Ultimate Pettiskirt Tutorial – How to gather, cut and sew tulle

pettiskirt with jersey fabric

I do love making pettiskirts! Working with tulle can be enjoyable but the preparation is very important here. If you want to know how I gather tulle, what lengths do I use, how to set up your sewing machine, keep reading!

pettiskirt with jersey fabric

Isn’t it cute? This pettiskirt has got three tiers: top woven or knit fabric tier (I used jersey fabric with birds from Moonbow Fabrics) and two tulle tiers. The bottom tier is finished with a narrow tulle ruffle. This skirt is also fully lined to make sure the net is not touching a child’s sensitive skin.

Fabric and tools required to make a pettiskirt

You really don’t want to spend hours cutting and gathering your tulle. Cutting the strips fast and gathering them efficiently is a key to making pettiskirts without major issues. Spend time on preparation, it will pay off.

Types of fabric for top tier & lining

Satin is commonly used as fabric for the top tier but you can also use other woven and knit fabric types like cotton, polycotton or jersey. I recommend using a lightweight type, using heavyweight fabric around the waist would result in a bulky waistband. Pettiskirts don’t have to be plain, you can shake things up and make them stand out by using fabrics with the most beautiful designs!

For lining, I suggest using plain lightweight fabrics. I usually choose a fabric that matches the colour of the tulle. It will be slightly visible as tulle is a sheer fabric so make sure it matches with the rest of the skirt.

Types of tulle

When it comes to choosing the best tulle fabric things complicate a little bit. Choose it wisely and take into account the way tulle fabric is sold and how you plan to cut it into strips.

Unfortunately, fabric suppliers aren’t consistent when naming their fabrics. Tulle, veiling net, mesh, dress net, chiffon tricot, can all be used for making pettiskirts and often fabric suppliers use those names interchangeably. There’s nothing worse than getting 20 metres of fabric you don’t want so I strongly recommend getting few samples before placing an actual order. You want your tulle to be soft but make sure that it’s not too soft. If it gets ruined under your sewing machine foot choose a different fabric.

Tulle can be made from different fibres. That makes a difference in price and in how soft and drapey your tulle is. Nylon or polyamide tulle is usually slightly softer than polyester tulle. Silk tulle is incredibly soft and light but also very expensive and used mainly in bridal fashion.

What you also need to consider is how tulle is being sold. You can buy it in metres or bolts just like any other fabric but some suppliers offer 6″ or 12″ tulle rolls that might be easier to use.

So what fabric did I buy for this particular project? I tried an extremely soft veiling net but it wasn’t strong enough, not suitable for my preferred gathering method so I used soft nylon tulle instead. I hope this helps.

Amount of fabric

You will have to carefully calculate the amount of fabric that you need. It’s easy to order too little tulle and trust me you really need some extra for testing your gathering.

Fabric is cut into strips and then gathered for each tier. The amount of that tulle (length of the strip) is determined by gathering the ratio, the number of layers and the drape of your tulle (you’d need more tulle that has got good drape and less of a more stiff type).
My pettiskirt has got two layers and the gathering ratio is 3 to1 which means that the fabric strip in each lower tier is three times as long as the strip above it. Test your ratio before cutting your fabric. You might need less or more tulle!

See the calculations in the tables below for different age groups for the same ratio. For children up to 12 months I suggest making two-tiered skirts but with three layers. Babies lay on their backs or sit and otherwise it would be just too much fabric around their knees. You can of course calculate it differently and make three tiers instead.

The length of the fabric for the top tier needs to be 1.3 to 1.5 times the hip circumference.
The width of the strips calculation was based on the distance from waist to knees. For measurements charts click here.

For calculations for adults, different lengths and gathering ratios use my tulle calculator that will be added to or Facebook group hopefully next week.
You will be able to change the widths of your strips and see how it affects the required length of fabric www.facebook.com/groups/midnightsewergroup

All values are in metres and centimetres.

Gathering ratio 3:1
Top fabric tier0.70.80.911.11.2
Tulle tier
Tulle tier 2XX8.199.910.8
WIDTH OF STRIPS (CM)0-6M6-12M1-3Y3-6Y6-9Y9-12Y
Top fabric tier202420242832
Tulle tier 1101210121416
Tulle tier 2XX10121416

In the table below you can check how much tulle you’re going to need in metres (approx. amount). Strips can be cut lengthwise or widthwise if 140cm wide fabric is being used.

Values were already multiplied by 2 as we have two layers of the skirt (for children up to 12 months I allowed for three layers).

140cm (56″)2m2m4m4m5m5m
6″ roll14m16m39m43m47m52m

I strongly suggest buying more fabric than you think you need. You might want to have a fuller skirt or would need some extra for testing your gathering foot.

Cutting tulle

Can you imagine cutting 52 metres of fabric with a pair of scissors? No, neither can I!
Here are some tips and tricks for you to try and make it easier.

If you’re struggling to keep all the layers aligned try folding it and rolling it tightly onto a separate flat piece of cardboard (that you can but don’t have to remove later). You can then cut through multiple layers by scissors or rotary cutter. Use thread or hairbands to mark the widths of strips.

If you buy your tulle per metre there’s a good chance that your fabric arrives folded or rolled. Keep it that way, it will make things easier.

You can use rolls of tulle instead of buying metres of fabric:
To cut part of the roll into smaller strips you can remove the cardboard centre of it and take part of the fabric from the middle out. You’re splitting the roll into two (or more) rolls which you can then cut by scissors or roller cutter.
You can also carefully roll it onto a separate piece of cardboard and cut through smaller amounts of fabric.

Don’t worry if you made a mistake somewhere. Nobody will know that you’ve cut a part of the strip 0.5cm shorter. Pettiskirts are very forgiving.

For cutting you can use scissors, rotary cutters or cutting machines. I’ve used this large electric rotary cutter that easily goes through half of the roll or bolt in one go. But careful, it could easily cut through your fingers.

Sewing tulle

There are few ways of gathering tulle:

  • Using gathering foot
  • Using ruffler attachment
  • With serger
  • With one or two threads

I found the first three methods easier and faster as they allow you to gather and join gathered layers in one go. Try them all on your fabric before making a final decision if possible to avoid problems. I won’t be explaining in detail how each one of these works but I will tell you why I decided to use a gathering foot in the end.

Gathering foot:
There are two types of gathering feet: one with the groove in the middle and one without one. I recommend using the first type. That slot is for attaching a non-ruffled layer. It’s great for thin, lightweight fabrics. For more ruffles increase your stitch length and if you want fewer gathers make your stitches shorter.

Ruffler foot:
This attachment didn’t work for me. I think it’s great for many lightweight fabrics but it wasn’t “catching” tulle very well or was making holes in the fine net. I still recommend testing it if you can. It might work for you.

Serger gathering:
I tried using serger gathering foot but overlocked edges were quite bulky and didn’t work on the bottom ruffle.

Gathering with one or two strings:
A single thread is enough to gather this fine fabric. This traditional way of gathering is very time-consuming though. Gathering 70 metres by pulling the string would take a very long time and after that long strips of fabric have to be attached to the next tier of fabric carefully following the first line of thread.

Once you decide which way of gathering works best for you test your gathering ratio. Simply gather a 100cm strip of fabric and measure it. If your strip measures now approx. 33 cm your ratio is 3:1 which means that the strip that is being gathered has to be three times as long as non-ruffled fabric.

Tip: Always cut your strips a bit longer to allow for inaccuracies.

Gathering foot with no groove for a domestic machine (left) and one for an industrial machine with the slot (right)

Apart from the tulle, fabric for the top tier & lining, needle and thread you will also need elastic for the waistband. Mine is 2.5cm wide and its length is approx 85% of waist circumference.

Let’s do it!

You have your strips pre-cut, ratios are sorted, the gathering foot is attached to your machine. What do we do now? Time to sew! There are few steps of making a pettiskirt:

  • Preparing 1st tier and lining
  • Gathering bottom ruffle to 3rd tier
  • Gathering 3rd tier to 2nd tier
  • Gathering 2nd tier to 1st tier
  • Sewing sides together
  • Topstitching and making elastic casing
  • Feeding elastic through, sewing it’s ends together and finishing the elastic casing

Let me show you how to make a pettiskirt similar to this one with ladybirds. As you can see it’s not as fluffy as the purple one. The gathering ratio was a little lower approx 2.5 to 1 and the skirt is for different age group so each tier is wider. There are few methods of making pettiskirts. This is only one of them.

red pettiskirt tutorial

Start with top tier fabric and lining. Stitch top long edges together with right sides facing. Overlock or zigzag all the edges. I used rolled hem to the bottom edge of the lining and top tier fabric.

On the finished skirt half of the ladybird fabric will be visible. One layer of tulle will be sewed to its surface and the other layer will be attached to the inside of the other half of that fabric so the tulle doesn’t touch the skin.

Gathering the bottom ruffle is the most time-consuming process.
Before you start sew short edges of 3rd tier strips together (not the ruffle). And do the same with 2nd tier strips. I don’t stitch ends of short ruffle together but simply add them by placing them underneath the gathering foot when the previous one is about to end.
Fabric that is under the foot is being gathered and fabric in the slot is not. It’s very important to keep that fabric all the way in the slot or else your needle won’t catch it.
Tip: If you put magnets to both sides or create a channel in a different way that would ensure that the gathered strip is fed straight, you can then focus on the fabric on top.
It definitely needs a little bit of practice, don’t get discouraged 🙂

If your hand slipped and the top fabric didn’t get attached, don’t panic! If the gap is tiny it won’t matter at all. As I said, pettiskirts are very forgiving. However, if it’s bigger, use a clip to mark it so you don’t lose that spot and once you finish gathering simply attach it with the straight stitch. Don’t try unpicking your stitch. It might ruin the tulle.

Your strip should now look close to that.

Gather the 3rd tier to 2nd tier now. You won’t be sewing in the middle of it anymore but approx 1cm from the edge.

Raw edges from this tier and ruffle should be to the same side.

Can you see the orange clip? This is where I missed the stitch.

Check the length of each strip after gathering to make sure that they’re long enough.

Gather the 2nd tier now. My top tier fabric won’t go into the gathering foot slot so I gathered it on its own.

The first tulle layer should be attached to the front of top tier fabric as shown in the picture to the left. I followed the gathering seam from the previous step.

Sew the second tulle layer to the wrong side with raw edges facing away from the fabric.

Fold the skirt in half widthwise and sew the edges with the right sides facing. Make sure that you stitch the tulle afterwards (lining side only) as there are two layers on top of each other.

Fold your skirt and sew both sides together creating the casing for the elastic.
Make sure that it’s slightly wider than the elastic.
Don’t sew it completely, leave a few centimetres gap for feeding your elastic.

Feed your elastic through, overlap its ends and sew together.
You can now finish topstitching the casing from the outside. Just make sure that your elastic doesn’t get caught by the needle.

That’s it 🙂 enjoy your new skirt!

Additional tips & troubleshooting

Avoid picking up your seams. It might ruin your tulle and leave gaps.

Don’t iron your tulle. If you want to press your top tier fabric or lining do it before attaching the tulle. Tulle would melt, not only your fabric would get ruined but you’re risking damaging your irons sole plate.

Pettiskirts should be hand washed only. Machine washing or tumble drying can damage your skirt.

If you have any questions let me know in comments or our Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/moonlightpatterns 🙂

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