How to make a circle skirt with an elastic casing waistband

When I made this skirt I looked for a tutorial, and although I found a good one for sewing the skirt to an exposed elastic waistband, I like a more finished look for the waistband. Once I figured out how to do this, it was so easy I thought I’d share my method. These are beginner-level instructions that require only basic sewing skills.

You’ll need three measurements: Waist, hip, and skirt length (from the waist to wherever you want the skirt to end). I think circle skirts look great knee-length, but I made my girls’ skirts a couple inches longer in the hopes that they’ll fit for a couple of years.

The waistband will be drafted to the hip measurement, since you want to be able to pull the skirt on over the hips. I have found that it’s good to add at least an inch of ease to the hip measurement to make it easy to pull on, and you could add even more if you want to leave growing room or are sewing for an adult.

Divide the hip+ease measurement by 2 and then by 3.14. This is your radius for the waist seam circle. (The formula is: the circumference of a circle equals two times the radius times pi.) You can convert decimals to the nearest fraction of an inch using this chart.

I used a computer program to draft my quarter-circles for the waist seam, but you can draft your own by measuring several marks from the corner of the folded fabric with a ruler and connecting the marks. Good diagrams of what I’m trying to describe can be found here and here.

Your square of fabric will need to be twice as wide as your radius+skirt length+hem allowance. (For example, for one of my skirts my radius plus skirt length plus hem allowance was 24 inches, so my fabric needed to be at least 48 inches wide and long.) Fold your fabric into quarters.

(I shifted my fabric to the side to conserve fabric.)

Important: DON’T CUT ON YOUR SEAMLINE. After you mark where you skirt’s waist seam will go, you’ll need to mark another line 5/8″ in from the seamline. That’s where you make your cut.

After the skirt’s cut out you’ll want to mark your seam line all the way around the waist, as shown here.

Now draft the length of your skirt the same way, using the radius+skirt length+hem allowance measurement. (My hem allowance was 7/8″, and I trimmed 1/4″ of that off when I serged the bottom edge.)

Marks showing where the hem will be cut.

I used this fun bendy curve-drafting tool, purchased in a drafting supply store, to connect the marks for the skirt hemline. But if you don’t have one you could just eyeball the curve and it will be fine.

Connecting the marks; cutting.

Now your skirt’s all cut out.

For the waistband, I wanted a 1″ wide casing for the 3/4″ wide elastic (this might be a bit generous, but it seemed to work fine) . 1″ doubled plus 2 5/8″ seam allowances meant I cut my waistband 3.25″ wide. The length of the waistband is the hip measurement plus ease plus seam allowances. I folded my waistband along its length and pressed a crease.

Then I stitched the ends of the waistband together, leaving a space for the elastic to be inserted.

Here’s what the waistband seam looks like pressed open.

Press one edge of the waistband under 3/8″.

Now, on your skirt piece,stitch along the seamline, being careful not to stretch the fabric. Then clip the seam allowances, at about one inch intervals, to within a few threads of the stay-stitching line.

You’ll see this technique whenever a curved piece (the skirt) needs to be sewn to a straight piece (the waistband.) The clipping allows the seam allowance to stretch and be sewn on straight.

Divide the top edge of the skirt into quarters and mark them, then do the same to the edge of the waistband (on the side you didn’t press under). Match the quartering marks, pin them, then pin between them until the skirt seamline and waistband match smoothly. Sew the waistband to the skirt, right sides together.

Trim the seam allowance.

Press the seam allowance toward the waistband. Fold the waistband over the seam allowance and pin in place. The turned-under edge should overhang the seam by 1/4″. On the outside of the skirt, stitch in the ditch of the seam to secure the waistband on the reverse side.

Cut your elastic to the waist measurement. Thread one end through the waistband. (I own several bodkins, but usually I just use a safety pin pinned through the end of the elastic to help maneuver the elastic through the casing.) Lap the ends of the elastic by one inch and stitch them together.

Pull the elastic the rest of the way into the casing and hand-stitch the opening in the waistband closed.

Now all you need is a hem!

I serged around the edge of the hem with the differential feed set to gather the fabric as much as possible. It didn’t look like it was making much difference, but when I pressed the edge under, the slight gathering made it fairly easy to press the seam allowance flat with a nice curved edge.

I folded over 5/8″. Then I turned the skirt over and topstitched the hem at 1/2″.

Ta-da! All done. So fun. This really is a project I can finish in one sitting. (In fact, in the time it took to write this tutorial I could almost have finished a skirt.)

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60 Responses to How to make a circle skirt with an elastic casing waistband

  1. Megan says:

    Thanks for the tutorial! I might be using it soon. And I agree with you on enclosed waistbands.

  2. the MomB says:

    The skirts are wonderful, and your technique and explanation are superb.

  3. Leilani says:

    Wow, I’m totally impressed. One of these days, when I learn how to sew (very important factor), I will revisit this tutorial and give it a try!

  4. Lili says:

    I’m as impressed that you took the time to write the tutorial as I am with the skirts

  5. That skirt is beautiful! Not for the first time, I’m wishing I could sew! 🙂

  6. the MomB says:

    And oh yes, the girls are even more beautiful than the skirts.

  7. Jo says:

    I just want to say how helpful your tutorial was. I actually made a complete circle skirt following your instructions. Keep them up. xx

  8. Heids says:

    Thanks so much ! Your directions are superb and really appreciated. I like how your pictures show the tools you are using. I have been using a rolled hemmer foot (Janome) for the curved lower hem: a great tool. 🙂 Heids

  9. Catherine Corry says:

    Exactly what I was looking for, thanks!!!

  10. Foxy says:

    Just a note when calculating the pattern: The circumference of a circle is pi*2*radius. The area of a circle is pi*(radius squared).

  11. Pingback: My first attempted circle skirt - London Moms

  12. Carol says:

    Really appreciate your detailed instructions and photos. Excellent job. I normally make quilts but have the job of making a “square” skirt (out of a netting material) for a costume using the circle in the middle for the waist just like the circle skirt. That way the hem drapes in points. Really cool. Thanks again.

  13. karen says:

    This was *exactly* the tutorial I wanted to find. I needed to do an enclosed elastic waistband on a circle skirt for a growing kid!

  14. somya says:

    the way of explaination was good n also as per i was looking for.

  15. shelley says:

    Thank you it took a hour to find a enclosed waist circle skirt tutorial. Just what I needed. Now I can’t wait to start my sewing project!

  16. Pingback: Circle Skirt 2 | beaglesbagelsandbuttons

  17. Jessie says:

    Thank you so much…I was looking everywhere for a tutorial….it came out amazing!!!! It looks like I bought it and I usually suck at sewing…

  18. Sew Fun says:

    Thank you very much for taking the time to write this very easy to follow tutorial! I had just finished cutting out a circle skirt for my daughter following a You Tube video when I realized they didn’t use an elastic waist band! I did not want to put in a zipper and could not find an answer anywhere on how to put in an enclosed elastic waist band. Thankfully there are people out there like you making the lives easier for people like me (new sewers) As beautiful as your skirt is, your daughter really brought it to life, what a doll! Thanks again 🙂

  19. Bethan Lipp says:

    Thanks for this fab tutorial, it was so helpful and easy to follow. My sewing skills are pretty basic but I managed to do this without needing any help from my Mum, so I’m feeling very pleased with myself! My little girl wore her skirt for the first time today and she is very chugged with it. Here she is doing some twirls.

    • Bethan Lipp says:

      I added a link to a video, but it didn’t work. 😦

      • zstitches says:

        I wonder if my spam filter is blocking it–I could watch the link in the email notification of the comment. Let me see if WordPress will let me post it:

        [video src="" /]

      • zstitches says:

        Yay, it works! Thanks so much for sharing the video of your adorable twirling daughter–I’m thrilled to get to share in something like that from across the globe.

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  21. Rain says:

    I LOVE this skirt! I made a square one just like it, but square so it would ruffle and have longer corners, very cute. *I love how you did the waistband, it is exactly what I am looking for. Did you just make a waistband opening, sew it on and then slide in the elastic? How does the elastic stretch if only the end are sewn?*

    • zstitches says:

      Er–I’m not sure I understand your question. OH, wait, I think I get what you are asking. You do leave an opening (I think that is shown above) and then you secure one end of the elastic *outside* of the waistband. Then use a bodkin or a safety pin to thread the other end of the elastic all the way through the waistband. Then (with them still outside of the waistband) sew the two ends of the elastic together securely. Then you can allow the elastic to slip all the way into the waistband, and sew the waistband opening closed.

      I hope that answered your question.

      • I love your tutorial! Well done! Can you please clarify one thing for me? When you say cut the elastic using the waist measurement, will it stretch enough to go over the hips of a curvy adult woman?

        • zstitches says:

          The best way to find out is to try it–pin the elastic, then stretch it. If it stretches a little larger than the hips, it’s fine. If not…then you will have to use a larger measurement, or add a zipper.

  22. Angie says:

    Thanks to your brilliant tutorial, I have made my daughter’s circular skirt required for her Grade 7 ballet exam. I am SOOO pleased with myself!!! Thanks a million!

  23. Sarah says:

    Brilliantly straight forward tutorial. Just made a skirt for my niece’s birthday. Thanks for making it easy for me!

  24. Abigail says:

    Thank you so much! This tutorial is so helpful!

  25. Irene. says:

    Thank you just what i was looking for. Excellent instructions.

  26. Beth says:

    Thank you so much. this was EXACTLY what I was looking for to make my very special great niece a Minnie Mouse skirt for Halloween. your instructions were GREAT!!! I didn’t want to ‘do’ a zipper, wanted ‘covered’ elastlc in the waistband, and it was very obvious that other tutorials, were NOT from experienced sewers. thanks again!!

  27. anonymous says:

    What if I don’t have stretchy fabric? does the skirt still stretch with the waistband and not tear? What stitch do I use?

    • zstitches says:

      My fabric was not a stretchy knit, it was a woven fabric. The elastic is smaller than the fabric casing and it can slide within the casing, and the waist casing should not break unless you pulled it very hard or made it smaller than the person’s hips. I used a regular straight stitch.

  28. Pingback: A Little Sewing Ain’t Neva Hurt Nobody… | THE STEP UP MOVEMENT

  29. Mary Kathryn says:

    LOVE your fabric! Can you tell me please where you purchased it?

    • zstitches says:

      Sorry–my husband brought it home for me from a trip to Finland over a decade ago! It was a home dec fabric. So I have absolutely no idea where you could ever find some just like it.

  30. libberdoodle says:

    Reblogged this on libberdoodle and commented:
    circle skirt in progress…

  31. Lisa says:

    I don’t have a serger so how do I get a decent hem?

    • zstitches says:

      The best depth for a hem depends on how curved the hem will be. For curved hems, narrower is better, because when you fold up the fabric to turn it under, you have to ease in the extra fullness.

      So you want to do a narrow hem. One old technique that would be effective would be:

      1. Finish the edge with a zigag or overlocking stitch.
      2. Turn up a narrow hem–about 3/8″ would probably be good, but you could safely go up to 5/8″.
      3. By hand or machine, do a basting stitch along the part of the hem that will be turned up. Pull up the basting stitch to gather in the fullness, so that the turned up fabric will lie flat.
      4. Stitch hem in place.

      There are probably other good methods, too–I would try googling instructions for narrow hems, or especially for narrow curved hems. Or if you are using a very sheer fabric, a rolled hem would be good. (There is a technique for doing a rolled hem on a regular sewing machine.)

    • zstitches says:

      Oh, another fun finish is to bind the hem, either with double-fold binding that encases the hem, or with single-fold that can be turned either to the front or back depending on what look you like. I have done this kind of hem a few times, including on a Little Red Riding Hood cape for a Halloween costume, and it is time-consuming but really does look great.

  32. Judi Johnstone says:

    I have been sewing for years but needed a quick and easy reminder on the measurements. Thanks for the great resource! J

  33. Karen says:

    This is a wonderful tutorial! I do a lot of sewing for myself and my granddaughter. I wanted a circle skirt with an enclosed elastic so I could make it into a “grow” skirt. With the information regarding using the hip measurement, I will make the waist a little bigger, use an elastic that has “buttonholes” in it and sew a button on the inside of the waistband so the elastic can be let out as she grows. When it becomes too short I will add a complimentary band of fabric at the bottom. The fabric I have is a pretty red cotton with music notes and treble and bass clefs printed on it in black. The notes are in a random pattern so it will look fine as a circle skirt. She has a concert next week and it will be ready for her to wear then. I will match it with a white t-shirt that I have purchased — I will make small bows out of the left over fabric and sew them onto the t-shirt. This outfit (with larger t-shirt next summer) should fit her for 2 years 🙂 I will try to figure out how to post a picture once it is made and she is wearing it!

  34. Bonnie says:

    Wait, I can make a full skirt without side seams?! Love it! Thank you ;-)! How can I avoid uneven stretching along the bias edge (hem line) while I’m sewing?

    • zstitches says:

      Your only constraint will be finding a piece of fabric large enough. 🙂 I have only made circle skirts for my daughters but if I make one for myself I will probably sew two rectangles of fabric together to make a square–in which case the skirt will have side seams.

      My experience is that a woven fabric won’t stretch too much if you handle it carefully. For a knit you could use a tear-away stabilizer or tissue paper under the fabric as you sew the hem to help keep it from stretching.

      Another issue is that the turned-under fabric for the hem will have a lot of fullness to ease in–that’s why I used the differential feed on my serger to gather in the excess in my instructions above. If you don’t have that feature, a traditional way to gather in the fullness is to sew a running stitch by hand, or a basting stitch by machine, and pull it to gather in the fullness. Sometimes I have also had success skipping that step and just using an iron to gently press the fullness flat, then using lots of pins to keep it in place, before sewing the hem.

  35. Lauren says:

    Hi I’m new to sewing. I’m trying to figure out how you got the measurements for the waistband. I’m a little confused by seam allowance and how you figure out how much to cut the band. Thanks!

    • zstitches says:

      So the length of the fabric for the waistband is whatever you want the finished length to be, plus seam allowances. (Standard seam allowance is 5/8 inch, and you need a seam allowance on both ends. Or if you need to cut the waistband in two pieces, you’ll need two seam allowances on each piece, or four total.) You would want the length to be at least a little larger than the hip measurement of the person you’re making the skirt for, since the elastic waist needs to slide over their hips. So for, say, a 30″ hip, you might make the length 30″, plus 1.25″ (two seam allowances) plus an extra inch of ease so it goes over the hips easily, so 32.25 inches could be the length you cut.

      The width of your strip will be the height you want your waistband to be–for instance, 1.25″, times two because the waistband is doubled, plus two seam allowances. So a 1.25″ waistband with 5/8″ seam allowances would be cut to 3.75 inches.

      Oh, and make sure your waistband is somewhat wider than your elastic–probably at least a quarter inch wider–or you won’t be able to fit the elastic into the waistband casing.

  36. Hayley says:

    I was just wondering what the sewing machine foot attachment you used when “stitching in the ditch” is called? It looks like that would make that part of sewing the skirt much quicker and easier. At the moment, I find that part very time consuming and frustrating, trying to keep the stitches in exactly the right spot!

    • zstitches says:

      It’s called an edgestitching foot. On a Bernina it’s a #10 foot. I love it and use it all the time, including for actual edgestitching. For stitching in the ditch I leave the needle in the center and line the guide up with the seam, but for edgestitching I move the needle position over so that it stitches a bit away from the edge of the fabric.

  37. Shelley says:

    Hi, could you please tell me the formula you would use for a quarter circle skirt with an enclosed elastic waist? I’m flummoxed!

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