September 28, 2011

How to Draft A Round Hoop Skirt With the Exact Shape You Want

And I do mean pretty darn exact.  Check out this photo of my finished hoops with my draft laid over the top for comparison-

Spot on!  (Ignore how high the hoop is off the floor, I like to set my mannequin to be much taller than me so I can comfortably sew hems and such)  You can use the following method to create any type of round hoop, whether cone shaped, bell shaped or a crazy undulating shape.

 You can't tell me you don't kinda want the third one now.

The key is that only round style hoops can be done like this; bustle/hoop combos, elliptical hoops and panniers won't work with this method.  But if the silhouette of your intended hoop design is identical from the front, sides and back then this will work for you. 

To start, you're going to need a largish sheet of paper, a ruler or an architect's scale, a pencil and the following measurements in inches:
  • your height 
  • your waist to floor measurement
  • your corseted waist measurement
  • desired circumference of hoop (optional; you could just draw what you like and go with the resulting circumference)
  • desired distance between floor and bottom edge of hoop

We're going to make our drawing to scale; that is, it will be drawn to the exact measurements we need, only smaller.  For instance, you could draw it so that 1" = 1/4".  If I am 65" tall and want to draw my figure in 1/4" scale I would draw it 16 1/4" tall.  Choose the largest scale that will allow you to fit a figure your height on your paper.  You'll be taking measurements later, and it's harder to take accurate measurements off a tiny drawing.  Once you've picked what scale you'll be drawing at, stick with it all the way through.  I'll be using my real life measurements as examples, but assume that from here on I'm converting them to scaled measurements when I actually draw them (so when I say I drew a line 65" up from the floor line, I'm actually drawing it to my scaled height of 16 1/4").   
    I've already got my figure drawn to scale, but I'll show you how I got there.

    To begin with, draw a line at the bottom of your page to indicate the floor.  You'll also want to draw a vertical line down the center of your page so you can center your figure and hoops exactly.  The top of your figure's head will be [your height in inches] above the floor.  In my case, I'm 65" tall, so I drew a mark 65" up from the floor to indicate the top of my figure's head.

    Make another mark where your waist will be using your waist to floor measurement.  My waist to floor measurement is 41", so I measured 41" up from the floor and made a mark.

    You can guestimate the diameter of your waist by dividing your corseted waist measurement by π (3.14).  Usually your waist is more of an oval than a circle, but a corset tends to compress your waist on the sides more than front and back, making your waist very close to a circle.  My corseted waist measurement is 25".  Divided by π, I get a diameter of 8", so I drew a 8" wide line centered at waist level (green line in the above picture).

    At this point I sketched in my figure from the waist up to that mark I made for the top of the head.  I got a bit fancy and drew undergarments and whatnot, but don't worry too much about details.  It's also no big deal if you can't draw people very well; the point is to just get a very rough idea of the shape of the body above the hoop.

    I know I want my hoop skirt to have a total circumference of 95".  I can find the diameter of my bottom hoop by dividing 95" by π, which gives me 30.25".  I also want my hoop skirt to be 6" off the floor, so I drew a line 30.25" wide 6" up from the floor (make sure it's centered!).  I added in some feet to complete my figure.

    Now you can draw the shape of your hoop skirt!  So long as it starts at each end of the line you drew for your waist, finishes at each end of the line you drew for the base and is symmetrical you're golden.  I made sure my shape was exactly the same on both sides by drawing it on one side, then copying it to the other side by folding the paper in half on the centerline and tracing it.  Whatever shape you draw is exactly what you'll get, so take some time to get a shape that pleases you.  I wanted a very bell type shape reminiscent of the early 1850's just before hoops were invented, when layering multiple petticoats gave women's skirts a shape just like an upside-down U.

    Once you've got your overall shape down, you'll need to draw in where your hoops go.  Keep in mind that you can space hoops farther apart in areas where there's little change in shape, but you'll need to space them closer together in areas where the shape changes drastically.  In the drawing above, the most drastic shape change takes place in the top half of the hoop skirt, so those hoops need to be closer together to maintain that shape.  Also consider the overall size of your hoop skirt.  Larger hoop skirts will require more support than smaller hoop skirts.  I once made a giant hoop with a nearly 180" circumference that failed because it only had 6 hoops holding it up.  It's better to err on the side of caution and add too many hoops than to have to few and watch your hoops collapse under the weight of your skirts!

    Click photo to embiggen 

    Now that you've got your hoop skirt drawn as you like it, you'll start taking measurements.  You are going to measure each space between hoops at the side edge of your hoopskirt (see photo above for example).  Don't forget to measure the distance between the top hoop and your waist too!  Measure straight from the edge of one hoop to the next, disregarding the curves.  Remember, you don't want to measure in the middle of your drawing or you'll end up with too little space between your hoops.  In the photo above, look at the area between the top hoop and the waist.  If measured on the edge, the result is 5".  If measured in the middle, it's 2".  That's a big difference!  You can write these measurements directly on your drawing or put them on another sheet of paper, but make sure you have them for later when you make your actual pattern.

    Next you'll measure the length of each of the lines you drew for your hoops.  This will be the diameter of each hoop.  You'll only need these numbers long enough to find the circumference of each hoop.  

    Now that you have the diameter of each hoop, you can easily find the circumference by multiplying the diameter x 3.14.  The result is the length each of your hoop bones needs to be (well almost; we're going to add a bit extra for overlap when we actually make the hoop skirt, but ignore that for now), so write each one down next to its corresponding hoop for easy reference.  

    Click on picture to embiggen

    Now you've got all the measurements you need to make your pattern!  You can draw your pattern out on paper full size, or you can save time and draw it directly on your fabric.  

    First, you'll need to make a rectangle as long as the circumference of your bottom hoop (so 95" in my case) and as high as all of the measurements in between each hoop combined (in my case, 6+6+6+6.25+3.25+3.5+2.25+5= 38.25).  

    You can also draw in lines for each of your hoops, using the measurements you took in between each hoop to space them properly (see above).  

    Add however much you want on each side for your seam allowance (yellow area in above picture).  

    Add a bit on the bottom to fold up to make a neat hem (green area in above picture).  If you add enough on the bottom, you can also use it to encase your bottom hoop.  

    Add enough on the top to fold down to make a casing for a drawstring (pink area in above picture).  Ta-Da!  You're ready to start sewing up your hoop skirt.  I'll show you how in the next post! Update: Learn how to sew up your custom hoop pattern in this post.


    1. What a neat method for measuring hoop widths! I might try it with my next round hoops. After I make the 1860s ellipticals I have scheduled, and the pannier-hoops, and the bustle hoops, and another bustle!

      I have a question about your corset. Was the fabric you used striped on the diagonal, or did you just arrange it on the bias?

    2. Oh my dear goodness you have a lot of hoops and bustles to make! Can't wait to see them all!

      As for the corset, it's not striped fabric at all! Each "stripe" is an individual piece of black coutil or white coutil. There's 9 pieces per side! I made it based off a tutorial on It's a subscription site but well worth it! To give you a better idea of how it's made, you can see my pieces cut out for the mock up here- (I believe that link is set to be public, let me know if it isn't)

    3. Wow! Now I want to try my hand at making my own hoop! I have a cheap bridal hoop I bought online, but it's a cheap bridal hoop. I kind of want that hourglass-shaped hoop too... You know, that would make a neat steampunk outfit. Not that I role-play... :)


      1. Give it a shot! It's pretty easy, and it's so nice to be able to get the perfect shape :)
        One of these days I'll have to tackle that hourglass one, just to see how it looks.

    4. Hello,
      I was just wondering, If I don't have any Steel Hoop Boning, and can't get any, what would you recommend that I use, My last 'Elliptical' Crinoline I made I used Alkathene but I am just trying other alternatives before having to resort to steel boning.

      1. I've only used spring steel (except for one terrible early failure using something similar to coat hanger wire!), so I can't personally recommend anything else. I've heard of folks using the irrigation tubing you mentioned. How did that work out? Reed is another option, but can break if you're rough with it.

      2. Well, The only bad thing about it was that you couldn't sit in it properly as the hoops were stiff, But I have recently purchased a 6-tier wedding crinoline. Although it works, it doesn't give it what I like to call the 'Hip Effect'. But, not much I can do except maybe making a pillow to fit around the waist.

      3. Yeah, those wedding hoops are very A-line. Wearing a pad around the hips will help, or multiple petticoats. Good luck!

    5. Hello again, just a quick question, instead of making this in the same size do you think I could make the bottom hoop circumference 150" and increase all the other hoops as well so I can keep the same shape?

      1. You can make the bottom hoop whatever size you wish, but you'll need to do the math to figure out how big to make the rest to the they shape you want. I'd suggest drafting the bottom most hoop's diameter out (approx 47.75" for a 150" hoop) and redrawing the skirt above it to the shape you desire. You can then draft in the rest of your hoops and do the math to figure out how large they should be to get that shape. Let us know how it goes :)

    6. I have a great cotton hoop skirt I purchased years ago, that I love. I have used it so much that I had to take it apart to wash the fabric part. I also shortened the wires because they were sooooo long they were hard to work with (the skirt went out to 165" and I only needed it to be 120"). I have been pulling my hair out trying to get the hoops right for almost a year now and this is a magical answer. I can't wait to get out to the sewing room and get to work. Thank you!

    7. Hello I recently tried my hands at making a hoop skirt with reed, this is my 1st time making a hoop skirt by the way, but for some reason it keeps rolling into coils. I didn't use a skirt as the base because I thought it was better to connect them all into channels like the crinoline steel cages, how can I make the reed not coil on itself and stay fix?

      1. Apologies for the late reply; somehow I missed approving this comment! Having never used reed, I don't really have the experience to answer your question. You might try overlapping the ends of the reed a bit more for stability, and certainly a fabric skirt would help keep things in place better. I have heard that steaming or wetting reed allows it to relax, and that it will stay in whatever shape you dry it in, so maybe wetting it, forming it into the circles you need, and letting it dry might help too.


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