How to Make an Octagonal Circle Skirt Pattern

Heather from Sewing on Pins left a comment on the Terra Incognita dress asking for a how-to for my octagonal skirt pattern.  It’s not difficult, though it may be a slightly different approach to making a pattern than many people use.

I suggest using it anywhere you need a skirt pattern but want something a little different.  Play with the shape of the hem, use your favorite waistband to make a skirt, or use this skirt with a favorite dress bodice.

My Opinion: A circle skirt is incredibly flowy and feminine, flattering to a variety of body shapes.  I like to pretend it makes its own breeze on breathlessly hot days.  Heavier frames may find that a long, flowing, full skirt that doesn’t have gathers at the waist helps balance and elongate their figures.  Try a below the knee to mid-calf length for a modest and cool casual skirt.

I used the guidelines in The Equator Collection because it made sense to my brain.

This shape is a square with a quarter circle inside.  I folded a piece of polytrace (the medium I use to make patterns, use swedish tracing paper or butcher’s paper or whatever) in half to make a square shape like this, which results in a half circle shaped pattern piece.  I found it simpler to work with that shape, I could try it in several positions on the fabric I had available.  The fold was on the left hand side.

I’m quoting the original because I simply can’t improve upon it:

Step 1: Draw a right-angle.

Step 2: Measure A from corner. A = Around waist, divided by 3.14(this is a magical number that makes circle skirts twirl), divided by 2
Step 3: Using the corner as the centre point and A as the distance for marking, draw a quarter circle. You could place your measuring tape with A as the distance, start from the corner and mark at random points between the L-shape you have drawn. Join the dots and you get a quarter circle. This is quarter of your waist measurement.

Step 4: Length of skirt is from the beginning of the smaller quarter circle.  Draw a larger quarter circle for the length. Although the smaller quarter circle segment is not part of the skirt, you can still start off marking points with your tape  measure from the same corner as in step 3. But this time, add A to the actual length you want your skirt to be, when marking your points.”

When that’s done, I folded my circle shape as if I were cutting a very large paper snowflake:

The edge I’m holding with my hand is the side seam.  I have the waistline marked but not cut.  I squared off the bottom edge after folding my piece a few times.  This isn’t a “rocket science” type of pattern, more an intuitive “let’s fold and cut and play” exercise.

This is how I laid it out.  It might have shifted during cutting a bit, but this gives the idea.  That’s 54″ wide hemp and the skirt pattern just fit.  If I needed to, I could trim the skirt a little along one edge to fit them better.

I added a wide waistband and I’m in the process of embroidering Indian shisha mirrors scattered over the fabric.

For Terra Incognita, I achieved the “short in the front” effect by allowing part of the octagon to hang off the fabric.  Again, this is intuitive pattern making and relies on actually playing with the fabric- see what develops!

Caveat: If you cut it correctly, the skirt edge of the waist won’t immediately match up to the waistband.  Harriet Pepin assures me this is normal, and the gentle stretching of the bias seems to “open up” the ripples beneath.  I pin my bodices to bias skirts by matching up all seams, then the centers front and back.  This helps, just gently relax the material between your fingertips as you pin.  You shouldn’t need to yank, always gentle persuasion.  I find the bodice edge is often 1/2″ – 1″ longer than the skirt.  If it’s more than that, it’s too much.  I can let out a skirt seam to fix it, or sometimes deepen a bodice seam.  Usually this doesn’t come up.

I’m up to my ears in sewing this weekend, it’s fantastic.  I finally cut into that charcoal tropical wool!

I’m planning to make a new Pattern Alterations post tomorrow.  If no one has another more pressing issue, I might show you the way I perform an ordinary FBA.  I find I have similar proportions issues to plus-sized figures, and I have several ways to play with the problem of big curves.  Why not share?

Finally, I’d love to hear opinions on a shirt like this.  Hmmm….?  I’m trying to decide if it’s worth sticking into my “Maybe” file.


  1. Been many a moons since I have tried making everyday wear as appossed to costuming. I’m intrigued by this pattern.

  2. Yes, on the shirt. I love that stripe. I’ve found that most circle skirts I’ve seen people make have gathers at the waistband. That’s something I’ve tried to always avoid. I’d love to make a circle skirt that’s smoother at the waist and through the high hip. Is that possible?

    Also, thanks for sending chocolate! I was only kidding– okay, I was halfway kidding. I was secretly hoping you’d send me a cherry ripe ;) You’re the best.

    • No problem… ;) It’s the little things you miss sometimes.

      You might find you like a half-circle skirt, too. That one and this are both full and rippling, but smooth at the waist. The last circle skirt I did, I cut the waist too wide so ended up gathering it to the bodice and it looked ok. But generally, they would not.

      Maybe I can post the half-circle skirt next week, a similar “guide.” Not really a proper pattern…

    • Thanks, Robin… I’d love to see what you make of this, maybe in a warm, soft wool… I bet it would be a cozy skirt for winter… Or, you know, not. ;)

  3. Your skirt does look gorgeous, and I love that print! Stunning!
    So, is the white one an underskirt/petticoat? Every now and again I have made skirts with asymmetrical handkerchief hemlines like this and with an identical shaped white petticoat, and swivel around the underskirt around a bit before sewing them together so the points of the underskirt show at the “short” bits of the hemline. It adds a bit more length if you don’t want to show your knees, and plus I like the contrast, both the extra jagged bits and the colour, peeping out.

    • Thanks… I’m a fan of the print too… I need to go ahead and get the other colorway, I’m not getting sick of the print…

      No, the white skirt is made of hemp, it’s filed under “Shisha Mirrors and Summer Snowflakes.” I decided to use a little mirror/medallion embroidery, and I’m taking my time… I embroidered 7 of 12 mirrors so far…

      The handkerchief points with this style aren’t as exaggerated as a square shaped skirt, which would be a true handkerchief. ;) I guess this is pointy hemlines for the timid. :)

  4. I love the shirt fabric and the pattern looks cute. For me, though, I stay away from shirts that are untucked and end at the widest part of my body. There are so many more flattering cuts on me, I kind of feel like why bother at this point. Are there styles that you feel that way about? You’re so good at manipulating patterns, you may be able to make anything work for you ;-)

    • Yes, there are styles I kind of veer away from, but I’m learning to subtly shape hems at the moment. It’s still in the R&D stage, so I don’t want to post about it yet. Or I guess I could.

      Mostly I tuck my shirts in. When they’re untucked, I like them to hit right at my hipbone… It seems to work for me to end my shirts just above the fullest part of my hips.

      You sound like someone who can work her strengths. :)

  5. Awesome tutorial! I always thought these were called “handkerchief skirts”. I never knew there was such a thing as an octagonal skirt. Will definitely have to try this at some point.

    • Yes, I think an uneven hemline with points is called “handkerchief points” and a true handkerchief skirt is made from a square with a circle (for the waist) cut in the middle. I wanted something a little less dramatic, so I tried an octagon with a waist-hole cut in the center… :)

  6. Pingback: Finished Object: Hemp Hurricane Skirt (And Flash Pattern Giveaway) « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  7. This might be a silly question but i have looked everywhere on the internet and not one place tells me how to do the waist band for circle skirts or your octagonal skirt… can you help??

    • Well— Short answer is you can bind it. Or use an existing skirt waistband that you know works for you. Long answer is I make a post on how to create a waistband. I might need a little time, though. ;)

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