Country Garden Dancers

English Country Dance Performance Troupe

Making a Circle Skirt

These instructions are for drawing a pattern for a skirt that has 6 gores but is circular in its final dimensions. Benefits over a traditional circle skirt are that a circle skirt has its seams on the grain of the fabric, and tends to stretch a LOT on the bias, leading to an uneven hem and tripping and falling. The circle-gore skirt has all of its seams on the bias, which helps the material to NOT stretch but to keep its shape. Also, depending on the cutting method, a gored skirt is much more conservative in terms of the amount of fabric needed than a circle skirt is. In terms of period accuracy, I won't say that a circular skirt is accurate, but gored construction is accurate, and much more so than circle skirt construction. Fabrics of the time were much too narrow to cut a single panel quarter or half circle. Here are the pattern instructions. I will try to put up a picture later of what the finished product should look like. This pattern is HALF of each gore, which is generally cut on a fold or on the selvedge (to later be sewn together into a complete gore). If anyone wants layout, cutting, and construction instructions, let me know and I'll add those as well.
You will need: a tape measure, a roll of wrapping paper (preferably the kind with the grid on the back), a flat, smooth surface, a pen such as a Sharpie, scissors, and a calculator. Also, you will need your natural waist measurement and a waist-to-ankle-bone measurement for skirt length.
So it should go something like this:
Waist measurement (A):_____
Waist-to-ankle (B): _____
Divide number A by 6, and round up (add one if it's a whole number) (C): _____
Add B and C to get the Magic Number: ____
Magic Number divided by 2 (D): _____
Magic Number multiplied by .86 (E): ____
Draw a dot or a star or something on one edge of your paper. From there, measure along the edge of the paper the Magic Number. Use a tape measure or a string with a pen on the end of it and draw an arc by holding the non-pen end of the tape measure at the star, and the other end (with the pen) at the magic number and moving the pen toward the middle of the paper. Go back to the star, and measure down the edge of the paper (again) the number E. It should be almost to the arc at the bottom but not quite. Draw a line straight out from the edge of the paper until you cross the arc. Measure this line you've just drawn; it should be pretty close to the half-of-the-magic-number, D. Now draw a line from the star to the place where your E line crosses the arc. The last thing is to draw the baby arc for the waist line. For this, you want to go back to the waist-divided-by-6-and-rounded number, C. Starting at the star again, measure down the edge of the paper the length C, and draw an arc like you did before. This should be a little tiny bit, between 5 and 8 inches. Now your pattern is done, go ahead and cut it out. You may want to make another pattern piece by tracing the one you have; it will make cutting out your skirt much easier!
Cutting: the pattern piece is HALF of each gore. You don't have to make two of the pattern, but it might make your life easier during cutting. You can cut it in either of two ways, depending on the width of your fabric.
1) Across the fabric
Fewer seams, since all of the gores are cut in one piece except the last one.
The pattern piece may fit more easily since it is a few inches shorter than it is wide.
It's easier to get the gores crooked since you're not using the edge of the fabric as a guide.
2) Along the fabric
Easier to lay out and cut, since you're using the selvedge and fold to guide you.
Half again as many seams since half of the gores are cut on the selvedge, requiring them to be sewn together later.
Across fabric: Make two pattern pieces. Lay out the pieces, starting with the piece labeled 1, which has the straight side along the fold of the fabric. *Before you cut*, lay out the second piece, marked 2, which is one side of the next gore. Cut the diagonal seam between the two pieces, and the curved top and bottom edges. DO NOT cut along the straight edge between piece 2 and 3! (This is the blue line on the diagram). Continue to cut the pieces. It will be easier to keep them straight if you move the pattern piece like a leapfrog; lay out piece 2 before you remove 1, piece 3 before you move 2, etc. You only cut on the diagonal lines, not the straight up and down blue lines. When you are finished, you will have a total of 5 full gores (including the one that you cut originally on the fold), and 2 half-gores (piece 6).
Along the fabric: You can cut this one with either one pattern piece or two. Lay out the pattern pieces in numbered order as shown in the diagram, starting with piece 1. Lay the first piece with the straight edge on the fold. The second piece, and the other even pieces, should be laid 1/2" away from the selvedge, to leave a seam allowance for the straight seams. Cut all the pieces. When you are finished, you will have 3 full gores (cut from the fold), and 6 half gores (cut from the selvedge).
Construction: The construction is basically the same for both cutting methods. If you used the along the fabric method, you need to sew the half gores into whole gores along the straight seams. Pin and sew the half gores in pairs as they were cut out. When you sew the first pair, leave the top (waist end) of the seam open about 10 inches; this will be the opening where you can fasten the waistband. If you used the across the fabric method, you only have one pair of half gores to sew together. Don't forget to stop sewing the seam 10" from the waist end.
Next, sew the gores along the diagonal seams using a seam allowance of 1/2" at the most. If you sew the seams too wide, the skirt will be too small in the waist. Sewing the seams from the bottom (wide) end toward the wais end will help keep them from sagging after they're sewn. Since these seams aren't on the selvedge, you'll need to zigzag the seam allowances to keep them from fraying in the wash. If you used the "along the fabric" method, you will want to alternate sewn half gore panels with full gore panels to disguise the total number of seams. Sometimes it's easier to do this if you start out by sewing a seamed gore (previously two half gores, now sewn together) to a full gore, and then sew the pairs of gores together. BE VERY CAREFUL in this step that all of your seams end up on the inside of the skirt. Press open the seams. As you press the seam that includes the waist opening, you want to press the edges open all the way to the waistband, then turn the open ends under into the fold and press them again to hide the raw edges. Sew around this opening to keep the edges hidden.
Next, you need to construct and attach the waistband. Zigzag the edges of the waistband (it's easier to do it now than after the waistband is sewn). Turn the short ends under 1/4", then 1/4" again to hide the raw edges, and sew across each end. Next, press the waistband in half the long way. Also, press both long edges of the waistband 1/2" to the inside.
Attaching the waistband: you can either gather or pleat the skirt to the waistband, or just match it if it's close enough to the same measure as your waist. Match one edge of the waist opening to the end of the waistband. Match the other edge of the opening to a spot 1" from the opposite end of the waistband, leaving that 1" or so of the waistband at the end for overlap. The gored skirt won't have nearly as much pleating as the straight panel skirt. The straight panel skirt page also has a decent description of how to attach the waistband.
The last thing to do is to hem the skirt. I use a rolled hem foot for this, because it's fast and easy. You can do a regular rolled hem (press the edge to the inside 1/2", then press the raw edge into the fold for a 1/4" hem), or you can zigzag the entire skirt edge and apply trimming to the edge. Extra wide double fold bias tape is nice, as is quilt binding (which is basically the same, just a little wider). You can cut strips from another material, such as broadcloth, and use those instead. You don't want to use ribbon, though; it's a little too fancy for us as peasants, even "party peasants".
Closures: The waistband construction on the skirt page leaves a waistband that is suitable for a drawstring or elastic, if you want to go that way. I'd advise against elastic, since it tends to get dragged down by the weight of the skirt and come out from under your bodice, tripping you at inconvenient times and also getting very dirty from dragging the ground. You can also use the overlap to put on a button and button hole, or flat skirt hooks (use the heavy duty type, at least two of them). Personally, I just use safety pins to keep them closed.
-Sara Penner
Click herefor a pdf copy suitable for downloading or printing.