Friday, February 10, 2012

SAAS: Sewing At Every Size -- Circle Skirts

This is my SAAS (Sewing at Any Size) series on basic clothes that can be made for any size body without a commercial pattern. For other entries in the series, you can click on the Sewing topic in the sidebar category list.

As this may eventually become a book, please do not reprint or republish anywhere. You are welcome to copy/print/save for your own personal use.

The Circle Skirt

I have been slowly converting my wardrobe to a 1950's theme, with classic, tailored looks including the pencil skirt and the circle skirt.

The extreme example of a circle skirt is the Poodle, but they don't have to be that costumy.  I love the clean A-line swish of the classic cut, but knee-length can be adorable for summer. 

A circle skirt is right up there with the gored or pencil skirt for the easiest thing to make. 

But first, the math.

You need the following measurements:

Your waist circumference
The length you want your skirt to fall from the waist

Yeah...that's it.  But of course in an evil bait and switch, you also need the radius of your waist circumference (i.e. half the diameter of the circle).  For a "close enough" measure, you can divide your waist circumference by 6.28.  If you had geometry in school and want to be more precise, go to it.  Otherwise you can enter your waist circumference here to have the radius calculated for you.

Add the waist radius to the length you want your skirt.  If the total is less than 22 inches, you can buy standard-width fabric.  If the total is between 22 and 30 inches, you can buy 60 inch width fabric.  If your fabric has a pattern that must be a certain way "up", you'll need to use the more complicated cutting pattern below.  Remember that you'll be adding a waistband and hem, so you can fudge about 1.5 inches. 

If you wonder whether you can do this with your waist size, do up the math before you worry.  Remember that the radius of your waist is MUCH less than your waist size (circumference). For instance, if you have a 50 inch waist, you can still make a 50" long finished skirt with 60" fabric.  For every additional 6 inches around your waist, subtract about 1 inch from your maximum skirt length.

Simple Cutting Pattern

(For those who can work with the 45" and 60" methods.)

We'll call the waist radius plus length of skirt measurement (A).

Take a length of fabric TWICE (A) long.  Flatten it out and fold it in half lengthwise (i.e. bringing cut ends together) with right sides together.  Then fold it in half the other direction.  You should have 1/4 of the fabric with one corner containing a double fold and no raw edges.

We're drawing curves, so unless you're a pretty steady hand your best method is to create your own compass.  Use a nail, heavy weight, corner of a table, etc as one end.  Tie a piece of non-stretchy string around it at least long enough to stretch to measurement (A) plus several inches. 

Put the double-fold corner of your fabric against the point you tied the string.  From that corner, measure out the waist radius you obtain earlier.  Pull the string taut to that point, and hold a pencil or piece of chalk with the string.  As you move the chalk or pencil towards either edge of the fabric, the string will force it into a curve.  You should now have 1/4 of an even circle marked on the fabric. 

From the same corner, measure out (A), which should give you the length of the finished hem.  Using the same technique with the string and chalk or pencil, draw another curve at this distance.  When you're done, the mark should be the same length from the point along both edges of the fabric.

Now, without unfolding the fabric, cut along both curves.  When you unfold the fabric, you should have a doughnut shape. 

Complex Cutting Pattern

For those who are using a fabric with a pattern that must go in a certain direction.

Using craft paper, an old bedsheet, etc, trace a square that is measurement (A) on all four sides.

Follow the tracing and cutting directions above to create a single, 1/4 slice of the doughnut. 

Trace the slice onto the wrong side of your fabric four times, and cut out each slice.

Stitch the slices together to create your full doughnut. 


Finishing the Skirt

Add a waistband to the inside of the doughnut following directions in the post on a
gored/paneled skirt HERE

Once you have a waistband, try on the skirt.  Your body shape will affect the hemline, so note if it's too long.

If it falls just right, then make a narrow hem or use binding to finish the edge without changing length. 

If it's too long, mark the point where it needs to be trimmed to, leaving 1/2 inch for a hem.  Cut  to the mark (you may want to fold the skirt in 1/4's and re-do a smooth curve as before) and hem, or leave off the hem allowance and use binding to finish the edge (recommended for stretchy fabric).

Adding some Body

For the classic full, poodle look, add some petticoats underneath, or several slips.  You can make a very simple filler with cheap netting:

Take a length of elastic that fits your waist securely but not uncomfortably tight.  Knot or stitch the ends together to make a loop. 

Cut netting into 2" strips twice the length of your skirt.

Fold each strip in half.  Set the loop of the fold (a.k.a. the bight) under the elastic, then bring the tails over the elastic, through the loop, and tighten.  This is called a lark's head knot, and anyone who has done latch hook will recognize it. 

Pull the tails tight.  Continue tying strips in lark's head knots next to each other around the elastic loop.

If you do very short strips, this looks like a tutu.  If you do longer strips, it will fill out a circle skirt pretty nicely. 

If you want to get some twirling action with the circle skirt, you can get a more finished look by simply repeating the instructions on a silky fabric or tulle to make a second skirt.  The extra layer gives you some fill, and when it flares out you get a flash of color.


Amanda said...

OMG I LOVE you right now! I just -- JUST -- ordered a serger. Like it's supposed to arrive TODAY. I need to make myself some skirts and you have done all the thinking for me so that I can confidently go forth and DO IT. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

JoGeek said...

Glad I could help :-) Good luck!

Ra├Čne said...

I love circle skirts.
One other way to add a little flare to the hem is finishing it with horsehair braid (not really made from horsehair!). You can buy it online or at many fabric stores and it makes the hem stand out some even without a petticoat.

Erica Tesla said...

For an easy expansion on the theme, you can get three for the price of learning one technique - you basically cut either an unfolded piece or a single-folded piece for an A-line or flared skirt. Details here:

(That site, by the by, is among my favorites for clothing-related stuff, as it teaches how to draft your own patterns. Cool stuff.)

JoGeek said...

Raine: I've never worked with horsehair braid, but I looked it up and it seems like a lot of fun. Here's a site with a tutorial on using it:

I've always wondered how people got the really full hem without boning. Thanks for the tip!

Laura said...

Thank you soooo much for your patterns and tutorials. I completely agree with you on the clothing options for "plus size" women. I encourage you to do your book, that would be great.

H Lynnea said...

I know you posted this forever ago, but I wanted to say thank you for offering this how-to in simple language. I want to sew, but being on the upper side of the plus-size scale, trying to find commercial patterns has been an exercise in frustration.

I'm going to experiment with this design, and maybe try only cutting the center circle out, to see if I can manage a nice handkerchief hem.

Samantha said...

Thank you so much for your blog. I ran across it when I was looking to see if I could make a circle skirt for myself (I am quite curvy). You let me know that I didn't have to cut lots of different pieces and sew them together and THEN cut and make the skirt. This was the 1st time I've ever made a circle skirt. Thank you for making it easy to understand, and helping me create a really cute skirt!

Dusk said...

Thanks for such simple instructions. Did the book get written.