SWAP #5 The circular skirt

The circular skirt has lots going for it. This one appears to have exaggerated underpinnings giving the model the appearance of an exceptionally wasp like waist.

1950s circle skirt

It is flattering for women with smaller waists and disguises larger hips. It can be showy and fun, supported by a full petticoat, or it can be restrained and modest and drapey, if made in a softer fabric.

The original – cut a hole in a table-cloth and wear it tonight – approach shows just how simple it can be, and for many it provides a good way in to sewing.

The pattern

I have reviewed the wide range of instructions on the internet and some are decidedly dodgy and will not give you a good fit. I have also read all the old books I have at home (showing that this skirt has been permanently in fashion, and that there is nothing new under the sun). So here, having distilled it all down, and piloted the approach, I offer you what I think is the easiest and best way to make a circle skirt.

You can start with your skirt block you can eliminate the darts, creating a flared skirt (with a curved waistline). Then additional slashes (from hem to waist) allow you to get the CB and CF at right angles to each other, with the waistline becoming a quarter circle)

But of course the easier method is to create a “donut” shape, where you just cut out a circle from the middle of the cloth. You can create just one seam into which the zip is inserted (unless you make the skirt in very stretch fabric and add a piece of wide elastic for the waist band). Most of the web “tutorials” are based on this approach in order to make the job as easy as possible.

How to get the size right?

Here we go back to basic maths and we need to work out the radius based on our circumference/waist measurement. The circumference of a circle is just slightly more than three times the diameter. To calculate the diameter we need to divide the circumference by pi  which looks like this: which is 3.14 (or very slightly more, but we will don’t need to be more accurate). The radius will be half this so 3.14 x 2 which means you must divide the circumference by 6.28 to find the radius. Measure your waist snugly. My waist is 68 cms. 68 cms divided by 6.28 = 10.8 cms.


We could now make a paper pattern by creating a quarter circle pattern piece, on to which we add seam allowances on the waist line, side seams and hem. The CF/CB can be cut on the fold. This creates a nice pattern that can be used again and again, with a side zip and possibility of side seam pockets if prefered. Unfortunately even reliable Mrs Aldrich lets us down with her fabric layout diagram. The CF fold is not on the fold as it should be, and with a different arrangement of the fabric it should be possible to avoid the CB seam.

Making a circle skirt
Winifred Aldrich circle skirt

However this approach is much more reliable that the quick and dirty method of avoiding a paper pattern altogether. All over the internet are “tutorials” that involve folding the fabric into four (cross and lengthwise), measuring out from the point to produce the waist line, and then measuring down from the waist line as far as the fabric allows for the length of the skirt (or shorter).

But before we start cutting let’s talk about ease and seam allowances (I have viewed about 25 diagrams and tutorials and none of them mention this issue). If we measure down 10.8cms and CUT along this line what do you think is going to happen?

As you sew on the waist band, sewing 1.5cms below this cut what happens?

You have now created a radius of 12.3 cms, which (x 6.28) gives a circumference of 77cms – 9cms too big. Assuming we take 3cms off for the back seam it is still 6cms too large. Even if you like a bit of ease this is way too roomy.

Let’s start again.

If you draw in your waist line as instructed at 10.8cm, and use your tape measure on its side to draw a second line 1.5cms above it as your cutting line you will be able to get a good fit from the quick and dirty/no paper pattern approach. However – and I have made several samples before I wrote this, in both paper and in fabric – I must issue a big warning.

  • Fabric becomes very unstable when a substantial circle is cut into it, and stretches markedly if you are not very careful.
  • Also cutting through four layers accurately is not easy. Even half a centimeter makes a difference to the fit. You do have to be very accurate. I would say a little smaller rather than bigger is better as you can stretch the bias a smidge to fit it into the waistband.
  • I stay stitched the waistline

Once the donut is cut out you will need to create the CB seam by separating the skirt along the straight grain on one edge.


I wanted a wool with drape and found the perfect fabric at Simply Fabrics. I think it is Paul Smith suiting in navy that is not too deep. The fabric really makes this skirt in my opinion. It is a nice quality and I should have lined it, but I wanted it to be as light and drapey as possible, so in the end I made it with nicely finished seams instead. It is a little deeper than this photograph shows.

Blue suiting fabric
Nice, blue, Paul Smith wool suiting


I made the waist band along the selvage edge two centimeters longer than my waist measurement – ie 70cms, to allow for ease. I kept it fairly narrow as this was the best use of the cloth, but a circle skirt can look great with a much wider waist band. If you are fairly petit a narrower waist band (and belts) may suit you better than a wide belt, and vice versa.I applied very light interfacing to the waist band then the cut edge of your skirt is coaxed to fit onto this straight edge. I  carefully pinned, then tacked, the waistline of the fabric. Even though I had cut accurately it didn’t have any trouble filling the space.

Before finishing it I added an invisible zip, closed the CB seam, and finished the waistband by hand.

I put the skirt on Camilla and let it hang before hemming. It is swishy and heavy, but also it drapes nicely. I am looking forward to wearing it. But first I need to think about hand or machine hemming. Any views?

Circle skirt
Circle skirt





12 Responses

  1. Chris

    The fabric looks to have a lovely drape for this type of skirt. I’ve also noticed that most tutorials seem to ignore the seam allowances needed. But I did wonder if you allowed add any extra to your waist measurement to allow for fabric that would be taken by the centre back seam? By Hand London have a circle skirt calculator app on their website which includes seam allowances in its calculations, and might be useful as it also calculates the yardage required.

  2. Annie

    Lovely skirt and a good explanation of seam allowances and the need for accurate cutting. Sticking my head above the parapet I disagree with DF, I would do a very narrow machine hem, stitch a guiding row 1/4″ from the edge and turn up once then turn a second fold, iirc your machine comes with an edgestitching foot, it’s perfect for this type of hem.

  3. CCL

    Hand hem! Agree with Demented…the softer finish of hand stitching will not disrupt the beautiful drape of the gorgeous fabric.

  4. Liese Sadler

    Interesting read, years ago I tried cutting a circle skirt with the fold and measure down, then cut and got exactly as you pointed out …too big! I can’t recall how it got salvaged, it’s too bad that info is still out there.
    Well my idea for the hem is using a soft ribbon similar to the skirt color, if soft it shouldn’t stiffen and spoil that lovely drape right? Thinking it would be pretty when you sit and the inside hem area shows.
    Wondering about Aldrich’s layout, the fold is shown, do you think then it wouldn’t have been understood to place the pattern piece down to the fold?

  5. Kim

    I agree with the hand hemming brigade. Machining is neat but tends to firm up the edge quite significantly in a way that hand stitching doesn’t.

  6. Mem

    Well I have done this with a skirt I made some years back . First I put som pegs along the hem and left it on the dress form for about a week . The amount of dropping was pretty amazing . This us how Vionnet did it . Then I fold io about 1/8 of an inch and using a very small stitch hemmed it up . Then use you duck bill scissors and trim and bits away ,press it and repeat . It works beautifully and creates a beautiful fluid hem . At the seams you can cut away bulk on the bias before you start . Paco Peralta describes this method as well . It us better than hand heming . I really love using my old straight stitch machine for this . If you don’t have one use the straight stitch plate on your machine and your straight stitch foot .

  7. Jenny l

    I am for the machined hem. I make my hems in exactly the same way that Mem described. They are so narrow that they aren’t heavy at all.

  8. annie

    Many of those skirts were made of felt. The ones made of fabric ordinaire had those fabulous crinolines underneath, the ones that snagged nylon hose. Incidentally, the model in the picture is Jean Patchett; she had a distinctive mole at the edge of her right eye. Glad you are letting the skirt hand. Rather get the droop out of the way before hemming.

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