The tiered skirt is a really easy project that is perfect for beginner sewists. It looks as great short as it does long. It can be sewn in any color, and it works with light to medium woven fabric. Want to elevate it? Just add ruffles/lace/rick rack/ribbon/hardware to go from peasant running up the hills alive with music to goth queen or steampunk explorer. This skirt can do anything, and it does it so well.
You must be thinking: What’s the catch? Nothing in life comes easy, and this skirt has its share of bumps on the road. I would not say so much bumps as gathers. There are lots and lots of gathers. The beautiful romantic look so characteristic of this skirt is achieved with lots of fabric, thread, and patience.
Even with all the gathering (and the veeeeeeeeeery long hem to sew), this is still a very simple project. If you know how to 1. sew a straight seam, 2. gather fabric, and 3. sew a narrow hem, you are highly qualified to sew a tiered skirt. If you finished either project for this series (the gathered skirt or the lined skirt), you have what it takes to make what is one of the most recognizable garments in modern fashion history.
Tiered Skirt Tutorial
What You Will Need
Light to mid-weight woven fabric like cotton, rayon or linen
Thread of the same color as your fabric
1 ½-inch elastic
For this sample, I used 2 ½ yards of black rayon.
The three measurements you will need are the waist, hips, and length of your skirt. You will use your waist measurement when cutting the elastic, but you will be using your hip measurement to determine the final waist measurement. This will allow you to pull the skirt over your hips without a problem.
If you need help self-measuring, the first post in this series, The Gathered Skirt, has a video that walks you through the process.
I had 2.5 yards of black rayon to work with. I wanted the fewest numbers of seams. My fabric being 56 inches wide, I decided to cut the panels for my skirt with the cross grain—I used the grain that runs perpendicular to the salvage. I cut the fabric in half following the selvage, and then cut each piece in half again. I ended up with four panels.
I used one panel for the first tier, the one with the waistband. This one was 50” wide by 14” long. For the next panel—the one in the middle—I kept the full 90 inches for the width; the final measurements of the panel were 90” wide by 14” long. The final panel was created combining two sections and sewing then together on the shorter edge. The final measurements came to 180” wide and 14” long.
Sewing the Skirt
Remember when I said I wanted to reduce the number of seams? Well, the idea of a skirt with just one side seam makes me… uneasy. The lack of symmetry would bother me till the end of time, so I just cut the one-panel pieces in two. This is what I ended up with:
First tier: Two panels 25” wide by 14” long.
Second timer: two panels 45” wide by 14” long
Third tier: Two panels 90” wide by 14” long
I serged all the raw edges for a nice finish. If you don’t have a serger, you can use pinking shears, or zigzag the edges. The main goal here is to prevent the fabric from unraveling or fraying.
This is the tier with the waistband. I pressed the waistband before sewing the side seams. This makes life easier because you don’t have to do it when working with a tube of fabric. I first pressed ¼” for a clear waistband finished; then, I folded and pressed another 1 ¾”—my elastic is 1 ½” wide, and I like having a bit of room when threading the elastic into the casing.
I sewed the side seams and then the waistband, making sure to leave an opening large enough to get the elastic in. I measured my waist, subtracted 2 inches, and cut my length of elastic with this measurement. I used a safety pin to thread the elastic and checked often as I was inserting it to prevent it from twisting inside of the casing.
Once the elastic was in, I brought the two ends together overlapping by one inch. Using a zig zag stitch, I sewed the ends of the elastic together and closed the waistband opening.
To make sure that the elastic will never get twisted, I attached the elastic permanently to the waistband with a row of stitches all around the waistband, right in the middle of it. It takes more work than just leaving the elastic as is since you have to stretch the elastic as you are sewing, but it is worth the trouble.
The top of the second tier has to be gathered to match the bottom of the first. I like sewing three rows of basting stitch as it gives me a lot more control when I start gathering. It is a HUGE pain, and I may have cursed while doing it, but the results are well worth the extra time and thread.
When sewing your rows of basting stitches, set your machine to the longest stitch length available. Make sure to leave long tails before and after you sew—you will be pulling them to create the gathers. Sew each row of stitches close to each other inside the seam allowance, but be careful to keep all three rows away from each other—or you will not be able to gather your fabric.
I prefer to sew my gathering rows before I sew the side seams whenever possible. I start and stop sewing at ⅝” from the edges. When I sew my panels together, I can get the gathers to the edge but not inside the seam allowances. I’d do pretty much anything to avoid sewing in a round.
To make gathering easier and more even, I place a pin marking center front and back on both tiers. Then, I gather from each side seam to the center. If you want even more guidance, place another pin between each side seam and the center of each section.
I gathered each panel before I sewed the side seams. By the time I had the side seams done, I was very close to being done with the second tier. Just some minor adjustments to the gathers, and it was time to move on to the final tier.
This is what I will affectionately refer to as Tier of Doom. Sewing three rows of basting stitches on each 90-inch panel and then hemming 180 inches of fabric… Holy cat, that was something!
Because I wanted to hem this tier before gathering, I had to sew the side seams before anything else. For my narrow hems, I serge the raw edge and fold and press twice using the serged edge as my guide. I hemmed the tier before gathering because if I left the hemming for later, I would have never done it.
Gathering such a large tube was not fun, so prepare yourself. Three rows of gathered stitch per side, 90 inches each row. That is a whole lot of gathering. And thread. And patience. The process is going to be a beast of a task; it is not difficult, just time- and patience-consuming.
Here, the trick of using pins as notches to guide your gathering will be particularly helpful. There is a lot of fabric to gather; knowing where the panels must match will lead to gathers that are evenly distributed.
Notes on Gathering
- I like to sew with the gathered piece facing up. This allows me to hold the gathers as I sew, keeping them straight. The main problem with this method is that you need to be very careful with the bottom layer. I caught some extra fabric while sewing both tiers and had to unpick.
- Do not remove the gathering threads until after you sew the tiers together. I wait until the whole garment is ready before doing so. It is my insurance in case anything goes wrong.
- There are many gathering techniques. I have a whole post about it. You can read and decide which method works best for you.
The last step is to sew the third tier to the second one. And that’s it!
The Tiered Skirt
Now that my skirt is ready, I think that the first tier is just too long. I wear fairly long tees and shirts, and the combination of a long top with a low hip does not work for me. All I have to do is bring up the waist by a few inches. Easy peasy.
This skirt is worth the time and fabric investment. It can be dressed down with a black tee or be worn to a club with a corset. The best part about the tiered skirt is that it is super versatile (much like the gathered skirt and the lined skirt, the previous two projects in this series). Changing the fabric, length, or even the color will give it a totally different vibe. I’m already planning a shorter version in brown to satisfy my steampunk needs.
I hope you will try this tutorial. This is a simple project with very impressive results.