how to: the tulle skirt

I had a dream about a skirt once. It was big and fluffy and ladylike and whimsical and fabulous. It had nothing to do with the cheap versions I was seeing online, with just a few layers of tulle and a poorly constructed waistband and cheap polyester lining. No, what I wanted was going to be bigger and better. After making it I thought it might be fun to test it in one of my collections, to see if customers responded to it. It became one of the most popular items I ever sold, and I still get asked about it quite often. So, there’s no better time to share a few things about how to make one for yourself! A good tutorial about working with tulle may be out there, but all I’ve been able to find is something about elastic and the back of a chair and a glue gun and. . . you lost me. I’m not blogging about couture over here, but I don’t believe in investing time in a poorly executed project either. The good stuff is always worth the time.

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Here’s what you need to know about this skirt and what I’m going to cover in this post:

  • My skirts have ten layers of tulle, because that really gives it the most volume and pizzazz. If something a little more subtle is more your style, I would recommend five layers. It’s big enough to make a statement, but not so flat that it goes unnoticed.
  • I use tulle that is 108″ wide so that there is only one seam, which I will explain in more detail below. Depending on how long your skirt is, one layer can use about two yards of tulle, so ten layers takes approximately 20 yards.
  • I’ve gotten tulle from a few different places. JoAnn sells 108″ tulle in a few colors, and OnlineFabricStore has a wider selection sold by the bolt (perfect to share with a friend or to have extra for another project). Fabrics Wholesale Direct used to carry 108″ tulle, but they only offer 54″ now. If your skirt is shorter in length you may be able to get away with buying 54″ tulle, but keep an eye on this supplier for when they reintroduce the 108″ option. Love those colors!
  • I’m not covering a few basic things in this post, like how to sew a waistband and insert a zipper. I’m assuming you know these things already, and you can incorporate those elements to your liking. Plus, that would make for one seriously long post!

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Let’s get started! Back in September, I wrote a post on how to draft your own circle skirt pattern, which is what we use for this skirt. If you’re not thrilled about drafting your own, you can always buy a commercial pattern that is similar and adjust it for your size.

You’ll need your pattern, tulle, a zipper, thread, fabric for your waistband (I use sateen or twill, but anything substantial will work beautifully), interfacing for the waistband, and lining on which to sew the tulle. If you decide to line the skirt as well (I always do), you’ll need to double this amount. I usually get 8 yards of a quilting cotton and cut the lining on the crossgrain because it’s usually only 45″ wide. Works like a charm.

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Start by cutting the underlining (the “lining” that the tulle is sewn to) as well as the actual skirt lining. Instead of pinning a paper pattern to the tulle, I use the fabric lining piece and place the tulle on top of it to cut it out. Using a paper pattern on the tulle would be a tiny nightmare, I think. But go with what you’re comfortable with!

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I drafted a circle skirt pattern with a center back seam for my zipper. Sew and serge the side seams. If you don’t have a serger, finish the seams per your preference. (I do not serge the center back seam until after I have sewn all of the tulle pieces on, so that I can run it through the serger all at once. Much cleaner that way.) Press the side seams toward the back and fold in half on the surface where you’ll cut the tulle. You’ll need a big space for this.

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Now we cut the tulle. This step is only cutting the length of the tulle itself. We’re not cutting out the waist or around the hem until the next step. With the lining laying on your cutting surface, unroll the tulle on top of it, leaving a couple of inches on either end. Cut ten, or however many layers you want in the skirt.

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Now we cut it more accurately. You’ll notice in the picture above that the lining piece on the table is longer than the tulle on top of it. That’s correct. Working with one piece of tulle at a time, unfold it so that the middle fold–the one that is folding the entire width in half–is at the edge of the lining piece. So, your lining piece is still on your cutting surface, and the fold of the tulle is along the edge with the waistline seam. The tulle will extend below the hem of your skirt.

(For this step, I used champagne tulle on navy to show it better. Notice that the straight edges line up together.)

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Cut around your lining piece. Only cut the fold of the tulle on one side of the waistband. Cutting both will give you two pieces of tulle, which is not what we want. I cut the tulle 1-2″ longer around the hem, but you can cut right next to it if you like.

After you’ve the tulle, you will have a piece that looks exactly like your lining, with one seam. Here I’ve got my pile of cut pieces, and two on top of my lining ready to be attached.

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I work with two layers at a time, but start with one to get a feel for things. Baste the tulle around the waistline and down the center back seams. You may have a little extra on one center back seam. Totally fine, just cut it off. Repeat for all layers, and then serge or finish your center back seams.

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Now all of our layers are attached, our center back seams are finished, and we’re ready to attach the waistband and insert the zipper. Go with what you’re most comfortable with here. I have used invisible zippers in these skirts before and while it looked nice for a while, it had a tendency to catch on the tulle, and quite a few of them broke. The last time an invisible zipper broke on me, I swore them off. So, I prefer a regular zipper in a centered application. Never had a problem with those zippers.

You may need to clip the skirt around the waistline to attach it to the waistband, as things may have gotten a little scrunched up when we basted.

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Attach the wasitband and zipper, and sew the center back seams together all the way to the bottom of the hem. Press open and flat, using a press cloth. Nylon tulle will melt in an instant if you’re not careful!

In order to get the tulle out of the way for the hem, cut up about an inch from the hem to “free” the tulle from the seam. This won’t even be noticeable in the finished skirt. You can see that I have the wrong sides of my underling together on the left with my layers of tulle together on the right. Cut next to the seam to free the tulle, and then cut off the excess from the ends of the seam.

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Now comes the easy part–the hem! Hem the underlining, being careful around the seam with the tulle in the seam allowances. I usually tuck it under to make sure I don’t get it with the iron. For more information on how to hem a circle skirt, see this post.

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I like to fully line my tulle skirts, so this is where I attach it, hem it, and close the waistline seam (with a stitch in the ditch), and add a hook and eye above the zipper.

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Finished!

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For those wondering, this hot pink color came from JoAnn. Yes, JoAnn! And they carry 108″ tulle in red now.

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If I had to pick a favorite color, it would be champagne. It’s appropriate year round and at weddings (as opposed to white), and it’s just so pretty and delicate looking. As I type this, I have this skirt in white and navy, so I all really want now is champagne. Because three is my magic number, evidently. I can’t not make anything in groups of three!

I hope this post was helpful, and I hope you’re inspired to make a tulle skirt for yourself or a loved one for the holidays. If there’s anything more fun to wear, I don’t know what it is. A couple years ago I did a segment for a local tv show about how to style a tulle skirt. I’ll dedicate a post to that in the next couple of weeks. Doing the prep for that show reminded me how versatile this skirt really is. It’s crazy how cute it is with everything from some Adidas and a graphic tee to strappy stilettos and a silk blouse. The options really are endless.

Happy sewing!

8 COMMENTS

  1. Mary | 12th Aug 17

    I’m doing a flower girl dress satin with three layers of tulle over it. With the zipper – do you encase the tulle within the zipper seam? I was going to gather the tulle over a circle skirt, not cut the tulle as a circle skirt. (If that makes sense). Lol. Thanks so much.

    • Emily | 15th Aug 17

      Hi Mary, great question. I always treat the layers of tulle as one, and insert a centered zipper the way I normally would. I baste the layers on around the waistline and then down the center back seam (remember that is the only seam for the tulle, because you’re cutting it out in a full circle and only cutting it open in one spot, which is the center back). Once all the layers have been basted on, I like to serge them together just to keep things nice and neat. Then, I interface the wrong side of the center back seam of the underlining (the fabric the tulle is basted to), and it’s ready for a zipper. I’ve also tried invisible zippers in a tulle skirt, but it had a tendency to catch on the tulle, and it was a bit of a mess. I stick with a centered zipper now. If it’s easier, you can certainly gather the tulle on top of a separate skirt. That will work too. Hope that helps! 🙂

  2. Dana Bultje | 12th Feb 17

    So when you’re just laying the tulle out and cutting each layer, is the tulle folded in half over the skirt?

    • Emily | 12th Feb 17

      Great question. Yes, I lay the lining piece down on my table and place the tulle layer on top. The tulle is folded in half, with the folded edge placed on the sides of the lining and the excess is on the hem side of the lining. Then, when I cut out the tulle, I leave one of the folded edges alone and the other one gets cut. This creates a full circle skirt layer with only one opening for a seam. Let me know if you have any other questions. I hope this helps! This part of the process can be a hair confusing, so I may do a video tutorial at some point, we’ll see. 🙂

  3. La Vonda C | 15th Nov 16

    Beautiful blog, wonderful post, I am so glad I found you! This is absolutely delightful, thank you for sharing. I had worked with a pattern for tulle skirts that was a complete *train-wreck* and I put everything away until I could find a better method & this is it, thanks again.

    • Emily | 15th Nov 16

      My pleasure! Thank you for the kind words and for stopping by. Let me know how your skirt turns out! 🙂

  4. Lani | 15th Nov 16

    I’ve been looking forward to this blog! Thank you!! So there is only the center back seam on the lining and the tulle correct? I kept reading and re reading and not sure if there are side seams to the lining. So so beautiful!!

    • Emily | 15th Nov 16

      Hi, Lani! I’m so glad the post was helpful, and I’m sorry for the confusion. There are side seams in the lining, yes. Think of the lining just like any other full circle skirt that we would sew. And you’re right that there’s only a center back seam on the tulle. Basically, I use the lining as my pattern piece to cut out the tulle. You could always make a pattern for the tulle as well; I just think it’s easier to leave the lining piece on the cutting surface and unfold the tulle on top of it to cut it. Let me know if you have any other questions. Happy to help!

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