Mexican Circle Skirt

Rebecca’s Spanish dual immersion class put on a Cinco de Mayo fiesta last week. It was adorable! Two weeks before, her teacher sent home a note asking the children wear a “white a-line skirt or dress” and a white shirt. I picked up a $4 Walmart shirt (which of course was lost the day of the performance and I found myself running to Walmart for another $4 shirt) and decided to sew a simple a-line skirt. 

I found a great tutorial here which promised a 5 minute a-line skirt. I liked the 5 minute plan, so I got some fabric. When I showed it to Rebecca, she said, “am I going to hold it up like this?” (pantomiming holding her skirt with her arms spread out to her sides.) Ummm…. no?

Not only did I have the wrong fabric, but I was way off on what her teacher really meant by “a line skirt.” Apparently, she wanted something more like this:

colorful photo of Mexican folk dancersphoto of  Mexican folkloric dancer wearing traditional dress

I googled my heart out–and trust me, I’m pretty much an expert googler–and came up with very little on how to make one of these. A few sites explained how to make a “circle skirt,” but these didn’t have very much flair (think poodle skirts). A few forums suggested making a “double circle skirt,” but I was thinking, huh?

Finally I made one with a lot of trial and a lot of error. It ended up being exactly what Rebecca wanted, flaws and all. The first one took me six+ hours, but then I sewed up a second one for Nicole in about two hours. I wanted to post it here because it’s a really fun dress up skirt; great for girls who love to twirl; and dang it all, the blogosphere needs instructions for one of these! So without further ado, here’s my post on how to make a mexican falda, or skirt. 

This is a very picture heavy post. :)

Materials needed: 
about 3 1/4 yards for a 8 year old (I used about 3 yards for my 3 year old).
Matching thread
A serger, if you have one
A ruler
Tissue paper
A pen or pencil
Scissors, sewing maching, etc
Embellishments, as desired (ribbon would be super cute)

Start by taping together some tissue paper that will be big enough to cover your fabric when folded into fourths. This first part is probably the hardest, as it involves math. I took this directly from

Circumference = the entire distance around a circle (in this case, your waist length, plus 2 inches)
Radius = the distance from the center of the circle to the outside of the circle
pi = 3.14 (approximately)

You need to figure out the radius so you can easily draw a circle. If you remember from math class: Circumference = 2 x pi x r (radius). I’ve flipped the equation around a bit and came up with this diagram:

Let me break it down a little more:
* Measure your waist
* Add two inches to that number. You need these extra two inches so the fabric has “give” and will actually “stretch” when it’s sewn on to the elastic. It will create a very subtle gather to the skirt but will make it easier to get the skirt on and off. This will make more sense as you sew.
* Take your “waist + 2 inches” measurement and divide it by 6.28, and you have the radius!
* In Lucy’s case….
Her waist is 19 inches, plus 2 inches = 21 inches divided by 6.28 = 3.3 inch radius.

Note: as I did not use elastic, I did not add two extra inches. 
So my skirt ended up being about a 3.9 inch radius or so. Measuring from the right angle of the tissue paper, I marked out a circumference of 3.9. I used dots to mark the circumference, the cut it out. You can sort of see in the above picture how I made a half-semi circle and cut. See also below. 

Next, I measured from the small circle the length I wanted my skirt to be. Ultimately I could only squeeze in about 17 inches to accomodate the fabric (I was hoping for longer). So from the small circle I measured 17 inches to make a larger half-semi circle.

I then folded my fabric into fourths. From the folded edge (above), I carefully lined up my pattern. Pinning is also a good idea if you’re into that sort of thing.

Then I cut. When I unfolded this quarter circle it becomes…

a doughnut! Now you need to repeat this for the other circle. Just reuse your pattern.

Once you have both “doughnuts” cut out, on one edge of each, cut into the doughnut on the fold. If you cut both edges of your doughnut you will have made 4 “c” shapes, and that would be wrong. So don’t do that.

Line up one of the cut edges from each cut doughnut, right sides together. Sew one side together with a zig zag stitch or a serger. You will be making one super big circle from the two doughnuts. 

I am no expert sewer (not even close) so I’m quite sure there’s a better method for this. But what I did is hemmed each side, then stitch together. I left about a 5 inch opening near the top. You could also serge these together, but you are going to want the top 5 inches (where it’s left open) to be a finished edge. If you are a sewing expert and know a better way to do this step, please leave it in the comments below! I just wasn’t sure how to finish the edges near the top unless I hemmed the whole thing. That was my line of thinking.

Super doughnut! You won’t realize it yet, but the circumfrence of the outer circle is amazingly giant.

Now gathering: this is a step I’ve had trouble with in the past. The idea of gathering is sewing two parallel lines around your inner circle. You want to sew at the loosest (is that a word?) tension, and the biggest/longest stitch. Essentially this is just a basting stitch. They won’t tell you this but I found it easiest to back stitch at the beginning but not at the end of your stitches. You want to leave a long thread at the end too. Start at the first hemmed opening and work your way around to the other side. Remember, no back stitching!

Grab your two bobbin threads (from the bottom) and gently pull. As you pull, the fabric will pucker and gather nearest to where you are pulling. Take your fingers and gently push the gathers evenly along the skirt circumference.

Untill it’s all neatly gathered up.

At this point, I had Rebecca try on her skirt. I fit it to her waist, then tied the bobbin threads in place.

Next I cut two strips of fabric 4 inches wide. I cut width-of-fabric (or WOF), so about 44 inches each. Sewing each short end together to make one long strip, I folded and pressed the strip in half. I ran a stitch down one end, and turned it inside out.

I measured out Rebecca’s waist size and tied it into a bow to make sure it wasn’t going to be too long or short. It worked just right so I didn’t make any major adjustments to the length.

One end finished, one end not. I made an angled cut (maybe 60 degrees or so), then cut off the very tip of the point.

I folded down the top of the angle (where I snipped off the tip) and lightly pressed right where my pointer finger is in the above picture.

Then I folded it in half, tucking in the unfinished ends, keeping the 60 degree angle I had created.

See? Then I pressed and…

topstitched the entire long strip. I decided to topstitch a seam through the middle, as well.

I then neatly laid out my skirt, adjusting the gathers to be even throughout the skirt.

Lining up the middle seam on the strip with the seam on the skirt opposite of the opening, I pinned the crap out of the ribbon. I sewed this on first with a straight stitch. You will be sewing right sides together. When you sew, make sure you sew a large enough seam allowance that you won’t be able to see your gathering stitch. For me, this ended up being almost 3/4″ seam allowance or so.

Then I zig zagged with a very tight stitch on the unfinished end of the gathered skirt.

I pressed the waistband going up (to lay flat against her tummy) and ran a stitch to discourage it from folding out, especially near the ties.

Looking good! Now we just need to finish the bottom. You can finish it off now, or add a ruffle.
Hello, you need the ruffle!

I made a bunch more WOF strips (I want to say 4 inches, but maybe 5? I know I was dangerously low on fabric at this point.) I think I ultimately used 8 or 9 strips. This is crazy long, folks. Sew them all together and press your seams. Following the steps above (no backstitching!) you are going to gather all of that crazy long piece of fabric.

Tips: Use a measuring tape to measure the bottom circumference of your skirt. This way you can just measure your strip to know when it’s gathered enough, rather than the guess-and-check method I used which ultimately screwed me up big time.

Also, don’t over gather. I was balling up my threads as I gathered (remember, this is way long so a lot of thread!), and I over gathered. Ungathering is much more of a pain than gathering is!! I can’t emphasize this enough. 

There is a way to gather with your machine, even without a ruffle foot. This took a lot of trial and error and practicing, and didn’t make a super tight ruffle for me. But it’s worth experimenting on, if your first “ruffling” didn’t go so smoothly. Check it out here.

Repeating the steps above, I pinned my skirt to the super long piece of gathered strip, and did a tight zig zag stitch. (A serger would have been so handy for this project!)

Rather than hemming that ridiculously long piece of fabric, I opted to do another zig zag stitch. It’s not perfect but it will hold up pretty well, I think.

It was really late when I finished this, so here’s a picture with flash.

The finished project! A perfect twirly skirt, ready for Mexican dancing!

Here’s Nicole modeling her pink too-big version. Like the ADDer that I am, I spaced bringing a camera to Rebecca’s Cinco de Mayo fiesta! What a fun skirt though, perfect for little girls and dancers! Enjoy.

Please link to this blog if you share this tutorial. Thanks!
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27 Responses to Mexican Circle Skirt

  1. A "Dandelion" mom says:

    The skirts look great! I would not be patient for that many hours to do almost anything! I notice the progression in your photos from natural light to incandescent lighting lol! It really does look great though!

  2. newbiemama says:

    Hahhaa, in reality it went from natural light, to incandescent, to natural, and back to incandescent! Because clearly, I'm not patient enough to do one thing for hours on end either!

  3. eblarios says:

    OMG! Thank you, thank you, this is exactly what i was looking for. I have been searching, googling, trying to find anything close to this pattern online and this is perfect. I have to make one of these skirts in 2 weeks as well. Thanks so much for this, it will be such a help! : )

  4. eblarios says:

    Just one question please. What kind of fabric did you use for this?

  5. newbiemama says:

    I'm so glad you found this helpful! I KNEW someone else would eventually need this pattern. :) I just used super cheap cotton fabric from Walmart. I wanted it relatively light because if it draped too heavily, it wouldn't look as full and pretty. Hope that helps!

  6. eblarios says:

    Yes it does. thank you thank you! : )

  7. Mrs. Hyde says:

    My dear slacker mom,

    Thank you soooooo very much for the tutorial. I have been googling for hours trying to find a pattern for those Mexican skirts. I only have 1 week to make this skirts not only for my 2 girls but for 5 other girls as well. I hope I finish them on time….
    Thank you again, great tutorial. Have a great day. Mrs. Hyde.

    • Okay we are now up to TWO people in the blogosphere who needed that very pattern. Who woulda thunk it?? AND it looks like I may be making another one soon so I’m glad I posted it… for me. :D

      • cynthia Jean says:

        I have cut one “doughnut” and am about to cut the second. I can’t see how these two cut “doughnuts” will go together to make one large circle. Am I missing something?

    • Kayla says:

      First off its not a Mexican skirt its a Jalisco skirt. Also although I’m trying to find patterns for my dancers this won’t help. This at most is a practice skirt which for your girls is probably ok. But a true Jalisco skirt for a teen or adult would need something like 20+ yards of fabric.

  8. aurelia says:

    THanks a million! Wonderfully easy to follow, and thanks for adding pictures. You’ve done a great job!

  9. Beth Griffin says:

    You saved my life!!! I was about to spend $50 at a costume shop for one of these for a Christmas padgent (yeah, that’s not weird!). I’ve never really sewn anything, but I’m great at math so I’m all about the equations! lol Thanks so much, and cross your fingers for me!!

    • Good luck!! I’ve since seen some other tutorials online for less full circle skirts (think poodle skirt) but I really wanted her to be able to lift it up and wave it around like a little Mexican dancer. It totally worked, and my kiddos still love playing in them!

  10. Christine says:

    You said your length was limited by the length of the fabric. Have you any ideas on how to get it longer for a taller girl or adult? What about sewing the fabric together to get double the width. Would that work and then just put a ribbon where you sewed them together ?

  11. Musicgal says:

    Thank you so much for this pattern! I’m a music teacher, and have used it to make 8 circle skirts for a Mexican dance for my students. They LOVE them, and your tutorial was very easy. I love the ribbon tie because it can fit multiple waist sizes. Thanks again for taking the time to post the pictures and pattern! :)

  12. ashley says:

    So the waist circumference + 2″ is the circumference of 1 circle, right? But since you cut two circles it ends up being waist +2″ times two? I am about to try this for my niece.

    • So sorry I didn’t catch this earlier, I hope you figured it out. I did NOT do the waist plus the 2 extra inches. I did double the waist circumference to make it a VERY gathered skirt.

  13. Emily says:

    I am not able to see the pictures you’ve posted… any suggestions on how to get my computer to let me view them? seems like i’m the only one who isnt able to see them.

  14. Marie says:

    I made a variation of this for my daughter. Used two types of fabric for skirt and a contrasting color for the bottom ruffle. Used a contrasting ribbon for the tie. Thanks for the great instructions.

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  16. Lyn says:

    Yes it is difficult to find info on making the double circle skirt. But what you’ve posted has helped me. I need to make one for a client (she’s given me 5 months!!!), only it can’t be gathered at the waist – so I’m going to use YOUR idea of cutting out 2 ‘donuts’, but I’ll halve the waist circumference so that when they are joined – hopefully (my maths isn’t fantastic) – I’ll have what I need. I’ll make a prototype in cheap calico and let you know my results.
    By the way, the 2 inches that’s added to the waist measurement are generally for the seam allowances. So if you’re only making a single full circular skirt from a wide enough piece of fabric (meaning no seam allowances needed), then you simply use the waist measurement without any additions.
    Also, if you ARE gathering the waist: when it comes to joining the waistband/ribbon/bodice etc, stitch it on as you would normally, i.e, between the 2 rows of gathering stitches. The reason being that you won’t increase your seam allowance (thereby also increasing your waistline), and your work will be a lot neater, as the second row (that WILL become exposed) will hold the fabric ruffles/folds straight for you as you work; otherwise you may end up with slanted ruffles.
    Once you’ve done this, snip the backtacking end of the exposed gathering row, pull on the bobbin threads (that you’ve already pulled to gather with) so they simply slide right out. Then the needle thread will just lift away! No UNPICKING required!

  17. Amanda says:

    WOW! Thank you so much for posting this! My 4th graders have a program in 2 weeks and my volunteers and I have a dozen skirts to make — this is exactly the tutorial I was looking for.

    We’ll be painting stripes for the ribbons before we sew the pieces together to save time; and no ruffles!

    So my students and I say THANK YOU!!

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  19. Lyn says:

    Hi, I’m back again! It’s been over a month, sorry about that. The calico double full circle skirt worked very well! The formula really is as simple as halving the waist measurement then cutting out two full circle skirts and joining them into one convoluted donut!
    My client was very happy with the way it moved and was flat to her waist at the same time! She’s even suggesting another one with a drop-waist bodice – I told her that would be ok so long as she was definite in her choice of position – I’ll just substitute the drop-waist/mid-hip measurement for the waist measurement, then halve it, etc.
    I did take some photos of it on my model, but I’m not savvy enough to know how to get them to you other than email, or if you get on to Google+ and search for: Lynette Hannan (Lyn), Regional Central VIC, Australia You’ll see them on public display in my posts.
    Kind regards,

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