How to Make a Tailored Skirt

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There is an art (with some careful details) to making and mounting a tailored skirt so that it hangs properly. Here are a couple pieces of furniture to show you what a tailored skirt looks like. Here is a wing chair with tailored skirt.

(Click to Enlarge)

Here is an example of a sofa with this same type of skirt method:

The Process

Many upholsters sew the skirt into one unit before attaching it to the furniture. They sew a welt, then sew each skirt panel with lining on the back, sew the panels and flaps onto the welt and then put the whole skirt onto the frame all at one time. I had used that method for years and never was quite satisfied with the way the skirts hung. Unless the sewing is very precise and the sewing machine is properly adjusted, sewn-in lining often makes a skirt hang unevenly.

My Alternate Method

In contrast, the method of this tutorial involves layering the pieces onto the frame separately. the welt is sewn and attached to the furniture first. then the skirt panels are folded in half horizontally and sewn and attached over the top of the welt. Lastly the under flaps are attached at each corner. I find that, since the bottom of the skirt is a fold instead of a seam, it hangs much straighter. I can get the skirts to hang much flatter and evener by putting one piece on at a time.

Although this tutorial explains the process of making a skirt one step at a time, we measure all the pieces of the furniture and do a cutting layout before we start the job. However, that is not part of this tutorial.

Frame Preparation

The skirt is usually the last thing to be put on the furniture. It is put on when the rest of the piece is almost finished. To make it easier to attach the skirt you should prepare the frame. When the old cover has been removed and before attaching the new cover you should determine the height of your skirt. If you will be attaching a skirt to a piece of furniture that previously did not have a skirt you may have to prepare the frame a little. For instance, if you decide that you want a 7 inch tall skirt, then you need to measure that height (plus 1 inch = 8 inches in this case) all the way around the furniture. There needs to be wood to attach the skirt. Sometimes you have to add some wood in some areas of the frame. However, be careful that you don't block off the pull-through slits where you will be pulling fabric through. In this case if filling in the wood at skirt height  will block off the pull-through slits, then don't add the wood until after you have attached the fabric on all the inside of the chair. In this case, you would attach the skirt wood just before you attach the fabric and padding for the outside arms and outside back.

A Word About Padding

When recovering a piece of furniture, a support lining and padding are added to the outside arms and the outside back as well as to the inside. However, when adding a skirt, the padding is left off of bottom area (all around the furniture) where the skirt will be attached. Depending upon the length of the skirt and how tall the legs are, you will not put any padding the last 2 to 6 inches up from the bottom all around the furniture.

Cutting the Fabric

Although you will usually cut the fabric for the skirt at the same time as you cut the rest of the fabric, I will only mention the fabric for the skirt at this time. A cording is placed at the top of the skirt. To determine the length of the cording, measure all around the bottom of the furniture and add about 5" to that measurment. The cording is cut 1 1/2" wide by that length.

The front and the back of the skir panel is made all in one piece. It is basically a long piece of fabric tha is folded in half with the ends sewn up.

 Cutting List

  • Front Skirt Panel - Cut 1
  • Arm Skirt Panels - Cut 2
  • Back Skir Panel - Cut 1
  • Under Flaps - Cut 4

Determining Sizes

In determining the cutting sizes we need to determine several measurements.

All these measurements assume that you are using a plain or a non-matched pattern. If you are matching a pattern, then you will have to adjust the sizes.

Cutting Height of Skirt

Skirt Length: The average skirt is aproximately 5 1/2" to 7" tall (although some can be much higher). Again, these measurements are arbitrary. The actual length can be any that the client likes. A simple method to determine the skirt length is just measure the height of the old skirt (if there is one). For this example, let us assume that we will use a skirt length of 7".

Clearance Under Skirt: The clearance of the bottom of the skirt off the floor is arbitratry. Actually you could have the bottom of the skirt setting on the floor, or 1/2" off  the floor, or an inch, or two inches or more off the floor. Years ago I  arbitrarily decided that skirts should be attached so that the bottom will be 1/2" off the floor, and that has worked out quite well. The examples give here will use this 1/2" measurement.

To determine what is best for your particular job look at the floor where the furniture will be located. If it will sit on a carpet, get a ruler and stick the end down into the carpet. Measure how tall the pile is. Add 1/2" to the pile height. For example, if the pile height is 3/8", add that to 1/2" (3/8" + 1/2" = 7/8"). So the bottom of the skirt  will be a theoretical 7/8" off of a bare floor - 3/8" carpet pile height = 1/2" above the top of the rug.

Cutting Height: As a reminder, our skirts are self lined with the same fabric on the front and the back. To get our cutting height, add 1/2" seam allowance to our skirt length of 7" = 7 1/2". Double the length of the skirt (i.e. 7 1/2" X 2 = Cutting height of 15"). So now we know that our skirt panels are to be cut 15" high.

Cutting Width

At the height where you will be attaching the skirt, measure the width of each side of the furniture frame (i.e outside arms, outside back, front). Add 2 inches to that measurement. (For example, if (at the height of the skirt) the outside arm measures 30" wide, add 2 inches to that measurement = 32". (Theoretically you only need 30" frame width + (2 X 1/2" seam allowance) 31", but I like to have an extra allowance to play with in case I measured wrong).

Cutting Sizes

Skirt Panels: So, for this example, using the above measurements, the cutting size of the Skirt  for the Outside Arms would be 32" wide X 15" tall (Which would be 30" X 7 1/2" after it was sewn and trimmed). Use the same above method for figuring the sizes of the other pieces. After you have cut all the pieces, it's time to fit them to the frame. With the face of the fabric facing the frame, hold each panel up onto the furniture frame in the position where it belongs (i.e. outside arm, front, etc.). Mark both ends on the backside of the panel where the corner will be, adding about 1/8" to the width.

Under Flaps: After the skirt panels are attached (see below) these are attached under them to cover the gaps between the panels. These are cut about 9 inches wide (size can vary) by the skirt height plus 1/2".


Cording: First sew the skirt cording separately (wrapping the welting strips around the cords) and set aside.

Skirt Panels: Fold each skirt panel inside out lengthwise so that each piece will be the right finished height (as in our example) 7 1/2". Use a small square to extend the corner marks on each end of the panel where the seam will be. The sew the end seams and turn inside out. Go to the frame and hold the skirt panels in position to check the fit. If they fit OK, then trim the inside seam allowance off at 1/2" from the seam.

Under Flaps: If you have a serger, serg all for sides of each flap. Then hem (fold over 1/2" and sew) the bottom. If you don't have a serger, then sew a rolled him on the bottom and side edges.

Attaching the Skirt to the Furniture

Attaching the Welt: Assuming that you have the rest of the chair covered, and after you have cut and sewn the welt, it is time attach it to the frame.

Determine Cording Height: Put the chair on a perfectly flat table and make sure all the legs are fully touching the table. This is done with the legs on the frame. Before attaching the skirt welt, you need to determine how high to attach it to the frame. The easiest way to do this is to take your sewn welt and a sewn skirt panel over to the frame. (Bring a short ruler or tape measure with you.) Fold the top 1/2" of the skirt panel over. Hold the cording on the frame at an approximately appropriate height. Now place the folded top edge of the panel up under the cording (on the cording seam allowance). Holding those two together, check the clearance between the bottom of the skirt panel and the table top where the legs of the frame are sitting. Move the top up or down until you get an acceptable clearance under the skirt. (See "Bottom of Skirt" above.) Now measure the height of the top of the cording to the table top. This will give you the height to attach the cording to the frame.

Attaching the Cording to the Frame: Starting on the back of the furniture (using the ruler to measure the correct cording height) attach the sewn welt to the back corner of the frame first. Leave at least several inches of the welt loose, so that it can be joined later. Then go to the front corner, measure height, pull the welt snug and staple the welt at the corner. Go from corner to corner clear around the chair, measuring the height, pulling tight, and stapling. Don't worry about attaching the center of the welt until you have attached the welt to the corners all the way around. Join the welt on the back corner. Then measure and staple the welt at the proper height all the way around. Before doing the next step, carefully inspect that the welt is put on straight and at the correct height on all sides.

Preparing the Skirt Panels: At this point, the panels will have a fold at the bottom and a seam at each end. The top  will be the raw edges of the inside and outside of the panel.

If the fabric can be ironed (test on a scrap of fabric, and don't iron velvets), iron the panels, and crease the edges. If the fabric can't be ironed, then just try to crease  the edges. with some fabrics you can steam the the panels and edges.

Attaching the Skirt Panels: Before you start, make sure the panels have been turned right side out. Then take each skirt panel over to the furniture frame. Hold the panel upside down with the right side of the panel against the outside arm  upside down over the cording that has been attached to the frame. Align the raw edges on the downside of the skirt panel with the raw edges on the downside of the cording. (Most of the skirt panel should be above the cording on the frame.) Making sure to align the edges of the panel with the corners of the frame, put a staple or two into one end the skirt panel close to the corner. Then gently pull the other end of the skirt panel sideways to the other chair frame. Careful not to stretch fabric, you are only pulling out any looseness. Then put a staple or two near the end of the panel. At this point, both ends of the panel should be attached to the frame. Both ends of the panel should be even with the corners of the frame. If either end, or both are not even, the take loose and reposition. At this point it is important to get the ends lined up with the frame corners.

When you are sure both ends of the panel are properly aligned with the frame corners, it's time to attach the center of the skirt. Again, aligning the raw edges of the panel with the raw edges of the attached cording,  put several staples across the panel into the seam allowance of the cording. At this point the entire top (which on the bottom at this point) of the skirt panel should be attached to the frame. Now let the panel fold over and drop down into place. Check to make sure that the top  (and the bottom) all hangs evenly. If any part of the skirt panel is hanging unevenly, this is the time to take that the staples out of that part and reposition the panel and restaple.

Go around each side of the frame and attach the skirt panel in the same way. As you attach each panel, it should be touching the skirt panels on each end. When you have all the skirt panels hung, check that they all are hanging smoothly, that all the corners come together, and that the bottom corners of all the panels are even with the adjacent panels.

Attaching the Under Flaps: After you have checked that the panels are hanging smoothly, fold the panels back upward. You will need to pin them up so that they stay there while you are attaching the Under Flaps. Now put one of the under flaps upside down, with the top down and the face of the fabric towards the fabric, on the corner covering the end of the panels. Center the flap on the corner and staple it in place. Move the edge that is on the top (which is the bottom) so that it is about 1/2" lower than the skirt panels. (This will prevent the bottom hem of the Under Flaps from hanging lower than the skirt panels.)

Applying the Cardboard Strips: The last thing to apply to the skirt is the cardboard strip (sometimes called a tack strip) to hold the top of the skirt in place. With the Skirt Panels and the Under Flaps still raise up, place the cardboard strip overthe raw edge (Which is now at the bottom) of the skirt. Feel through the layers of the fabric for the cording. Place the strip snugly against the bottom of the cording. Space your staples horizontally about 3/4" near the top of the cardboard strip. Check your work as you go. After you have put a few staples in place, fold down the skirt to make sure the cording shows with the top edge of the skirt tighly against it. Then continue. As you staple around each corner, stop and fold down the skirt to check your work. When you are finished, fold down the skirt and enjoy.

When you are finished, you may want to pin the corners of the panels to the under flaps. Pin it on the back side so they don't show and won't wrinkle the skirt. Remove the pins before giving the the customer.