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How to Make a Drawstring Skirt

The drawstring skirt is about the easiest thing in the world to make, so it’s a great starting point for building up your “sewing without a pattern” confidence. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the least flattering skirts to wear. It will pass for an underskirt, and it’s good if you’re in a hurry or sewing for children. (You might, however, have to explain the idea of drawstrings to the child repeatedly, as I found out during Oliver! – children have grown up in some sort of “all elastic, all the time” universe and are confounded by clothing that needs periodic adjustments. “My skirt fit yesterday and today it falls off.” “Did you tie the drawstring?” “Yes.” “Tight?” “Yes!” “Really?” “Um….”)

You will need the following measurements:
  1. Waist to Ground Length
During this demo, I use the following skills:
  1. Zig-Zag Edges
  2. Using the Selvedge Edge
  3. Hand-worked Eyelets

In addition to all your normal sewing stuff, you should have a large, blunt tipped need available, or a really enormous shoe-lace.  Here we go!

cut panes for skirt
Cut the panels for the skirt. If your waist to ground measurement is greater than 44", you will need to cut two panels (45" wide by your Waist to Ground + 1"). If your Waist to Ground is 44" or less, cut one long panel up the side of the fabric (90" long and your Waist to Ground +1" wide). If you have two panels, pin them together along the selvedge edges. If you have one panel, fold it in half so the two shorter sides meet and pin them together.You win, because you don't have to hem your skirt.

Those numbers are for human sizes, btw. For a doll, you only need to add a half inch to the Waist to Ground measurement. (I’ve cut two panels, even though I’m working with a doll. I’m not entirely sure why I’m choosing to sew more seams than I have to, but it does make it easier to see that there’s a front and a back, I guess.)

panels pinned together
If you have two panels, pin them together along the selvedge edges. If you have one panel, fold it in half so the two shorter sides meet and pin them together.
panels sewn together
Sew the pined edge (or edges) together. If you are sewing two panels, you win - your edges are on the selvedge, and need no finishing. If you have one panel, you should at least zig-zag over the edges of your seam allowance.

I should note something here: selvedge edges sometimes shrink at a different rate to the rest of the fabric in the wash. Some people choose to cut them off rather than use them for this reason. I find that with a plain weave cotton broadcloth, it’s usually not a problem, so I leave them because that’s one less place I have to sew. With something complicated, like a brocade, it’s generally best to avoid them. You shouldn’t be making a skirt like this out of brocade anyway. It will look a mess. Plain-weave cotton, like broadcloth or calico, is definitely your best bet on a drawstring skirt. If you’re planning on going to a ren faire, try to avoid anything with little flowers or patterns on it. Trust me – you’ll end up looking sort of “little renaissance festival on the prairie”. Even if your fest is on a prairie, it’s just not right.

zig-zag stitches over top edge
You need to prepare the top edge of the skirt to become a drawstring casing. Start by running a wide zig-zag stitch over the edge to secure the threads and prevent fraying. (If you have a one-panel skirt, do this on the edge that is not the selvedge.)
top edge folded
Fold the top edge down 1" towards the inside, assuming you're working with human sizes. I'm working to doll size right now, which is why this doesn't really look like a full inch - it's a half inch. This fold will form your drawstring casing.
center front with pins
Locate the center front of your skirt. For a two panel skirt, fold it so that the seams are one on top of the other - the front is on a fold. For a one panel skirt, the front is directly opposite the seam. Pin at the center front line. Also pin just below the middle of your turn-down. These pins are on the outside, and mark the location of eyelets for the drawstring.
hand bound eylets
Make eyelets on either side of the center line, above the second pin. These should only go through one layer of fabric! I've used hand-bound eyelets, but you could also use a machine button hole stitch.

Hand bound eyelets, through a fabric this thin, take about a minute each once you learn how to do them. They look nifty, and they stand up to a lot of strain. You can learn how to make them by following the Skills links at the top of the article.

sewing the drawstring casing
Once your eyelets are in place, pin the 1" fold all around the inside of the skirt and sew 1/4" from the zig-zag edge to make a casing. (In doll-land, that's a 1/2" fold and 1/8" away.)
needle with blunt tip
You'll need a large needle with a blunt tip to thread a cord through the casing. (Or you can do what I normally do at human sizes, which is to use a super-jumbo boot lace for the drawstring. The stiff ends act like a built in needle!)
the drawstring in the skirt
The drawstring should be fed into one eyelets, all the way around the casing, and back out the other side.

Yay! You’re done! Well, that is, if you have a one panel skirt with selvedge at the bottom, you’re done because that selvedge is your hem. If you couldn’t get away with that trick, you’ll need to add a hem. ┬áThe bare minimum you can do is to run a zig-zag stitch over the edge, as we did for the waist casing. Personally, I’d recommend a turned hem – it’s a really good skill to learn anyway, and it’s not too traumatizing. ;)

closeup of drawstring being worn
To wear this skirt, use the drawstring to pull the skirt close to the waist. Try to distribute the fabric evenly around your body. (Don't forget your back side!)
drawstring skirt being worn by a doll
The finished drawstring skirt, being modeled with a drawstring chemise. All tiesey-downsies, all the time.

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