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How to Make a Circle Skirt

A lot of people seem to really like circle skirts. They look all cute and romantic on tiny elf-looking girls, and multi-circle skirts are popular with some dance troups. To me, for historical work, they always scream “sock hop!” and I avoid them even though circular hems are demonstrably correct for sixteenth century surcoats and capes. (They also eat fabric like you wouldn’t believe.) This is about the second easiest skirt pattern I can think of, though, and it’s a good trick to know.You will need the following measurements:

  1. Waist to Ground Length
  2. Waist, Front/Back Waist

During this demo, I use the following skills:
  1. Bias Bound Hem
  2. Hairline Seam
how to draft a circle
Circles are really easy to draft, if you've got a pin, a bit of string, and a pencil.

We’re basically setting up a home-made compass (the circle-drawing kind, not the buried-treasure-and-pirates type). A circle, as we all know, is the set of all points that are of equal distance from a center point.  The “equal distance” is called the radius. In our setup above, the center point is a pin, and the radius is a piece of string tied to that pin.  We’ve secured the other end to a pencil.  If we put the pencil to the paper with the string taut, we can only draw a circle.  Nifty.

You can do this straight on to cloth, if you substitute chalk for the pencil. I’m using paper for a couple reasons:

  1. It’s easier to see in the picture.
  2. I only want to draw a quarter of a circle, and the paper gives me a nice corner to start in.
  3. Circle skirts have really big pieces, and it’s just easier for me to fuss with the pattern on paper

That said, if you’re working to a human size, you’re going to need a big piece of paper. Wrapping paper works well, but you’ll need to tape two sheets together to make it wide enough. Place your exactly at the upper right hand corner. (If you don’t have a padded work table, like I do, you can do this on a bed or a carpeted floor.)

The only other thing you need is the right length of string.  Add 1″ to your waist measurement. Divide the result by 6.28. Using this amount of string between your pin and your pencil, draw an arc from the top of the paper to the side of the paper. It will be small. This is your waistline.

Oh, we added an inch to the waist measurement because we’re going to add a little ease into this pattern. It makes it more comfortable to wear.

You will need a seam allowance at your waistline, because we’re going to mount this skirt on a waistband. Mark a set of ticks 1/2″ above (read: closer to the corner with the pin) from your waistline.  (If you’re working with a doll, use a 1/4″ seam allowance.)

Now, add 1″ to your waist, divide by 6.28, and then add your Waist to Ground measurement to the result. Using this amount of string between your pin and pencil, draw a much bigger arc on the paper. This is your hem line.

There are two really good ways to hem a circle skirt: you can bind the bottom with bias tape, or you can make a rolled hem.  For a rolled hem, you should add a 3/8″ hem allowance below the hem line.  For a bias bound hem, you will not need a hem allowance at all.  I like that. This demo uses a bias-bound hem.  (There are, technically, other ways you can try to hem a circle skirt.  These two just happen to work well.)

You will also need to make a waistband pattern.  A waistband is a rectangle.  Its length is half your waist, plus 1 1/2″, and its width is 3″. Add a 1/2″ seam allowance  to both long sides and one short side.

I like to put pockets into skirts.  I especially like to make pockets that double as plackets (that’s the fabric that hides the opening you need to get in and out of the skirt).  Making a pocket pattern is incredibly simple:

  1. Hold a piece of paper so that the top is at your waist level, and one side is lined up with the side seam of your pants. The paper should be towards the front of your thigh.
  2. Place the hand on that side of your body on the paper, as if reaching into a pocket. Extend your arm (but don’t slide the paper around).  Spread your fingers out.
  3. Using your other hand, draw a line about an inch away  from your fingers and arm.  After your thumb, start angling the line up so it reaches the top of the paper, about 3″ from the corner by your side.
  4. Put this paper on a table. The lines probably look a little wonky.  Make the curves nicer and the lines straighter.

You’ve now got a custom made pocket pattern.  It’s the right size for your hand, not too long for your arm, and at a natural angle for your body. You will never be happy with a standard pocket again. Oh, we didn’t add a seam allowance to this because it’s included in the extra inch around the hand. And yes, this actually is how I pattern pockets. It’s the method I made up when I started costuming, and didn’t know the “right” way to make patterns.  It works, though, so I never felt the need to change it. A crayon works best for the drawing on your thigh part. It doesn’t poke through like pens and pencils, and it’s less likely to mark your clothing than a marker.

Now you have all the pattern pieces you need.

Next: Sewing it up!

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