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Circle Skirt Pattern

Fastest Circle Skirt: Fold and Cut

  1. Choosing your fabric
  2. Create Your waist opening pattern
  3. How Much Fabric do you need?
  4. Choose Your Fabric
  5. Cut Your Fabric without a Pattern
  6. Sew your Skirt
  7. Hang the skirt to stretch.
  8. Hem your skirt.
  9. References
The goal: a circle skirt with an elasticized waist or yoke. The raw skirt body will be cut, a casing for an elastic waistband applied on top, and the skirt hung for a week to allow the bias to stretch. Then the skirt hem will be marked, cut and sewn.

The fast fan-fold instructions work because circle skirts can rarely be cut to exact measurements until the bias is stretched out. After stretching is complete, the final hem is marked, cut and sewn. Therefore, there is no advantage to being too particular about the initial cut.

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circleSkirt

Choosing your fabric:

Choosing a fabric with the right texture and drape is always important, but never more so when making a circle skirt. Unless you are trying for a felt poodle-skirt look, you need a fabric that is soft enough to flow over your hips yet firm enough to spin. The hand-test is a good judge; slide your arm under a length of unfolded fabric and then bend your elbow up so that the fabric flows down over your hand. It will flow the same way over your hips. Do not make excuses because of price or color; if it does not drape properly, pass it by... or consider a very flared gored skirt, a stiffer costume look that would suit the stiffer fabric.

PS: Synthetic costume fabrics are usually polyester. Natural fibers, like silk, rayon and cotton, helps regulate body temperature more effectively than synthetic. You will sweat a lot less in natural fibers.

The standard circle skirt is made with 2 half-circles. 'Pro' skirts are often 3 half-circles. The more half-circles, the heavier the skirt will be. If you are working with a normal or heavy-weight fabric, do not use an elastic waistband if the skirt contains more than 3 half-circles: the weight is likely to pull the skirt to your knees. Use a reinforced waistband with a secure closing (hooks and eyes recommended) or tie closure.

If you are making a 'Pro' skirt, your end goal is to position one seam at your center back, one seam over the top of your right leg, and one seam over the top of your left leg. This means there is one entire half circle in the front between the tops of your legs. This makes it easy to have slits that show off your legs, if that is what you want. It also makes the skirt seams look balanced.

If you need a circle skirt in a hurry, consider making a gored skirt. Make a gore pattern from one-sixteenth of a circle and then mark the grain line right down the middle... This eliminates a lot of the bias (and stretching of bias). Sew 12 - 16 of these gores together and you will have a very circular-looking skirt. It will drape differently than a 'real' circle skirt (because there's much less bias in it) but it will flare out very nicely.

  • Silk Charmeuse: this has a sheen that looks good under both natural and stage light. It comes in a broad range of weights (12mm - 40mm); unless you have a reason to use the lighter weight (sometimes known as silk satin), a moderate 19mm weight will give you best service.
  • Synthetic Charmeuse: There is a fine line between crepe-back satin (too stiff) and Charmeuse. Unfortunately, and especially with synthetic fabric, crepe-back may be sold as charmeuse. The hand-test should be the final judge.
  • Crepe de Chine: less sheen and more texture than charmeuse, which means it is stage-worthy for the folkloric or tribal corners of the costume spectrum as well as the orientale.
  • Habotai (known as China Silk in the lighter weights): Skirts advertised as silk at a cheap price are probably a lighter weight habotai and will not be durable or opaque. The heavier weights cost about the same as Silk Charmeuse, but have a different kind of drape and sheen.
  • Rayon Challis: No sheen, which makes it suitable for folkloric or tribal. Be careful about the weight; it can be very heavy or very light; if you make a heavy skirt, then you'll need a waistband that can hold it up.
  • Synthetic or Art silk: avoid lining material fabric. Look for distinctive texture, weave or color to make it stage-worthy.
  • Cotton: the right color and texture works for folkloric or tribal, especially in conjunction with hip scarves and overskirts and/or a striking hem treatment. Check for the right feel and drape.
  • Velvet or any fabric with nap: if you must have a velvet circle skirt, make a circular gored skirt. Another option is a 6-gore skirt with an a-line shape and quarter-circle gussets inset into the seams -- that gets you a big skirt fast.

Create Your Waist-Opening Pattern

A radius is the line between the CENTER of a circle and the edge. In the case of a circle skirt, we have two radii that are of interest: the radius of the waist opening (marked in GREEN) and the radius of the entire skirt (marked in RED).

We use the GREEN radius to create a pattern that that gives you enough room to get the skirt up over your hips (the pattern for the small half-circle on the diagram).

Step One of Two: Calculate the radius of the waist opening:

We are not going to play with formulas that include pi; this seems to distress folks. Rounding is good enough for a skirt with an elastic waistband.

The shortest DIY way requires you to Trust Me and includes enough circumference for weight fluctuations or for lending to similarly-shaped friends. This is for the standard skirt made of two half-circles.

  • For a hip measurement of up to 40 inches, a half-circle with a 7-inch radius (14-inch diameter) will work for you.
  • For hips between 40 and 45, use an 8-inch radius (16 inch diameter) opening.
  • For hips betwen 45 and 50 inches, use a 9-inch radius (18 inch diameter) opening.
  • The waist opening will end up larger than your pattern because of the 1/2" seam allowance that will be used to attach the waist band to the top of the skirt.

The slightly-longer way is DIY, accomodates 2 or more half-circles, and includes enough circumference for weight fluctuations or for lending to similarly-shaped friends:

  1. Divide the largest hip circumference by the number of half-circle panels you intend to use.
  2. Divide that result by three (this is our phony-pi calculation).
  3. Round up to nearest half-inch.

Step Two of Two: Make your waist pattern

Use a compass to draw a half circle with the calculated radius (the green line on the diagram) on a piece of cardboard or stiff paper or interfacing. Cut out the half circle: the cut-out piece is your pattern.

When you have your pattern, write the radius, the hip circumference, and the number of half-circles in the skirt on the pattern. You will eventually end up with a small collection of these, so these notes will help you grab the one you need.

For true peace of mind, test the pattern on a folded square of material that is slightly bigger than the pattern... it doesn't have to look like a skirt, it just has to show you if the opening is the right size when you pull it up your legs!

The important radius in a Circle Skirt

Example for a 34 inch hip and a two-panel skirt:
34/2 = 17.
17 /3 = 5 2/3
Round up to 6" radius.
(If you are comfortable with pi, double check with 2*pi*r: 2 * 3.14 * 6 = 37.6.)
Example for a 45 inch hip and a two-panel skirt:
45/2 = 22.5.
22.5 /3 = 7.5
Round up to 8" radius.
(If you are comfortable with pi, double check with 2*pi*r: 2 * 3.14 * 8 = 50.24.)
Example for a 50 inch hip and a two-panel skirt:
50/2 = 25.
25 /3 = 8 1/3
Round up to 9" radius.
(If you are comfortable with pi, double check with 2*pi*r: 2 * 3.14 * 9 = 56.52.)
Example for a forty-inch hip and a three-panel skirt:
40/3 = 13.
13/3 = 4 1/3.
Round up to 4.5" radius.
(If you are comfortable with pi, double check with 2*pi*r: 2 * 3.14 * 4.5 * 1.5 (3 half-circles): 42.39.

How Much Fabric?

My estimation methods err on the generous side. Unless the fabric is extremely expensive, too much is better than too little, so buy a little extra. Besides, skirts need tops. The scraps from my estimation methods will allow you to cover a bra and make a choli or even a baby-doll top as well.

WIDTH

The shortest way is another Trust Me. An average-sized woman (40-inch hip, 34-inch-long skirt) will need 2.5 yards of 42-inch-wide fabric with no nap for each half-circle desired. This means: 5 yds for a circle skirt.

The slightly-longer way is another DIY. Add together the skirt length you need + the GREEN radius calculated when you made your waist pattern. This is the minimum width for your fabric...it is also the RED radius on the diagrams. Unless you are okay with any piecing that might be needed after the skirt is hung. buy a fabric as wide as the RED radius.. (Do not worry about seam allowances: the skirt waistband will add a little extra length to cover those).

  • 40-inch hip | 7" waist radius + 34" length = 41" width fabric.
  • 45-inch hip | 8" waist radius + 35" length = 43" width fabric.
  • 50-inch hip | 9" waist radius + 36" length = 45" width fabric OR a willingness to piece a bit on the bottom.

A bigger hip and/or a longer skirt will need a wider fabric, and these are available.

LENGTH

Since the horizontal radius is the same length as the vertical one, you need a length of fabric that is 4 times as long as the radius (the RED line) of your skirt : this skirt radius of fabric is represented by the PINK line in the illustration above.

If you intend to use your fashion fabric for the waistband, AND your fabric is wider than your hip measurement, add 6 inches of fabric to your total length If your hip measurement is wider than your fabric, you can piece additional length from scraps OR add 12 inches to your yardage.

If you are going to clean your skirt by washing it, then add extra length for shrinkage (most shrinking takes place lengthwise, not widthwise). 10% is not too much for some fabrics.

Choosing Your Fabric

  • Choose drapey, not stiff or floppy fabric; woven fabric, not knits. Trust yourself; if you like the way it drapes and feels on the bolt, buy it. If you don't like the way it feels and drapes, don't buy it, no matter how pretty it is. Notable exception: soft droopy fabrics like chiffon can be made to work if you cut a LOT of half-circles and gather them into a yoke or waistband.
  • Remember that fabrics come in all different widths. If you are a taller or bigger dancer who needs a fabric wider than 42 inches... check the bolt ends! 52 - 60 inch wide fabric is available.
  • I use natural fabrics whenever possible, not synthetics. Natural fabrics help your body stay cooler when hot. If you think that is no big deal, let me put it this way -- you will sweat a lot less and feel a lot better during an outside summer gig in silk than in polyester!
  • Can it be cleaned? Sooner or later you will want to clean that costume. That's why I use a lot of hand-dyed silk: I can wash it occasionally on a gentle cycle. You may be happy sending it to the cleaners. Your choice.

Cutting your fabric without a Pattern

Clean the fabric the way you intend to clean it in the future before making the skirt.

Waistband: Cut a waistband 5 inches wide and the circumference of your waist-opening pattern plus a couple of inches. Make it too long rather than too short. Ripping a 5" wide piece from selvage to selvage is the fastest way to do this. Or mark with a long ruler and cut. Or make yourself a pattern that is 5 inches wide, with a length equal to the circumference of your waist-opening pattern plus a couple of inches. If your hip is wider than the fabric is wide, rip or cut two 5" wide pieces and connect them.

Skirt body: use my no-pattern Fan-Fold Circle Skirt Cutting Technique to quickly cut the skirt body without a pattern. Probably the fastest way on the planet to mark and cut a circle skirt!

If you prefer to make a pattern, Shira at Shira.net provides instructions on how to make a pattern for the skirt (hips up to 78").

You can save fabric by staggering your half circles. Unless your fabric is very light, you can use the first half-circle you cut as a pattern for the others, being careful to keep the grainlines (along the selvage and perpendicular to the selvage) true and at right angles. Unless I am short on fabric, I do not use this method; I always find uses for the scraps (in vests, tops or quilts). But sometimes every inch makes a difference.

You can save fabric by staggering your cuts

You can save a few more inches by overlapping the circles just a bit (a couple of inches) as per the diagram to the right; this works because that overlapping area is the area that will stretch the most when you hang it (as much as five inches).

You can save fabric by staggering your cuts

Sewing the Skirt

  1. Side Seams: Sew the side seams together to make the skirt body. If you followed my suggestion to lay the long straight edge of each half-circle on the fabric selvage, you will not need to finish the seams to keep them from fraying.
  2. Waist opening: Match the top center of your waist-opening pattern with the pins at the top center waist of the skirt bodies and trace the waist opening patterns with your marker of choice (chalk, carbon paper, pencil, fabric marker, basting) on each individual half-circle. Stay-stitch (sew a seam) about 1/2 inch on the outside of the marks. This is done BEFORE you cut to prevent the opening from stretching. Then cut your opening just inside the stay-stitching.
  3. Waistband: Having a waistband on the skirt during the hanging period will help keep it on the hanger properly and leaves you ready for the final fitting at a moments notice.

Hang your Skirt

You hang your skirt so that it will stretch BEFORE you hem it, not afterwards!

  1. In the case of skirts made of circles (or the double-square skirt with ruffled hem), you must hang your skirt for a week. Why? Because BIAS STRETCHES. A circle skirt has lots of bias and it will STRETCH LIKE CRAZY for the first week: I've seen parts of silk skirts stretch five inches longer! I know that many respected writers, such as The Costume Goddess, recommend hanging skirts for a day or two. Frankly, that's too conservative. If you hang it for only a couple of days you will almost certainly have to rehem (from the bottom) or redo the waistline (from the top). What a drag!
  2. If you don't have a week, and your fabric is washable, you can try wetting it thoroughly and letting it hang until dry. (The weight of the water helps expedite the stretching).

The skirt in the picture on the upper right hand corner of this page is a circle-and-a-half style made of silk Crepe de Chine and mounted on a black trunk. It hung for four weeks before it was hemmed. It has never stretched out of shape.

Hemming your Skirt

We have a separate page on how to hem your skirt.


References

~Without a pattern:

~With a pattern:

If you intend to make a skirt with a zipper opening and a non-elastic waistband, the way to come up with a radius measurement is to use the Circle Skirt Calculator. Specify your measurement unit (in the USA, inches); specify what you are making (in this case a Full circle skirt); choose any length (mini, midi, maxi) since we only care about the waist; enter your waist measurement; and press the button labelled Do The Maths. Voila! your waist radius displays.



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