7 June 2012

How to Make a Picnic Blanket Skirt: Part 1

Part 1: Measurements + supplies

Thank you for all the lovely comments on my Picnic Blanket Skirt! As promised, here are some instructions on how to make your own – also known as a button-down gathered skirt. Whether you choose to make yours in picnic blanket style fabric or not is up to you! Needless to say (I hope), don’t actually make this out of a blanket… gingham cotton or linen will work just fine ☺It would also look great with stripes, plains, polka dots, boats, cats... you name it!

If you make your own version I'd love to see it! And feel free to grab a button if you have a blog you want to share it on. Choose from 150px or 125px square images, copy the code in the text box next to the image and add it to an HTML gadget on your blog layout:

You don’t need a pattern to make this skirt. It’s made up of simple rectangle shapes - you will work out the dimensions of the pieces based on your own measurements, and mark them on the fabric. I used a large gingham fabric - the squares made it easy to cut out rectangle pieces with right angled corners without marking the fabric too much. But if you’re worried about getting it right or marking the fabric, you could cut the shapes out in banner or pattern paper first and use them as you would a regular pattern.

In this post I’ll explain how to work out the dimensions of the fabric pieces to cut out. Knowing these measurements will help you to work out how much fabric you need (as a guide, I’m little and used about 2.3m). In the next two posts I’ll go through how to sew it all together.

You will need:
  • Fabric – see below for measurements
  • Interfacing for waistband and plackets
  • Thread
  • 7 – 10 x ¾” buttons – depending on the length of your skirt
  • Optional - Pocket pattern piece borrowed from another pattern

You will also need a tape measure, paper and pens to keep a note of all the measurements. And you’ll need your waist and hip measurements.

Okay, so let’s work the dimensions of the pieces that you need to cut out. Don’t be put off by the numbers below – it may look complicated but really it’s quite simple to work out, I promise! Personally when I’m learning something new I like to know why you do it a certain way, so I’ve broken down and explained the reason for all the dimensions for people who learn this way - which is why it looks so complicated. If, however, you’d rather cut straight to the essentials, just skip to the text in bold!

The skirt is comprised of 4 different shapes:
  • Back piece x 1
  • Front pieces x 2
  • Waistband x 2 (inside and outside)
  • Pockets x 4 (to make 2 pockets)

Please note that I’m adding ½” seam allowances (a standard often used in pattern drafting), but do change it to 5/8” if you prefer. Just remember to keep the size of your seam allowances consistent.

1) Back piece:

(i) This is where you get to choose how full you want the skirt to be. To help you decide, first imagine a skirt where the fabric fits tightly round your hips – a full skirt could have somewhere between two or three times this amount of fabric, allowing it to stand out from your body with lovely folds of fabric hanging down. Three times the width is pretty crazy gathered – you could find that amount of fabric heavy to wear, plus that length of gathering could be difficult to achieve without breaking the thread. I went for about 2.1 times my hip measurement to make a lovely casual yet full skirt.
(ii) To get the width of the back piece (half of the skirt), divide your chosen number by two. So for example I went for (2.1 / 2 x my 36” hips) = 37.8”, which I rounded up to 38”.
(iii) Add 2 x ½” seam allowance on each side = 1”
TOTAL WIDTH = (2.1 x hip measurement)/2 + 1”

(i) Choose the length you want the skirt to fall. I usually drop a tape measure down from my waist to the top of my kneecap, but choose the most flattering length for you. To be on the safe side, you could always make it longer and cut it down at the fitting stage depending on how it looks when it’s on you.
(ii) Add ½” seam allowance to the top
(iii) Add 2” at the bottom for the hem (NB. some people add 4” hem allowance to skirts, but I always end up chopping 2” off before finishing. Do what is right for you.)
TOTAL LENGTH = (waist to knee) + 2.5”


2) Front pieces:

(i) There are two front pieces to one back piece, so take the width of the back piece excluding seam allowances [ie. (2.1 x hip)/2] and divide it by 2
(ii) Add 7/8” for the button stand
(iii) Add (7/8” x 2) = 1 ¾” for the back of the placket
(iii) Add 2 x ½” seam allowance for each side of the piece = 1”
TOTAL WIDTH = (Back piece width excl SA)/2 + 3 5/8”

Same as back piece.


3) Waistband:

(i) Measure your waist
(ii) Add 1” ease
(iii) Add (2 x 7/8”) = 1 ¾” for the button stand
(iv) Add 2 x ½” seam allowance for each side of the piece = 1”
TOTAL WIDTH = Waist + 3 ¾”

(i) I want my waistband to be 1.5”. You can make yours a little bigger if you like.
(ii) Add 2 x ½” seam allowance for top and bottom = 1”


4) Pockets:
If you want to add pockets, grab a pocket shaped piece from another pattern.


You need three pieces of interfacing in total:
- One to the size of the waistband to go on the front waistband piece.
- Two to the size of the placket, ie. 1 ¾” x length of skirt, to go on the centre front edges of the front pieces (don’t forget to place them ½” in from the edge to account for the seam allowance).
Press the interfacing onto the fabric pieces now while you remember where they go.

Now that you have these measurements, note them down somewhere safe in case you want to make more and more of these skirts! You should now be able to cut all the pieces out, ready to sew – I’ll explain how to do that in the next post. Now go and make yourself a cup of tea, you deserve it ☺

Next up: Part 2 - Sewing the pockets, plackets and waistband.


  1. Been waiting for this. wish I was working, so many things I want to make and so little money lol.

  2. This is the perfect project for summer!

  3. Yay, what a cute pattern. I am sure I will have a few versions of this by the end of the summer :)

  4. I'd love to make this. Would you recommend this to an absolute beginner at sewing?

    1. I wouldn't want to put you off if you like diving in (I did when I started sewing), but if you're an absolute novice there may be some terminology you don't understand and some people find buttonholes tricky. But if you've made a garment or two before and are up for a challenge, go for it and let me know!

  5. I'm getting on board with this! I've been stash busting like mad and today I spotted my perfect fabric for this skirt so am going to treat myself and get involved.

  6. Ah, this is perfect for some fabric I have on the way to me right now...definitely going to make one of these.


  7. Thanks for these instructions! Such a simple, yet cute project. I won't have time to make this immediately, but am definitely bookmarking it for future reference.

  8. Thank you. I've been waiting for this. Now I need to raid my stash and get at it.

  9. Awesome, so glad you've written it up to share! My head is swimming trying to think of other fun versions of this. :)

  10. Eep! So exciting to know some of you will be making this soon! Really hope I got the measurements right :)

  11. Great tutorial! Cant wait to make this. I recently saw this mustard colored plaid that I know will look great made up as this skirt, with wodden buttons. I just had one question for the width of the back piece its (2.1 X Hip measurement)/2+1" I wanted to know what 2.1 is? Im american so I dont know if thats why i dont get it or if once you let me know ill slap my forhead and be like Duh!

    1. It's nothing cryptic, 2.1 is just a number, however many times bigger than your hip measurements you want the full skirt to be. So if your hips are 40" for example, you calculate 2.1 x 40 = 84.

      Mustard fabric with wooden buttons sounds just gorgeous!

    2. There is a full skirt in the May issue of Burda magazine that is mustard with wood buttons. SO your plaid mustard will really be in style!

  12. Ooh, thank you Tilly, great tutorial! Can't wait to get started. Perfect excuse to go and buy some fabric :-)

  13. Thanks for sharing this awesome tutorials, I will definitely make this lovely skirt on my next project.

  14. Thank you for the tutorial. I only discovered your blog last week and am really enjoying visiting. I saw this skirt last week and thought I AM going to make that when you post the tutorial. I knew as soon as I saw the title that I had the perfect fabric for it. It sounds awful but truely it is not :o) It is green and orange check on a white background and it's a tablecloth in fab condition I picked up from a charity shop a few years ago. I am so hoping there is enough to make the skirt it would look great with a skinny rib orange or green top. I'm hoping to start it this week coming. My lady valet tailors dummy isarriving on Tuesday :o)

    1. Thanks Sharon! Looking forward to seeing your skirt...

  15. Finished! Will post soon, not quite picnic blanket but in the spirit.

    1. Ooh exciting! I think you might be the first...

  16. thank you so much for this tutorial, it really is a gorgeous skirt! :)

  17. Thanks for tutorial Tilly! I've got some beautiful fabric a good friend bought me from India that will be perfect for this skirt.

  18. I have fabric similar to yours and I've been wondering what to do with it. I made a duvet cover and still have at least 3 yards left over. I just figured out my measurements - thanks for your explanations, I need to understand why the measurements are the way they are. I'm going to cut my pieces out this weekend and make it throughout the week next week. I'll post to flicker too. Thanks for this fabulous tutorial Tilly.

  19. Hi! This will be my first garmet (I've been sewing for 2 years). I don't really understand apparel fabric so I thought I'd ask. :)

    Is this something you use quiltig cotton for? Or do you mean something else. I inherited some very drapy thin fabric from a friend, but this looks stiffer. I may also have some linen from her, but I can't be sure without going to a fabric store and feeling linens to compare!

    Kristi.griggs86 at gmail dot com

    1. Hi Kristi
      This would be a good project for quilting cotton as the slight stiffness of the fabric would give it some body. Lots of other fabrics would work well too. I used a mystery fabric which feels a bit like linen but is clearly some kind of cheaper blend (nice though!). The thinner, drapey fabric you have will work too, it'll just hang in a different way, with less body. It really depends what kind of look you want. You can always experiment!
      Good luck

  20. I'm wondering how much fabric I should order to make this skirt....I'm a size small...do you think 2 yards would be enough? I should probably just take my measurements and do the math huh? :)

  21. Pretty! Found you via Emmie Loves:) Pinned

  22. Love this tutorial! I just finished cutting out my fabric. I'm going to make a heavier winter skirt with blue striped wool. I'm tweaking the pattern just a little bit so their is less bulk like you said instead of 2.1 I'm doing a little less. :)

  23. Thank you so much for this. You are very detailed and explain direction well. I'll be making plenty of these for me and my three girls. Thank you again.


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