Introduction: AutoCAD Circle Skirt

Circle skirts are sewn from an extremely simple pattern, are fairly easy to make, and are great for going out dancing. The pattern is even easier to make if you've got access to AutoCAD (or other design software) and a large-format printer.

I happened across four or five yards of satin at the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse, and since most of my sewing is patchwork, haphazard, or otherwise patternless, I wanted some way to use this gorgeous fabric that didn't require a complicated pattern. I ended up going with a eight-panel design, with four larger (60-degree angle) panels from the solid blue satin alternating with four smaller (30-degree angle) panels from a lighter-weight printed fabric.

For the waistband, you can leave an allowance and put in an elastic band or drawstring, or (what I did) you can use a heavier fabric to make a waistband that laces up on each side. (Laces and grommets, oh my!)

Step 1: Gather Supplies.

What you need:
- 5-6 yards of fabric for the skirt (make the pattern to your dimensions first, then calculate how much fabric you need)
- 1/2 yard or so of heavier fabric for the waistband
- wide ribbon or trim, two lengths of cord or shoelace
- grommets & grommeting tool
- pair of pants that fits snugly on your waist and hips
- sewing machine, basic sewing supplies & skills
- AutoCAD software & large-format printer (not absolutely necessary, you can draw your pattern by hand on large sheets of paper)

Obviously, it's not worth going out and buying a copy of AutoCAD to draw up simple sewing patterns. But if you happen to have access to the software and a large-format printer and you know how to use them, well, why not?

The skirt is easy to make, comfortable, shiny, and awesome for dancing. I have to admit, though, that the best part is getting to tell my tech-geek friends that I designed it with AutoCAD.

Step 2: Take Measurements.

For the AutoCAD skirt pattern, you need 2 measurements:

1) Skirt length: Decide how long you want to skirt to be and measure that length on your body. For mine, I wanted the top of the skirt to rest at the middle of my hip and the bottom hem to fall at the top of my ankle, which gave me a skirt length measurement of 32".

2) Waist/hips: Measure the circumference of your waist or hips where you want the top of the skirt to sit, then add a couple of inches to that measurement. Since I'm making a wide waistband separate from the skirt, I want the top of the skirt to sit at the widest point on my hips.

A tailor's tape (flexible measuring tape) is the easiest way to take these measurements.

Step 3: Make the Skirt Pattern.

First, decide how many panels you want the skirt to have and how you want the circle divided. It helps to draw the pattern out on paper first. I've included the AutoCAD .dwg and .dxf files for two patterns here: one for a full-circle skirt with eight equal 45 degree panels, and a second for a full-circle skirt with four 30 degree panels and four 60 degree panels, alternating between the wide and narrow panels around the circle. There are .dwg and .dxf files for both the full-circle drawing and the individual panel patterns.
I used the second pattern to make the skirt shown here, using solid blue satin for the wide panels and a patterned, lighter-weight blue satin for the narrower accent panels.

In AutoCAD:
Draw two concentric circles. Set the circumference of the inner circle equal to your waist/hip measurement, then set the dimension of the distance between the inner and outer circles equal to your skirt length measurement.

Next, draw lines dividing the circles into the correct number of panels, and dimension the angles between the lines as desired.

You should now have a picture of the whole skirt, with lines representing each of the seams to be sewn. (See full-circle images below for examples.)

To make the pattern you'll use to cut out the individual panels, first add lines for your seam allowances on one panel of your full-circle drawing. Add one circle with a radius 1" less than the inner circle for the waist seam allowance, and one circle with a radius 1" more than your outer circle for the bottom hem seam allowance. Then add lines parallel to the straight-line borders of one panel, offset outside the panel by 1". Trim out all lines outside these seam allowances, and you'll be left with a complete pattern for one panel.

If you're making a skirt with panels of different sizes, repeat this process for each type of panel.

Once you've got the complete pattern for your panel(s), print them out on a large-format printer and cut along the seam-allowance lines.

For some resources on drawing out circle skirt patterns by hand, check out:
(These links also include information about constructing the skirts and making simple elastic waistbands.)

Step 4: Cut Out the Panels.

Before you start, make sure to wash and dry your fabric according to the recommendations for that material. This will ensure that when you wash the finished skirt, your seams won't warp due to shrinkage. Iron the fabric before you lay out the patterns so that it is smooth and even.

Lay your fabric out on a wide surface so that it is flat and smooth. Make sure that it's not stretched when you draw or cut out the pattern.

Lay your panel pattern flat on the fabric, then trace around the outside with chalk or a water-soluble fabric pen. Cut along your pattern-lines. For the next panel, flip the pattern around so that you're alternating wide and narrow ends of the panel along the length of the fabric (see illustration). You'll waste less yardage this way.

Step 5: Sew Panels Together.

Lay out your panels so that you can see which edges should be sewn together. For each seam, lay the panels with the "right" (front) sides of the fabric together and pin them along the edge to be sewn.

For my skirt, I pinned and sewed the panels in pairs, then sewed the pairs together into half-circles, then sewed the half-circles together. This meant I didn't have to wrangle quite so much fabric for most of the seams.

I used a tight straight stitch for my seams and left a large seam allowance. Ideally, I'd go back over the seams with a serger. If you don't have access to a serger, you can go back over them with a zigzag stitch and then trim off the extra seam allowance.

Once you've sewn all the panels together, you've got the body of the skirt roughed in. Hitch it up on your waist and twirl around, because that's really what this skirt is for.

Step 6: Make a Pattern for the Waistband.

For this step, you need a pair of snugly-fitting pants and a large sheet of paper. Lay the pants out flat with the top of the waistband even and straight, as shown. Lay your paper over the waist/hips of the pants, then trace out a section in the shape that you want for the waistband of your skirt.

Using a snug pair of pants as the model for your pattern means that you'll get the right width and angle to fit well across your hips. You can draw a pattern for as wide or as narrow a waistband as you want.

Cut out your pattern from the paper. You can either draw a 1" seam allowance around the shape that you've traced, or, since it's a small and simple pattern, just cut the paper along the original lines and then make sure to leave a seam allowance around the edges when you cut your fabric.

Step 7: Cut Your Waistband Fabric.

Note: I'd recommend using a heavier fabric for the waistband, since you want it to support the weight of the skirt and be sturdy enough that you can put in grommets and laces on the side. For my skirt, I used upholstery-weight velvet.

Lay your pattern out on the fabric, draw along the edges with chalk or washable fabric pen, then cut out the pattern. Make sure to leave a 1" seam allowance on all sides.

Since you need both a front and back side for your waistband, repeat this process to get a second, identical piece. Check the dimensions by holding them up around your waist; ignoring the seam allowance, they should just barely meet at the each side of your hips.

Step 8: Hem, Trim, and Grommet the Waistband.

Fold the top seam-allowance edge of each piece of the waistband over, "wrong" (back) sides together, and sew a straight hem.

Fold each side seam-allowance edge over and stitch that down. Next, take a length of your trim, fold it so that it covers the front and back sides of the side-hem, and stitch it firmly down. The idea here is that you want several layers of fabric to seat and support the grommets. (I did the trim and grommets for my skirt in a rush, and they came out very rough. It doesn't need to be perfect to look good when you're wearing it, though.)

For the grommets, use a heavy-duty punch to make three holes in each side of each waistband piece, evenly spaced. The diameter of the holes should equal the inner diameter of the grommets you're using. (I used fairly large grommets; smaller ones would probably work just as well.)

From the right side of the fabric, insert the deep half of the grommet through the hole. On the wrong side, place the shallow half of the grommet over the stem of the deep half of the grommet. Use a grommet/eyelet tool and mallet or grommeting pliers to press the two halves together so that the stem of the deep half rolls over the shallow half.

(For more detailed instructions on setting eyelets or grommets, check the packaging on a kit, or check out the grommeting step in this Instructable on making a grommeted leather top.)

Step 9: Attach the Waistband to the Skirt.

Pin the top edge of the skirt to the base of the waistband panels.

Start by setting the side edges of the waistband panels together, then make sure that where the side edges of the waistband meet is lined up with the exact center of each side of the skirt. Pin that point with the "right" sides of the fabric together, then find the center of the front and back of the waistband and pin those points to the center of the front and back of the skirt respectively. Once those four points are anchored, gather and pin the top of the skirt evenly to the base of the waistband in between.

On my skirt, there's one 60-degree solid blue panel in front and back, then a 30-degree panel on either side of that, which makes the other two 60-degree panels fall symmetrically on each side.

Once you've pinned the edges evenly and with the "right" sides of the fabric together, sew a straight seam along the circumference that you've just pinned. (As with the side seams, I'd ideally finish this seam with a serger, but a sewing along the seam with a zigzag stitch and trimming off the seam allowance will work just as well.)

You should now have a nearly-finished skirt; all that's left to do is to hem the bottom edge. Try the skirt on and lace up the sides to make sure that it fits the way you want it to. Twirl around until you get dizzy!

Step 10: Finish the Bottom Hem.

Many fabrics stretch more in one direction (along the bias) than in the perpendicular direction. Once you have the skirt all put together it's a good idea to let it hang for a few days to let the weight of the skirt stretch the fabric as far as it's likely to go before you hem it.

To hem the skirt:
Put on the skirt with whatever shoes you plan to wear, and have a friend pin or mark the hem at the desired length all the way around the bottom of the skirt. Then measure out to your desired seam allowance (1-2", depending on whether you want one or two folds) and trim off the excess.

Fold the fabric so that the bottom edge is at the correct length, then sew beside the fold all the way around the edge. For a more finished seam, leave enough seam allowance that you can fold the edge over twice, sealing the rough edge of the fabric inside the hem.

Step 11: Go Out and Dance!

You can add whatever sorts of trim or flash to the skirt that you'd like, too. But the most important bit is to put on the skirt, lace it up, and get on to the dancing, twirling, and AutoCAD geekery.