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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tutorial: Petticoat

I was looking for a petticoat to wear under retro dresses and wasn't finding anything ready-made online that I liked.  Or if I liked it, I didn't care for the price tag*.  So, I decided to sew one, but I couldn't find any patterns.  Here is why: this is dead simple to make for not very much money. It took me about a full day to complete.

There are tutorials online, and I found a couple excellent ones posted by lovely people who I am sure are better sewists than me.  They had super-flexible instructions for variable-tier petticoats any length you want with all kinds of calculations in them to figure out how much fabric you need and what width the tiers should be... phwah (eye roll). The truth was, I was looking for someone to do the math for me.  I also didn't love how they did the elastic at the waist.  They doubled over the tulle so that it was still scrunched up next to the skin.  I wanted to make a double layer of elastic that covered up the gathered tulle so that it would feel nice against my skin.

So, here is a short, simple tutorial on how to make a three-tier petticoat that fits me.  It reaches my just above my knee and fits my waist.  Fine, fine, fine...  since I am sure some of you will insist on making a petticoat for someone other than me, I'll include the adjustment so you can fit it to your own waist.  The rest of the measurements will work for just about any size adult given she (or he - I don't judge) has waist circumference under 5 yards.

If you follow this tutorial and make a petticoat, post a link to it.  I'd love to see it.

Materials Needed
  • Elastic - 3/4 inch wide (2X waist circumference + 2 inches).  I put two layers of elastic in. You will need your waist circumference + 1 inches (example and helpful hint for a birthday gift for me: my waist is 28 inches, so I cut 30 inches of elastic)
  • Tulle - 5 yards - 54 inches wide
  • Cotton thread, elastic thread
The petticoat is about 20 inches from waist to hem.  That is just above my knee.

There are three tiers of tulle. The bottom tier is 15 yards long, second is 10 yards, and the last is 5.   All of them are 8 inches wide.

  1. Sew strips together.
    Prepare tulle: cut tulle into 8 inch strips.  My tullewas 54 inches wide, so I ended up with many 8" x 54" strips.  The petticoat is sewn by dealing with the bottom tier first, then working your way up to the waist, tier by tier. 
  2. Prepare bottom tier (15 yards long, 8" wide): sew strips together to form even longer strips, then once you have 15 yards of strips sewn together, sew the ends together, so you have a long circle. I used a serger for this.  You can use a regular sewing machine, but I would just be careful to trim the seam allowances since you will be able to see them from the outside of the petticoat (tulle being  see-through, and all).  You might be able to make a French Seam, but I haven't actually tried that for this.
  3. Prepare middle tier (10 yards): same as bottom tier, but only 10 yards
  4. Prepare top tier (5 yards):  same as bottom tier, but only 5 yards.
  5. Edging: one edge of the bottom tier, finish with a serger. I have seen people use some ribbon to finish the edge as if the ribbon were quilt binding or bias tape. 
    Finishing bottom edge on serger
  6. On the other edge of the bottom tier, use a basting stitch on a regular sewing machine and sew a continuous line.  This will serve as the thread to use for the gather.
    Serger finish on one edge, basting stitch on the other. 

  7. Mark four equidistant points on the bottom tier with safety pins.  This will mark four evenly sized sections of the bottom tier.  I wouldn't use straight pins because they would fall out of the thin tulle.
  8.  Mark four points with safety pins on the middle tier in the same way as the bottom tier.
    Pull one thread of basting stitch to gather.
  9. Gathering and serging, matching safety pinned points.
  10. Gather the bottom tier, pulling one thread of the basting stitch. Match safety pinned points and sew right sides of bottom and middle tier together (I did mine with a serger).  Bottom and middle tier will be sewn together and form one circle at this point.
    Bottom tier and middle tier sewn together.
  11. On the free edge of the middle tier, sew a straight line on sewing machine.  
  12. Mark four even sections with safety pins on top tier.
  13. Sew top tier to middle tier in the same way that middle was sewn to the bottom tier, gathering to make marks match.
  14. Sew one piece of elastic together so that it is a circle.  Trim seam allowance.
  15. Mark four equidistant points on the elastic and gather tulle, matching points.  Gather tulle to fit elastic.  Sew using regular thread and a zig zag stitch.
    Pinned top tier to elastic and gathering to match points.
    Sew top tier to elastic with zig-zag stitch.
  16. Change to elastic thread and attach elastic waist band to other side.  This covers up the rough-feeling tulle and makes things tidy.  I did two rows of stitching on this side so that elastic is secured.  Tulle is now covered and won't be scratchy.
    Sew second layer of elastic to cover tulle.
  17. Wear under retro dress!  Here is the yellow retro dress before and after the petticoat.I like it because this isn't SO puffy that I can't wear it in public.  It just adds a little extra fullness, but not out of control.  Here it is under the Bombshell Dress, as well.
My Cost:
  • Elastic - Less than $2.00
  • Tulle - $1.00 per yard, $5.00 total
  • Elastic thread - $1.75
  • TOTAL - $8.75
* I found the kind of petticoats I wanted for about $60.00 to $100.00.  I definitely don't want to insult my Etsy friends selling these ready-made or insinuate they are ripping anyone off.  It is more than a fair price considering this took me all day to make. I am saying that my time is far more abundant than my money and this was a fun little project.


  1. You inspired me! Thanks for the great tutorial.

    1. Yaaaaayyyyy! I really like the changes you made to the petticoat. I like the waist and elastic you made. Also, the doubling of the bottom tier is a great solution for no serger, especially if you want even more fullness. Thank you so much for sharing the link. You just made my day!

  2. Thanks for this tutorial. I just made my first petticoat, but I did it completely on a serger. I have one problem though: when I put it on under my dress, you can clearly see where the tiers meet. Isn't it supposed to give you a smooth line? Does it only work under lined dresses?

  3. very confusing to me. Why would you need to cut the tulle only to sew it together again?


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