Circle skirts are a integral part of any bellydancer's closet. They are beautiful to move in and can be a variety of colors to add contrast and excitement to any costume. My students have worn circle skirts in different fabrics, from chiffon to satin, with a full bedlah or with a sparkly choli tops and coin belt.
You can always purchase a circle skirt through a vendor like the amazing L Rose Designs (hey, look at my students rocking those L.Rose circle skirts!), but if you have the time and inclination, you can make your very own. It is a pretty simple process and once you get the hang of it, you might even enjoy it!
Estimated Time: 1-2 hours
Fabric (approx. 5 yards for a standard circle, 7.5 for a circle and a half)
Elastic (3/4 inch width)
Needle and thread
First of all, you will need to decide what kind of circle skirt you want to make. The standard is a full circle, but some dancers prefer a circle and a half, which provides more movement and swishy-ness while you dance. A standard full circle skirt is made up of two half-circle panels, which the circle and a half is made up of three. If you want an even swooshier skirt you can keep adding panels, my largest circle skirt is a Pharaonix Arabesque skirt that is a full 2.5 circles (equivalent to 5 panels).
Once you decide on the type of skirt you want to make, you will need to do a quick bit of measurement and maths (Gasp! Yes, maths...). This will ensure that your skirt will be the appropriate length and hip size to fit you best.
Step 1: Taking your measurements
In order to figure out how long the skirt should be, measure from where you want the skirt to sit on your hips to the floor, we will call this measurement h for height. Have a friend help you so you can get an accurate measurement. Remember- if you bend to the side to look at the measuring tape, it won't be an accurate number!
Next, measure around your low hip, the fullest part of your bottom. Now, you will need to do some math. First, multiply pi (~3.14) by the number of panels that you will be making (N), 2 for standard circle skirt, 3 for circle and a half. Next, divide your hip measurement (H) by this number. Be sure not to confuse measurements h and H! This will give you the radius of the waistband opening at the top of the skirt which we will call r. For those of you who are math-minded, the equation looks like this:
This waistband radius (r) plus the height (h) you measured earlier will give you the total length of the fabric to cut (L) for the hemline.
For example, if you are someone whose hip measures 36 inches around and your height to the point you want the skirt to sit is 38, your equation will look like:
For a standard circle: r=36/(3.14x2)= 5.73 in.
L=38+5.73=43.73 in, we will round to 44
For a circle and a half: r=36/(3.14x3)= 3.82 in.
L=38+3.82=41.82 in, we will round to 42
These will be the important numbers to remember during this process and for future skirts so be sure to write them down. Now, to make the skirt!
Step 2: Prepare the fabric
Take your fabric and fold one side over the rest of the fabric. Note: do not fold the fabric in half. You want to be able to cut multiple panels out of the rest of it, and this will save space, and money! Lay it out on the cutting board with the folded edge lined up with the side of the board and the edges of the fabric along the bottom. Make sure that the amount of fabric available after it is folded is slightly more than the calculation for L (ideally just 0.5-1 inch more to conserve the most fabric). Pin the measuring tape to the top corner of the board, through the corner of the folded fabric as seen in the figures above. This will let the measuring tape pivot to help you trace out the circular panels.
Step 3: Trace the skirt panel
Move the measuring tape in an arc along the fabric, tracing out the L measurement. Use chalk or craypas to make dots along the way as you drag the tape in an arc. Repeat step 3 in a smaller arc at the top of the skirt using the r measurement. These steps are the shown in the panels above.
Step 4: Cut the panel
Cut along both dotted arcs. You now have one panel!
Step 5: Make the additional panels
Repeat this process (steps 2-4) again for as many panels as you need. Make sure to conserve fabric by folding the fabric and turning it so the next arc will use the excess from the previous arc.
Step 7: Prep the waistband
To attach the waistband fold it in half with the pretty side facing out and then lay it on top of the pretty side of the panel. The sides of the fabric you want facing out at the end should be facing each other for the sewing process. It will look upside down at this point, with the folded edge facing the bottom of the skirt panel and the 3 unsewn seams (the two sides of the folded waistband and the top of the skirt) all on top of each other at the waistband opening. Pin along the arc as best you can, it is always tricky to pin curved things. The goal is that the edges of the strip of fabric will align with the edges of the panel after it is all pinned. These steps are shown in the images below.
Step 8: Attach waistband to front of skirt
Serge along the pinned line so that the strip forms a waistband on top of the panel. Take your time with this, it is tricky to keep the edges aligned and to sew around the curve. Plus on a serger you can not sew over pins so you will need to take them out as you sew along. Once you have finished sewing and folded the waistband up it will look correct. There should be no parts where the fabric is pulling apart. If there are any gaps where the fabric slipped and wasn't sewn just go back over that section.
Step 9: Attach waistband to back of skirt
Repeat steps 9 and 10 for the back of the skirt. If you made a 3 panel skirt the back two panels should be sewn together (right sides together and serge along the edge) before you attach the waistband.
Step 6: Make a waistband
Lay one panel out unfolded and measure along the top (hip) arc as best you can with the measuring tape. You could calculate how long this will be but I find that the cutting process always ends up slightly different from the idealized measurement you would get from another equation so I am going to recommend measuring for this step. If you are making a 2 panel skirt do this for each piece. If you are making a 3 panel skirt you will need to do this for the panel that will be the front, but then you will serge together the other two panels for the back and measure the full waistband of the combined panels (it will be about twice as long as what you measured for the front panel). Lay out some of the scrap fabric from making the panels to find a piece large enough for the waistband. You want the waistband to be a rectangle with the long side the length of the top hip arc you just measured and the short side about 3-4 inches as shown in the figure below right.
Note- For a 3 panel skirt in order to make the large back panel you will lay 2 of the half circle panels on top of each other with their right sides together (the sides you want showing at the end). Then use a 4 thread overlock stitch on your serger to sew along one of the straight sides (from the hem to the waist arc). Be sure to do a test run with scrap fabric before sewing your skirt panels to test the tension settings and make sure the panels won't pull apart after being sewn together.
Step 10: Add elastic
Hold a piece of 3/4 inch elastic around your waist where you want the skirt to sit. Make it as tight as you would want to wear your skirt. Allow for an overlap of about 1/2 inch with the elastic and then cut it. Using a safety pin attached to one end of the elastic, thread it through the waistbands of each of your panels. I find this step is infinitely easier if I attach a piece of chain to the elastic with a safety pin and drop the chain through the waistband to pull the elastic through. Once it is through overlap it as much as needed and sew the elastic ends together.
Step 11: Mark hem line
While wearing it and standing straight, have a friend mark along the bottom of the skirt where it hits the floor.
Step 12: Finishing touches
Stitch a rolled hem along the bottom of the skirt where you just marked it to finish it and make it the length you need. Then fray check any serging tails from the waistband attachment and on the ends of the panels where you just sewed the hem.
Now put on your sparkly belt and top and shimmy away!
Tips and Tricks!
1.) Since the panels will be able to slide along the elastic, you can choose how they fit together. This allows you to choose if you want gaps between the panels or if you want them to touch closely to show no gap.
2.) Layering circle skirts is a great way to get more color and texture in a costume. Having the panels able to slide along the waistband allows you to have greater options for layering since you can also use the gaps to showcase a second skirt underneath. You can use different fabrics (like chiffon over or under satin), or the same fabric in different colors to make your costume more dynamic!
Lately, I have been reflecting on how lucky I am to have such a strong 'belly-lineage'.
Western Massachusetts may be quite geographically small, but we have big dance roots. I moved to the area in 2006 and was overwhelmed by the amazing community I found. I had started taking bellydance classes a year before in a small Connecticut town, but there were very few teachers and events. Prior to moving to Massachusetts, I heard about a workshop in Hartford with Rose Champagne. She was one of the teachers I had been researching in anticipation of my move and I couldn't wait to try her class.
I signed up right away and eagerly counted down the days until the workshop. On the day of the workshop I was blown away by her poise and presence; the way she moved was so beautiful, such grace and intention in everything she did. I couldn't wait to relocate and start taking her classes. In September of 2006 I began as a student in her advanced beginners class followed by my first performance at Jewel of the Valley a few months later.
It was a remarkable experience. Meeting the students in her other classes introduced me to many of the other terrific dancers in western MA: the lovely ladies of Sahibat, Sanaa Amel, and many more.
I continued taking classes with Rose until her illness forced her to quit teaching. It honestly brings me to tears as I write this to recall the deep loss felt by our community when she passed away in 2008; a loss we still feel in her absence today.
She is so greatly missed, and the best way to remember her is to take a look at all of the wonderful dancers who she trained and inspired. I am so lucky to count myself among them.
When Rose stopped teaching I took classes with several other teachers before ultimately settling in with Shifah. Shifah was Rose's teacher, and I thought to myself “who better to continue my training with then the woman who trained Rose?”
Shifah's classes were marvelous, I learned so much about Vintage Oriental, and many other dance styles. She has been dancing since the 1980's and was a member of the Crescent Dancers, western MA's premier troupe that had been going strong since the 1970s.
I was also spending a lot of time on the Bhuz forums in these years and I realized something. So many members were talking about newer dancers losing the knowledge of more traditional forms, and it made me realize how very lucky I was to be studying with amazing people who were carrying on the history of Vintage Oriental dance. We were using zills, dancing to 9/8s, dancing out of veil wraps, it was wonderful.
In 2010, Shifah decided to semi-retire (she always used to talk about retiring, but we all know she can't truly stay away from dance- and we wouldn't want her to!). She asked me to take over her classes for her, and that is how my life as a professional dancer began.
I look back now, 5 years later, and I am still amazed at how everything has progressed. I have taught so many wonderful students, some of whom are now moving towards, or transitioning into becoming professional dancers themselves.
The Crescent Dancers 40th anniversary show is this weekend and it has really made me think about the dance community and belly-lineage. Retired Crescent Dancers will be joining in, Shifah will be doing a guest appearance, and three of my students (though one was a classmate of mine in Shifah's classes long before I started teaching!) are now members of the Crescent Dancers. I just could not be more proud to be a part of such a beautiful dance history.
To my friends in the current incarnation of the Crescent Dancers -- Hadama, Aralia, Melissa, and Debira, and to all of the retired members who will be dancing, I cannot wait to see your show (and to emcee it)! And to all of you who want to witness a piece of the amazing bellydance history and lineage from our Western Massachusetts area, I wholeheartedly encourage you to buy your tickets now for the gala on April 25th! It’s going to be a wonderful night and I am so excited to see what is in store!
Hip scarves are a great way to add some fun to your practice wear, or as part of your performance costume to add texture or layers of color. You can find different types of hip scarves at various online stores, or even shopping for lace and knitted shawls on Ebay. But, if you want to save some money and customize your own, this is a super easy and quick tutorial that will give you a new hip scarf in 20 minutes!
Step 1: Make a quick pattern.
The hip scarf is basically 2 identical pieces, with each piece made up of a rectangle with a triangle on the bottom. The sizing of each piece will depend on your hip measurement, how stretchy the fabric is, and how long you want it to hang. Measure around your low hip -- the fullest part of your hip, usually around your
bottom-- then subtract a few inches to account for the stretch of the fabric. (This will depend on how stretchy your fabric is—don't be too be conservative! It is much easier to take off more inches if you find it is too big than to add more fabric after cutting it off!)
On tracing paper, draw a rectangle with the width measurement you decide for your hips (low hip minus x number of inches), and height enough to cover your bottom. Measure from where you want the top of the hip scarf to sit on your hips (called your upper hip measurement) to how far you want it to cover. Remember—you are naturally curvy, so if you want to make the top of the scarf to cover your whole bottom, make sure to measure over the fullest part of your backside. Then draw a line at a slight diagonal coming out from the bottom corner of one side of the rectangle. Then draw a line from the bottom of that line to the other bottom corner of the rectangle. Your pattern should look something like the image below. Alternatively you can have the bottom part of the rectangle flare out slightly and the point of the triangle extend slightly out to the side at a diagonal depending on how wide your hips are.
Fabric- either 2 or 4 way stretch
Fabric scissors (or really sharp ones)
Chalk or craypas
Step 2: Prepare your fabric!
Trace around the pattern using chalk or a craypas, then flip the pattern over and trace a second piece. Cut out the two pieces of fabric. You could also fold the fabric before tracing and cutting, so that you would cut through both pieces of fabric to create two sides of the pattern. The image on the left below shows what the cut fabric will look like if you slightly flare the bottom edge of the rectangular part that goes over the hips.
Step 3: Finish the edges.
Serge sides 1-3 with a rolled hem on each piece separately.
Step 4: Sew sides together
Lay the two pieces on top of each other, with the right sides of the fabric facing each other on the inside as shown in the right hand image above. Some fabric won’t have a clear outside and inside, but others will be important to have the part you want seen when you wear it to be on the inside. Pin sides 2 and 4 together. Serge the scarf together using a 3 or 4 threat overlock stitch, as shown in the right hand image below. Sew sides 4 together. Sew sides 2 together only to where the rectangle part ends and the triangle begins so that it is held together over your hips by the same amount as side 2, and the triangle part is open and flowy. The triangle part has been flipped up in the left hand image below to show approximately how far down side 2 is sewn.
Step 5: Try it on, and make adjustments.
Turn the fabric inside out, so the right side is now on the outside. Step into the hip scarf and see if it needs to be made smaller. If so, turn the fabric inside out again and serge along side 2 and/or 4 to make the width smaller.
Step 6: Final touches!
Fray check the edges, and get ready to dance!
1.) Make one in a bright or sparkly fabric and one in a lace or net to wear over it as in the left hand image above.
2.) Make 2 in complimentary colors and wear them with the triangles on opposites sides of your hips to give color contrast as in the right hand image above.
3.) The same pattern can be used as a top if you consider the waistband part to the the underbust portion and tie the two triangle ends over one shoulder. Felicia and I are wearing layered silver and grey triangle hip wraps with grey tops over silver halters below.
My adventures in dance, music, costume design...