Thursday, September 24, 2009

Pettiskirt Sewing Instructions & Tips- Part 1

Last spring I decided to tackle my most challenging sewing project to date- or at least I THOUGHT it would be the most challenging. I LOVE the cute, girly pettiskirts but there's no way I'm shelling out big bucks for one (though to be totally honest, after realizing how much work they require, the $70-100 they typically sell them for is a fair price).

I had planned to make this post more of a 'tips and tricks' sort of deal but I was recently tapped to teach a 'Pettiskirt Construction' class on it here locally and have to write up instructions for the class anyway so I may as well do a mini-tutorial here.

****Disclaimer: I am NOT a professional seamstress. I'm a Mom and a self-taught hack. Rather than destroy your confidence in me, it should INCREASE your confidence in your ability to pull this off even if you're new to sewing. Those of you who have fancy machines and sergers will find this a breeze- if somewhat tedious. I do not have a high-end machine AND I've never in my life used a serger. If I can do this- you can too! Pettiskirts are fluffy and a whole world of error can be hidden in the folds- don't let perfectionism keep you from trying to make one. Your Princess isn't looking for it to be perfect- just fun!

Be sure to read the entire LONG tutorial (divided into two posts) before you even order your fabric to ensure the best end results. Let's start at the beginning:

The Fabric

Now, this is where many a wanna-be-pettiskirt maker has gone wrong right out of the gate. You MUST use the right fabric and it can be rather hard to find. The required fabric is called 'Nylon Chiffon' or '15 Denier Nylon' or 'Sheer Tricot' or any combination of those words! The key word is NYLON. You cannot use Polyester Chiffon as it will fray something fierce and make you very miserable, very quickly.

I can get the fabric locally at my independently owned quilting stores. Big box stores generally do not carry it. The downside to 'buying local' is that the color selection is usually pretty limited. I solved this problem by learning to hand-dye the nylon and now I can make these in any imaginable color. I MIGHT cover that process later if there are enough people interested in totally overachieving.


Nylon chiffon for our sample skirt, hand-dyed in Cotton Candy shades and ready to be cut.
The ultimate online source for the fabric is called AFC-Express. They have the best prices and color selection. Due to the HUGE demand from folks like us, they have started selling the fabric you need on pre-cut rolls! This will save you a fair amount of time cutting fabric and will ensure perfect edges and few seams. I know what you're thinking- you're excited and ready to work on the project TODAY and don't want to wait for fabric to be shipped but AFC is REALLY fast (I got my order in less than a week) and it is worth the wait.

If you go the AFC route, they sell 'poly-deluxe satin' which is dyed to match the nylon chiffon so make sure you order that from them too (I didn't notice that with my first order and had to 'make due' with what I could find locally). Note- if you order more than $100 from AFC, the shipping is free (or at least it is as of this writing) so consider having a 'petti-party' with a few girlfriends and save a significant amount of $$ on shipping.

Yardage & Fabric Cutting

You are making a skirt with a top tier of satin and two lower tiers made of nylon chiffon with the ruffle fluff attached to the bottom tier. You will first need to determine the appropriate length. This doesn't need to be 'perfect'. In fact, I'd recommend you go a little longer than you think you need to extend the 'useful' life of the pettiskirt for it's intended owner. The pettiskirt I'm making for the purposes of this tutorial is for a 6 year old girl. I'm figuring a needed total length of 16"- or thereabouts.

Since the pettiskirt will have 3 tiers, perfectly divided, that would equal 5 1/3 inches per level- but we're going for practical rather than perfect. Therefore, I'd recommend you go with 5 1/2 "+ 1/2" for the seam allowance so the total length per chiffon tier is 6" and we'll get to the satin waistband tier later. Forget about it for the moment.

As with any tiered skirt, the first tier is a certain number of inches in length (not height), the second tier is double the first and the third tier is the double of the second- follow me? Ideally, you'd follow this ratio exactly. Except that, again, this tutorial is about practical rather than perfect. In my 'hack seamstress world' we'll just decide how many 6 inch strips we need for the desired fluffiness then cut those.

A pettiskirt has 2 layers so when determining fabric needs, you must account for that. Don't confuse layers with tiers- they are two different things. Please note: You'll cut these on a cutting mat using a rotary cutter and straight edge NOT Scissors! OR you can order the pre-sized rolls from AFC and avoid cutting and piecing these strips- a huge time saver for a minimal additional cost. If you are ordering the rolls, use the guide below to decide which width you need to order for the tiers and how many yards you'll need on that roll.

Fabric folded into fourths and ready to cut.
For 54" wide fabric (which AFC sells):


Infant- 2T sizes: pettiskirts with layers that are between 3 and 4 1/2 inches long (infant skirts are 3" per layer, 4 1/2" gets you to an 18 mo.- 2T size), I would recommend cutting the following:

  • 2nd or Middle Tier: 3 strips that are whatever height you need by the full 54" wide. This means you'll need a total of 6 strips for the second tier of the pettiskirt (2 layers- remember?) .


  • 3rd or Bottom Tier: 6 strips at whatever height you pre-determined above by the full 54" wide. This means a total of 12 strips per third or bottom tier.


  • A grand total of 18 strips that are 54" long x whatever height you chose are needed for this size.
  • For the nylon chiffon rolls: The middle tier is 4-5 yards long (measure and cut 2 that length) the bottom tier is 8-10 yards long (measure and cut 2). This gives you a total of 24-30 yards depending on how fluffy you want the skirt. Order a 30 yard roll in whatever height (3, 4, or 5 inches) you determine you need.

3T- 5T sizes: Skirts with layers that are between 4 1/2- 6 1/2 inches long should have a few more strips because the skirt gets less fluffy as it gets longer so in order to 'fluff it up' you'll need more yardage.
  • 2nd or Middle Tier: 4 strips that are whatever height you need by the full 54" wide. This means you'll need a total of 8 strips for the second tier of the pettiskirt (again- don't forget there are two layers) .


  • 3rd or Bottom Tier: 8 strips at whatever height you pre-determined above by the full 54" wide. This means a total of 16 strips per third or bottom tier.


  • A grand total of 24 strips that are 54" long x whatever height you chose are needed for this size.
  • For the nylon chiffon rolls, the length of the middle tier is 6 yards (measure and cut 2). The length of the bottom tier is 12 yards (measure and cut 2)- order a 60 0r 90 yard roll. Or, you can shorten the tiers a little and fit it in a 30 yard roll but the cost difference between the various yardage rolls is minimal so err on the side of having MORE than you need. Especially since once you've made one, you'll get requests for more.
Child size 6 and up: What you do here sort of depends on your objective. You can continue to add strips to fluff it up more for a child, if you wish. IF you are making this for a pre-teen or older, I'd really recommend sticking with the same number of strips recommended for the 3T-5T size because I think it looks better to have them LESS fluffy on older wearers but hey, that's just my opinion. They do make a great base for even adult Halloween costumes.

However, if you WANT to fluff it up, read on. Pettiskirts with layers that are between 6 1/2 and 9 inches can have:


  • 2nd or Middle Tier: 5 or 6 strips that are whatever height you need by the full 54" wide. This means you'll need a total of 10 or 12 strips for the second tier of the pettiskirt (two layers) .


  • 3rd or Bottom Tier: 10 or 12 strips at whatever height you pre-determined above by the full 54" wide. This means a total of 20 OR 24 strips per third or bottom tier.


  • A grand total of 30 OR 36 strips that are 54" long x whatever height you chose are needed for this size.
  • For nylon chiffon rolls, the length of the middle tier is 8-10 yards long (measure and cut 2 that length). The bottom tier would be 16-20 yards long (measure and cut 2). Remember that the tiers are a generally double the length of the previous tier. For these sizes, you'll need a 60 or 90 yard long roll in the width you determined you need.
Determining how many yards of Nylon Chiffon to purchase for Pettiskirt:
For fabric by the yard:

To calculate how many yards Nylon Chiffon you need for the pettiskirt, add the number of inches of LENGTH (ie: 6 in my example) to the total number of strips (in the case of my example skirt- 24) and divide it by 36 (the number of inches in a yard). That would mean 6" x 24 strips= 144". Divide that by 36 and you get 4 or a total of 4 yards. HOWEVER, there will always be edges that don't line up well etc. when you're cutting so if you're buying local, get at least a 1/2 yard extra. If you are ordering from AFC, get an extra yard. It's not worth coming up short when the fabric is only $1.54 per yard.
Ruffle Fluff: The 'ruffle fluff' (say that 3 times fast- it's fun) can be the same color OR a contrasting one. Your choice. In order to make the photos read better in this tutorial, I'm going to use my mad hand-dying skills so that each level is slightly different color. I hope the pictures will be clearer that way. I suspect few of you will want to take on the hand dyeing thing so I may make a separate post about it for the brave souls who want to attempt it.
For the smaller skirts- Infants to 12 months, I'd recommend a ruffle fluff size of 2.5 inches by the width of your fabric (either 54" or 108"). If ordering rolls, go with the 2 inch roll. All other sizes I'd recommend 3" wide fluff or a roll of 3" wide chiffon from AFC. The chiffon rolls come in lengths of 30, 60 and 90 yards. Buy the 90 yard roll for the fluff.
That means you'll order a 60-yard roll for the main body of the skirt that's whatever width you need for the size you're making and a second 90 yard roll of either 2 or 3 inch wide chiffon for the fluff. Clear?

For those of us cutting the fabric ourselves, we need to calculate yardage for the ruffle fluff. This is hard to do because how many yards you need is somewhat fluid. The tighter you gather the fluff, the more yards you need. I could get all technical here but I'm lazy that way so I just go with 4 yards for fluff for a 0-18 mo. skirt and 6-8 yards for the larger sizes. Unless you'll be hand-dyeing the fabric as I did, just buy the roll and you'll save 30 minutes of cutting time and some serious monotony.
If you want a better estimate, look at the total length of your bottom tier. In our example, it is 16 yards long. Times that by 2 and I have 32 yards of total area that will have ruffle fluff attached to it. I need to gather my ruffle fluff so that it is enough for this skirt which means I'd use a gathering ratio on my ruffle foot of 3:1 or there abouts if I want my 90 yard roll to be enough. In general, I like mine to be fluffier than that (more like 6:1) but do whatever works best for you.
Now, as for the needed fabric for ruffle fluff cut from yardage, our 'sample' skirt for the 6 year old Diva, we'll need 6 yards of nylon chiffon fabric, cut into 3" wide strips. This should give us room for error- and you'll probably have some 'error' the first time (or if you're like me, you'll have it the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th time too but making smaller goofs each time). The good news is that will all that fluff and fullness, imperfections are pretty hard to spot.
Satin Layer:
All the other tutorials and tips I read online said to make the waistband measurement 1 1/2- 2 times the size of the intended owners waistline. So, for an 18" waist that would be 27" or 36" long. On the larger sizes, I go with the smaller 1 1/2 times because of the way the skirt hits the hips- you don't want fluffier hips than you must have as you get 'older'.

The width of the satin strip(s) should be 2 times the tier length because you'll be folding it in half in the near future - so in this case the satin strip should be about 10" wide by 36" long. I sometimes fudge this number an inch or two to the smaller side. I just like the look better. If you're ordering the matching satin online from AFC, it only comes in 1 yard increments so you'll have to order a yard. If you're buying local, you'll need between 1/3 and 1/2 yard for most sizes. Although this post was long and exceedingly detailed, actually cutting the fabric will take a half hour or so.
Satin, folded in half and ready to cut.
Notions & Equipment:
  • 2 spools of thread. If you're doing contrasting fluff, one spool should match the fluff and the other the main body of the skirt.
  • 1/2-1 yard of 1" wide waistband elastic
  • 1 yard of 1 inch wide satin ribbon- use double faced satin if you can find it.
  • 1-2 skein(s) of DMC embroidery floss in a color that matches the satin and/or body of the skirt. If you are going to hand gather- buy several skeins.
  • If I didn't make it clear earlier, you will cut the fabric with a rotary cutter, cutting mat and straight edge- not scissors.
  • Finally, I HIGHLY recommend you purchase a ruffle foot' for your machine if you don't have one. While it is technically possible to do this project without one, it is highly inadvisable. Seriously. Just buy the foot! You can get one at a sewing parts store OR buy one off E-bay and they are generally LESS than $20. Just make sure you get one that specifies it will fit the make and model of your machine. You're getting the instructions for FREE so treat yourself by getting this cool gadget. It will save you HOURS of frustration.
Notions purchased and ready to go.
See THIS post, entitled "Pettiskirt Sewing Instructions and Tips - Part 2" for actual sewing instructions.

See the post, "How to Make a Full-Length Pettiskirt" if you are looking to create an even flouncier pettiskirt.

15 comments:

imbeingheldhostage said...

No matter how simplified you may make the instructions, I CAN and still will mess it up. Couldn't you just come over and show me? (Besides, my garden needs you too-- I do NOT have any idea what I'm doing). just a thought...


(btw, you are a gem for typing up these instructions!!)

Devri said...

Excuse me, but what did you just say.. I didn't understand almost any of it..

That settles it, get over here and do a one on one for the needy!

But this is great.. people will flock over here!

Bren's Life said...

Are you FREAKING KIDDING ME???? You lost me at HELLO!!! Ok- I am dead serious, yesterday I was in a cute little boutique & they had these skirts. They were adorable but selling for anywhere $68.00-$150.00 for one that had like 6 layers.. So I thought I wonder how much my little friend Cynthia sells them for. Oh Yeah- Hubby doesn't have a job and well I guess I can't say it'll be my sexy night skirt! hee hee...
Thanks for the tips, but seriously don't think I could do it if I tried.

Janie said...

I'm pretty sure I will never actually make a pettiskirt, but if I were to attempt one, these instructions would be the way to go!

Cynthia said...

Yeah, I had a lady offer me $25 to make one for her Grandaughter. She looked disgusted when I said the fabric and notions alone would cost that much.

Everyone wants something for nothing (I like a good deal too) but I'm not willing to work for free- which is why I don't sell these. Still, even if people decide not to attempt one, at least they'll know why they are so expensive to buy.

Seriously... said...

Ok...that just made me want to have a girl!!!! i might have to try it out on a few nieces :)

Alexandrea said...

I so got lost from the beginning. I have bought the already make fabric, I have hired a sewing teacher(she showed up once and was terrible), do you offer a local class to learn how to sew these, I will honestly fly there to learn, NO ONE around here has any classes!!! Please help:o)

Andrea

Cynthia said...

Andrea- I don't think it would be worth it to you to fly out for a class (I'm not that good!) BUT if you want a more in-depth tutorial, I know that Kari's Kreations sells an extensive, full color one that might give you all the information you'd need to pull this off. If you google the name, I'm sure you could find her site. I think she goes into A LOT more detail with A LOT more photos than I have.

This project really isn't so bad. You are essentially gathering strips of fabric and sewing them to each other. You can do this!

marisa said...

You are such a great teacher, I'm so glad I took your class, my skirt turned out just perfect! Thanks again.

Elliot said...

My wife is confused about how much chiffon to buy. She wants to make one for our 16 month old daughter and another for our 2.5 year old niece. And she's trying to decide if she should buy by-the-yard or the rolls. I'm thinking that the by-the-yard is a lot cheaper. Could you help her? Also, are you familiar with the kaiya eve pettiskirts? Do you know if they are as fluffy as these?

EdsonBunch said...

My 9 year old is obsessed with pettiskirts and yes I too can not justify spending $70 on a dumb...I mean BEAUTIFUL skirt so I googled it and came across you!
I did find a pattern and the materials on etsy for $31, I didn't know if this is worth it. How much (when you can find it) do you spend on fabric? Your instructions are really good and FREE...but would I spend around $30 on fabric?
I'm scared!!!! So what's the hardest part of it all?!

42 said...

hi i am so thankful that i found you. u really made me feel less condemn or no more condemn. i was commission to sew a bias chiffon blouse (sleeveless) not easy combi but thank God for sleeveless. I only have 6 days to do it. And heck, I was burning mid-night oil. I was panicking that I almost cant produce. Now that I found you and am determine to master the art of sewing chiffon. Overcoming this fear. I am a mom too with 1 child 1 todd and 1 baby. enjoyed reading your blog.

42 said...

hi i am so thankful that i found you. u really made me feel less condemn or no more condemn. i was commission to sew a bias chiffon blouse (sleeveless) not easy combi but thank God for sleeveless. I only have 6 days to do it. And heck, I was burning mid-night oil. I was panicking that I almost cant produce. Now that I found you and am determine to master the art of sewing chiffon. Overcoming this fear. I am a mom too with 1 child 1 todd and 1 baby. enjoyed reading your blog.

Mo. Robin Smith said...

I saw so many comments about how great you are to have posted these instructions, "but sorry, still can't do it..." So here's MY comment: THANK YOU, and yes, these are wonderful, and I think I CAN - not sure when, but the issue is time....so, I guess if you know how to put an extra 4 hours or so in a day, I'd really like to see that post, too. But barring that - these are great instructions and thank you, thank you, thank you.

eclobb said...

Hi, I know that this is a pretty old post so who knows if you'll see this, but I just had to comment that I found this around august of last year and followed YOUR instructions after reading countless other ones and even watching useless videos and my daughter's pettiskirt turned out great! Btw, that was the very first sewing project ever. In fact, I came back here to reread them so I can make a 2nd one for her to wear for her birthday in only a couple of weeks. I wouldn't be able to without these instructions. Thanks