how to: draft a half circle skirt pattern

I can think of no better way to officially kick off a new year of posts than to spotlight something I consider a major building block for anyone who sews apparel: the half circle skirt. Half circle skirts are wonderful for a lot of reasons, but I love them for their potential; mostly, I use them as foundation patterns to which I add pleats or gathers or whatever I want. Because I prefer fuller skirts, starting with a half circle pattern gives me a little flare right off the bat. Plus, it’s less time consuming and easier to draft than working with my basic skirt sloper. Once you know how to draft this skirt, you can adjust it to fit any bodice. For example, if you have a commercial pattern and you love the bodice but you want to change up the skirt a bit, you’ll have the know-how to make it happen.

One of my favorite designs–and something that always generates lots of comments and questions–is this skirt, which is a half circle with inverted box pleats and side seam pockets. To create the stripes, the pattern is split into six even sections. I’ll show you how to make this one soon.

Here are a few more examples of design elements added to a half circle pattern: a gathered skirt with lace trim around the hem, a skirt with side pleats and slanted side pockets, and a skirt with inverted box pleats and a contrast hem band. The options are endless!

So, let’s get started. Drafting a half circle pattern is super easy. There’s a little math involved, but it’s not complicated at all, and I can share a tip with you to double check your work. For this project you will need pattern paper, paper scissors, pencil, ruler, flexible curve, a marker, and tape. For more information on these supplies, see this post.

The first thing you need to do is get the math out of the way. Measure your natural waist or slightly below, wherever you’re most comfortable with your skirts sitting. Add to your waist measurement 1″ for wearing ease. Wearing ease is the amount added to a pattern to make it so we can breathe and move and be comfortable in our clothes. Design ease is the amount added to design elements such as gathers or pleats.

My waist is 32″ and with 1″ wearing ease, my total is 33″. This number is then divided by 3.14. This number, which is 10.5″ in my case, is the radius we use to draw the waistline curve.

Waist measurement + wearing ease = total waist measurement

Total waist measurement/3.14 = radius for waistline curve

First, draw a right angle in the corner of your paper. I like to use the factory cut side of my paper for one of my lines, then I use my ruler to draw a perpendicular line, as you can see here:

Once you’ve drawn your right angle, place your ruler in the corner, and, using the radius measurement you figured out by dividing your total waist measurement by 3.14, draw the waistline curve using the radius measurement.

Waistline seam drawn:

The difference in a half circle and a full circle skirt pattern is that when you draw the half circle pattern it is the entire front pattern piece, not half of it. So, my tip for double checking your work at this point is to use your ruler or flexible curve and to measure the waistline you’ve just drawn. Because this method drafts half the pattern, the waistline should measure exactly half of your total waist measurement. In my case, that is 16.5″ inches (33″ divided by two), which is what I measured when I checked. You may or may not need to add or subtract a little from your side seam to make it half of your total waist measurement. If, for example, you need to take off 1/4″, that’s fine. It won’t hurt your pattern at all.

Once you’ve drawn your waistline and double checked everything, add seam allowance to the waistline and side seams. Remember, because this pattern is the whole front piece, you’ll need seam allowances on both sides. I add 1/2″ of seam allowance, not 5/8″.  5/8″ seam allowance is a commercial pattern amount, not what is used in the industry or what I was taught. I also never add more than 1/4″ around a neckline or facing, but that’s another topic for another time.

Here’s what my pattern looks like after I add seam allowance:

You’ll also notice in the picture above that I have my yard stick on the waistline, because this is the point when I determine the length of my skirt. Decide how long you want your skirt, add a hem (I usually go with 5/8″ for a narrow hem), and mark that from the waistline to the hem, all the way around. Once you do this, cut out your pattern and you’ll have something that looks like this:

Now, you have two options to create your back skirt pattern. You can either use the pattern we just made and cut two of them and put your zipper in the side, or you can cut this pattern in half and add seam allowance at center back, which instantly creates your back pattern piece. This is the method I prefer, because I like back zippers better than side zippers. To do this, fold your pattern piece in half, and trace the fold line in a marker. This line is your center front line, so no further steps are needed once you cut it. The center front line is also the center back line, and to this we just need to add seam allowance.


You can see the fold line:

The last step is to add seam allowance at center back, which I’ve done in gray paper:

Finished! If you choose to separate the pattern to make a back piece, you’ll end up with two pieces that look like this:

Don’t forget to label!

To draft a waistband for this skirt, simply draw a line the finished length of the skirt, plus seam allowances. I like a waistband that is either 1.25″ or 1.5″ wide and I cut two of them, so be sure to add seam allowance to the width as well. The finished piece will look like a long rectangle. (See an example in the full circle skirt pattern post from last fall.)

 This is what a half circle skirt looks like without any additional design elements added to it. I made this one in a navy brushed cotton, and it is 27″ from my natural waist. It is lined, as are nearly all of my skirts. If you want to line your skirts, simply copy the patterns we just drafted, and shorten it. Easy!

Let me know how your half circle skirt projects turn out or if you have any questions. In the coming weeks, I’ll show you how to alter this basic half circle pattern to make some of the designs featured in this post. Happy Patternmaking!


  1. Regina Weeks | 5th May 17

    hi there, I have a question because Iam challanged when it comes to math. After doing the calculations for the half citcle skirt and you say to draw a right angle or ust the factory cut line the you draw another line perpendicular line, why can”t you use the other factory cut line, why do you draw one? and how far over do you determand to draw the perpindicular line. I have been trying to under stand this. Thank you . I love your blog and the cloths you make.

  2. Sara | 23rd Mar 17

    Thank you so much for the tutorial! 😀
    When are you planning to explain how can we adapt this pattern for other designs like the box pleated one? The red striped skirt is so pretty!

    Thank you! 🙂

    • Emily | 23rd Mar 17

      Hi Sara! The tutorial for the red striped pleated skirt is coming at the beginning of April. Stay tuned! 🙂

  3. Dana Bultje | 12th Feb 17

    Looove the red striped skirt, and the polka dot one!

    • Emily | 12th Feb 17

      Thanks! I love that red striped one too! 🙂

  4. Glenys | 10th Jan 17

    Hi Emily …just wanted ask how you calculate a waistband for this pattern …thanks

    • Emily | 10th Jan 17

      Hi Glenys, great question! I had to laugh at myself when I read it. Of course I forgot to include that! 🙂 I’ve edited the post, so instructions on how to do that are there now. I talked about how to draft the waistband in further detail in the post on drafting full circle skirt patters last September. The visuals might be helpful. Thanks for bringing this to my attention! Here’s the post updates:

      To draft a waistband for this skirt, simply draw a line the finished length of the skirt, plus seam allowances. I like a waistband that is either 1.25″ or 1.5″ wide and I cut two of them, so be sure to add seam allowance to the width as well. The finished piece will look like a long rectangle.

      And here’s the link to the full circle skirt pattern tutorial:

      • Glenys | 10th Jan 17

        Thanks so much … Really appreciate the time you give to these tutorials.

        • Emily | 10th Jan 17

          My pleasure! I’m so glad they’re helpful. I’ll stop forgetting to include important details eventually! 🙂

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