I learned to hand sew when I was about 7, and machine sew shortly after. My mother and both my grandmothers were crafty and both sewed everything under the sun. My favorite things to make were dolls and all sorts of accessories for them. I loved making shoes and skirts and little quilts for my toys, I’ve been a maker from day one. It's no wonder I started making dolls as an adult!
This tutorial is for a very simple gathered skirt with a fitted waistband that has lots of fun volume. This tutorial is more of a method than a rigid step by step that can be applied to all sizes of dolls, from Barbie to Blythe to American Girl. I’ll be showing two variations here, one that uses bias tape as the waistband and one that uses a waistband we made ourselves. We’ll also be concealing most of our raw seams inside the waistband and in the hem so this little skirt will last a long time! Let’s get started!
Simple Gathered Doll Skirt Tutorial
Your choice of fabric *
All purpose thread
Closure (Velcro, snaps, hook and eye, whatever you like!)
Scissors or Rotary Cutter, pins, Measuring tape, Sewing Machine, Iron, Marking tool
Bias tape, double fold (if you choose this method)
Lace, trim, rick rack, embellishments, etc
*Two things; 1. The amount of fabric you’ll need all depends on the size of doll you’re making the skirt for. Since my doll is a 10” cloth doll and this is a medium length skirt (I want it to hit the bottom of the doll’s knee), an 1/8 yd cut of fabric is more than enough. If you don’t have a stash of fabric I would figure out your doll’s waist measurement and the drop of the skirt first and then go fabric shopping. When in doubt, a fat quarter should cover most skirt sizes just fine. Also, always check the remnant bin! I've found some fabulous fabric in there for usually 50% off.
2. When choosing fabrics, consider the size of the final skirt. If meant for a smaller doll, like mine, choosing something with a light or medium weight is best. This is a gathered skirt so whatever fabric we choose will be bundled 2-4 layers underneath the waistband. The heavier the fabric, the bulkier the waistband. I’ll be using a medium weight quilting cotton for this tutorial, though a light weight cotton, such as a lawn or batiste, would be beautiful as well.
1. Measure around the waist of your doll, or wherever you’d like the waistband of the skirt to rest. Add one inch. The waist of my doll is about 6.5 inches. So I’ll be using 7.5” as my waistband measurement.
2. To create the waistband I cut a rectangle of fabric 7.5 inches long and 1.5” wide. If you are using bias tape as your waistband, cut a length of bias tape 7.5 inches long.
3. For the gathered skirt section, cut a rectangle of fabric two times the length of your waist measurement. So my waistband measurement is 7.5 inches, I’ll be cutting a 15 inch long piece of fabric. The width of the rectangle is determined by the drop of the skirt, plus 1.25”. I want my skirt to be 3” from the bottom of the waistband to hem of the skirt so I’ll be cutting a 4.25” width. My skirt piece will be 15”x4.25”.
4. (If you are using bias tape as your waistband, skip this step!) Press the two long edges of your waistband rectangle ¼” in. Then, fold your waistband in half and press again. You should have what is basically double fold tape but not on the bias.
5. We are doing the hem in advance here since sometimes hemming a tiny skirt can be tough. If you prefer to hem after you’ve created the majority of your skirt then please do! Take your skirt piece and press the bottom ¼”. Then, fold that edge up again, 1/4” and press. It’s important that this seam be even all the way across, check your width against a seam gauge or tape measure.
6. Stitch that folded hem down. Now would also be the time to add any embellishments such as lace or rick rack, pin down and stitch as one.
7. Using the longest straight stitch your machine will make, mine says it’s a “4” which is about 1/8” long, stitch along the top edge of your skirt piece with a ¼” seam allowance. Leave the threads on either end long, don’t trim them. If you don’t have a machine, you can easily baste a large running stitch along the top edge. Also, while the photo shows the top seam is raw I’d suggest you use pinking shears on the seam to prevent fraying when doing your gathers.
8. Make a square knot using the tails of one end of your stitches. On the other end, lightly tug on the two strings. Pulling one of them will result in a gathering of the fabric! Like magic! Gather up the fabric until the width of the skirt is the width of your waistband, taking care to evenly space the gathers as best you can. For me, it’s 7.5”.
9. Lightly press down the gathers above the seam, this will help get them under the waistband.
10. Sandwich the top gathered seam in between your waistband and straight stitch 1/16” from the bottom folded edge of the waistband, taking care to keep that seam as straight as possible despite the curving created by the gathers. I’m using a contrasting colored thread but you can use thread that matches your waistband. Make sure to tuck the gathers in far enough so you don’t see that top seam.
*A note, if your fabric is darker than your waistband, like here, it might show through a lighter waistband fabric or bias tape so keep that in mind.
11. Fold your skirt in half, right sides together, and sew up from the hemline to about 1.75” from the top of the waistband with a ¼” seam allowance, taking care to backstitch where the stitches end to secure them. This closes the back of the skirt but allows your doll to still get into the skirt. Trim away excess fabric using pinking shears.
Whether you’ve chosen Velcro, snaps, or hook and eye, the closure procedure is pretty straightforward.
1. Dry fit your skirt on your doll, making sure that all the measurements were correct so you can finish the back.
2. Fold back each of the open ends of the back of the skirt ¼”- ½” and stitch to finish.
3. With one end of the opening overlapping the other, attach your closure either by hand sewing or machine sewing it on. I prefer velcro for any dolls given to small children but a hook and eye or snap is a little slimmer, making it more appropriate for smaller dolls.
You can add any sort of embellishment to this skirt to really make it your own. Try a row of buttons down the center, pom pom trim or baby rick rack on the bottom hem, add pockets, embroidery, whatever you like! This skirt method really flourishes with your own customization so it will suit lots of different outfits, fabrics, and embellishments! I like to do a few of these skirts at a time, assembly line style. You could have a whole new wardrobe for your doll in just one productive afternoon!
If you end up using this tutorial, please tag me or comment, I’d love to see what you come up with!
Fabrics and thread: Kona cotton, Elizabeth Olwen, Fabric Quarters, Julianna Horner, Joann's Fabrics, Coats
Seam Binding, trims, and closures: Wrights, Vintage
Buttons: Vintage, Blumenthal Lansing, Art School Dropout
Tools: Fiskars scissors, Clover Pen Style Chaco Liner, Singer sewing machine
Featured doll: Small Things Illustration :)