Now that you’ve met Shirley Will of Faery Craft, let’s get on with how to make a petticoat.
Petticoats Are Sew Awesome, Let’s Learn How to Make One! (Part 2)
What You Need:
- 8 or 9 yards of 72″ wide netting (tulle, crinoline, etc) – I use very stiff netting and advise my customers to wear stockings so it won’t feel scratchy. For a friend’s wedding, though, I used a softer chiffon; she’s on the autism spectrum and needs non-scratchy fabrics no matter how many layers. It didn’t “poof” as much, but it still looked gorgeous.
- For the waist layer, you can use a different fabric, such as wedding satin – One or two yards is fine, depending on your measurements. You’ll be doing the calculations first, so you’ll know in advance how much you need. If you go this route, you’ll only need 8 yds of netting for the ruffles.
- 48 yds of ribbon for the hem – I use a narrow ribbon, either ⅜” or ½”. You can use either a matching or contrasting ribbon.
- Wide, double-faced satin ribbon or blanket binding, a couple of inches larger than your waist measurement – You can also double over a strip of fabric to make your own waistband, but after dealing with all the ruffles, you’re not going to want to deal with much else.
- One or two large sew-in snaps – depending on the width of your waist ribbon.
- Sewing thread – matching or contrasting, depending on the look that you want.
- Lots and lots of straight pins
- Rotary cutter – You’re really going to want one of these. If you don’t have one and want to start a petti before you can buy one, see if you know someone who will let you borrow theirs. You can certainly cut the strips with scissors, but the cutter makes it so much easier that it’s ridiculous.
- A way to measure your strips as you cut – You’ll see me using a rotary cutting mat, and it has gridlines on it. These are pricey as heck, so if you don’t have one yet, I’d suggest faking it. You can mark out the width you need with masking or painter’s tape, which works on cutting tables, floors, and even carpet. You’ll need to maintain a constant, even width, so doing all this is to your benefit, trust me.
OK, got everything? Let’s get to cutting!
You’re going to need a total of 8 very long strips of fabric; 9″ wide and 8 yds long. For a shorter petti you can use narrower strips, but generally the length of your skirt depends on how long your waist layer is. This is why I sew up the ruffles first; it comes in handy in figuring out how much length you still need. Oh I know, you can measure it all out beforehand – but reality sometimes messes with you, and this way is much easier.
OK, so there’s my pile of 8 yds of net. Now to unfold it. I cut one layer at a time. They all NEED to be exactly the same width, or else parts of your petti are going to be shorter than others. How do I know this? NO REASON, LET’S MOVE ON, SHALL WE. *wink*
Here’s one strip cut and folded up off to the side, and the second strip started. I use a metal yardstick to hold the edge down. I put my left hand over to the other side of the 9″ mark to steady it, but be sure not to pull, because netting will stretch a bit. Now sometimes my cut line does wobble, but I haven’t strayed more than ¼”, so I should be OK when I stitch the layers together.
You’ll get exactly eight 9″ wide strips out of a length of 72″ wide netting. Get that all out of the way first; this part doesn’t take any brainpower, but it is the most annoying; it’s all cake & pie from here! 🙂
Maybe they won’t be ALL 9″ since netting bolts usually say ’70-72″ width’. But that’s ok, most of them are close!
Do your six strips for the bottom ruffle at 9″. Measure what you have left. Mine wasn’t a full 18″, it was only 15″. So, I cut it down the middle for my two strips for the middle layer, which is now 7 ½” wide.
Now that they’re all cut, sew the strips together – sew two together and set aside, then sew the other six into one big, long strip. This is what I do, but if you only want to gather half the petticoat at a time, leave the two middle fabric strips alone, and sew the other six into two 3-piece strips.
I use a light-weight needle on my machine, like for chiffon. I don’t put a stabilizer or anything under it; it’s never been a problem for me.
I sew a straight stitch seam down, just my normal stitch length. I keep my left hand on the fabric to guide it, but don’t pull tight, or it might pucker.
Without cutting the thread, pull the fabric toward you, turning so that you can sew the seam allowance down. Open up the fabric and lay flat, pushing the seam flat off to one side. I try to push all the seams in the same direction, but when all the ruffles are gathered, you really won’t be able to tell.
Once you’re in position, sew down on top of the seam allowance to keep it flat. I use a zig-zag stitch here, but you can use an overlock stitch or even a decorative one. I use a cute vine-style stitch for my wedding pettis.
Now the fun part (or “fun” depending on how you deal with repetitive action, lol). I knit and crochet, too, so I’m good with it. If you’re not, just keep reminding yourself how cute it will be when it’s done.
The no-gather technique is this … find the middle of each set of strips. Pin together with right sides together; this will be the edge that the seam will be on. Here’s a pic of the two middles. Yes, I commandeer the whole living room floor for this! If you have a nice recliner or something, you can drape the excess fabric over the arms.
Now, without twisting the strips, slide your fingers along the edges until you find the beginning of the strip. I work to the left, but it really doesn’t matter. Pin together right sides together like you did with the middles.
In the picture above we see the middles pinned together, and off to the left, the beginning of each strip. In the center, the piles netting left to pin. I did say you’d need lots and lots of pins! If you’re only working with half the petticoat at a time, it will look the same, but the fabric piles will be smaller.
OK, now. See those piles of fabric strips? Time to find the center of each one! I do the top first, since it’s smaller. I pull the two pinned pieces together, and keeping it folded, slide my fingers along the edges until I reach the center. I mark the center with a pin, and let the two edges fall back open when I set it down. Sometimes I’ll actually pin it to the arm of the couch or something so I don’t lose track of it.
Then, I move to the other pile of fabric and, using the exact same technique, find the center. When you do, mark it with a pin in case you drop it. Not that I do this all the time or anything. But I do.
There’s the second set of “middles”, with the beginning of the strips off to the left there. Mine are pinned to the carpet, right sides up. It doesn’t matter how you keep track of the right sides/ top of strip, as long as you do. It’s easiest for me to make sure the head of the pin is on the right side, but if you have a different way that works for you, go for it. The only thing that matters it that it makes the process easier for you!
When you find and pin the centers, it doesn’t have to be done with mathematical precision. You’re just ensuring that you have an even distribution of ruffles all around your petticoat. Some video tutorials of ruffles start with people just sitting down at the sewing machine and scrunching up the longer side as they go. This stresses me out! I keep thinking “how do you know it won’t be more ruffly on one side?” “how do you make sure you don’t end up with extra at the end?” Well, this is what I do.
Eventually, you’ll be able to just stretch out both arms and reach both “middles”. Here, the midpoint that you’re looking for, of the center petti tier, is to the left, and the one of the bottom tier is to the right.
This is about as close together as you want to get your pins. I used to pin them down flat into pleats, but it doesn’t make any difference in the way the finished petti looks, so now I just scrunch it up and guide it under the presser foot as I sew. Much like those brave video tutorial teachers, but with pins in the middle to keep me from scrunching too much or too little.
Keep pinning, moving to the right, continuing to find the centers of the pinned … loops, I guess? You’re going to end up with a top strip that lays flat, with the much larger bottom ruffle pinned in even bunches on top of it. At this point, I’m settled in with a nice beverage, with many, many yards of tulle draped all around me. When I get everything to the absolute center pinned, I’ll have to stand up to start finding the centers again. I’ll continue to pin from the left to the right, so that by the time I’m done, I’ll be at the opposite edge of the petticoat.
At this point, you probably see the advantage of doing half of the petti ruffles at a time. I’ve done it, it is easier. When you get both halves pinned and the seams sewn, you then sew the two halves together at one of the side seams.
All pinned? Sew the seam along the top the same way you did between the strips. The initial seam is done with a straight stitch, sewing down all the scrunches/gathers. When you’re done, open it up so the fabric is flat, push the seam allowance down, and go over it with a zig-zag stitch, or whatever you’re using. I push the seam downward toward the hem, but like I said before, it doesn’t really matter; you can’t really tell when it’s finished.
It does make a difference if you don’t sew it down at all. Not only does it look more polished, but it’s more comfortable to wear, especially if you’ve used a stiff crinoline.
Well, we’ve reached the end of Part 2 of constructing a petticoat! Part 3 will arrive soon. We’ll see you then.
Photos belong to Shirley Will of Faery Craft.
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