Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer Skirts 5 - The Circular Skirt (and fractions thereof)

This is one of my favorite kinds of skirts - the circular skirt.

A full circular skirt is a seamless donut-shaped piece of fabric.
You cut it out, attach elastic at the waist, and hem the bottom
and it's done. By virtue of their round shape, circular skirts
are cut on the bias, so they drape nicely. Because of the
amount of fabric involved, they also have a lot of
movement, and are perfect for dance, which my little girls
do a lot of (at least in a dress-up sort of way). I made them
quite a few for their dress-up box last Christmas.
Mass-production mania. I loved it.

If you are sewing for a little person, it's good to pick a
soft material that has weight. Something like chiffon, georgette, fleece and some cottons will work well. Even thicker fabrics like denim would work, except
they might weigh down a small child,
so maybe save those for yourself.

All you need is about a yard of fabric and some elastic
to make a child's knee-length skirt like this:

I used fold-over elastic (FOE) which wraps over the raw
edge of the fabric like double-fold bias tape
and is then sewn on.

Here's how to make an elastic-waist circular skirt:

Step 1
  • Measure the hip of the wearer, which is the biggest part of the lower half of the body. This is not difficult to locate (sadly, for most of us).
  • Call this measurement B.

Step 2
  • Decide on the length of your skirt.
  • Call this measurement L.

Step 3
  • Locate the center of the fabric and cut a circle of circumference B+2". I usually fold the fabric into quarters to locate the center, and cut out a quadrant, then unfold it.

Step 4
  • Measure a distance L from the edge of this circle, all around the circle, in radiating lines. This will give you a bigger concentric circle that forms the bottom hem of the skirt.
  • Cut out this bigger circle so you get a donut-shaped piece of fabric.

Step 5
  • Sew on the FOE on the waistband. Stretch the FOE as you sew, not the fabric.
Note: if you are using regular elastic and making an elastic casing, remember to include more seam allowance at the inner circle for it.

Step 6
  • Zig-zag or serge the bottom edge of the skirt and fold up to make a narrow hem. Or make a rolled hem (especially good for fabrics like chiffon that fray easily).
Note: It is often a good idea to hang your skirt (like on a hanger) for a day, especially if it is a long skirt and made of stretchy fabric, before trimming and sewing the bottom hem. This is because the bias-cut-ness of the fabric makes it stretch in all directions. So you may have cut a perfect circle when you started but find the hem is horribly uneven and pointy in parts when you get to finishing the hem. When I made the short chiffon dance skirts in the picture, I skipped this step because they were short, lightweight-fabric skirts and the hem was sufficiently even.

There are times when we want the twirl of a circular skirt
but not the fullness. Or when we don't have a large enough
piece of fabric. In such situations, you can also make semi-
circular or some-fraction-of-a-circle skirts.

Here is a two-thirds-of-a-circle skirt that

Instead of being elasticized, the waist of the skirt was
attached to the bodice and a long zipper sewn
into the back of the dress.

If you want a fitted circular skirt, the "donut hole" should fit
the waist of the wearer, not the hip (since there is no elastic
to hold it up!) and you need to cut open the "donut" to
insert a zipper or some other fastening.

If you want a fraction-of-a-circle skirt, the "donut hole"
opening for the waist should fit either the hip (if it's
elasticized) or the waist (you'll need a zipper) of the wearer.

That's a crazy lot of wordy stuff to make sense of, so
here's a printable sheet of diagrams:

Note: I usually use a 3/4" seam allowance for a zipper seam.
So if I'm making a fitted circular skirt, I'd make the circumference
of the donut hole (A+1.5") to include the seam allowance.

OK, here's something I did that turned out rather tragically.
Try not to do this if you can, OK? Emily had a dance recital
early this year, see? And I wanted to make her a recital skirt.
I thought I would be clever-thrifty and use scrap costumey
fabrics I had at home. I had enough pink satin for a three-
quarter-circular skirt and waistband. I did not have enough
organza for the same. So I thought I'd do a regular gathered
skirt with the organza and layer it on top of the satin circular
underskirt. I envisioned a lovely, swirly satiny thing
with a sheer puffy outer layer.

This is the sad product of joining a rectangle to a circle:

All the twirl inherent in a bias-cut circular skirt was
completely restricted by the stiff straight gathered outer
layer. Emily still wears it now for dress-up but it never
made it to her dance recital. Organza for a dance skirt!
What was I thinking? Might as well have used oilcloth.

Whoo. Long post, considering how easy this skirt
is to make. Skirt #6 is the classic wrap skirt-
shorter post. Check back soon!


  1. Oh!!! Very beautyfull dress!
    This form is also the kind of skirt and dress favorite of my daughter :-)
    (and I LOVE make it, it's a very quickly realisation :-))

  2. Thank you for all your tutorials - I love them! I haven't started my skirt making but one day I will! Thanks again :)

  3. So cool! I just got a ton of fabric from my Mom's house. My sister and I raided her stash to grow our own stashes. My girlies have been really into dance lately so these skirts will be perfect. Thanks for the tutorial!

  4. Another nice write-up, L! But I'm so surprised. Physics-lover that you are, where's the nerdy formula in step 3 to give the RADIUS of the circle to cut out?!?

    e.g. to figure out radius:
    B+2=____ /2 =____ /3.14 =____ round up to nearest "nice" fraction =____

    : )

    P.S. I am allowed to use the term "nerd" because I AM one.

  5. This is my favorite yet! I love the long version at the bottom and the mass-produced picture. They totally remind me of the gauzy wraps I wore to dance. I bet the girls loved them! I'll be linking.

  6. Very beautyfull dress!!
    Thank you for the tutorial!

  7. Great tutorial for a circular skirt! I have been looking for one to link to! Most are so complicated. This is perfect!

  8. I just wanted to stop in and say you very much for the tutorial on how to sew some circular skirts. I did not know that so much work went into making these little things but I suppose it will be worth it in the end. My little girl loves to wear these and twirl around the playground while she is on the marry go round.

  9. Just found this, and love it. I have twin girls aged 5, so you can imagine the joy!

  10. Thank you for your post. My mother taught me how to make circular skirts. She was a young woman in the 50's when they were very fashionable. She said to cut them on the bias. My store-bought pattern has to be changed, it's wrong! I'm glad I found your site because I looked all over the internet to be sure my memory was right, and your site is the only one to mention the bias at all. Thank you so much. My pink linen skirt will be beautiful!

  11. Thank you for mentioning the bias. I'm trying to make a circular skirt and the pattern is wrong. My mother, a young woman in the 50's when circular skirts were very popular taught me this, and I have looked all over the internet to be sure. Your site was the only one to mention this, and it's sooo important. I just wanted to be sure about the bias, since so many sites had it the other way.

  12. Hi There,

    I love this tutorial and can't wait to make my girls some skirts quick question though is the hip measurement (ie B) in cm's or inches? and the 2 measurement in B+2 is that in inches or cm's - thanks

  13. Hi - just reread your tutorial and have just noticed the inch sign next to the 2 which answers all my questions i have just sent to you thanks

  14. Hi there!
    great tutorial! I just have a question about where you found the Fold over elastic? I tried doing it with one that I found at our local store and it got all stretched out and didn't contract back:( any leads would be so helpful!! thank you:)

    1. Madhu: I haven't had a lot of luck buying it in physical stores recently. But you can buy it on etsy and online stores. Just google "fold-over elastic" and see what comes up. I hope you find some soon! The elastic you got sounds like it's ancient and lost its stretch. Poor you.

  15. super cool! Haven't made it yet, but TOTALLY planning on it! Thanks!

  16. Does it matter how wide the FOE is? I'm about to order some, and thought wider might be better. Most of what's available seems to be 5/8" (which I'm guessing halves when you fold it).

    1. Sadie: I don't think so. Mine was about 3/8" when folded. But I've used 1/2" (when folded), too. I guess I use whatever I can find in the store at the time!

  17. Those photos of your daughter make my heart sing!

  18. THANK YOU! I needed easy to understand instructions, i'm making these for granddaughters.

  19. Your ideas are so fun and I really enjoy your sense of humor. Especially the hip comment in this post.

  20. I'll be featuring this on The Crafty Crow soon as part of a round-up of Halloween costume helpers!


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