I tried to address all the questions you guys have asked about circle skirts over the years: how to hem a circle skirt, how to avoid hemming (heh), how to determine how much fabric you need, what to do if your fabric isn’t wide enough to cut the skirt in one piece, and so on.
This particular tutorial (at least when it comes to the waistband style) is best suited for knit fabrics. If you want to make a circle skirt with a woven fabric, please see my pixie skirt tutorial for a waistband style better suited for non-stretch fabrics.
ARCHIVED TUTORIAL BELOW – The following is my original circle skirt tutorial, which includes the steps that show you how to do the math.
The awesome thing about circle skirts is that once you get the idea, you can use the same premise to make a variety of different styles all based on a simple circle skirt.
This tutorial is for a classic circle skirt (think 50’s style poodle skirt). The other variations of the circle skirt can be found here.
If your circle skirt turned out ginormous and you’re left scratching your head, check this out.
Cut a waistband out of stretchy fabric or stretch lace. It should be large enough to stretch over your hips, but small enough that it stays put on your waist. For shiggles, let’s say our example waistband is 40″ wide.
I’m skipping ahead here for just a second to show what our end goal is.
What we want at the end of all of this is to wind up with a big donut shaped piece of fabric with the center hole’s circumference matching that of our waistband, so for our example, 40″.
Thar be math ahead!! Don’t worry, it’s not hard, and I’ll walk you through it.
If you’re a little rusty on your geometry, let’s revisit. The circumference is the measurement aroouuuund the outside of a circle. The radius is the measurement from the center point of the circle to any point on the outside of the circle (the diameter goes all the way across the circle, and is two times the radius, but we don’t really need that here).
MATH STUFF! HUZZAH! I’ll bet you love math as much as i do, so this part will be So Much Fun.
Before you try to skip the math and wing it, read this.
In order to cut an accurately sized hole (40″, remember?), we need the radius of the circle.
let’s pause for a minute. I’m not going to go into great detail about this, but there’s something called ‘bias’ with fabric. It has to do with how the weave of the fabric effects the way the fabric drapes.
Cutting on the bias will make the fabric stretch. When you make a circle skirt, you’re going to wind up cutting part of it on the bias- no matter what you do, it can’t be avoided. Even with a non-stretch, woven fabric, it will stretch. Stretch fabrics will REALLY stretch when cut on the bias.
So if you’ve ever made a circle skirt, and you’ve done ALL the math right, and it still turned out a little too big, we shall blame bias.
To counteract bias, we need to make the hole smaller than we think we need it. So we will subtract 4 inches from the 40″ we are shooting for. That gives us 36″.
I know 4 inches sounds like a lot, but trust me here. You always want to shoot for smaller with a circle skirt (unlike most other things where larger is more easily fixed), because that can be fixed by cutting the hole bigger!
So even though we want a 40″ hole, we are going to do the math for a 36″ hole.
To get the radius, we use this equation:
radius = circumference divided by 2 times pi
2 times pi = 6.28
radius = (36″) divided by (6.28)
radius = 5.7″
which is about 5 3/4″
The next step is figuring out how much fabric we need. Circle skirts require a decent amount of fabric, so sometimes you’ll need to make your fabric donut out of 2 or even 4 different pieces of fabric.
Here’s how you figure it out:
Take your desired skirt length (minus the waistband), in our case it’s 16″, and add it to the radius measurement.
(Remember to account for hems and seam allowances!)
5.75 + 16 = 21.75″
Now multiply that times 2 and we have 43.5″.
Your piece of fabric must be at least 43.5″ in length and width in order to cut a circle skirt in 1 continuous piece.
Generally fabric comes in 45″ and 60″ widths, so as long as your piece of fabric is long enough, a skirt with these measurements is not a problem.
However, if you want a really long skirt, you will most likely have to piece together your giant donut in halves or quarters.
This isn’t so much a step as a note, because the drawing illustrates a particular concern with circle skirts. Patterns. That top little skull guy is going to wind up being upside down on our skirt. Maybe you don’t care, that’s cool, but it’s something to keep in mind. One-way patterns will be upside down and sideways at various points on the skirt. If that bothers you, see the next step. If you cut your skirt in quarters with all of the pattern pieces oriented so the pattern stays right-side-up, you can avoid this issue.
You can avoid this by choosing patterns that aren’t one-way. Polka dots work fine. Or you can use one-way patterns to your advantage to get interesting designs. Stripes, for example, look pretty cool on a circle skirt because the stripes take on a curvy appearance. See an example here.
If you have determined you can cut your skirt in 1 continuous donut, fold your fabric in half. And then in half again, so it’s folded in quarters. Make sure you get nice neat folds… you don’t want it to look sloppy like my drawing. And you don’t want wrinkles.
From the folded corner, measure 5 3/4″ out from that point in several places and then connect the dots with a curving line, so that you have a quarter circle. Each point along the quarter circle should be 5 3/4″ away from the center point. (see the blue dots in the drawing.)
Now do the same thing for the length measurement. You could measure 16″ from the 5 3/4″ line, but you’ll get more accurate results if you measure from the center point again. So just add those two together and measure 21 3/4″ from the center. (purple dots)
Cut where you’ve marked and…
Step 6 b.
If you’ve determined you won’t be able to cut your skirt in one continuous donut, you will wind up cutting your fabric something like the examples below.
The top illustration shows the circle skirt cut in 2 half circle pieces. You’ll need to add seam allowance to those straight edges so you don’t lose any circumference when you sew the pieces together. (If you don’t want to worry about seam allowances, you can piece your fabric together first, then fold and cut as shown in Step 6.)
The bottom illustration shows the circle skirt cut in 4 quarter pieces. Again, don’t forget the seam allowances.
In both illustrations, the fabric is in a single layer- no folds!
Laying flat, the middle circle will be 36″, but when you open it up and let gravity have a tug at it, it’ll be much closer to 40″.
Measure it to make sure, and if you need to make it a little bigger, go ahead. Just take a sliver off that inner circle to make it a little bigger. Go slow, because like I said before, too big is harder to fix than too small.
Attach the donut to your waistband, and you’re done! If it turned out a little bigger than your waistband, just stretch the waistband a little as you sew them together.
You can use this same idea to add a flounce hem to a dress or skirt.
Why does the hem of my skirt wind up with longer bits after a few weeks?
Bias + Gravity = Wonky Hems. Before hemming a circle skirt, let it hang on a hanger for a few days. After the fabric has stretched out, remeasure and trim the excess before hemming. I’ve read claims that even after this step, the fabric will continue to stretch, particularly if you’re using a heavier/stretchier fabric or you’re making a full length skirt. There really isn’t a way to keep it from stretching aside from relocating to a zero gravity environment. ? The best you can do is encourage the bias to stretch out before hemming and then even it up.
How do I make a circle skirt with an elastic waistband?
I have a tutorial for that here: https://whatthecraft.com/how-to-make-a-pixie-skirt-diy-fashion-tutorial/
Do I really need to subtract 2-4″ from my waist measurement to account for bias stretch? That seems like a lot. First things first: If you’re making a skirt with an elastic waistband (see previous question), you don’t need to subtract from the waist measurement to account for bias. And by elastic, I mean ELASTIC. The stuff that comes in a width of 1″ or 2″ or 3″, etc. If you’re making a stretch waistband from fabric, I would suggest you account for bias stretch as suggested.
With most sewing, you’re better off making something too large than something too small, so I understand the worry. But when it comes to the waist of a circle skirt, it’s much easier to make the hole larger than to make it smaller. Yes, you could add a seam and take in the extra width. But then we did all that work to cut it in one piece for naught! (If you’re already cutting your skirt in more than one piece, you can ignore this.) Yes, you could gather the extra width into the waistband, but then we biffed it, right? It’s a salvageable biff, but a biff nonetheless.
So, what to do if you followed my advice to subtract all those inches from the waist, and now the waist is too small? Make the hole bigger! For every 1/4″ you take away from the waist, the circumference will get 1.5″ larger. Translation: a little trimming goes a LONG WAY.