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Tutorial Tuesday: High-Waisted Pencil Skirt

August 31, 2010

If you haven’t seen me mention it before, I have this vintage mustard-yellow skirt that has become indispensable in my wardrobe. So much so that I knew I needed to make a pattern from it so that I could make copies. I’ve made three so far (though one was a prototype) and I have another in the works. Elastic-waist skirts are simple to sew and don’t require a zipper or other closure, but their fatal flaw is that the way the fabric pooches out over the hips or tummy is often unflattering. This skirt solves that problem with a flat front center panel and a sewn-down wide elastic waist. The measurements I’ve given here should make a skirt to fit a size medium, and although mine is about knee-length, you can certainly make yours longer or shorter. I hope you become as obsessed with this pattern as I am!


3/4 yard of medium-weight fabric (The original is made of a linen blend, and I’ve used both a double knit and linen.)
Matching thread
Sewing machine that can do zig-zag and stretch stitches
Approximately 25 inches of 2-inch wide elastic


1. With your fabric folded in half, selvages together, cut out a rectangle 25 inches long and 21 inches from the fold (so unfolded, 25 by 42 inches).

2. Measure 6 inches up from what will be the bottom edge of your skirt, and mark this on the long cut edge, which will be your back seam.

3. From the top edge of the skirt, sew the back seam, then clip into the seam at the mark you made 6 inches form the bottom. If you are using a knit it’s optional, but if you’re using something that ravels you’ll want to finish this seam with a serger or a zig-zag stitch.

4.Turn the skirt so that the right side is out, and fold it at the center again. At the top edge, measure and mark 4 inches and 6 inches from the center, and 4 inches from the top, to make the following set of lines. Repeat on both sides of the fold. Here’s a little diagram I drew to help illustrate this part:

5. Unfold the skirt at the center. Now take the line closest to the center and fold it to meet the farther line. Repeat on the other side. Describing this in words is difficult, so look at these photos:

6. Pin the pieces you just folded in place and stitch close to the folds. (Don’t mind me switching chalk colors here. The yellow chalk was rubbing off, so I switched to actual tailor’s chalk.)

7. Get out your piece of elastic. Before you cut it, make sure that 25 inches will fit over your hips and butt. Some types of elastic are stretchier than others (and body types differ…) so you may need to make yours longer. Once you’ve cut it, overlap the ends by about a quarter of an inch and zig-zag stitch them together to make an elastic loop.

8. Fold your elastic in half and mark the center opposite the seam. With the elastic on the inside, pin the center of the elastic to the center of the top edge of the skirt and the elastic seam to the back skirt seam.

9. Measure 3 inches from each side of the center mark on the elastic, and pin the top edge of the skirt at the folds to these marks. Using a zig-zag stitch, sew the top edge of the skirt to the elastic between the folds. Since you’re sewing 8 inches of fabric to 6 inches of elastic, you’ll have to stretch the elastic as you sew to make it fit.

10. This step takes some wrangling. With the seam of the elastic pinned to the back seam of the skirt, sew them together with a zig-zag stitch, stretching the elastic to fit the skirt material. To get even distribution of the fabric, it helps to divide the the elastic and fabric into fourths.

11. My stitching doesn’t look pretty, but that’s okay because the top edge of the skirt gets folded down, enclosing the elastic.

12. Pin the front center portion of the skirt between the folds in place. It should be much less gathered than the rest of the skirt, and you want to keep it that way.

13. Switch to your sewing machine’s stretch stitch. The symbol looks like three parallel lines of stitching on my machine:

14. Except for between the front folds, sew the skirt fabric to the elastic 2 inches below the top edge, stretching the elastic to fit the fabric as you sew.

15. Hem the bottom edge and the back slit, and you’re done!

Looking for more tutorials and DIY projects? Check out my What I Made page!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2010 10:19 am

    Thanks so much for these instructions – this skirt looks beautiful and I want to make it! Unfortunately, mine needs to be a bit larger than yours :( Could you tell me how much larger than your hip size you cut the fabric width? That way I can gauge how wide I must cut my fabric.

    Thanks so much for your help – I love looking at all your clothes and I like the fact that you use “recycled” items!!! Great!


    • October 27, 2010 11:17 am

      Hi Barbara. Thanks so much for your kind comments!

      The width of the skirt is about 3-4 inches wider than my hips. Good luck with yours, and let me know how it turns out!

  2. November 5, 2010 3:51 pm

    Hi Rachel – I did it!!! And it’s absolutely perfect :) Except for my stupidity of sewing the elastic to the wrong side of the fabric, all went very smoothly (I always seem to have to do things twice to figure them out correctly!) But even with the elastic wrong, it looked great! Ha! Ha! Luckily, I made this mistake on a muslin protype. Off to make a real one now with some black gabardine fabric – I was in need of some new skirts and these are perfect! Thanks again!!!
    BTW, I have listed you in my blogroll so that I can get inspired by all your posts!!!

    • November 5, 2010 5:38 pm

      Barbara, I’m so glad it worked for you! I made mistakes on my first prototype, too, so don’t feel bad.

      Thanks for linking!

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