How to Sew a Tiered Plisse Skirt
Fall is usually the time for school to start up again, but for others it can be the start of new jobs and careers right after graduating in the spring. There’s never anything wrong with outfits that look good without sacrificing comfort, and for those taking their first steps into a real working environment, it’s important to consider this when updating your wardrobe to something both mature and business stylish!
The Resort ’17 runway line-up from Emanuel Ungaro showed us that proper use of black fabric is always powerful and stylish, and that goes double for when it’s worn in the workplace. I was inspired by the elegant feel and look of his dresses, and this dress specifically had a tight waistband with flowing tiers that gives a flattering form to anyone who wears it.
However, having all of those layers would make it difficult to wear such a beautiful dress like this when you’ve got a busy schedule to run around with (like getting in and out of your car), and so I wanted to try to make a shorter design that had the flexibility for an active day while maintaining the chic and neat features of Ungaro’s design.
I opted for adding the tie around the waistband because, while I wanted to incorporate the gathered look from Ungaro’s design, I decided that I wanted the waistband to have a stable form that would keep its shape to whoever wears it. Installing a zipper allows the wearer to get in and out of the dress easily without having to sacrifice the sturdiness of a shaping fabric, and having the longer ties lets you wrap around multiple times to get that “gathered” look. Plus, it can be worn by a variety of body types! What’s not to love about that?
Black fabrics have a wide range of sheen available to play with depending on which one you go with. You know how some black fabrics look like a different “black” than others? That’s because the sheen, the amount of light that reflects off the fabric, makes the shade look different. Playing with this quality can be lots of fun, and I wanted to bring that feature into this design. That’s why I chose to go with a cotton Sateen in black for the waistband and a polyester Plisse in black for the skirt. The Sateen provides great shape to the wearer, and the Plisse looks similar to Ungaro’s original design with it’s soft, gathered pleats.
This will be a full tutorial, so get ready to read and get ready to sew!
The pattern pieces consist of the WAISTBAND, TIERS 1-3, and the TIES, so five pieces in total, numbered 1-5 respectively. I’ll outline each one here and also provide a diagram for you to look at. It might be a lot of information, and I apologize, but I want to make sure you don’t make the same goof-ups I did while making this! I will be giving dimensions for the pieces as length by width (or L x W).
The pattern was drafted from scratch, but I had two goals in mind while designing the draft: one was that I wanted to make this accessible for anyone from beginners and pros, and two, I wanted to make a design that was accessible for a variety of body types. This pattern can be adjusted very easily to your figure, so even though the measurements I used might seem smaller, don’t be discouraged—please try it! The design was centered around basic shapes and it’s honestly just a bunch of rectangles.
Tip: If you’re low on drafting paper (or just never have any at home like me, because I’m too cheap to invest in it) pattern drafts can be made with just newspaper, a yard stick, and a marker/pencil (using a marker on newspaper will come out better)! No darts were included with this pattern, and as long as you cut even and straight, you don’t have to worry about marking the fabric so it lines up together easily!
Piece 1—"WAISTBAND”: Cut 1 (36” x 8”) rectangle in Sateen
Piece 1 should be 8” wide, and its length should be your HIP measurement. To avoid making the WAISTBAND too small, it’s safer to make the WAISTBAND piece as long as the TIER pieces. For my run of this pattern, I initially did 32”, but this was too small. I should’ve gone with 36” (I’m a 30” waist measure). The final product will have the TIES, so you don’t have to worry so much about the WAISTBAND being narrow enough.
Having this wiggle room accounts for the seam allowance and breathing space needed for the final product to fit comfortably, so make sure to include it! When cutting the fabric, lay the pattern piece and cut it out along the weft, meaning that the fabric should stretch along the length of the pattern piece.
In the finished product, the WAISTBAND will be half this width, so if you’re planning to adjust the size, go into it knowing that the final piece will be half of what you’re looking for. For example, if you wanted the final WAISTBAND to be 5” wide instead of 4” (like this tutorial’s), then you would cut a pattern piece for a 10” wide piece.
Tip: Don’t overestimate Sateen’s stretch—it does not stretch as much as you might think, say, a knit or jersey would, but that’s good; the waistband on this keeps a nice shape while still stretching just that little bit you need to be comfortable.
You can increase or decrease the width of the WAISTBAND to your liking, too; I would suggest that if your waist is a bit wider, increase the width. This may help the skirt look a bit more balanced on your figure. But not too wide—too much visual weight on the waistband will outshine the beauty of the Plisse skirt!
Piece 2—"TIER 1": Cut 1 (36” x 8”) rectangle in Plisse
It is mandatory to cut these pieces with the Plisse pleats running vertical (up and down).
Piece 2 will be the smallest TIER in the look, and you should make sure that you have enough length for the piece to wrap around your hips comfortably. It should not fit tight like a pencil skirt—there should be enough breathing room that it flows gently over your figure. My waist measurement is a comfortable 30”, and I went with a full yard to make sure the pleats of the Plisse would be visible. This 6” difference in measurement may or may not work for you: make sure to check your paper pattern against your frame first before cutting your fabric.
Piece 3—"TIER 2": Cut 1 (36” x 15”) rectangle in Plisse
Piece 4—“TIER 3”: Cut 1 (36” x 24”) rectangle in Plisse
Piece 5—"TIES": Cut 2 (60” x 6”) rectangle in Sateen
It is very important that the length for this piece of the pattern is twice your waist measurement!
The TIES in the final product are intended to wrap around multiple times, so make sure to account for it! The TIES will be folded in half like the WAISTBAND in the final product, so keep this in mind if you decide to increase the width of the TIES!
Also make sure to cut Piece 5 with the weft (so that the fabric stretches long-ways). If the length starts to get to be too big for one piece, it’s okay to break it into smaller pieces (you’ll just have to sew the pieces together in the 60”x6” shape before starting the sewing tutorial down below).
TUTORIAL BEGINS HERE
Important Notes Before Sewing!
Make sure to use a ZigZag Stitch (I used a 2.0 width on my machine) when sewing anytime on the Plisse! You want to make sure it can still stretch in the final product. 2. Hemming the edges of the skirt’s TIERS is optional. You can hem it, but in my version, I didn’t. Plisse does not fray, so it’s not entirely necessary!
After cutting out your fabric, you’re ready to begin.
All future references to Pattern Pieces (i.e. WAISTBAND, TIER 1-3, TIES) will refer to your fabric cut-outs. All future measurements will be according to the ones that I used. I will provide notes for adjustments when needed.
PART I: Prep the Pieces
Take Pieces 2-4 and pin the shorter edges together, WRONG sides together. Leave about 4” unpinned; you will not be sewing the entire raw edge here, because this is where the zipper will be going later. Set to the side.
Fold Piece 5 in half long-ways. Pin the open ends together with the right sides together. Do this for both Piece 5’s.
PART II: Sewing Part I
Using a straight stitch, sew down along the pinned edges of Pieces 2-4 that you pinned in PART I using a 5/8’s seam allowance. Remember to leave the 4” of the edge open—DO NOT SEW HERE! Put these pieces to the side.
Using a small-medium ZigZag stitch, sew along the open edges of Pieces 5 and ONE opening at the end of each. After sewing the corner, trim the extra fabric left in the seam allowance and cut a small nip NEAR the corner of the strap. This will help it keep its shape.
Once you’ve trimmed down the length of the strap, turn it inside out. This can be time consuming, but it is possible. After you work most of the strap to be right side out, use something like a dowel and GENTLY push into the closed corners to help define the shape of the strap.
Press the straps with an iron on medium heat, making sure the seam is hidden like in the picture.
STEP III: Assembling the Skirt
Take Pieces 2-4 and line them up at the waistline, right sides facing out. Piece 4 should be inside, followed by Piece 3, and then Piece 2. You should be able to see the “tiered look” coming together now.
Make sure to first pin Pieces 2-4 at the open edges—remember that this is where the zipper will line up—then find the middle of the raw edge and pin the three layers together. I promise, this will make things a little easier.
Next, take Piece 1 and line up one of the longer edges along the Plisse fabric, RIGHT sides facing each other, and pin the four layers together. Pin all around so the four layers lay nice and flat together. You may have to gather the Plisse to help it lay flat. Plisse is kind of forgiving in this case in that it’s already folded, so having a little more tucks and folds doesn’t look unnatural or messy!
After you’re satisfied with your pinning, sew along the pinned edge with a small ZigZag stitch.
STEP V: Adding the Zipper
(This photo has some steps already taken in it, because I forgot to take a picture before I went to work on it. Sorry!)
Fold the Sateen WAISTBAND in half and mark with a pin where it folds. This is where the zipper is going to start. Do the same on the other side of the WAISTBAND.
Then, take your 9” invisible zipper and unzip it. With the skirt inside-out, pin the zipper to the opening we’ve been working around, right sides together. If you’re unfamiliar with sewing invisible zippers or zippers in general (like I was before this project!), follow this link here to our post about Zippers!
A few important notes:
Make sure that you line the teeth of the zipper at the middle point of the WAISTBAND piece (where you marked with a pin before).
BEFORE INSTALLING THE ZIPPER, but AFTER PINNING THE ZIPPER DOWN, take your TIES and sneak one underneath the Zipper on each side. It should look like a sandwich of layers: WAISTBAND-->TIE-->Zipper.
Tip: If you find that the zipper is too long for the open edge we left in the Plisse fabric earlier, don’t panic! You can easily use a seam ripper and rip the seam down the TIER pieces to make room for it.
STEP V: Finish the WAISTBAND
Keep the zipper unzipped and turn the skirt right-side-out.
Now fold the top raw edge of the WAISTBAND down about ¾” towards the Plisse skirt and press it flat with an iron. Please do this. Please. Sateen irons so easily and it looks so nice. (I pinned mine to make it easier to iron).
The next thing to do is fold the WAISTBAND towards the Inside of the skirt and pin that beautiful ironed edge we just finished along the raw Plisse edge of the skirt TIERS.
After you fold the WAISTBAND, fold the edge of the WAISTBAND that the zipper is along towards the middle of the WAISTBAND. This will hide the raw edge and make everything look nice and neat.
MAKE SURE that the raw Plisse edges point up towards the WAISTBAND and line up the WAISTBAND pressed fold to the inside of the skirt with the WAISTBAND seam that you see on the outside of the skirt. Pin it down the entire length of the skirt’s waistline.
After you pin it down all the way around, you’re going to top stitch. Yes, do it. Please trust me. Top-stitching is so good. Line up your sewing machine needle at the top of the Zipper and use a straight stitch to sew down along the zipper until the end of the WAISTBAND, then turn 90-degrees and stitch along that nice edge, pulling JUST A LITTLE BIT to keep what stretch the Sateen can still offer. It will make a difference!
Now, you could end here if you wanted to! Or not! It’s up to you. There was one more step I took.
STEP V: Finishing the TIERS
You have two options here: Ironing the TIER edges or hemming them. If you’re going to hem them, I suggest doing a rolled hem, but I chose to go with ironing the edges to get the flared pleats from Ungaro’s design.
This ironing effect takes minimal effort, but it can take a little time, because it’s a repetitive process. You have to be careful doing it, too, because it involves using an iron.
If you look at the bottom of each TIER on my skirt in the final product photo, the edges flutter out a bit. I did this by using the edge of my iron and pressing it out and away from the skirt so that the fabric stretches nicely.
IMPORTANT: Don’t use a high heat setting for this! It could burn or melt your fabric since it’s polyester. Be gentle with your fabrics and treat them nicely. Do this for each TIER, all the way around.
Tip: This is a simplified way I ended up doing this with by the end. Place the edge of your iron on the edge of the TIER, pull both sides of the Plisse out and away from the iron (to the sides), and then place your free hand on the Plisse to hold it in place. Press and slide the iron AWAY from your hand, and the Plisse will stretch and flatten nicely in the way that we want! Repeat this process for each TIER all the way around.
And now you should be done! Make sure to test your zipper and see that it zips up nicely. After that, all that’s left is to put it on and look cute.