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Circle skirt hems uneven

sarahjane | Posted in General Discussion on

I own a small sewing business in Downeast Maine. I have been making circle skirts for a Middle Eastern dance troupe, and some of them come out fine but others are terribly uneven. I am appealing or help to anyone who has experience with long circle skirts made of silks. (Some may be polyester, but most are habotai or chiffon. They dye there own silks, so the finish is already washed out.)

I construct these by folding however much yardage they give me into continuous squares. Using a homemade protractor, I cut the perfect circle for the waist, then cut the bottom. I clothespin the sides (lengthwise and cross grain) then hang for a few days. If I feel they are a looser weave, I mist with water to get the bias to stretch further.)Then back to the table and I recut the circles. Most times material is cut off, sometimes they are still fine.

These skirts can be a half circle up to 4 full circles, depending on the yardage (they are marked in quarter circles on the pile of folded fabric), they are hip to ankle length, and I gather the waist and fold over for an elastic casing.

Judy from Threads and I agree that part of the problem is that waists are not circular, but oval. The dancers tell me that “the sides are uneven” but of course there are no “sides” to a circle–the sides are wherever I put them. (I do sew a label in the back.) Judy suggests that I mark each and every one (uhg) while the dancer wears the skirt, but I’m concerned about labor costs. Does anyone know an easy way to mark voluminous skirts? Or a way to cut them more evenly? Or an easier way to make the waistband on the very full skirts?

Thanks all,


  1. Elisabeth | | #1

    Ballroom dancers sometimes use multiple circle skirts with elastic waists as practice skrits. Those can have a wide piece of color matching elastic as a waistband that the fabric is sewn on to. The waists are circular, not oval, so there is no front, side, back. That eliminates the casing hassle and any worry about wearing the skirt the "right" way (skirts are infamous twisters when you dance) but is not so attractive if the midriff is a focal point. The last many cirlce ankle length skirt I made was poly charmeuse (3 circles) and I hung it for a couple of days to stretch out. There was so much fabric and I had no large enough surface at the time to lay it all out. But I had 10 foot ceilings so I hung it on a ceiling hook and just stood by it and cut into the mass by eye.

    I still have that dress four years later and it is on a hanger and the skirt is stable fortunately. But I have had other things that kept on stretching forever (chiffon was a big grower). Maybe the dancers are hanging their skirts and depending on the fabric the skirts are continuing to stretch? It would be best to store them lying flat but that is impractical spacewise and wrinklewise.

  2. RParrill | | #2


    I make these skirts all the time for belly dancers. Here are the tricks I have learned:

    Use your selvedges to determine the grain. Chiffon tears easily along the grain, so measure along the selvedge the total radius (doubled, including what will be cut away for the waist) and tear. Chiffon is difficult to deal with and needs you to show it who is boss. Do this for however many panels you need.

    I sew the skirt together and then to a separate waistband, usually a straight piece of matching woven fabric, big enough to slip the elastic through. Finish the skirt except for the hem.

    Once the skirt has a waistband, get a hanger with skirt clips on it. Hang the skirt from the waist for at least a day. It will sag on the bias sometimes as much as 12". Take a yardstick and a piece of chalk and measure from the waist down and mark. While the skirt is still hanging, cut straight across the bottom, using your chalk line as a guide. Finish the bottom however you like, but I prefer the rolled hem on the serger.

    1. Barbaran8 | | #3

      I'd hem it on the dancer - because belly dancing skirts are worn at the hip, not the waist, so you *really* don't have a circle at the top, you have an oval - also, at the hip, you have the dance belt affecting how the skirt rides - and the amount of butt and thigh the dancer has will affect the drape of the skirt more than it would if hung from the waist.

      1. kswolff | | #4

        I made costumes for professional belly dancers (including myself) for many years and after a lot of trial and error, I found the best thing to do is to have the dancer put on the skirt and not mark the skirt, but actually cut the hem off right at the floor while it's on the body. Each dancer wears their skirts in a different possition on the body, which is not symetrical, and as pointed out before, the belt will effect how the skirt rides. If you simply get on the floor with your best sharp shears and cut right along the floor, you will have the right length for the entire hem edge on that dancer. Then you simply clean up the edge a bit (and shorten it if necessary by an inch or so based on their preference) then give it a hem.

        I prefered using a rolled edge using a zigzag on the sewing machine or the rolled hem on the serger if you have one.

        Depending on the fabric, I would sometimes let the skirts hang from the waistband for as long as a week.

        No skirt with that much yardage is going to be perfect but since it is in motion most of the time, some small variation isn't critical.

        Hope that helps.

        1. CTI | | #5

          "I found the best thing to do is to have the dancer put on the skirt and not mark the skirt, but actually cut the hem off right at the floor while it's on the body."

          This is the only way that has worked for me and I learned it from my grandmother who did it this way by measuring from the ground up, but you do need a couple of marker points for the sides so the dancer doesn't put the skirt on askew. Another alternative is wavy or pointed edges that don't accentuate a less than even hem.

  3. whimsyone | | #6


    I just stumbled onto this board for the first time today. Not sure if you solved your problem successfully yet or not, but I think I have a solution in one of my pattern drafting textbooks that may do the trick.

    Waists typically are slightly higher in the front. To compensate for this, you need to adjust the waist opening. I am going by what it says about circle skirts in Pattern Drafting For Fashion Design by Helen Joseph Armstrong. Since this is a pattern drafting book, they are using paper, but you could probably just do everything right on the fabric itself.

    Start by drawing the outside hem circle. Mark a circle in the center for the waist. In your case, since you are marking on the fabric, water soluble marker might be best. Now, here comes the adjustment.... You'll want to square a line 3/8" up from center front. Make a mark. Then, square a line down 3/8" from center back. Blend the "side seam" lines in with the marks you just made.

    I don't know if that will fix the problem or not. If this is unclear, I would be happy to scan the page and send it directly to you if you'd like. Just let me know.

    Good luck!

    1. sarahjane | | #7

      Thank you all for you helpful advice.

      Lisa, because the skirts are at the hip and not the waist, I don't think measuring will work, but I will certainly keep that advice in mind for skirts worn at the waist. I had the last dancer stand on a box while I cut the skirt, and it seemed to work well. I will also try to hang things longer. Many thanks.

      1. whimsyone | | #8


        Yes, you are right, I didn't take into consideration that the skirts are hanging from the waist. It would be so much easier to fit things if we all had the same figures now, wouldn't it? A bit dull perhaps, but easier ;)

        Sounds like you've found a pretty good solution. Glad to know.


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