Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Adding a circle skirt to a dress: How to draw the perfect pattern

Since launching my Hanami pattern, I've received quite a few emails asking for instructions on how to replace the gathered skirt with a circle skirt. I can completely understand this question, having experienced myself how circle skirts are the fastest road to become the world's most popular mom.

This tutorial shows you how to make a pattern for a circle skirt which perfectly fits any bodice, whether it is for children or women. Or small pets.

There are two ways of making a circle skirt. You can cut it in one piece (A), with no seams in the sides. However, if you use a print with an upside and downside, this is not a good idea, as the print will always be upside down in some part of the skirt. So in the latter case, it is better to cut two half circles (B), which you join at the sides. Depending on which option you choose, steps 1 and 7 below will be slightly different.


1. Measure the width of your bodice pattern. Measure it at the bottom, right where the skirt and bodice will be joined (so just above the bottom seam allowance).
A. Cutting a circle skirt in one piece? Then, do not include the side seam allowance when measuring.
B. Cutting two half circles? Then, do include the side seam allowance when measuring.

2. Divide this by 1.5707. Next, subtract from this the seam allowance which you will use to stitch the skirt to the bodice.

Example in inches: I have a bodice with a width of 10" and will stitch it to the skirt with a 0.5" seam allowance:

10" divided by 1.5707 is 6.37"

6.37" minus 0.5 = 5.87"

Example in cm: I have a bodice with a width of 25 cm, and will stitch it to the skirt with a 1 cm seam allowance:

25 cm divided by 1,5707 is 15,92 cm

15,92 minus 1 = 14,92 cm

3. Take a large piece of paper (doesn't have to be pattern paper; you can also use a newspaper, or wrapping paper), a pencil, and a piece of cord which does not stretch.
Fold the piece of paper in two diagonally, as shown in the picture, so as to create a 45° angle. Fold back open. Take the number you calculated in step 2, and measure this distance from the top left corner to the top edge and left edge of the paper, and onto the diagonal fold you just made. Mark.

4. Tie the piece of thread around the pencil. Congratulations - you just made your own compass! Use this to connect the three marks you made in the previous step. This will be the waist of the circle skirt.

5. Next, determine how long you would like the skirt to be. Add to this the seam allowance you will use to stitch skirt to bodice (same number you used in step 2) and also the allowance for the hem of the skirt (unless you serge instead of hemming, of course).
Tip: for a circle skirt, you want to keep the hem as small as possible.

Length finished skirt + seam allowance + hem allowance

Example in inches: I would like the skirt to be 8" long; I'm using a 1/2" seam allowance; and I will hem the skirt by folding it in by 1/4" twice (so I'll need 1/2" in total).

8" + 1/2" + 1/2"

Example in cm: I would like the skirt to be 20 cm long; I'm using a 1 cm seam allowance; and I will hem the skirt by folding it in by 0.7 cm twice (so I'll need 1.4 cm in total).

20 cm + 1 cm + 1.4 cm = 22.4 cm

6. Measure this distance from the three marks you made in step 3, onto the top edge, left edge, and diagonal fold. Take your poor man's compass to connect the three new marks.

7. You now have a pattern for a quarter of the circle skirt.

A. Cutting the skirt in one piece? Fold your fabric West to East, and next from North to South, and press the folds (for more precision). Pin the pattern on the fabric as shown in the picture, and cut.

B. Cutting two half circles? Fold your fabric in two (putting selvages together), and cut twice on the fold.

8. A little word about pinning the skirt to the bodice. If you cut the skirt in two pieces (option B), then there is only one way to pin: you just align the side seams of the skirt with the side seams of the bodice.
However, if you cut the skirt in one piece (option A), you will want to take into account the grain line of the fabric. For instance, if you would like to have more flare in the front and back of the skirt, you need to place the bias-cut parts of the skirt in the front and back. If you would like to have more flare at the sides, place the bias-cut parts at the sides.

See? Your math teacher told you that those geometry classes would be useful one day, didn't s/he?


  1. Thanks for the tutorial. I am pinning it to use to become the most popular aunty ;) My niece is in the stage where she loves things to 'flow' so she can twirl a lot (nearly 3).

  2. This is the easiest circle skirt tutorial I have seen. It makes WAY more sense than my patternmaking book.

  3. This is just perfect! Thanks for the tutorial!

  4. it's a great tutorial. Thanks An!

  5. Awesome tutorial! Well done an:)

  6. Great tutorial. And amazing how productive you are the last weeks! Are you sewing,writing blog posts and tutorials and creating patterns non-stop?

  7. Oh, I wish! No, there is still my part-time job, and the baby of course. But there's a lot you can do between 9 pm and midnight ;-p
    Plus, some of the things I'm blogging now have been finished a while ago, but couldn't be blogged earlier (e.g. having to wait for the Flight Collection to be available before blogging the Improv Pleating tuto).
    This tutorial too is something I wrote weeks ago, but kind of forgot I had ;-)

  8. fantastic tutorial. I'm hoping I can persuade my daughter to start wearing dresses instead of "skirts only" with this ...
    Pinning for future reference :-)

  9. wonderful - I made a bodice last week and couldn't remember how you worked out and cut out the skirt - this is very handy.

  10. Great! I have made a couple of semi-circle skirt dresses in the part, where I obviously then have to stitch the edges of the skirt together at the back. But I have found that, in both cases, these is some excess fabric where I have to do that stitching. It is quite hard to explain, really. I was wondering if it wasn't because the bottom edge of my bodice, being flat, whereas the top edge of the skirt is curved, so it impacts the shape of the skirt in the end. Have you had a similar experience? I fixed it by cutting a triangularish strip of fabric before stitching but I have found no reference to this issue on the web... You can see one of the dresses here: http://missaliceismaking.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/garden-fairy-dress.html. You can't really see the problem on these pictures. Thx for any input on that :) (because everyone wants twirly dresses here!)

    1. Interesting question! I think it might have to do with the fact that, in (semi-)circle skirt, some parts of the edge are inevitably cut on the bias, which stretches easily, while this is not the case for the bodice. Extensive pinning is the only remedy, I think...
      Such a pretty dress!