Skirts are a great place to start for beginning sewers whose goal is to design and make clothes without a pattern. Skirts require relatively little fabric, depending on the style, and equally little time.
Before making more complicated skirts, such as A-lines, it’s good to work from a pattern to understand how the pieces should be cut and assembled. There are also online instructions and videos. The basic mechanics of garment making must be mastered before attempting linings or complicated styles.
However, just a yard or two of extra fabric is a treasure for simple skirt making. In just a couple of hours, you’ll be ready to show off your original fabrication.
Waistbands and Fasteners
When making a simple skirt without a pattern, adding a zipper and waistband may seem like the most challenging components. Very few skirts do not require both these parts.
Follow the zipper instructions carefully, using a zipper foot for the best results. Put the zipper in before adding a waistband. The waistband will fasten above the zipper with a button, hook, or snap.
A waistband is a straight piece of matching fabric with no pleats or gathers. The average waistband is 1½-2 inches wide, though it could be wider or narrower, depending on the style and look desired.
How To Make a Waistband
To make a 1½-inch waistband, cut the waistband 4 inches wide. Add 3-inches to the measured waist circumference for the correct length. This allows an overlap at the skirt opening plus ½ inch seam allowances. Don’t forget to zigzag or serge fabric edges that may fray.
Add interfacing from the middle of the waistband to ½-inch from one edge if needed. With right sides together, line the band up with the top of the skirt and pin it in place.
The band should extend at least ½-inch past the zipper edge. One side may extend further than the other for one-sided zipper flies (not covered here). The more extended flap should match the flap of the zipper.
Fold the waistband up toward the top of the skirt and press. Fold ½-inch of the remaining raw edge to the wrong side of the band and press again. Fold the waistband in half, right side together, on the ends only, and sew across the ends. Clip the corners and turn the ends right-side-out.
Pin the waistband down on the wrong side so that the edge slightly overlaps (⅛-inch) the front stitching. Then, from the front, stitch-in-the-ditch to finish attaching the band. Hand-stitch the bottom of the extra material above the zipper.
Of course, this is not the only way to attach a waistband. As you research other projects online, you may decide to use a different method.
Now that you know how to make and attach a waistband, we can talk about six easy, no pattern skirt styles. Some require as little as a yard of leftover fabric. The patterns can be used for any size person, from child to adult.
6 Easy No Pattern Skirt Styles
1. Gathered Skirt
Gathered skirts are the simplest of skirts. In fact, a gathered skirt is probably the least taxing self-designed garment, period. Beginners have used this project to whet their sewing appetites for generations.
Gathered skirts require no waistband and are made from one large rectangle of almost any kind of fabric. So here’s what to do.
First, you must decide how long you want the skirt to be. This step applies to all the skirts in this article. Measure from waistline to the desired length. Keep a notebook handy to write measurements down.
Add ½-inch to the length for a narrow hem. Add more for a wider hem. Also, add double the width of the elastic plus ½-inch for a seam allowance. So the total length is body length + hem width + doubled elastic width + ½-inch.
The skirt width is determined by measuring the hip circumference. For a regular gathered skirt, double the hip measurement. For a fuller skirt, add another 50% to the doubled width.
To make the skirt, sew down the length of the fabric with the right sides together, stopping 1¾-inches from the top for the 1-inch elastic. You have now created a single back seam. Press the seam open and sew down the seam allowance for 3-inches from the top on both sides. Doing this will make pulling the elastic through more effortless.
Turn the top edge of the skirt under ½-inch toward the wrong side. Turn down again 1¼-inches and pin in place. Notice that the back of the folded edge is open for the elastic. Sew down about ⅛-inch from the folded edge. This is your elastic pocket.
Use a nice, soft elastic for this project. It must be flexible enough to slide on and off. Use the waist measurement to determine elastic length. Add 2-inches to overlap and secure the elastic inside the pocket.
Put a safety pin through one end of the elastic and use it to manipulate the elastic through the elastic pocket. You may want to pin the other end of the elastic to the fabric so that it doesn’t get pulled into the pocket.
Once both ends of the elastic are at the opening to the pocket, overlap and hand or machine sew them together. Hand-sew the pocket opening closed.
Turn the bottom raw edge up toward the wrong side ¼-inch, then up again the desired hem-width distance. Machine or hand-sew the hem as desired. Press the hem flat after sewing.
2. Pleated Skirt
There are many styles of pleated skirts. For this article, we will make the most uncomplicated style. Knife pleats will be made at the top edge of the skirt, and no topstitching will be added. Those details are left entirely to the sewer to add as desired. You will also need a 7-9 inch zipper for your pleated skirt.
Woven, non-stretchy material works best for pleated skirts, but knits can also be used depending on how much of a “pressed” look you want.
Measure for a pleated skirt as for a gathered skirt, adding ½-inch to the top edge. Add enough to the length for the desired hem size. Most pleated skirts are around knee length. Add 2 inches to the length for the hem.
Measure and cut material for a 1½-inch waistband as instructed above.
With the right sides together, sew the back seam with regular stitching, stopping when the length of the zipper remains. With a long stitch, baste the remainder of the seam closed.
Pin the zipper face down and centered along the seam and stitch around with regular stitch length and a zipper foot, starting just below the zipper’s pull. Remove the basted stitching from the seam. Pull the zipper open and finish sewing the top of the zipper in place.
This is a centered zipper, and it will be the zipper installation used with all the zippers in this article. This is the quickest, easiest way to install a zipper. If you decide to use an invisible zipper, you will need an invisible zipper foot. Follow the instructions that come with the zipper very carefully.
After turning the skirt wrong-side-out, measure and place an inch-long vertical mark, first an inch, then ⅛-inch apart around the top. Beginning on one side of the zipper, pull the second mark back to the first mark, and pin it in place. Skip the ⅛-inch space, go to the next mark 1-inch away and pull that mark back 1-inch.
Continue pulling and pinning to create ½-inch pleats that are ⅛-inch apart. The pleats should all fold in the same direction. Bring the pleats as close to the zipper as possible without interfering with zipper operations.
Sew the pleats in place, ½-inch down from the top. Add the waistband as instructed above.
Add a button/buttonhole, hook and eye, or snap closure to the ends of the waistband. A buttonhole should be sewn horizontally in the waistband. Hem as instructed above.
3. A Straight Skirt
Straight, pencil, and tube skirts require much less fabric. Tube skirts are made from knit material and are form-fitting, following the shape of the waist, hips, and legs. Straight skirts form-fit down to the hips, then hang straight down from there. Pencil skirts are made from woven fabrics. They are form-fitting as tube skirts but usually have a slit or inverted box pleat for ease of movement.
Straight skirts have a narrower waistband–an inch or less. The skirt itself requires more extensive measurements and more complicated assembly. You will need a short zipper and hook and eye closure for your straight skirt.
These instructions are for a straight skirt. For a more form-fitting pencil skirt, you’ll need to add an additional measurement from the thigh area to shape the fabric correctly.
Lay the fabric out flat and single-layered. Pencil skirts are above the knee length. Measure from the waist to the desired length and add at least 2½-inches for a hem and top seam allowance.
Measure hip circumference. Half the measurement, then add one inch for seam allowances. For example, for a hip measurement of forty, use 20 + 1 for a total of 21 inches. On the fabric, draw with chalk or fabric marker a square or rectangle the correct inches wide by the appropriate length for the front of the skirt.
Measure the distance from waist to hip on the wearer’s side. Mark the same distance down the sides of the square. Measure waist circumference and half it, adding seam allowances as for hips. Mark the resulting measurement centered at the top of the square. Then draw a line from the waist measurement to the hip marking on the sides, softening corners to create a form-fitted piece. Cut out this piece.
Using the front piece as a guide, cut out another piece, adding ½ inch to each side. Cut the second piece in half. Now you have the back of your skirt.
Measure and cut for a 1-inch waistband as instructed above.
Sew back seam, leaving several open inches at the bottom if you prefer a slit. Stop short for the zipper as with the pleated skirt. Baste the remaining seam and add the zipper as in the pleated skirt.
Lay the back and front with right sides together. Pin, then sew side seams. Try on the skirt. If the top of the skirt seems too loose, add a small dart on each side of the front for better form-fitting.
Add the waistband as instructed above. If you have decided to create a slit in the back, hand or machine sew the seam allowance down on either side. You could also add an inverted box seam if you prefer.
Double hem by turning up ½ inch, then 1½ inches towards the wrong side. Use an invisible stitch for a professional finish.
Use one or two hook and eye closures for the waistband. Press your new straight skirt. Congratulations! You did it!
4. Ruffled and Flounced Skirts
Ruffles or flounces are often interchangeable terms. Both are created by adding gathered pieces to a garment.
Some of the most popular ruffled skirts begin with a straight skirt. Whimsical ruffles made from lightweight fabric are perfect for shopping with friends or a night on the town.
Begin by creating a straight skirt using the instructions above. Optionally, consider adding a bit more fullness from the hips down.
Cut the desired number of strips for ruffles using either matching or contrasting material. Each strip should be at least twice the skirt circumference in length–more for added fulness. Cut each strip to the desired width plus one inch for top seam allowance and a narrow hem.
Using multiple strips of sheer fabric or netting over a more sturdy underskirt produces a cascade effect. Or add wide, matching gathered strips to a knit tube skirt.
The most straightforward ruffled skirt is one with a broad, gathered strip 10-inches or wider added to the bottom. Begin with a gathered skirt, shortened to accommodate the desired with of the bottom ruffle. Again, double the circumference of the bottom of the skirt to determine the minimum length of the ruffle. The process can be repeated, beginning with a gathered mini skirt and ending with a ruffled maxi skirt.
There are endless ways to add ruffles. Research online for more creative ideas, both formal and playful
5. A Circle Skirt
A circle skirt is just a circle with a hole cut in the middle for the waistband. Making your circle skirt from knit/stretch fabric makes the process easy. You’ll still need a waistband but no zipper unless you use a woven fabric.
There are quite a few video tutorials for circle skirts, including one from WikiHow. I recommend watching several tutorials before deciding on the best method for you. The challenge is learning how to cut out a perfect circle and how to cut the top opening.
It’s easier to watch the videos than to write out the instructions. If you’re a fan of geometry, you can probably work it out without instructions. The directions will show you how to cut folded fabric instead of trying to find space at home big enough to draw one enormous circle.
It sounds hard, but it’s really not. Circle skirts are full and fun to make and wear, so give it a shot. Circle skirts can be any length, from mini to maxi. The longer the skirt, the more full the effect.
6. A Wrap-Around Skirt
A wrap-around skirt consists of a single rectangle of fabric with a waistband and ties added. Most wrap-arounds are at least knee-length, though maxi is the most popular choice.
You’ll need enough material to circle your body (or whoever you’re making it for) twice. For an average-sized adult, the skirt requires about 2½ yards of fabric. Measure the circumference and the desired width and cut out a rectangle with the proper dimensions.
Narrow-hem and press the sides of the rectangle. Then gather the top edge, leaving enough width so that the skirt overlaps around 10 inches for an adult. This is a personal preference. Feel free to increase or decrease the overlap as desired. Don’t forget to knot the thread ends together so that no gathers are lost. Lay the skirt down with the wrong side facing up.
Measure the width of the top and cut a waistband to that length plus 1-inch by 5-inches wide.
Press under ½-inch at each end of the band.
Line up and pin the skirt evenly to the waistband with the band’s right side to the skirt’s wrong side. Sew the pieces together with a ½-inch seam allowance. Press the band up, then lay the skirt out, right side up.
Press under ½-inch of the remaining raw edge of the band, then fold over and pin so that it covers any exposed stitching. Sew the band down ⅛-inch from the pinned edge. Press the waistband flat. Notice that the ends of the waistband are open for the ties.
Cut two ties, 45-50 inches long by 3 inches wide. Fold in half lengthwise with the right side inward. Sew one end shut and down the length of the tie. Use a long, blunt object such as a paintbrush handle, heavy straw, or short dowel to push the closed end into the tube that has been formed. Continue pushing the fabric until the right side of the closed end is exposed. Pull the tie right side out and press.
Insert the tie into the open end of the waistband about an inch and stitch back and forth several times to anchor it in place.
Wrap the skirt around you and mark where the bottom layer tie lines up with your side. Sew a vertical buttonhole here big enough for the tie to pass through easily.
Finish hem the bottom edge of the skirt. Now your skirt is finished. Wrap it around, pulling the tie through the buttonhole and bringing the ties together on the opposite side. If the ties seem too long, cut them to the desired length and hem.