Cotton petticoat / underskirt tutorial

Cotton petticoat / underskirt tutorial
Which girl doesn’t want to have a big wide dress? To achieve that you need a good petticoat. I don’t like to use fabrics with synthetic fibres when it comes to children’s wear. The same goes for adults, you need breathable fabrics especially when garments are layered. And a cotton skirt can have just as much poof! With this cotton petticoat / underskirt tutorial I can help you achieve that!

When making a petticoat you need to consider few things:

  1. What type of fabric you want to use
  2. What shape of underskirt you would like to achieve
  3. How much fabric you should order
  4. What extras are needed
  5. How to make it using your sewing machine
  6. How to look after your petticoat

Choose your fabric:

There are a few options. I’ll focus only on cotton fabrics for a breathable petticoat. It could be used in any weather, even hot summer.

I suggest using crisp cotton fabrics to create as much volume as you can. Cotton poplin, cambric or organdy work best.

Cotton poplin is a crisp, slightly stiff fabric with a tight weave. It’s a great choice for petticoats that don’t have a lot of poof, usually made out of a single layer of fabric; that way it’s not too heavy.

Cotton cambric is a slightly stiff, semi-sheer, lightweight cotton fabric made with twisted fibres. It’s been traditionally used as a material for underskirts in the past and it’s one of my favourite fabrics for this purpose. Unfortunately, I’ve seen regular cotton lawn and even poplin sold as cambric so make sure you buy from trusted suppliers.

Cotton organdy will give you the most volume. It’s a stiff fabric but also lightweight. If you decide to make a petticoat with cotton organdy (some suppliers call it organdie) I strongly recommend lining it with cotton lawn or voile to make it more comfortable against your skin. You can use two layers of organdy for a more poof and dramatic effect. Cotton organdy is a very delicate fabric. It can tear easier than other fabrics, take this into consideration when planning your project.

Synthetic fabrics are a great option if your petticoat is for occasional wear only and not for very hot weather as synthetic fibre clothes don’t absorb sweat and can make you feel uncomfortable. You can make petticoats using organza or tulle.

Shapes of petticoats

You need to think about where you want to add fullness to your petticoat. If you make a two-tiered skirt and add gathers around the waistline and hip area you will get a cupcake (bell-shaped) petticoat.

For an A-line shape make more tiers and add more gathers at the bottom edge of your underskirt. If you plan to make an ankle-length skirt you might need to add more layers of fabric to keep the same shape.

If you want your petticoat to remain hidden under the outer skirt make sure you make it a few centimetres shorter than the skirt. But you can totally make it visible too. Add colourful ribbons and trims for it to really stand out!

Amount of fabric you will need

Each lower tier is approx. 2 times (or more!) longer than the higher one.

See the example of calculation for the toddler’s bell-shaped petticoat below (no seam allowances included):

To make it easier I show each tier as a single strip of fabric with just one side seam. If you want your petticoat to have two side seams, divide lengths by 2 (might be useful if you don’t want to cut your fabric lengthwise). If you want to have a lining of more than one layer of fabric you will need two strips of fabric for each tier.


To make a waistband take your waist circumference and add 25-30% of that value. That will be the length of your rectangle. This will make it easy to pull it up. For waistband width double the width of your elastic and add 0.5-1cm of ease.

Tier 1

Tier 1 is 2x longer than your waistband. You can make it even longer but try not to go less than that. For a cupcake petticoat, a lot of gathers here is crucial to achieve that poof. As for width of the strip; I suggest using your waist-to-hip measurement.

Tier 2

Tier 2 is 2x longer than Tier 1. Again, this ratio can be slightly different. For knee length underskirt use hip-knee measurement for the width of the strip. If you have a lining, cut it shorter than the outer layer of your petticoat.

More tiers

If you add more tiers your petticoat will start taking an A-line shape. Each additional tier needs to be 1.5-2 times longer than the previous one.


Apart from fabric, you will need approx. 3cm wide elastic (or wider). You can also choose to use trims for the raw edge. I used lace trim but you could use other trims like broderie anglaise or have your petticoat just hemmed.
The length of your elastic should be around 80% of your waist circumference (whatever feels comfortable).

Sewing your petticoat

Gather your tier pieces and sew side seams with the right sides facing. Overlock or zigzag to protect edges. For gathering tips look here:
Repeat for every layer of your petticoat.

With the right sides facing sew your waistband to the gathered top tier of the skirt, fold the seam allowance on the other side under and topstitch. Don’t sew all the way, leave a gap for inserting the elastic.

Feed elastic through using a safety pin or bodkin and stitch the ends making sure it’s not twisted. Finish topstitching the waistband. You can also topstitch the waistband in the middle with the straight stitch (while stretching the elastic).

Finish raw edges. I used lace trim for a vintage look.

Washing your petticoat

All petticoats made from cotton can be washed in the washing machine. Choose gentle or hand wash cycles and don’t exceed 40 degrees Celsius.
Don’t use fabric conditioner. You want your petticoats to remain slightly stiff for more volume.
Avoid tumble drying. It would make fabrics soften and your petticoat would lose some of that poof.

That’s it! enjoy making your underskirt 🙂

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