From The Workroom

Hacks for the Kelly Skirt

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Kelly Sewalong: Hacks

The Kelly skirt is such a wonderfully straightforward design, which means not only is it elegant in its simplicity, a breeze to make and a fantastic skill builder for beginner sewers, but it’s also incredibly hackable! In today’s blog post we’ve got some fantastic ideas on hacks for the Kelly skirt and how you can play around to get even more out of the pattern, as well as a whole wardrobe full of amazing skirts for every occasion. So! Shall we jump in?

The Denim Look

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Kelly Sewalong: Hacks | The Denim Look

A classic denim look Kelly skirt is such an easy hack, but one that transforms the skirt completely! Here are a couple of things you can do to create this look:

  • Instead of normal buttons, why not try metal jeans buttons or even metal press studs.
  • Along with the metal buttons, adding rivets to the pocket edges and corners instantly enhances the classic denim vibe.
  • The placket of the Kelly skirt is normally turned to the inside of the garment, but turning it to the outside instead and topstitching down both sides is another simple but effective addition to the denim look.
  • Topstitching is another detail that makes us automatically think of jeans. You can add this stitching around the edges of the waistband and placket, along all of your seams, the hem and two rows around the edges of pockets – using a contrast colour topstitching thread to really make it pop.

Elasticated & Paperbag Waistbands

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Kelly Sewalong: Hacks | Elasticated & Paperbag Waistbands

Why not add an extra level of comfort to your Kelly skirt by making it elasticated! It’s such an achievable addition to Kelly, let’s run through a few steps you’ll need to complete to create this hack:

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Kelly Sewalong: Hacks | Elasticated & Paperbag Waistbands - Construction
  • Cut your waistband to be the width of your ungathered, constructed skirt (plus enough for seam allowances at each end) and leave out the interfacing that you would include for a fitted waistband.
  • Attach the waistband as per the instructions up until you are ready to enclose your waistband at which point it will be time to slip in a piece of elastic that you’ve cut to comfortably fit your waist.
  • You’ll need to attach one end of the elastic with a vertical row of stitching that lines up with the placket stitching. Leave the other end loose inside the waistband with a safety pin attached while you enclose the waistband, leaving a small section unstitched at the other end.
  • You can then use the safety pin to wriggle the elastic to the other side of the skirt, stitch it down in place (again in line with the placket stitching), remove the safety pin, and finish topstitching the last section of the waistband to close everything up. It’s that easy! To prevent twisting, you may also choose to sew through the waistband and elastic, stretching it as far as possible as you stitch.

To add a little more flare to your elasticated Kelly, you could also add a paper bag ruffle! It’ll just be the same process as above, except you’ll need to increase the height of the waistband to include 2 x the height of the ruffle you’d like. If you’d like a structured ruffle, you can attach a strip of interfacing in the centre of the waistband before attaching it to the skirt, and before adding in the elastic, you’ll need to sew an extra line of stitching at the bottom of the ruffle to create the top of the casing for the elastic. For a bit more of a run-down on how to make a paperbag waistband – check out the Opal paperbag waistband tutorial!

Belts & Belt Loops

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Kelly Sewalong: Hacks | Alternative Plackets

The simple nature of Kelly means it is the perfect base to dress up or down with accessories – like all your favourite belts! Or, if none of the belts in your wardrobe fit with the look of your skirt, why not make your own using fabric to match or contrast? Adding belt loops so you can wear belts with Kelly is super easy and for a little help on how you can make and attach them during the construction of your skirt, check out the Opal belt loop & belt tutorial! Don’t forget that you can play around with the width and number of your belt loops so they are absolutely perfect for you.

Gathered Tiers

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Kelly Sewalong: Hacks | Gathered Tiers

A classic hack that never gets old – adding gathered tiers to your skirt! And guess what, Holly has even done a fantastic tutorial on exactly how to do this, so it’ll be a breeze! Mix up the lengths and volumes of your tiers for different looks – keeping it simple with a single-tier like Holly’s, just a short frill along the hem, or even adding multiple tiers for a gorgeous maxi – it’s totally up to you.

Contrast Panel Hems

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Kelly Sewalong: Hacks | Contrast Panel Hems

Another way to create an interesting layered look without adding extra volume is a contrast hem panel. Your added panel (or panels!) can just be cut the same width as the skirt pieces, attached to the bottom edge and treated as if it was one piece – it’s that simple. This elegant hack is a great way to experiment with different colours, pattern directions or fabric types and to create either a subtle detail or bold feature for your skirt.

Alternative Plackets

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Kelly Sewalong: Hacks | Alternative Plackets

Kelly’s defining feature is of course its button-down front, so to really mix things up, why not play around with the style of your placket! Create some interesting shapes, add a ruffle, piping or trim, or even move the whole thing to the centre back instead of the front.

To create a centre back placket Kelly, take your skirt front pattern piece and fold it along the second fold line (the one closest to the buttons) to hide the placket and cut your skirt front out as one piece on the fold. You’ll then need to cut the skirt back out as two pieces, adding the placket section from the front that we just folded out of the way, to the centre back of the pattern piece. You can then use all the normal instructions to sew up your skirt, just creating the placket on the back instead of the front, how cool is that!

To create different shapes, or to add different embellishments to your placket edge, you will need to create a separate facing for the right side of your skirt (the side that sits on top) instead of the built-in folded one that Kelly already has.

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Kelly Sewalong: Hacks | Alternative Plackets - Construction

To start, trim the skirt placket edge back to the intended finished edge + seam allowance. This will be the second fold line on the pattern (closest to the buttons) or a new finished edge which you have drawn yourself with the new shape.

Once you’ve trimmed away the excess you can create a new facing piece to fit, then attach it to your right skirt front. If you are adding embellishments to the seam, baste them in place on the skirt front first, so they are secure before being sandwiched between the skirt and the facing.

After sewing the facing, trim back the seam allowances and clip any curves or points so they will sit nicely when you turn them out the right way, to the wrong side of the skirt. Press the seam allowances away from the skirt and understitch along the facing for a nice crisp edge. Then you just need to finish it off by topstitching close to the inside folded edge to enclose the placket and you’re done!

Hem Details

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Kelly Sewalong: Hacks | Hem Details

It’s those final details that can really make a garment shine and the hem of your Kelly skirt is a perfect place to include them! Here are some ideas:

  • Using a fabric with a border print is an incredibly simple but effective way to feature your hem and make your skirt look really professional and polished. You may have to cut your skirt differently to the cut layouts included in the pattern to incorporate your fabric’s detail, so don’t forget to check the specified yardages will be enough for your skirt.
  • Sometimes you need a little detail to balance out a plain fabric garment and pin-tuck pleats are a great way to to this. The straight hem of Kelly also make them super easy to do! Just make sure to calculate how much length your pleats will need, so you can add enough to your skirt length to keep it the length you want.
  • For something a little more dramatic, why not change the shape of your hem completely? For help on how you can do this – check out Holly’s wonderful tutorial on creating a scalloped hem Kelly here!

Perfect Pinafores

Megan Nielsen Patterns | Kelly Sewalong: Hacks | Perfect Pinafores

There’s something timelessly cute about a pinafore, and whether it’s simple cross over straps, tie straps, frill shoulder straps or a full bib, a Kelly pinafore would be a perfect addition to any wardrobe.

For something detachable that you can take on and off depending on the outfit, simply add buttons to the inside of your skirt waistband (or outside if you want them to be visible!) that can attach to straps with buttonholes at each end. Or why not borrow the Flint bib add-on and use Meg’s awesome video tutorial to add a whole detachable bib to a centre back placket Kelly!

Alternatively, if you’re someone who knows exactly what they want and that’s a Kelly pinafore – you can make your additions more permanent by sewing your straps or bib into the waistband seam to sit up over the waistband, or sew the waistband in two separate pieces like Holly does in her tutorial for the sewn-in Flint overall construction.

Kelly & Kelly Curve Campaign image

I hope you’ve enjoyed the Kelly Hack Ideas we’ve talked about here…there were SO many more we could have done! Do you have any ideas for Kelly hacks? Be sure to let us know in the blog comments!

We absolutely love seeing what you make, so don’t forget to tag your creations with #MNkelly and @megannielsenpatterns when sharing on social media, and check out what everyone else is up to!


Here’s the full list of Kelly tutorials coming up on the blog:

Don’t forget to tag your creations with #MNkelly and @megannielsenpatterns when sharing on social media, and check out what everyone else is up to!


Kelly & Kelly Curve

Order Kelly today in sizes 0-20 and Curve sizes 14-34

About Author

Naomi is the Design Assistant here at Megan Nielsen Patterns, and our resident helping hand. She stays busy assisting Meg with pattern development leg work, getting super excited about good instructional diagrams and making green coloured fabric suggestions for every sample we make. She’s a problem solver, a fabric addict, a serial tea-forgetter and a passionate maker.

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1 year ago

Thanks for this detailed post full of incredible ideas! Hacks are the best.

1 year ago

this is a silly question but is there a view/variation to the Kelly skirt that doesn’t split the skirt down the front? I’m a novice sewer and the buttonholes look hard :) Or maybe that means I should try a whole different pattern altogether? :)

1 year ago
Reply to  Linda

Hi Linda!

Not a silly question at all i completely understand! You can absolutely make Kelly with less buttons and sew the placket closed below. In actual fact that is what Holly has done with our upcoming hack!

My suggestion would be to finish making the skirt until the closures section of the instructions. Once you get there I would use some safety pins to pin the placket closed below the widest section of your lower body (to make sure you can get the skirt on). Try this on and see if you can easily pull the skirt on and off. After that you can simply sew buttons and buttonholes only above the safety pins. For the section of safety pins you would topstitch the skirt closed completely and then you can either omit buttons completely, or just sew buttons in the places that they would usually be – so they are more aesthetic and aren’t actually functional.
Another option would be to hand sew large snaps to close the placket instead of buttons and button holes – and you could then completely avoid buttonholes.
I’d really like to encourage you though that buttonholes aren’t as hard as they at first appear :) It’s a good idea to practice on some scraps to build up your confidence, but even if your machine doesn’t have an automatic buttonhole function you can still sew a pretty good one manually. If you need help i’ve written a detailed tutorial on how to sew a buttonhole without an automatic function:
I really hope that helps!

1 year ago
Reply to  Meg

Wow thank you so much for the details, that totally makes sense.I just bought the pattern (eek first skirt pattern!) so I’ll give it a try!

1 year ago
Reply to  Linda

You are so welcome! Really excited to hear how your skirt goes – if you get stuck at all please send us an email at – we love to help! xo