I wanted to make a flower skirt. I don't mean one with a floral print, but one that was reminiscent of the actual flower shape. I had some yellow cotton fabric and a yellow silk thrift store shirt, so I figured a sunflower would be a good option for my first flower skirt.
Later, someone admired the skirt I'd made for Lilith, so I decided to make one for her, too. I didn't have more silk for an adult sized skirt, but I did have more yellow cotton and some pale yellow organza.
The top of the skirt, brown to match a sunflower's center, came from a thrift store sweater - a stretchy but smooth knit blend of cotton, nylon, viscose, silk, and cashmere. The stretchy waist means I don't have to mess around with accurate measurements for a precise fit. It also means Lilith can wear the skirt for quite awhile before growing out of it.
The snug but stretchy waistband is also great for helping calm sensory kids like mine (see my hosiery instructable for more information on sensory kids and why stretchy material can calm them).
Before we begin, here's what I used to make the sunflower skirts:
thin fabric in the color of the petals (yellow, in my case) - quilting cotton works well
another thin fabric, possibly sheer, close to the color of the cotton (silk for the little skirt, organza for the adult skirt)
a sweater to upcycle, or some other source of knit fabric in the color of the flower center
thread in the petal color and the waistband color
elastic long enough to wrap around your waist and to stretch around your hips (so you can pull the skirt on)
another piece of elastic, maybe an inch or two longer, to keep the petals from stretching the knit fabric too much where they attach (optional)
other stuff you'll use:
scissors, sewing machine, maybe an iron, measuring tape or a ruler, newspaper to make the petal pattern, pencil and paper if you want to sketch the skirt ahead of time for some reason
Step 1: Gather Materials and Sketch Your Skirt
Sometimes it helps to have some kind of image of the final product if you're making something from scratch without a pattern.
Gather the material you have, spreading it out to see if there's enough of it for the skirt. You'll want enough knit material to go around your waist (and upper hips) and be as long as you want... I planned on about 10 inches long for the adult skirt.
Try to keep kids from sitting on the fabric after you spread it on the floor (which has hopefully had all the corn starch cleaned off it if you happened to recently had a sensory activity with three excitable little ones).
Now it's almost time to figure out the petal shape, size, and quantity! But first, ask yourself: Do I want this skirt to be simple or nerdy? Both versions look roughly the same. The difference is the petal placement. The simple version uses 8 petals in two slightly overlapping rows of 4. The nerdy version uses as many petals as you want to make or have fabric for, placed in intervals of one Phith of a circle circumference from the previous petal. (See this "Doodling in Math Class" video to understand the nerdy awesomeness of phi and plants) Sure, if you wanted to get technical, a sunflower would have a fibonacci number of petals, but... well... a couple got pulled off. Plus I ran out of material and attention span and the kids were getting into stuff. Okay?
Step 2: Make the Petals
How long do you want your skirt to be? Bear in mind that the total length from waistband to tip of petals won't cover up every bit of skin in between. The petals will have slight gaps at the bottom of the skirt, as you can see in the pictures. If you want to be more accurate than just guessing, measure the length of a skirt that you like, or hold a measuring tape up to you from where you want to wear the waistband and measure where you want the points of the petals to fall. The petals will start to taper inward at the midpoint of their length.
Skirt length = (waistband length) + (petal length) - (3 inches for hem and seam allowance)
How wide should you make each petal? A good general rule would be to have the width of 8 of your petals (if they were lined up side by side) to measure at least twice your hip circumference.
Petal width = 2(hip measurement)/(number of petals, 8 in this case)
You can still use 8 as the number in this equation even if you're adding more petals if you're making the nerdy version of attaching them a Phith around the circle from each other.
Cut a regtangle of newspaper using your planned petal width and height. Fold the rectangle in half so the sides match up (now it's half the petal width, but still the same petal height). Now fold the top to the bottom, making a crease halfway between the top and bottom of the newspaper petal, and unfold just that fold. With the newspaper still folded in half once, cut a curve from the folded edge of the paper to the crease marking the midpoint between the top and bottom of petal. Unfold the newspaper petal and it should be symmetrical from right to left.
If you're concerned about being most efficient with your fabric, you can cut more than one petal to help you arrange them on the fabric to create as little scrap as possible.
Remember to cut two pieces of fabric for each petal: one bottom piece and one top piece.
Once your petals are cut, you have two options for attaching the top and bottom pieces. you can serge the edges if you have a serger and leave the surged edge on the outside. If you're serging the petals, first test your thread tension on a scrap of fabric. Serging around curves can sometimes be tricky and leave some loose stitching looped away from the fabric. To help combat this, go slowly and try to gently scrunch the fabric so that it enters the serger foot at a straight line (check the picture).
If you prefer a less exposed seam, stitch the top and bottom layers together with a straight stitch, right sides facing each other. Leave part of the top edge unstitched. Turn the petal right side out, iron it, and then straight stitch just inside the border. This keeps the petals from getting puffy if the seam is inside.
I serged the petals on the adult skirt and used the inside seam method for the little girl skirt. I decided to add a decorative straight stitch in yellow thread to the serged seams to reinforce them, and to make sure the tails of serger thread were securely sewn onto the fabric. Sometimes if they're just tucked into the seam, they wiggle out later on and come unraveled. I also sewed a straight stitch down the center of the petals of the adult skirt in yellow thread because I liked how it looked.
Optional petal ruffling:
I decided I wanted the petals on the adult skirt to be gathered a bit before attaching them to the elastic. The serged edges can be bulky and stiff when gathered with elastic, and elastic might not be strong enough to pull the petals in to gather them as much as you want.
I bought a ruffler foot from a local fabric store for $20. It's a generic version that fits sewing machines with a low shank. Janome sells a ruffler foot specifically for their machine, but it's $70. That's... too much for me, especially since I don't really know anything about sewing and doubt I could make money from it to help offset the cost of the investment. The $20 generic foot works great.
Note the two settings in the pictures of the ruffler foot. If you look down at the foot from above, you can see the selector that lets you choose how many stitches for each ruffle. I think most ruffler feet are similar and allow the choice of 1, 6, 12, or none (star). That means you can have a ruffle for every stitch, every six stitches, every 12 stitches, or no ruffles. The star allows a straight stitch in case you need to do one and don't want to remove the ruffler foot. It doesn't seem like much of a choice if you want a ruffle every 2 or 3 stitches, but remember that you can also adjust the stitch length on your machine and the ruffle depth on your ruffle foot. That adds more flexibility in terms of how much you want the fabric gathered. The dial on the side of the ruffler foot allows you to adjust the depth of each ruffle, the higher numbers meaning a deeper ruffle, eventually being deep enough to be a pleat rather than a ruffle.
I tested on some fabric, deciding I only wanted the petal to lose about a quarter of its width. I think I ended up setting the depth to 2, the stitch number to 6, and the stitch length on the machine to 3.
I turn the upper thread tension way up when I use my ruffler foot. Otherwise I have problems with the thread coming loose in the ruffles.
Once I had the settings where I wanted, I ran the petals through the ruffler foot one after the other, cutting them apart after I was done.
Step 3: Sew the Petals Together
I simply laid out the petals for Lilith's skirt, deciding how much to overlap them, pinned them together, and sewed along the top edge with a straight stitch.
Placement was a bit more complicated for the nerdy skirt. I cut (okay, tore) a strip of thin fabric long enough to be the maximum amount the petals could stretch. I sewed the ends together to make this strip a circle, calculated where on the fabric circle to attach the center of each petal (I recommend going by the midline rather than the edge), and sewed them on. I then attached the circle of fabric to the thin elastic I'd set aside for the petal edge (not the elastic for the top of the waistband).
To attach the elastic, first sew the ends together into a circle. Divide the petal skirt and the elastic into quarters, then pin the elastic to the skirt at the quarter points. I sewed the elastic on with a stretch stitch on the sewing machine (looks like a zigzag with a line on each side - it's what the sewing machine instruction manual suggested for attaching elastic), stretching the elastic just enough to match up with the fabric. I think next time I'd probably just use a zigzag stitch.
Step 4: Make and Attach the Waistband
I had the bottom hem of the brown sweater on the waistband for Lilith's skirt. It was hollow, so I decided to use that as the top edge of the waist band and simply thread elastic through it. I threaded the elastic through, sewed the edges of the elastic together, then sewed together the open side edge of the waistband to make it a circle.
I serged the bottom edge to keep it from unraveling, since this sweater wasn't felted. I then pinned it in quarters to the petal skirt and sewed it. Remember to sew the seam with the right side of the petal skirt facing the right side of the waistband.
The adult skirt had a little more shape to the waistband, since adult women tend to have waists. When cutting the shape of the waistband, I made sure that the thinner waist edge could still stretch wide enough to accomodate hips. I didn't have the exact measurements of the intended recipient, so I tried to guess and make the skirt stretchy enough to fit a range of sizes. Because the knit fabric is so stretchy, I drew the shape so the waist end would cling to a waist on the smaller of the size range when the fabric was at rest and not stretched. Before cutting, I made sure that it the narrow point of the waist band could stretch wide enough to slip past the hips of the larger end of the size range.
I serged the sides to make sure the fabric wouldn't unravel. I then sewed the bottom edge of the waistband to the top edge of the petal skirt, making sure the right sides of each were facing each other.
I then sewed the ends of the waist elastic together to form a circle, placed it near the top edge of the waist band, and folded the top edge of the waistband over the elastic with the raw edge of the waistband on the inside of the skirt. I sewed a stretch stitch along near the top of the waistband, securing the folded edge of fabric with the elastic inside the fold. I made sure to sew the stitch far down enough that the elastic didn't get caught in the stitching (which could lead it to uneven pulling).
Once that was done, I turned the skirt right side out, waited for morning (and better light) and had my neighbor try on the skirt for fit and for pictures.
Thanks for reading! I'd love to see your version of a flower skirt if you make one.