Mad Men dress + semi-circle skirt TUTORIAL

Today, you can find me over here for my monthly Miss Matatabi Makers post. I used another stunning fabric from Frances’ shop to create a Mad Men style dress for Norah. You can read all about it here.

As you’ll see, I made a dress with a semi-circle skirt. Below, I’m sharing a tutorial for how to draw the perfect pattern for such a semi-circle skirt.

TUTORIAL: Drawing the perfect semi-circle skirt pattern

What is a semi-circle skirt?

In a full circle skirt, your skirt panel is made out of a full circle of fabric. Bet you didn’t see that one coming! It can be made out of one piece, or out of two pieces joined at the sides. Here is a tutorial for how to draw such a skirt.

In a semi circle skirt, you use two quarters of a circle – one for the front, and one for the back – which you join at the sides.
Let’s discuss some strengths and weaknesses of semi-circle skirts:

Pros of the semi-circle skirt:
– uses up less fabric than a full circle skirt
– much less hemming to do than with full circle skirt (half as much, according to some very complex calculations ;-p)
– more suitable (flattering) for some body types
– no gathering to do, and thus so much quicker to make than a gathered skirt
– more suitable for directional prints than a full circle skirt (as the print is rotated no more than 45°, instead of maximum 90° in the case of a circle skirt)
Cons of the semi-circle skirt:
– semi circle skirts tend to be far less popular with little girls who love twirling in their full circle skirt. I know from experience.
– uses up more fabric than a gathered skirt.
– less suitable for directional prints than a gathered skirt

Making a semi-circle skirt pattern
The tutorial below shows you how to make a pattern for a semi-circle skirt which perfectly fits any bodice, whether it is for children or women.

The tutorial assumes that the circle skirt is closed; so for instance, that there is no zipper running through the back of the skirt. If you would like your bodice zipper to extend through the skirt, simple cut your pattern in two for the back panel, and add seam allowance for the zipper as you are fcutting the fabric. 

1. Measure the width of your bodice pattern. Measure it at the bottom, right where the skirt and bodice will be joined (so just above the bottom seam allowance). Include the side seam allowance.

2. Divide this by 0.79. Next, subtract from this the seam allowance which you will use to stitch the skirt to the bodice.

Example in inches: I have a bodice with a width of 10″ and will stitch it to the skirt with a 0.5″ seam allowance:

10″ divided by 0.79 equals 12.75″

12.75″ minus 0.5 equals 12.25″

Example in cm: I have a bodice with a width of 25 cm, and will stitch it to the skirt with a 1 cm seam allowance:

25 cm divided by 0,79 equals 31,8 cm

31,8 minus 1 equals 30,8 cm

3. Take a large piece of paper (doesn’t have to be pattern paper; you can also use a newspaper, or wrapping paper), a pencil, and a piece of cord which does not stretch (I used my phone charger).
Fold the piece of paper in two diagonally, as shown in the picture, so as to create a 45° angle.

Take the number you calculated in step 2, and measure this distance from the top left corner to the top edge of the paper, and onto the diagonal fold you just made. Mark.

4. Tie the piece of thread around the pencil. Congratulations – you just made your own compass!

Use this to connect the marks you made in the previous step. This will be the waist of the skirt. Make sure to keep your pen straight, so that the radius remains equal.

5. Next, determine how long you would like the skirt to be. Add to this the seam allowance you will use to stitch skirt to bodice (same number you used in step 2) and also the allowance for the hem of the skirt.
Tip: with a semi-circle skirt, the smaller the hem, the easier to achieve a perfect finish. Use no more than 1 cm (3/8″) – I personally prefer 0,7 cm (1/4″).

Length finished skirt + seam allowance + hem allowance

Example in inches: I would like the skirt to be 8″ long; I’m using a 1/2″ seam allowance; and I will hem the skirt by folding it in by 1/4″ twice (so I’ll need 1/2″ in total).

8″ + 1/2″ + 1/2″ = 9″

Example in cm: I would like the skirt to be 20 cm long; I’m using a 1 cm seam allowance; and I will hem the skirt by folding it in by 0.7 cm twice (so I’ll need 1.4 cm in total).

20 cm + 1 cm + 1.4 cm = 22.4 cm

6. Measure this distance from the marks you made in step 3, onto the top edge and diagonal fold.

 Take your poor man’s compass to connect the two new marks.

7. Cut out your pattern…

… and fold it open again. You now have a pattern for one half of the semi-circle skirt. Pin it to a double layer of fabric, and cut out.

You will end up with two panels of fabric, which you will need to join at the sides (with right sides together), using the same seam allowance you use for your bodice side seams (see step 1). Stitch it to the bodice (using the seam allowance you picked in step 2), finish the hem (see step 5 for the hem allowance) and you’re done!

11 thoughts on “Mad Men dress + semi-circle skirt TUTORIAL

  1. Thanks for the nice tut. I wanted to try a semi-circle skirt for quite some time, so I guess no more excuses.
    Also: Norah is so grown-up. Our girls really are getting big!

  2. An, when I see your last diagram, it looks like we will end up with 4 panels of fabric because double layer of fabric and two pieces of semi-circle skirt patterns. Or I don't understand your instruction? anyway, thanks for this tutorial. Interesting!

  3. Ha, goed gezien, Mieke! Dat moest natuurlijk zijn gedeeld door 0.79 zoals in de zin erboven staat. Gecopy-pasted van mijn full circle skirt tutorial, en toch iets vergeten aan te passen. Bedankt!

  4. Good tutorial! I think a half circle is a great shape for adult skirts too – it drapes nicely and has that swing, without being too full over the waist and hips (where most of us don't want extra bulk). I added a half circle skirt to a simple shift dress pattern to create this dress – with an awful lot more fiddling about and dodgy maths than this tutorial! But I was really pleased with the result.

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