Twirly Skirts: A Simple Sewing Tutorial

My granddaughters are at the peak of their “princess stage”.  :)  All four of our own girls have gone through it and what fun it is for a mom (or a grandma) to get to participate while they still love the frills and ribbons, lace and bows, twirly skirts and everything girlie and feminine.  The great news is that with a sewing machine and some pretty fabric prints you can keep that momentum going without much difficulty.  Twirly skirts, if you’re not sure what I mean, are the loveliest and most simple creations for “princesses”.  They really have only one fundamental requirement.  They must contain enough fabric to puff WAAAAAY out and twirl away from the body when one spins like a ballerina or a princess at the ball.

girls in twirly skirts

Two little princesses, posing nicely.


girls twirling

Princesses in twirly skirts, twirling! :)

Twirly skirts are simple to make and will only take an hour or less of your time.  You won’t even need to buy a pattern!  Besides some simple tools like scissors, straight pins, a safety pin, a sewing machine (like my gorgeous Brother CS6000i) and iron, there are only three things you’ll need to create one (Mine were for size 3 and size 4 princesses, but adjusting the size is as simple as adjusting the waist and length measurements.):

  • 2 yards of pretty fabric (You can make little skirts with much less fabric, but I wanted these to be very full, thus the 2 yds.)
  • a piece of 1″ wide (no roll) elastic that is the length of the child’s waist measurement, minus 1″
  • thread

That’s it!  This is a pretty simple project.  I wish I could say that my amazing photography skills would make it even simpler, but unfortunately I still haven’t mastered the sew, then stop and snap a picture, then sew some more, then stop and snap pictures, etc.  sometimes, I just get going on the sewing and forget about pictures altogether.  :)  I’ll do my best to show you how I made these easy skirts.

  1. You need to take two measurements on your princess.  Her waist measurement and her waist to knee (or your preferred hemline) measurement.
  2. Add 4½ inches to the waist-to-knee measurement.  Your two yard piece of fabric will be cut to that length.  So you will end up with a two yard piece of fabric that is no longer 45″ wide, but the width of the measurement you calculated.
    fabric cutting diagram

    Use the waist-to-knee measurement plus 4 1Two princesses in twirly skirts! I may be "slightly" partial, but I think they are extraordinarily beautiful!

    /2 inches to cut your fabric to the right length.  With my princesses,  I could ALMOST get two skirts from one 2 yard piece of fabric.  If the girls had been one year younger, I definitely would have been able to do it.

  3. Subtract 1 inch from the waist measurement and cut your elastic to that length.

    measuring elastic

    Subtract 1" from the waist measurement to cut the correct length for the elastic.

  4. Now, you’ve made your cuts and you’re ready to get sewing.  Fold your fabric in half, right sides together and stitch a 5/8″ seam along the side that is opposite the folded edge.


    Stitch a 5/8" seam.

  5. Trim your seam and then zigzag or use your overcast foot to overcast finish the seam edge.  (The overcast foot included with my new Brother CS6000iis one of my favorite attachments for the machine!)  Press the seam flat to one side.  You will end up with a skirt that has a GIANT waist and no hem — essentially a large tube.

    finished seam

    Press your finished seam to one side. If you don't have an overcast foot for your sewing machine, you can definitely just zigzag to finish the seam and help prevent raveling.

  6. Next you will create a casing to run the elastic through, at the waist.  To create a casing, fold over and press flat, 1¼ inches all around the top edge of the skirt.  Be sure you are pressing it toward the inside (the wrong side of the fabric) of the skirt.  To create a clean finished edge, turn under a second 1¼ inches around the top of the skirt.

    press under a casing

    Press under 1 1/4" and then press under another 1 1/4", to form the casing for the elastic waistband. This will leave you with a folded edge at both the top and bottom of your casing. Raw edges will be folded under and not visible.

  7. To stitch the casing, lower the presser foot and run the left edge of the presser foot along the edge of the casing.  On my Brother cs6000i sewing machine, this will create a scant 1/8″ seam at the lower edge of the casing.  Be sure to back stitch and lock the stitches into place as you start sewing and then, again, as you stop.  This back stitching is IMPORTANT, since you will stitch around the entire casing, stopping just 2″ short of where your stitching began.  This will create a small opening that you will thread the elastic through, in the waistband of the skirt.

    stitch elastic casing

    Stitch along the lower edge of the casing, all the way around the skirt, leaving a 2" opening for the elastic to be inserted.

  8. As I mentioned previously, you will stop two inches short of where your stitching started around the casing.  The opening this creates is where you will insert the elastic for the waistband.

    opening for elastic

    I actually made two rows of stitching around my casing. It isn't necessary. One is certainly sufficient, but I like the added strength and the look of the top-stitching. The important thing to note in this picture, is the opening left for the elastic to be inserted in the casing. (If you do two rows of stitching, be sure to stop 2 inches short on both of them, so you don't inadvertently stitch the opening closed.)

  9. Since I already knew the length I wanted for my skirts, I hemmed it next.  You could hem your skirts after you run the elastic through your casing waistband, but by hemming first, you will be able to have flat, ungathered fabric to work with and it will be that much simpler to stitch the hem.  Because our princesses grow VERY quickly, I have allowed 2″ of fabric in the hem.  I fold under one inch and then press it, then I fold over the second inch, pressing that and creating to smooth, folded edges for the hem, just like for the casing.  (By folding this extra fabric in, as the girls grow, we can always come back and let down the hem, if we need some added length.)  To stitch the hem, stitch it exactly as you did for the casing, except you will continue stitching until you meet the point where your stitching started.  There is no reason to leave an opening in the hem.  Again, a double row of stitching is a matter of preference.  I did do that on mine.  Press the hem flat.  (This is one of those places where I forgot to stop and snap a picture.  If you are unsure, you can always refer to the picture above for the casing.)
  10. Running the elastic through the casing is a fairly simple process.  The main thing to keep in mind, is that you want to keep the elastic flat (not roll or twist it) as it is running through the casing.  The easiest way for me to do this is to attach a safety pin to one end of the elastic.

    safety pin in elastic

    Safety pin fastened in the end of the elastic.

  11. Insert the safety pin into the opening you left in the casing, drawing the elastic through the casing.  You will no longer see the safety pin, but you will be able to feel it inside the casing and continue pushing it through, as the fabric gathers along the elastic.


    Continue inching the safety pin, and thus, the elastic through the waistband casing, making sure to keep the elastic flat.

  12. There is a LOT of fabric to gather onto this short piece of elastic, so keep pushing the gathers back, as you work the safety pin through the casing and BE SURE TO WATCH for the end of the elastic and pin it down at the opening, so you don’t pull it all the way through and have to start over.

    pin to casing

    Be sure to pin the end of the elastic down at the edge of the opening in your casing, so you don't pull it all the way through and lose it inside.

  13. Once the end of the elastic is securely pinned, you can continue inching the safety pin through the casing until it comes back out the opening where you started.  (The waist of the skirt will be gathered very tightly.)  You will see one end of the elastic pinned down at the opening and the other end, attached to the safety pin, both protruding from the opening in your casing.
  14. Check one more time, to make sure you have kept the elastic flat, all the way through the casing.  Then draw the two ends out slightly away from the opening in your casing.  Hold the two ends of the elastic flat against one another, with the ends even.

    elastic finished

    The ends of the elastic should be even with each other and flat against one another. Keep a snug enough grip on the ends, so they aren't pulled back into the casing, as you are working.

  15. Pin the ends of the elastic to hold them as you stitch a 1/2 inch seam across the ends.  Back stitch one or two times to make the seam strong and lock the stitching in place.

    pinning the ends

    Pin the elastic ends together and stitch a 1/2" seam across the ends. Trim the seam to about 1/4" once the stitching is done.

  16. Pull out the pin.  This is the point where I like to have the girls try on the skirts and make sure the waist is snug enough.  If it’s perfect you are ready to close the opening in your casing.  If it needs to snug up a little, you can stitch another 1/4″ or 1/2″ inside the stitching at the ends of the elastic to shorten it and make the waist smaller.  (Be sure to trim the excess elastic to about 1/4″ from the seam when you’re finished, so you don’t have a bulky lump in the waistband.)
  17. Allow the elastic to pull fully inside the casing, now.  Smooth the gathers away from the open area in your casing, so you have a flat, smooth surface to work with and stitch the opening closed, connecting the seams you used to make the casing.  Be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end to lock the stitches in place.
  18. At this point, I like to grab the skirt with one hand on each side of the waist band and gently tug a couple of times to help even out the gathers around the elastic.  You can smooth them out by hand, as well, if they need some extra attention.  Do a nice steam press of the entire skirt and it is ready for your beautifully, twirly princess!

    twirly skirt

    Beautiful twirly skirt with a matching fabric flower hair clip and lace-trimmed leggings for one of my granddaughters.



girls in twirlie skirts

My two twirly girl princesses in their new skirts.


    • says

      It really is simple, Melissa, and it makes them so happy! Amazon has the Brother cs6000i on sale, right now for only $159.97, which is a HUGE discount, if you can work it into the budget. You may be able to pick up a sewing machine on Craigslist, too, or even at a garage sale, this summer. Hope you find one!

  1. Texas Momma says

    I love the skirts! I was planning to go the fabric store this week anyway and now I’m going to add a bit of fabric to make these for my girls. They too are in the midst of the princess phase and my 3 1/2 year old won’t hardly wear anything but skirts and dresses so I know they’ll love them! I’m just learning to sew at 31, my mother is teaching me.Unfortunately I was never ready to learn when I was younger =) One really neat thing she taught me while sewing pj pants for my son is how to sew the elastic so it doesn’t leave a bumpy spot. Just overlap the elastic so one side lays flat on top of the other side and sew them together. It creates a nice smooth junction in the elastic! I hope that makes sense, I wish I could attach a picture, being worth a thousand words and all! Thanks again for your tutorial, maybe once I get better at this I’ll see about convincing my husband I need the Brother sewing machine you have, I loved the review you did! =)

  2. Elizabeth Hansen says

    Your skirts for your little granddaughters are so pretty, but even prettier are your granddaughters! They are real princesses in the kingdom of God, and how blessed they are to have a Christian grandmother who loves them so much! God bless you, Glenda! Thanks for an easy, well-illustrated tutorial!

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