exposed waistband skirt tutorial

One of my most well-worn skirts is a very simple pleated cotton thing with an exposed elastic waistband. My friend Elin actually has the same skirt, and since we both love it so much and it looked so easy to recreate, we got together to try.

You could approach the construction in many ways, but here we have instructions for one quick and simple method. You’re basically just taking a large rectangle, pleating it, and attaching it to elastic. Here’s the inspiration skirt, with the fabric Elin chose for her recreation, an American Jane Pindot.


  • fabric: 1 to 1-1/2 yards depending on skirt length desired
    • yardage needed = (length of skirt desired + 2.25″) X 2. For example, Elin wanted a 21″ skirt so that it would hit at her knees, so we got 2 X 23.25″, or 46.5″.  The closest measurement to this is 1 1/4 yards.
  • 1 package of 2″ black elastic
  • coordinating thread
  • pins


Note: Seam allowances are 1/2″. Backstitch at the beginning and end of each seam. Press each seam to set it, and press all seams open.

1. Cut your yardage in half across the width. Cut selvedges off and sew two short sides together. If your fabric is directional, be sure to keep both pieces right sides up.

2. Press in pleats: Take 1/2″ tucks about 1″ apart along the top edge of the fabric, pressing and pinning as you go. Don’t stress about making your pleats perfect, the skirt top will also be gathered so nobody will be able to example them closely.
Baste the pleats, sewing with the fold of the pleats away so they don’t catch and turn in the feed dogs.

3. Decide where you want the waistline to be (this skirt is cute sitting a bit high-waisted). Fit the elastic around your waist and pull it as tight as you want it to be when it’s on–not so tight it hurts but not so loose that it moves around. Take that measurement, add 1″ for seam allowance, and that is the length of elastic you’ll cut.  For example, If you have a 30″ waist, you may like the fit of the elastic at 28″, so cut it to 29″.

4.  Match the edge of the elastic to the pleated skirt edge, and sew together close to the edge. Use a zig-zag stitch to allow the elastic to stretch more. Stretch the elastic as you go, pulling evenly from the front and the back so you’re not changing the speed the fabric sews through the machine.


Pull out your basting stitches, set the seam, and press your pleats down, but use a heat setting that is low enough not to melt the elastic.

5. Trim the other short ends of the skirt to match the edge of the elastic, and sew up the side with a 1/2″ seam allowance. Press the seam open. Tack the ends of the elastic down to itself.

6. Press up the hem 1/4″ to the wrong side, then again 2″.  You might want to pin here, but apparently we just aren’t pinners. Stitch down the hem 1/8″ from the edge of the fold, and press.

Ta da!


If you use quilting cotton, pre-washing should help the drape. Woven fabrics like chambray or shot cottons and voiles would be great for this skirt because of how smoothly they drape.

I’ve tried a few variations of this skirt for different looks. You could:

  • eliminate the pleats and just gather
  • put pleats closer together for a fuller skirt
  • stitch down the pleats a few inches so the fullness of the skirt starts at the hips rather than the waist
  • sew the skirt top to the outside of the waistband for a”paper bag waist” (turn under seam allowance so raw edge isn’t exposed)
  • add fullness to the pleats in the front and add length to the front for a maternity skirt
  • make it floor-length for a maxi skirt
  • add a lining that peeks out under the top layer (just sew the elastic in between the skirt & lining fabric instead of on top of the 1 fabric)

There are many ways to change the construction too, depending on your preference and how finished you want the details. You might want to:

  • turn under the seam allowance of the pleated edge of the skirt to eliminate that raw edge
  • hand stitch the hem so it’s invisible
  • finish the side seam allowances or use french seams
If you have some sort of variation on the style or construction of this skirt, share it with us in the comments!