaining fabric in another project; 2. round the number up or down (just make sure that in the end, you skirt width is a minimum of 1.5 times your hips); 3. cut your fabric in accordance with type B (see next section).
• If your hip measurement is 55” (139.75cm), then your skirt width from the previous section of this tutorial would have been 138.5” (351.75cm). If your fabric width is the same as mine (58″), then: 138.5” / 58” = 2.4 pieces needed. Again, you have 3 options: 1. use 2.5 pieces and use the remaining fabric in another project; 2. round the number up or down (just make sure that in the end, you skirt width is a minimum of 1.5 times your hips); 3. cut your fabric in accordance with type B (see next section).
Hopefully these examples will help you figure out how many skirt pieces you need if your fabric is type A like mine.
Note: If you use an odd number of skirt pieces and you still want in-seam pockets, you will need to create 2 extra seams on each side of the skirt.
Once you know how many pieces you need, you can times it by your skirt piece length to get your fabric yardage. Since I need 2 skirt pieces, this means 2 x 35.25” = 80.5”, which is 204.5cm. Basically, that’s how much fabric I need to buy at a store to make this skirt.
I tend to buy a little more than this quantity to allow for fabric shrinkage (wash your fabric before working on it!). I’ve heard that fabric shrinkage can be as much as 10% for some cotton fabrics.
You can also use fabric remnants to test your fabric on your sewing machine (and overlocker machine, if you have one). You will need to do this to determine the correct tension settings for your fabric.
TYPE B VISUALISATION
Here is a visual representation of the skirt pieces using my measurements for type B:
If you must cut your fabric according to type B, your fabric yardage will be equal to your skirt width, plus a bit extra to allow for fabric shrinkage.
You can see that with type B fabrics, you will end up with just one piece regardless of your skirt width, since skirt width is not restricted by the width of your fabric.
However, you may need to buy more fabric. I will need at least 113.5” (288.25cm) of fabric if I cut it this way as type B, while type A only needed 80.5” (204.5cm)! That’s a significant difference!
This is why it is so important to make these calculations first before cutting (or maybe even buying) your fabric. It could save you time and money (and frustration).
You will also need to cut the fabric in half to make a new seam, so that you can sew on the pockets on each side of the skirt. This means that you must also include an extra 1” (2.5cm) to your skirt width.
Cutting the Pieces
I will be cutting my fabric according to type A! But you can apply the general principles to type B.
Once upon a time, I thought I could snip into the selvedge and tear along the weft grain to get my rectangles quickly (literally within seconds).
I don’t recommend that you do this.
Although you would be able to get your skirt pieces really quickly, the weft and warp grains of a fabric are never perfectly perpendicular (at least in my experience). Therefore, the rectangles would not be perfectly “on grain”.
This basically means that some pieces of your skirt may end up twisting against each other.
Instead of doing this, accurately measure and cut out your skirt pieces using a ruler. Any ruler will be fine, but a wide one with markings like the one pictured would be very useful.
To start off, we first need a clean, accurate cut on the weft grain. Line the ruler up with the selvedge (picture above) and draw a line (with tailor’s chalk) from one selvedge across to the other. So, basically a perpendicular line in relation to the selvedge. Cut along this chalk line with your fabric scissors or rotary cutter.
If your ruler is not long enough to get you to the other selvedge, fold the fabric and use the section you have just cut to guide you as you cut the rest of the length (pictures below).
Once you have a clean edge, mark your skirt piece length (mine is 35.25” (89.5cm)) on the selvedge. Use your ruler to cut along the weft (perpendicular to the selvedge again, see picture below) at this mark to complete the rectangle, which is your first skirt piece.
Cut your second skirt piece (or as many pieces as your need) in the same way.
Side note: Yes, my fabric is creased because I didn’t see the need to iron all of it before working on it. I only ironed the selvedges (and later, the pocket pieces). But if your fabric is very creased, go ahead and iron all of it for more accurate results 😊.
Keeping my fabric folded, I cut out my pockets using a pattern I drafted myself. You need 2 pairs, to make 4 pieces in total.
You don’t need a pocket pattern, you can draw directly on the fabric (see next section).
The In-seam Pockets
Here is a quick tutorial on how to draw the shape of the in-seam pockets. You can draw it directly on the fabric, or you can draw it on paper and save it as your pattern for future projects (recommended).
We want the warp grain to run vertically on the pocket. Therefore, we will be using the selvedge (or any line parallel to the selvedge) as our starting point.
Place your hand next to the selvedge, at a roughly 45 degree angle pointing downwards. Draw around your hand (picture below).
We now need to make this shape larger. You can see that I significantly increased the opening of the pocket, by roughly doubling it. I also extended the widest point by about 2” (5cm). (Picture below.)
Now, you must make sure that:
• You will be able to fit your phone in the pocket (or the largest item you plan on putting in it);
• The widest part of your hand will fit through the opening.
• The pocket is wide enough for you to spread out your fingers (see picture below).
Bear in mind that this shape will already include your seam allowances.
You can see the final shape of the pocket in yellow (below).
And that’s it. There’s no complicated science behind it. Cut out this final shape on the fold and you already have your first pair of pockets. Then cut out a second pair (again on the fold) by using the first pair as a guide.
Time to Sew!
SEWING AND FINISHING THE SEAMS
After cutting out the pocket pieces, finish the raw edges. I overlocked them with my overlocker machine. If you don’t have an overlocker, use a zig-zag stitch or pinking shears, or anything else to prevent the raw edges from fraying.
I also overlocked the sides of the skirt pieces that will be joined to each other. I didn’t need to do this since my skirt sides were the selvedges and they don’t fray, but I wanted to use my blue overlocking thread and match it with the overlocking of the pockets.
We will leave the pockets for now and move onto the faux waistband. I call it the faux waistband because we didn’t cut a separate piece for the waistband. The waistband will basically be the top of the skirt pieces folded and pressed inwards.
On the right side of your skirt pieces (what will be the outside of your skirt), draw a horizontal line 0.5” (1.25cm) below the top edge of your skirt piece. This line represents the seam allowance of your faux waistband.
From this first line, draw another horizontal line below it. The distance between these 2 lines is determined by your chosen waistband thickness (WB). Mine is 1.5” (3.75cm), so I drew a chalk line 1.5” (3.75cm) below the first line. This second line represents the top of your waistband.
To help you draw the first chalk line more easily, mark 0.5” (1.25cm) down at different points and connect the dots together. Repeat this technique for the second line.
Draw these 2 lines on the top of all your skirt pieces.
Note: If you are worried that your chalk lines will not eventually come off your fabric, sew horizontal basting stitches across your skirt pieces instead. Basting stitches are created using the longest stitch length on your machine. Do not backstitch at any end.
Now turn the fabric so that the wrong side (what will be the inside of your skirt) is facing you.
Fold and press the top of the skirt piece inwards using the first line as a guide (picture below).
Do this also for the second line (picture below).
Let’s go back to working on the pockets. It’s time to mark where the pockets will be sewn onto the skirt piece.
On the side of each skirt piece, mark down about 5” (12.75cm) from the second line (i.e. the top of the waistband). Mark on the right side of the skirt pieces.
Sew the pockets onto the skirt pieces as shown below, with the right sides facing each other. Sew one pair of pockets onto each skirt piece (one pocket piece for each side). Remember to backstitch at the beginning and end.
Afterwards, press the pocket away from the skirt piece (picture below).
Unfold the folds you previously created for the faux waistband and pin the front and back skirt pieces together, with right sides facing each other. Pin together the skirt side seams and around the pockets as indicated in the picture below.
However, on one side, leave a gap between the first and second line (mark where this gap will be with your marking tool, see picture below). This gap should be at least the width of your elastic. The elastic will later be fed into the waistband through this opening.
Also, mark the corners where the pockets meet the skirt pieces as a guide for when you are sewing (see below).
Sew the front and back skirt pieces together. When you get to those aforementioned corners, make sure your needle is down, lift the presser foot and then turn your fabric to the new direction. Lower your presser foot and continue sewing. I also like to backstitch just before and after the corner to reinforce the stitches there.
Do not sew over pins! This is very dangerous and can result in fragments of the needle/pins breaking off at high speeds. This can cause serious injury.
Once you have sewn the front and back skirt pieces together, press the seam towards to front skirt piece. This is because the pocket needs to be facing the front to make it easier to put your hand through.
Press the pocket on the right side to make it look nice and flat.
To help the pocket remain facing the front, topstitch the front skirt piece and the pocket piece below it together, about 0.25” (0.75cm) from the edge (see below).
FINISHING THE FAUX WAISTBAND AND INSTALLING THE ELASTIC
Fold the waistband along the 2 fold lines you created earlier. With the inside of the skirt facing you, stitch just above the first line to conceal the raw edge (below).
After this, topstitch the top of the waistband (just below the second line) to give it a nice finishing (below).
Now that the waistband is looking nice and neat, we can install the elastic. It’s time to get out your 2 sturdy safety pins.
The length of your elastic must be 1” (2.5cm) smaller than your waist measurement. Otherwise, it will feel too loose on your waist.
I used a white elastic because my fabric is light-coloured. But depending on your fabric colour, it might not matter what colour elastic you use.
Insert the first safety pin into the end of the elastic that you will feed into the waistband (below).
The second safety will be used to secure the other end of the elastic to the waistband (below). The second safety pin does not pierce through to the outside of the waistband to prevent making a visible hole there.
This second safety pin prevents the elastic from suddenly flying into the waistband (which is a pain to try and get back out!) since the elastic length is shorter than the length of the waistband.
Feed the first safety pin into the waistband all the way until you get to the other side.
Then carefully unpin the safety pins and place the 2 sides of the elastic together with one side overlapping the other for about 1” (2.5cm). Pin them in place (see below). Yes, that means that the elastic is an additional 1” (2.5cm) smaller than your waist, but it shouldn’t feel tight on your waist due to the stretchiness of the elastic.
Using a narrow zig-zag stitch, sew the ends of the elastics together. Remove the pin as you get close to it. Zig-zag several times, going forwards and backwards (back-stitching), as seen below. Straight stitches will not work here; they will eventually snap due to the stretchiness of the elastic.
Once the elastic ends have been securely sewn together, neatly place the elastic completely inside the waistband. Distribute the gathers evenly along the elastic waistband.
Before closing the waistband opening, it’s time to try on your skirt and check 2 things:
• Does the waistband feel firm enough or does the elastic need to be shortened?
• Are you satisfied with the length of the skirt? (Bearing in mind that it will still be shortened by about 0.75” (2cm) when the skirt is hemmed.)
If the elastic feels loose, carefully pull out the elastic and cut off the overlapping ends. Overlap the new ends and zig-zag stitch them together, as you did previously. Evenly distribute the gathers and try on the skirt again. Repeat this process until the skirt feels comfortably firm on your waist.
If the skirt is too long, use your ruler to cut an even length along the hem until you are satisfied with the final length (again, keeping in mind that the skirt will be hemmed later).
Once you are satisfied with the above, go ahead and topstitch close to the waistband opening (picture below). Make sure that the overlapped bulk of the elastic has been moved to one side, otherwise your sewing machine will not be very pleased.
Topstitching will also prevent the elastic from twisting inside the waistband as it attaches the elastic to both sides of the waistband.
You can stitch the elastic to the waistband in other places if you feel that the elastic is twisting there too. This will also help the gathers stay more evenly around the waistband (as they sometimes move around).
However, make sure to stitch slowly and don’t force the fabric or your sewing needle! You can try a zig-zag stitch instead of a straight stitch if this helps, or even use a larger-sized sewing needle. But stop if your sewing machine complains too much.
Now it’s time for the last stage. (Hurray!)
HEMMING THE SKIRT
Here, we will just sew a standard rolled hem, where the hem is rolled and pressed inwards twice and stitched to conceal any raw edges.
However, I have a neat trick to show you!
Instead of continuously measuring along the hem with your measuring tape or sewing gauge, there’s a quicker way to keep the folds the same width.
For a 0.75” (2cm) hem, sew a basting stitch about 0.25” (0.75cm) away from the raw edge (see below). This will be your guide for pressing the first fold!
Fold and press the hem inwards just past this basting stitch guideline, so that it doesn’t show on the right side (see below).
After this, simply fold again and press a second time (picture below).
Then, with the inside of the skirt facing you, stitch close to the first fold line all along the hem (below).
Simple, right? Your finished rolled hem should look something like this:
Give the skirt a good pressing, and you are done! Hurray! 🥳
The Finished Skirt
Here is the finished skirt on a hanger:
Here are some more pictures of me wearing it:
The colour is so lovely! A simple, cute skirt that you can be proud of 😊.
This is where I evaluate my work! I recommend you do this too, no matter what skill level you are at or how you feel the project went.
WHAT I DID WELL
Overall, I think the skirt looks pretty! I sewed it together well and finished it neatly.
I’m especially proud of how I folded and ironed the waistband! It turned out very neat.
Furthermore, I like how this project had very minimal fabric waste. As rewarding as it can be, sewing can be extremely wasteful (fabric, threads, paper etc.) and resource heavy (electricity and water for pre-washing fabric). So, I’m glad that I was able to make this project reasonably sustainable.
I also really like how flared the skirt is.
My recommendation: To evaluate the swish-factor of your skirt and see how it looks from the back, ask someone to walk behind you and film you (with a phone) as you walk. You will be able to see how the skirt hangs over your bum!
I have started doing this and I have been shocked at how differently a garment looks at the back compared to the front, especially when you are moving. A garment that looks like it has enough ease at the back when standing, can look tight when you walk!
Observing yourself in the mirror won’t be enough; someone has to film you as you walk naturally for you to truly see how the garment is behaving.
If your hips create severe drag lines towards the waist while you walk (making the back look tight), you probably need to increase ease.
Women who have a large difference between waist and hip measurements will be most affected by this.
WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME
Since the waistband wasn’t cut as a separate piece and is the same width as the skirt, there are a lot of gathers at the waist. This won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Personally, I would like there to be less gathers at the waist. This means that I would have to make the waistband much smaller than the skirt width. The skirt pieces would then need to be gathered using the sewing machine and sewn to the waistband. I will soon do a tutorial on this!
Gathered skirts tends to make your hips look wider due to all the folds in the skirt. If you care about your hips looking wider, then you can reduce your fabric width. I personally wouldn’t do less than 1.5 times, but no more than 2.5 times, my hip measurement.
Lastly, I think I will increase the pocket opening by about 1” (2.5cm) to give my hands a little extra room.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT
I think this beginner-friendly technique will be doable for many sewists, since there is no gathering of the fabric using the sewing machine.
If you want to sew yourself a fairly simple skirt (compared to other skirts) or you are new to sewing, have a go at making this.
Remember that with every new skill or technique, you will probably mess up on the first few attempts. Keep going and don’t give up! Growth only comes from experience 😊.
Get it done and don’t worry about it being absolutely perfect.
Here are some future projects to look forward to:
• A simple top to match this skirt.
• Another flared gathered skirt with elastic, but with less gathers on the waist (including an easy way to gather fabric using your sewing machine).
• A skirt (not sure which one yet) with a fitted waistband, zip and button.
A Question for You…
That’s all for now! I have covered everything I thought was of value in this tutorial.
I will end this tutorial with 2 questions for you:
• What’s your favourite style of skirt and why?
• What skirt should I make a tutorial on next? (Feel free to add as much detail as you like.)
I would love to hear your questions, thoughts and feedback in the comments! 😊