The Secret to Making a Skirt With an Elastic Waist


Elastic waist skirts are great for casual wear and as the bottom half of a two piece dress. Lots of patterns for skirts with elastic waistbands are available for sale.

However, the truth of the matter is you can make practically any skirt with an elastic waistband without any pattern at all. In fact, it has been years since I used a pattern to make a plain elastic waist skirt.

If I decide I want a skirt that I can just step into and go about my business, I first decide if I want it to be straight, full or a-line.

Obviously, the straight elastic waist skirt is the easiest to make. When my granddaughter was four years old, I taught her how to make an a-line skirt.

She felt like a real grown up because she was able to wear something that she actually made all by herself.

Of course, at that age and size, she sat on my lap while i operated the foot pedal and helped her guide the fabric, making sure her fingers stayed out of the way of the needle.

Before You Get Started

Whether you are making an elastic waist skirt for yourself, a child or even a doll, the process is the same. You only need to take one measurement – the hips – and then determine the shape and how long you want it to be.

If you want pockets, you have the option of making your own pocket pattern or using a piece from your stash of pre-printed patterns.

If you follow these suggestions and cut the body of your skirt on the fold along the grainline you cannot go wrong.

The Waistband

  • The elastic

For waistbands, I use one inch non-roll elastic exclusively. A good rule of thumb for most adults is to cut the elastic six inches shorter than the actual waistline measurement and sew the ends together.

I use a close, wide zigzag stitch and use the reverse feature to go over it at least three or four times to make sure the elastic is secure enough to withstand the stress of normal wear.

There are two basic ways to make your elastic waist skirt… the fastest and easiest is what I call an attached waistband. I refer to the other as a separate waistband.

    • An attached waistband:

An attached waistband is made by simply folding ¼ inch of the fabric at the top of the skirt and pressing. Then fold the waistband again – this time over the elastic.

Sew along the fabric edge, stopping as necessary to assure that the needle is not catching the elastic and to maintain proper distribution of the elastic inside the waistband.

Depending upon the fabric you are using, and perhaps your mood at the time, you can use either an overcast, zigzag or straight stitch to encase the elastic.

    • The separate waistband:

When using the separate waistband technique, cut a three inch piece of fabric along the selvedge the same length as the skirt top measurement.

The next step is to close the short end of the waistband and attach it to the top of the skirt, with the right sides facing each other. Then insert the elastic as described above.

For a different effect, you could sew the right side of the waistband to the wrong side of the skirt. When the elastic is inserted, the result will be a waistband with a fringed edge between the band and the skirt.

Straight Skirts

For a straight skirt, add approximately four inches to your original hip measurement. You don’t want the skirt so tight that you cannot move, nor do you want it sagging, but you must have adequate room for seam allowances and moving about without feeling as if you will burst a seam if you attempt to sit down.

A straight skirt

A straight skirt

I generally save time by using one center seam in the back, but use side seams when adding pockets. Skirts that end above the knee generally do not have a slit.

However, a slit to allow for easy movement is required in any straight skirt that extends to or below the knee. The length of the skirt determines the depth of the slit.

If you want a slit to be at the left side rather than in the back, use two side seams rather than one seam in the center back. When making a slit, make sure you miter your corners at the hem. [See the detail in the photograph]

Miter the corners at the hem

Miter the corners at the hem

NOTE: If you are using just one center seam in your straight skirt, reduce your initial fabric measurement by 1 ½ or 2 inches before you cut to eliminate the possibility that the skirt will be on the baggy side.

Full Skirts

The only difference between making a straight skirt with an elastic waist and make a full skirt is the amount of fabric and the fact that no slit is necessary.

Full skirts can be as wide as you want them to be. The decision is entirely up to you. When making a full skirt with an elastic waist, however, think about the type of fabric you are using to determine which waistband to use.

Full Skirt

Full Skirt

A separate waistband is fine for soft, lightweight fabrics. However, when working with heavier fabrics, the attached waistband method is often more comfortable because there is less bulk around your waist.

A-Line Skirts

he process for cutting and assembling your a-line skirt is only slightly different from the steps needed to make a straight skirt. You will need side seams when making an a-line skirt.

Measure the distance between your waist and your hip then use your marking pen or tailor’s chalk to draw a line on your fabric from the widest point of your hip that gradually moves away from the straight skirt line to the point where your want your skirt hem to fall. Then add your hem allowance.

A-Line Skirt

A-Line Skirt

NOTE: When an a-line skirt is cut on the bias, it hugs the body, giving the wearer an appearance of increased height and a slimmer physique.

Other Skirt Options

There comes a time when you want to make a skirt, but you don’t want it to be traditional in any true sense of the word.

A few of the options available to you are shown in the following photos. They are easy and just as fast as the other skirts described in this section.

First is a straight skirt with a bit of a flare and a split. Rather than make it straight all the way down, I added a bit of flare – drawing a slight diagonal line from the point where the skirt hits the knee to ¾ inch below the hemline.

A straight skirt with a bit of a flare and a split

A straight skirt with a bit of a flare and a split

To make sure there is enough room to move comfortably, I also added a slit to the left side seam.

Next… a tiered skirt made with three layers of very thin cotton gauze fabric. The best way to make sure you are not showing more than you want to show or to avoid the need for a slip is to make sure your skirt does the job for you. This one calls for two yards of fabric.

A tiered skirt made with three layers of thin cotton gauze fabric

A tiered skirt made with three layers of thin cotton gauze fabric

The lower tier extends from the waist to just below the knee. The middle tier starts at the waist and stops slightly above the knee. The top layer goes from the waist to just below the hip line.

All three tiers are sewn together at the waist. Using the separate waistband method, attach the waistband and insert the elastic.

A third option is to use an alternative fabric source – perhaps one that may not have originally been intended to be used for clothing at all.

This skirt was originally a stole… one of my favorites, in fact. It got stained and had I not cut away the stained part and used the rest of the stole to make this skirt, I would have been forced to toss out the whole thing.

The fringed ends of the stole make an excellent hem

The fringed ends of the stole make an excellent hem

The fringed ends of the stole make an excellent hem, don’t you think? It also has a slit on the left side. Sexy, huh?


A skirt with elastic waistband will never replace the skirt with a tailored waistband and zipper, but it will always have a definite place in all of our closets.

By using the tips described above, you can save yourself lots of time and energy and increase the volume of your wardrobe with almost no effort at all.