I have three requirements for a perfect summer skirt: it must be comfortable, it must be flattering, and it absolutely must have pockets. (Underline that last one three times and circle it in red.)
In this tutorial, I’ll show you how draft a simple elastic-waist skirt pattern that’s custom-made to fit your body, then we’ll use that pattern to make a cute, stylish skirt that sews together in a couple of hours or less. (True story. I made two in a row last Saturday afternoon.) I’ve also provided a handy fabric width and skirt size guide below so you can raid your stash with confidence!
Update: I’ve added a fancy new plus size fitting guide! You can find the suggested changes to the pattern and waistband construction in the blue box in step 1.
Wait. Does the world really need another elastic-waist skirt tutorial?
I guess you can be the judge of that. But, after spending the first few weeks of spring searching for a new go-to skirt pattern, I was left feeling a bit underwhelmed. I mean, sure, there are a million quick-and-easy elastic waist skirts out there, but, really, most of them didn’t seem all that flattering, especially for actual grownups who might want to wear them in public.
Bottom line: a flattering skirt needs the right proportions. So, I experimented until I found a pattern-making formula that consistently produced nice, non-bulky gathers at the waist, a loose drape, and a gentle a-line shape. That’s exactly the kind of classic silhouette that I’m looking for in an everyday throw-it-on-and-go-or-dress-it-up-with-pearls summer skirt. If that’s what you’re looking for too, I’m so glad you’re here!
A special thanks goes out to my pals at Dritz, who inspired this tutorial when they generously sent me a huge box containing ALL OF THE ELASTICS and other fun sewing tools and supplies!
Please note that the links to supplies and tools that are provided below are affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you choose to make a purchase after clicking through.
* 2 yards of light or medium-weight cotton fabric (see below for information on sizing and common fabric widths)
* ½ yard of a light or medium-weight cotton fabric in a contrasting color
* 1" knit elastic
* Sewing thread
* Paper for making the pattern
* Fray Check
* Measuring tape
* Quilting ruler
* Iron and ironing board
* Fabric marker
* Fabric scissors or rotary cutter and mat
* Paper scissors
* Clover wonder clips or straight pins
* Sewing machine
* Serger (optional)
Making the Patterns
Make the skirt pattern.
First, use a measuring tape to measure the following:
- Your waist circumference. (Mine was 27".)
- The distance between your natural waist and where you would like the hem at the bottom of the skirt to fall. (I measured from my natural waist to the middle of my knees, which was 21".)
Once you have those measurements, fill them into the equations in the illustration above to find your skirt waist, skirt length, and skirt bottom measurements. (Seam allowances are built in, so you don’t need to add any.)
- My waist circumference is 27", so my skirt waist measurement is as follows: (27" + 1" = 28") ÷ 2 = a 14" skirt waist measurement.
- Now that I know that my skirt waist measurement is 14", I can add 2 more inches to get my 16" skirt bottom measurement.
- Finally, to get my skirt length, I add 3 inches to my 21" waist-to-knee measurement to get a 24" skirt length measurement.
IMPORTANT NOTE ON FABRIC WEIGHT AND SKIRT BULK:
If you’re using fabric that is heavier than a lightweight cotton OR if you like less fabric bulk in your skirts, I strongly recommend that, regardless of your clothing size, you use the plus size pattern adjustment below. (If you’re just adjusting the pattern to reduce bulk, you don’t need to adjust the waistband, just the skirt pattern.) Bottom line: The “plus size” adjustment has more to do with fabric bulk than with your actual clothing size. If you’re a size 2 and sewing with a heavier cotton, you should use it. End of story. (Not sure? Make a muslin in the same weight as your fabric! That’s what they’re for.)
Drawing the pattern:
To make your pattern, start by drawing a vertical line using your skirt length measurement, and then add the horizontal skirt waist line to the top and the horizontal skirt bottom line to the bottom. (The skirt waist line and the skirt bottom line should each create a right angle with the skirt length line.) To finish, draw a diagonal line connecting the open ends of the skirt waist line and the skirt bottom line.
Make the pocket pattern.
To draft a pattern for the pockets, I drew a right triangle that was 9" tall and 12½" in length, then I rounded the end by hand with a pair of scissors.
This pocket size fit my hand nicely, but definitely feel free to play around with different pocket sizes and shapes until you find something that meets your needs.
Sewing the Skirt
Place the skirt pattern along the center fold of the of the fabric. (In preparation, the fabric should be squared, then folded in half—selvedge edge to selvedge edge—with wrong sides together.)
Cut 2 pieces, one for the front of the skirt and one for the back.
Using your contrast fabric, cut 4 pieces for the pockets.
Unfold the two skirt pieces. On the right sides of both, use your fabric pen to make a dot 3" down from the waist on each side. This will mark the position of the top corner of each pocket. (You will draw a total of 4 dots—two on the front skirt piece and two on the back skirt piece.)
With right sides of the fabric together, pin the 4 pocket pieces in place along the edges of both the front and the back skirt pieces, lining up the top corner of each pocket with a dot that you made in step 4.
Use either a serger or a zigzag stitch to sew along the side edges of each skirt piece with a ¼" seam allowance, securing the pockets in place.
Open the pocket pieces to the outside of the skirt, then press the seams flat.
Note: I finished all of my raw edges—including the edges around the outside of the pockets—with my serger. If you’re not using a serger, you may want to use a zigzag stitch around the outside edges of the pockets to prevent fraying.
With right sides together, pin the front of the skirt to the back of the skirt, taking care to line up the side edges and the pocket pieces.
Join the front of the skirt to the back by sewing along the side edges and around the outside edges of the pockets with a ½" seam allowance. (Look! You just made pockets!)
If you used a zigzag stitches instead of a serger in step 5, these stitches will stay in place, finishing the edge of the fabric and preventing fraying.
Press the seams open.
Tip: Make sure you continue your side seams around the outside edges of the pockets. If you keep sewing straight along the edge of the skirt, you’ll sew the pockets closed.
With the skirt still inside out, fold the edge of the waist over a ¼" and press it in place.
Constructing the Waistband
Cut a piece of elastic to your waist circumference + 2 inches. (This adds enough ease for the gathered fabric around the waist.)
Use Fray Check to seal the ends.
** The measurement that you should be using for this step is your actual waist circumference, NOT the skirt waist measurement number that you calculated when making the pattern.
Note: If you prefer a snugger fit in the waist, cut the elastic to your waist circumference + 1 inch. (If you’re using heavier fabric, try the waistband adjustment in the plus size fitting guide in step one—sometimes heavier fabrics can stretch out the waistband, making the finished skirt too big, so shortening the waistband further can help you get the right fit.)
Fold the elastic band in half, bringing the ends together while taking care not to twist the elastic. Sew them in place with a ½" seam allowance.
Once the two sides of the elastic have been joined, fold the ends open and secure each side to the band with a ¼" seam allowance.
Tip: For even more security, you can zigzag stitch along the exposed center seam (catching both sides in the zigzag) to reinforce the join.
Installing the Waistband
On the wrong side of the fabric, fold the fabric at the waist snugly over the waistband, lining up the bottom edge of the elastic with the raw fabric edge from the fold in step 7. Secure a few inches of the band in place with clips or pins.
Make sure the ¼" fold from step 7 extends below the waistband—you will sew around the waist on this ¼" fold, so you don’t want it to overlap with the elastic.
Begin sewing along the bottom edge of the ¼" fold, encasing the elastic in fabric. DO NOT SEW THROUGH THE ELASTIC.
Continue wrapping the fabric around the waistband and sewing along the ¼" fold, gently gathering the excess fabric and moving it out of the way along the elastic as you sew. Once you’ve reached the beginning, backstitch over the end of the seam a few times to secure.
Note: At this point, the elastic should move freely inside the waist of the skirt. This will allow you to distribute the gathered fabric evenly around the waistband. Once the fabric is evenly distributed, feel free to sew the elastic in place along the side seams of the waist.
** There are tons of right ways to insert an elastic waistband into a skirt. I chose to construct my band in advance instead of feeding it through the waist of the skirt after sewing because I’ve found that joining the ends of my bands first makes them sturdier. That said, if you have a favorite method for inserting a waistband that’s different than mine, go for it! (Just keep in mind that you’ve only got 3 inches to play with before you hit the top of the pockets.)
Finishing the Skirt
Hem the bottom of the skirt.
On the wrong side of the fabric, fold the bottom edge over ¼" and press into place, then fold the edge over another ¼", encasing the raw edge of the fabric. Sew around the folded edge, finishing the hem.
Turn the skirt right side out, push the pockets inside, then press the bottom hem flat.
One final tip: If you haven’t pre-washed your fabric, the drape of your finished skirt might feel a little stiff. To make the fabric flow more freely, just wash the skirt to remove the sizing in the fabric. (This will also make the fabric gathers around the waistband relax and lie a bit flatter.)
During the process of designing this tutorial, I whipped up enough skirts to keep me cool and comfortable all summer long, and I can’t wait to wear them all.
Now it’s your turn! I hope you have a ton of fun designing and customizing perfect summer skirts of your own, and don’t forget to share links/pictures of your lovely creations! (I want to see what you come up with!)