the beginning

The great wool tidy has revealed many treasures (as well as plenty for recycling) including this summery watermelon fabric and a pretty blue paisley that looks oh so French.  They’re cotton – and that bubbly sort of fabric – oh, what’s it called?  I can never remember, but have loved it ever since my Mum bought me a pair of pink and white stripe tailored shorts in it when I was 11.  Begins with an “s” … it will come to me.

Two metres of each fabric – perfect for a twirly skirt just like this long time favourite.  And perfect for the exceedingly hot summer we are having – lovely and soft and floaty and long – ‘t’will both keep the sun off and a breeze circulating :-)

I’ve made lots of these skirts – they are a little time consuming only in that it’s amazing how long it can take to gather up length after length after length of fabric – but they are so simple and can be dressed up or down to wear anywhere.  The only sizing is in the waist – and that’s elastic.  I’ve made Abby the most over the years – this little Aunt Grace number is still a favourite that she now wears with knee high black lace up boots and a little cropped jacket (I know – how they grow up).


I made a beautiful red, cream and black one for Mum one Christmas that she wears in winter with black opaque tights and a black turtleneck, and of course the original one I made with Ruth in class – that was such a lovely morning and such a delight to be able to simply wander upstairs to all the beautiful fabrics and trims when I needed something.  Oh if only all our sewing could be done with such treasures at hand :-)


You can use as many different fabrics as you like and completely go to town on the trim if you want.  I decided to keep this watermelony one pretty simple – given there was no more than 2 metres of any trim anywhere in Bootville, keeping it simple meant I didn’t have to go to the fabric store and spend money.  Of course, I may do this tomorrow, but for now, simple it is.

And, it occurred to me as I was slicing up the fabric, that you might like to make one too.  So here’s a really simple tutorial for how to make up your own.  Starting with … clear your sewing table.  This is so empowering :-)

ready to start

Then … cut the fabric!  I use a rotary cutter and quilting ruler.  Can you read that below?  Ignore that big 6.01 that’s staring out at you from the middle background.  I don’t know why it won’t go away.  Just choose your fabrics – order them from tiers one to six, fold them like you would your patchwork fabric (i.e. selvedges together, folded once, then twice, place your quilting ruler at the appropriate mark and with your rotary cutter, slice straight across the width of the fabric so you wind up with a piece that is – if we’re talking about tier 1 – 8 long x 42 inches wide.

Now – a word about this tier one piece.  It will be the yoke of the skirt.  When I was first shown how to make the skirt, I was told to cut just one width for the yoke ’cause you don’t want a lot of bulk around your waist.  However, these days (after a massive FAIL at losing weight last year – I have lost 4 kilos this year, but we still have a waaaaaay to go) one width only just makes it around my hips (well, lower stomach really, it’s a very strange thing my lower stomach).  I did cut this watermelony tier one piece just one width but it’s a bit snug.  I would recommend adding an extra bit of fabric just to keep it comfy – and eliminate the “fitted look” – if you find that one width is just a bit too close.  I reckon, measure your widest bit and add an extra 10 inches, don’t you think, in which case you’ll need two widths of 8 inches – one full one and one that you’ll use a bit of.

cutting instructions

Gathering – now that you’ve cut your pieces, the rest is just a repeat of side seams + gathering threads + gathering to size + stitching to previous tier.  Do your side seams first – you stitch each tier piece together so that they form a giant ring – and make sure you don’t twist the pieces or it will be like a piece of knitting joined in the round – an upside down twist that will be impossible to fix without unpicking.  Just be mindful.  And you probably have your gathering completely sorted.  But just in case you don’t, here’s a few strategies I’ve developed over the years …

::  I always do two rows of gathering thread at the longest stitch my machine will do, leaving nice long tails at both ends.  Now when I was a wilful teenager, I didn’t believe my Mum when she told me I needed two rows of gathering thread – I thought that was a waste of bobbin thread and my valuable time.  But she was right – one row makes mincy looking gathers that can’t be spread out as evenly and don’t sit as neatly.   Two rows it is.  Use a colour thread you don’t care about and wonder why you bought it – that way you won’t feel cheated as you race through it.

where to sew the gathering thread

:: It doesn’t matter how many widths of fabric I am gathering, I NEVER use two continuous rows of gathering thread.  You are almost guaranteed to snap the thread somewhere – and will have to start again – and it makes pulling it up a pain in the butt.  I ALWAYS stop and start at the beginning and end of each side seam.  So – in Tier 2 – which has 2 widths of 8 inches – I will start and stop twice.  That way I only have to pull up one width of fabric at a time.  In Tier 6 – which has 5 widths of fabric of 7 inches – I will start and stop 5 times.

:: To evenly distribute my gathers I do a little maths.  How wide is the previous tier – let’s say tier 4 – each width is 122cm wide and I have three pieces  = 366cm.  How many pieces are there in tier 5 which will need to stitch on to tier 4 – 4 pieces.  So I divide the bottom of tier 4 into 4 – 366 divided by 4 = roughly 91.5cm.  So starting at my central side seam (I always line up one side seam on each tier and call this the central side seam) I measure 91.5 and place a pin, then measure 91.5cm again and place a pin, and measure again and place a pin – and of course the last one will be back at your central side seam.  Then I pin tier 5 into place – the side seams of each tier 5 piece will match up to a pin on the tier 4 piece.  You with me ?!  So now you know your gathered pieces need to fit within these spaces.  Which leads me to …

:: Gathering it up!  First – will your fabric fray?  If it is of that persuasion, then please zigzag the edges first – I know, more thread, more time.  But if you’re fussing with the gathers for a while, some fabrics will nastily fray all the way down to your gathering stitches and that isn’t fun.

Second – I always pull from the left side so on the right side I tie a knot with the two ends from my two rows on top.  This way, when I’m cheerfully spreading my gathers out nice and even, they don’t slip off the far end without me noticing.  That may send very silly – but I have done it!  Once that knot is tied, you can spread your gathers evenly right up to the end and they are going nowhere.

Now don’t just yank on the gathering thread at the left- there’s always a bit of resistance at first – start with a gentle pull to loosen the bobbin stitches underneath and then your gathering threads will slide through the fabric nicely.  I don’t worry about doing it all evenly in the beginning – waste of time.  I just pull up as much as I need to to make this width fit my designated space (remember our pins) and then when I have it the right size I tie a knot in the left hand two top threads and then my gathers will not fall out and I can spread the gathers evenly right up to both ends.  Pin, pin, pin and sew …

:: Final word on gathering – I always sew the new tier on with the gathered side up.  The flat side of the previous tier will sit nice and flat on the bottom with minimum supervision – the gathers themselves need a bit more of your attention.  I like to keep the tops of the gathers neatly aligned with the straight edge of the previous tier and make sure there are no strange skewif bits going on – you know, you want your gathers to lay in nice straight lines not go awkwardly sideways.  If they’re on the bottom it’s much harder to see what’s going on and I wind up needing to unpick and straighten.  Keep your gathers on top.

sew with the gathered side up pin both ends then gather in between swathes of fabric

So off you go – sew, sew, sew, gather, gather, gather, sew, sew, sew … I added a tier of green – one always needs a good grove of greenery to survive a hot day, don’t you think.

getting there ric rac

Okay.  All your tiers are on.  Now before you get excited about trim, overlock or zigzag your tier edges.  This uses even more cotton.  You will think the end will never come.  It does, but not til after school pickup.  Then, when your edges are beautifully neat, give the whole skirt a good press so that all those tiers are sitting FLAT.  There’s nothing like a good bash with the iron to make a piece of handmade clothing go from looking slightly clumsy with bumpy bits to being polished and professional :-)  Now you can put on your trim.


For the waist, overlock or zig zag the top edge then turn over enough to hold your elastic. Stitch close to the lower edge of your turnover, leaving a gap to thread your elastic through.  Thread your elastic – sew the ends together, making sure you don’t twist your elastic (I can’t count how many times I have twisted the jolly elastic – eternally frustrating).  Sew shut your gap.  Overlock or zig zag the bottom edge of the last tier and hem it, just on the machine – I did about 1cm.  I seriously considered not hemming after overlocking it, but Abby reckoned it looked dorky so I hemmed it.  I’m an obedient mama.  Again – endless stitching – you think you will never get back to the beginning – and you probably won’t before the bobbin runs out!  Argh!

wearing it

It’s ready to wear!  Yay!  It’s taken about 4 hours.  That’s not too bad huh!  I’m rather fond of that red ric rac – will definitely be getting more tomorrow – a nice round of red for each tier, yes?  Yes!  I’ll need about 15 metres just to be safe.

pulled out ballerina poseNow I’m ready to hit the beach on another weekend of temperatures over 40 celsius – in my floaty, twirly watermelon skirt.  And when I’ve lost a few more inches around the waist, I may even tuck in my t-shirt and add a belt :-0

Hope this is all clear – if there’s something I haven’t made easy to follow, send me an email at lily(at)blockaday(dot)com and I’ll do my best to set you straight.  And if you do make a twirly skirt, send me a photo – I’d love to see how YOU put your fabrics together and what kind of trims you find.  Enjoy!


watermelons for summer :: a twirly skirt

13 thoughts on “watermelons for summer :: a twirly skirt

  • February 1, 2014 at 5:31 am

    You look marvelous in your fun twirly skirt! Thank you very much for the directions. Perhaps when the sun turns my way, I’ll find some fun seersucker in my stash and attempt one. With the snow and cold here, I’m hunkering down with a soft quilt on my lap.

    • February 2, 2014 at 9:24 am

      It’s such a funny thing isn’t it, these opposite ends of the season. I look at people in the northern hemisphere – and whilst I know the cold has been fierce this year – it looks so beautiful that I have to kick myself to remind myself to enjoy OUR summer whilst we have it ’cause come our winter, I’ll be watching your summer with equal wistfulness. Completely batty! I do hope you try it – send me a photo if you do! Such good potential for using lots of lovely fabrics. Hope you are keeping warm with plenty of cosy past times and lovely warming food and drink.

    • February 2, 2014 at 9:21 am

      Thanks Jan! That last shot is me doing my ballet impression – it didn’t even last for 2 seconds :-)

  • February 1, 2014 at 10:25 am

    Thank you for the instructions, you make it look so easy.The new skirt looks very “Frida”, you might need to put on some South American music to make it feel at home: )
    I think I would like to make one from cotton voil, how cool and floaty would that be ? Yuuuum

    • February 2, 2014 at 9:20 am

      Ooooh cotton voile would be nice – there are so many pretty ones around at the moment. It does have that Mexican look doesn’t it. If only my hair was still long I could plait my hair up on my head and add a few hibiscus! I love the Frida look – she’s one of my style idols.

  • February 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm


    I love the skirt! You are so cute!

    • February 2, 2014 at 9:18 am

      Thanks Karen :-) Abby and I decided long ago that the gentle, wistful look just didn’t work for me so we just go for silly and fun! More like me in real life ;-) And seersucker – I looked it up – it comes from India and is a derivative of an Hindustani word – it refers to a lightweight cotton that is evenly puckered all other.

  • February 2, 2014 at 12:20 am

    And what if you put a yoke and straps on it and made it a dress? Too balloon-y? I thought of that because it almost looked like a strapless dress hanging on the line.

    • February 2, 2014 at 9:16 am

      What a lovely idea! I totally agree – and certainly not too balloony – shall add it to the list to try with the next set of unearthed fabric. Would be perfect for hot summer days and reminds me of the dresses my Mum wore in the 1970s.

  • February 2, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Thank you for such a wonderful tutorial to make such a fabulous skirt! I can’t wait for the warm sunny days so I can stitch one myself, hopefully it will look as fabulous as yours. Very handy tip of your mums to do two rows for gathering, it makes perfect sense. Hoping your days are a little cooler.

  • February 2, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Hi Lily,
    So nice to have you back and I do hope your Grandad is feeling so much better now. It was good that you were able to go up north with your Mum. Would loved to have been in the car listening to you two chatter away.
    And now the Twirly Skirt. How very sweet of you to write out all those directions. This will be on my to do list. I love your colour scheme and I think it looks very feminine. Flowy skirts make me feel that way.
    It’s been hot up here as well and we are in need of rain. Hosing the veggie garden is just not the same as a good fall of rain. Lots of produce flowing through our kitchen at the moment. My dehydrator is working non stop and tomatoes, beans, eggplants and many more goodies are being preserved for winter. We are having a battle with the parrots eating our fruit. They love to take just one bite and drop the fruit to the ground which is very frustrating and such a waste. I even made bags to cover the clumps of fruit this year (about 150 of them )in veggie net, but those rascals just chewed through the net. I think we’ll have to prune them heavily and cover them completely next year. Thanks again for your cheery post and when I make the Twirly Skirt, I’ll certainly send you a pic.
    Blessings Gail.

  • February 3, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    The fabric is seersucker and I have made serviettes from that exact fabric. They wash well and don’t really need ironing. I try not to use paper but don’t like to iron. I made 12 from that fabric which I bought from Spotlight. I have been making seersucker serviettes for about the last 40 years. How many trees would that be not chopped down?

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