Circus Circle Skirt Pattern Tutorial

Hi everyone! As promised, here is my swirly circle skirt pattern tutorial. I’ve made this a couple of times – I’ve dubbed it the Circus Circle Skirt. In this post I’m going to show you how to draft the pattern piece for one section of the circle skirt. Here’s a reminder of what the finished skirt looks like and why you should make one too!

Glastonbury Circus Skirt Glastonbury20157

Black and Cream Swirl Skirt


What you’ll need

  • Ruler
  • Pencils
  • Pens
  • Paper scissors
  • Measuring tape
  • French curve (optional)
  • Long piece of ribbon or string
  • Compass (optional)
  • Protractor (also optional)
  • Large sheet of paper (I used a roll of brown parcel paper)
  • Calculator (if you don’t want to be stretching those mental maths muscles)

Yep, I forgot to photograph some of those things, sorry about that! Note to self: always take the ‘what you’ll need’ photo LAST.


Draw a right angle

Draw yourself a vertical line 1.5cm away from the edge of the paper at least 70 cm long, although you can always extend it later. Now draw a line near the bottom of the paper at right angles to the vertical line. For reasons that will become apparent later, you want to draw it higher than I have here – maybe 20cm from the bottom. For the right angle you can use a set square, a right angle ruler, or my tutorial on how to draw a right angle with a compassCircusSkirtTutorial02Circle skirt maths

As a reminder, here’s all the maths you need to make a circle skirt. CircusSkirtTutorial03

For your skirt, you’re going to draw two circle arcs – the inner one being for your waist and the outer one being the hem of the skirt. For now, we’ll worry about the inner circle, for which the circumference is your waist measurement, 87.5cm in my case.

From the equation above I can now work out the radius of the circle.

Waist Radius = 87.5/2π = 13.93cm

While I’m working out the maths I’m also going to find one sixth of my waist measurement. If you decided to dig out your protractor you don’t really need this number, although it’s a good way to check your measurements. This skirt has 6 panels, so the waist on the pattern piece is a sixth of the waist measurement. If you want your skirt to have more or fewer panels than this, it’s easy to change – just divide the waist measurement by the number of panels you’d like.

Waist length for one panel = waist/6 = 14.58 cm

Draw waist measurement

Set your compass to the waist radius that you just worked out. Place the pointy end at the meeting of your two lines and draw an arc as shown below. If you don’t have a compass you can use the ribbon/string method below, but it’s not as accurate, so use a compass if you can!


Skirt length

Work out how long you want your skirt to be (my Glastonbury one is 50cm long) and add  hem allowance to this amount. Now using your measuring tape, measure this length from your waist line along the vertical line and mark this point on the line. CircusSkirtTutorial05

Make a giant compass

Tie your ribbon or string around a pen as close to the bottom as you can without it being in danger of slipping off. CircusSkirtTutorial07

Hold your pen tip on the mark you made for the length of your skirt and stretch the ribbon straight down the vertical line. At the crossing pont of the horizontal and vertical lines push a pin through the ribbon and paper and pull the paper just off the table so you can push the pin right through and rest it against the edge. You could also do this bit on a board or a carpeted floor. CircusSkirtTutorial08

Draw the hem

Now you’ve made your giant compass, you can draw the hem measurement in just the same way you drew the waist measurement. Holding the paper and pin steady, pull your pen in an arc all the way between the vertical and horizontal lines and keep going until you hit the bottom of the paper.CircusSkirtTutorial09 CircusSkirtTutorial10

Straight line for zip

To make a zip easier to insert, I made the top of the panel have a straight line before the curve begins, so measure 10cm from the waist up along the vertical line and mark this point. I like to draw this in another colour to make it clear. CircusSkirtTutorial11

Draw your curve

I don’t have a french curve (yet), you are very welcome to use one for this bit however I just free-handed. Probably best to do this bit in pencil to start with either way. Starting from the top of your 10cm straight line draw a large curve so that it joins the curve of the hem smoothly. When drawing this line consider how much you want the stripes of your skirt to curve around. I found that the curve always looks a bit less pronounced on the skirt than it does on the pattern piece, so that’s something to consider, but have an experiment and see what you like. CircusSkirtTutorial12

Waist arc

If you want to use a protractor then this bit is super easy. With the centre of the protractor on the intersection of your main lines and the bottom of the protractor lined up with the vertical line, measure an angle of 60 degrees and mark where this lies. If you want a different number of panels then this angle is 360 divided by the number of panels. Hopefully this will make sense when you see the pictures below.

If like me you couldn’t find a protractor, this is where you’ll need your waist measurement divided by 6 that you so cleverly noted down earlier. If you opted for a different number of panels, this is where you would get your waist divided by whatever number of panels you chose. I have a bendy ruler, so I just measured this length around the curve of the waist from the vertical line and around. If you don’t have a bendy ruler then you can do it with a measuring tape or a normal ruler, moving it around the curve. I would recommend doing this a couple of times until you are getting the measurement in the same place.

Not as good as the protractor way is it? Definitely need to dig that out if I even still have one. One other way I thought of is this curve ruler that Christine Haynes has mentioned a couple of times on her blog, but I have no idea if it’s any good. Definitely let me know if you’ve tried it, I’m intrigued.

CircusSkirtTutorial13 Set up the second curve

Line your ruler up with the intersection of the straight lines and the measurement of your waist arc that you just made. Draw a line out from the waist by 10cm. This line marks the same straight line as the vertical one you drew earlier – remember that these curves have to be identical in order to fit together. CircusSkirtTutorial14 CircusSkirtTutorial15

Create a curve template

Trace your curve onto another piece of paper and cut it out. I just roughly cut the paper and then trimmed it until it was right, but tracing paper would be quicker. CircusSkirtTutorial16

Draw second curve

Place your curve template so that the 10cm straight line is lined up with the straight line you drew out from the waist. Weigh it down so it doesn’t shift around and draw around it.

[You can probably see this is the point where I realised my horizontal line was too close to the bottom of the paper – I ended up sticking some more paper on the bottom]CircusSkirtTutorial17 CircusSkirtTutorial18

Add seam allowances

With your compass and my compass tutorial, or otherwise, add seam allowances to all sides except the hem (you already included hem allowance in this measurement).


Cut Out Your Pattern

Cut out along the seam allowances and pat yourself on the back for drafting your own pattern! You definitely deserve a cup of tea before getting stuck into all those curved seams. CircusSkirtTutorial20

From here you need to cut out six pieces of your fabric and sew them together along the side seams. You can use 2 colours, 3 colours or even try 6 different colours! Before you sew the final seam you need to add a waistband (or attach to a bodice) and insert a zip. Make sure the zip doesn’t extend too far past that 10cm straight line to save yourself a headache! Then, hem, try on and give yourself a twirl!

I hope you found the circus circle skirt pattern tutorial helpful? I would be happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments or by email. Next time I make one, I’ll put together some more notes and pictures on how to construct it for anyone scared by those curved seams – they’re not as bad as they look, I promise. Finally, if you make your own Circus Circle Skirt I would love to see it :)

Leave a Reply