How to make a Russian Gypsy Dance Skirt

Near East Dance
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pattern for 90 degree gore
Use 8 gores


super-economy cutting layout you must use 60" fabric
takes 4.5 yards


Professional lay-out uses 7.25 yards of 55"-60" fabric

Hang for 24 hrs
then trim hem

flounce pattern
uses approximately 7.5 yards of 60" fabric to make
21-23 "donuts"
the skirt measures 43 yards at the hem

et voila

copyright Natasya Katsikaris 2012-2014

I did a great deal of research before making my first Russian Gypsy Dance Skirt.  Gratitude to the following people for their help & advice:

Svenko has an excellent YouTube channel (SvenkoVideo) with incredible dance footage as well as his website
He was kind enough to answer my questions about Russian Gypsy Dance Skirts for Stage performance.  Svenko offered the following advice:  For stage, dancers wear 2 skirts.  An under skirt of solid color and an over skirt of floral design. Legs never show above the knee.

Nalini, a Russian Dancer in Seattle USA suggests that USA dancers can use Indian cotton "tribal" bellydance (ATS) skirst as the under skirt or make one of light fabric such as chiffon.

Dance scholar Laurel Victoria Gray gave the advice that performance skirts should have a circle-cut flounce at the bottom (more on this later) rather than a gathered ruffle. From my observation, the Russian Gypsy Dance style uses the flounce while Polska dance costumes use the ruffle.

How to make Russka Roma Dance Costume
The skirt is made of 3 parts
#1 the waistband (4" wide x length according to your hips)
#2 the body of the skirt (4.5 - 7.25 yds of 60" fabric)
#3 a circle-cut flounce or gathered ruffle on bottom**
#4 matching top
**The gathered ruffle uses less fabric than circle-cut flounce but it isn't as nice for intensive skirt work.  To give a rough estimate: a 6" flounce requirea approximately 5 yds of fabric and measures 43 yards at the bottom hem. A gathered ruffle might require 2.5 yds of fabric and measure 25 yards at the bottom hem. More detail in the instructions below.

Fabric:  Any lightweight fabric with "bounce"
Light-weight polyester, poly satin, rayon challis, light cotton, or silk are good. Floral prints, bright solids, and polkadots.

Suggested Equipment:
Sewing machine, Serger, rotary cutter, paper & fabric scissors, calculator, tape measure, yardstick, right angle triangle, LOTS (really, a lot) of long straight pins, pattern paper, yarn, pencil, tailor's chalk, elastic, safety pin.

How to make the body of the skirt:

The body of the skirt is 2 complete circles or 720 degrees (i.e. 2 x 360 degrees).
It is constructed of gores (panels). Think of the complete circle as a pie and the gores as pieces of the pie. 

8 gores x 90 degrees is standard, but you can do however you like as long as the total = 720 degrees
(i.e. 4 gores x 180 degrees, 8 gores x 90 degrees, 12 x 60 degrees, 16 x 45 degrees, , 24 x 30 degrees, etc.)
Helpful link:
Basic Circle pattern (remember to adjust for 2 circles!)

Note: you can make the skirt body with as little as 4.5 yards of 60" fabric using the "super economy" lay-out (see pictures at Left Sidebar). You will have more issues with bias stretch and uneven hem. To get more professional results, use Lay-out #2 (uses 7.25 yards) or Lay-out #3 (uses 5.5 yds).

How to draft the pattern:

To draft the pattern for 90 degree gores, start with an exact square of pattern paper (you could tape together newspapers if you are on tight budget).  36" x 36"
To draw the curves I made a "compass" with a piece of yarn tied in a slip-knot and a pencil.

Unless you plan to use zipper or button close, the skirtwaist must be generous to allow your derriere to pass. 
Measure your hips at derriere and divide this measurement by the number of gores.
In my case, 39" hips / 8 gores = 4.9" (round up)
I.e. the top curve of my 90 degree gore should measure 5" so I can put-on the skirt without needing a zipper. There is a formula to compute where to draw this curve, but I just eye-balled it. I sketched a curve a couple inches down from the corner, then measured with tape, adjusted, and repeated the process until I drew a curve which measured 5 inches. Pencil & eraser for this part. Took me 3 tries to get it right.

Next, determine the LENGTH of the skirt body.  Measure from waist or hips to ankles. 
(Per Laurel Victoria Gray, the Russka Roma Skirt is worn at true waist.  Personally, I wear mine on high hip)
In my case, 36" - 6" for the ruffle = 30" length of skirt body.

Now use your compass to draw the bottom curve of your pattern.  Make sure every point on the bottom curve is 30" (or whatever) from the top curve. 

Now, make some notes on your pattern.  Note the length (30" in my case) and note the RADIUS.  Radius is the measurement from the point of your square to the hem line. (In my case, the RADIUS is 32.5")

Cut-out your pattern from the square.  You should now have a pattern which resembles 1/4 of a huge donut or bagel.

skirt pattern

You can use the 90 degree pattern to cut 8 gores or fold in half (45 degrees) to cut 16 gores, etc.

Remember to note your RADIUS measurement on the pattern.  You will need it later.

How to Cut the Skirt Body

If you have true 60" fabric and need to make skirts quickly and cheaply, you can use the SUPER ECONOMY lay-out. The straight seam of the gore aligns w/ the selvedge edge of the fabric. This layout saves fabric and cutting time. With 2 patterns and a fold, you can get 4 gores per cutting. 

If you want more professional results or if your fabric is only 55" you can use the Lay-out #2 or #3.

skirt cutting layout
Super Economy lay-out uses 4.5 yards of 60" fabric.

SUPER ECONOMY method saves time & fabric but has more bias stretch issues. Selvege edges are the left & right sides of the photo and the fabric is folded at "top" to yield 4 gores from each cutting.

Professional lay-out uses 7.25 yards of 55"-60" fabric Lay-out #2: fold the 90 degree gores in half. The fabric is also folded in half. Selvedge edges are on the bottom of this picture. Lay the fold of the pattern on the fold of the fabric.
Cut 8 pieces to get 2 full circles.
Layout #3 uses 5.5 to 5.75 yards of 60" fabric and yields 4 of 90 degree gores and 8 of 45 degree gores. To economize on fabric and still get professional results ... make some 45 degree gores by placing the pattern "fold" on the selvedge edge on alternate cuts. You will end-up with four 90 degree gores and eight 45 degree gores.

Pin & Sew the skirt body

Now that you have your gores cut ... pin the whole deal and make sure it fits together correctly. 
If you are happy with your pin-up ... machine baste the gores from bottom to top, then finish with serger.
(you can skip the basting depending on your skill level and how slippery is the fabric)   
If the top is uneven, use tailor's chalk and a french curve to smoothe-out the line, then trim.

Bias Stretch & the Waist Band

Bias stretch can be an issue with circle patterns. Some fabrics have more bias stretch than others. I have made skirts which came-out true to size and others where the waist "grew" by 20 inches due to bias stretch! If you find the waist of your skirt has grown, you may need to gather it to get a more normal size waist band. One fabric I used, the skirtwaist grew from 40" (planned) to 60" (actual).
I gathered the waist to 48" then sewed-on a 48" waist band as per below instructions. If your fabric doesn't have extreme bias stretch ... you won't need to gather.

Waist Band

Supplies needed:
1" elastic cut to your measurement + seam allowance
4" strip of fabric
Large safety pin and straight pins

Sew the skirt body BEFORE you measure the waistband.
The opening may "grow" due to "bias stretch" and be larger than you planned. If it is too large, gather the skirtwaist to a more reasonalbe measurement.

If the skirt body is slippery fabric, I make the waistband with thin black cotton or poly cotton which is easier to handle and more stable while dancing.
1. Cut 4" strip of fabric to length of skirt waist opening
2. Sew a narrow hem on 1 side
3. Sew the ends (serger). You now have a circle.
4. Turn the skirt right-side out
5. Place the waist band around the outside of the skirtwaist (right side to right side and raw edge to top of skirt). Position the seam of the waistband at the back of the skirtwaist.
6. Pin, baste, then finish with serger.
7. Fold-over the waistband so that the hemmed edge will cover the seam and give a nice, finished appearance inside the skirt.
8. Pin and sew - but leave a 1" gap to feed-through the elastic.
9. Put a large safety pin on the end of your elastic and guide the elastic through the waist-band. When the elastic is in place, sew its edges together.
10. Close the gap to complete the waistband hem.
I use a large basting stitch so I can easily open it again if I need to replace or re-size the elastic.

Now hang your skirt for at least 24 hours to see if it stretches in any bizarre ways and trim to even-up the hem if need be.

skirt I was in a hurry to sew the prototype, so I took short-cuts and made the skirt from 2x180 gores + 4x90 gores.  The result was an uneven hem due to "bias stretch".  Bias stretch will be more or less of an issue depending on which lay-out you use, type of fabric, etc.  In any case, get some tailors chalk and mark the "low" points even with the high points then get the hem at eye level and trim the excess fabric. Let hang at least 24 hours prior to trimming.

How to calculate fabric for Flounce or Ruffle

If making a single flounce or ruffle, it will be a contrast color.  I.e. a solid ruffle on a floral skirt, or a floral ruffle on a solid color skirt. If making a double flounce or ruffle, you can make the bottom flounce from the skirt body fabric and make the top flounce from contrast fabric.

To estimate the fabric needed, calculate the circumference of the finished skirt body. 
Look at your notes for the RADIUS measurement and double this to get DIAMETER.
In my case:  radius 32.5 x 2 = 65 diameter
Circumference of circle = 3.14 x Diameter
65 x 3.14 = 204.1 Double this number as the skirt is 2 circles
i.e. the circumference of my skirt body hem is 408.2"

To use the circle flounce calculator I input 408.2"
according to the flounce calculator I need 5 yards of 60" fabric for a 6" flounce. If I want to do a top flounce of 3-4 inches, this would use 4 yards of 60" fabric. When complete, the flounce will be 43 yards at the bottom hem.

To calculate gathered ruffle, base calculation on 11.33 yds.  (408.2" divide by 36" = 11.33 yds).  This is what the top of the ruffle with gather into. The bottom will be longer (i.e. 20 yds or whatever). 

60" fabric is 1.66 yards (1 2/3 yds.) Each yard of 60" fabric will render 6 x 6" strips (6 x 6" = 36"). 
By this method, 1 yd of 60" fabric renders 10 yds of 6" ruffle (actually 5.5" with seam allowance but you get the idea). A typical ruffle might use 2.5 yards to get a 25 yard hem.
if you are doing a 4" top ruffle, each yard of fabric will give you 9 strips. 9 x 1.66 yds = approximately 15 yards. So each yard of 60" fabric will render 15 yards of 4" ruffle.

Cutting & Sewing the Flounce

Although I originally planned to do a gathered ruffle, I decided to follow Laurel Victoria Gray's advice and do the circle-cut flounce. Normally, the founce would be a contrast color, but this was a proto-type which I wanted to do as cheaply as possilbe.  

Elaine's circle flounce calculator  told me to cut 23 circles with outer diameter of 19.5" and inner diameter of 5".  (Really, they are more like donuts than circles).  Remembering my experience with the top opening of the skirt, I only cut 18 of the 23 donuts as I expected to encounter BIAS STRETCH again.  I stacked these all wrong-side up as I cut them (this will come in handy later)


I cut the "donuts" then sliced them open.  I kept them stacked wrong-side up.

Then I started pinning & sewing.  Each seam started from the bottom (i.e. final hem line) to make the final hemming easier.

Make sure to match right-side to right-side and bottom to bottom as you sew!   It will start to resemble a flounce pretty quickly!

In the end,  I think I used 21 "donuts" but I lost track.

Now pin the flounce to the skirt body.  Make sure to match right side to right side and TOP of flounce to skirt body hem. 

The flounce did not exactly match the skirt hem.  So I machine basted it into place and "customized" the last donut to fit.  Then finished all w/ serger.

Here is the finished skirt.  My dance partner will have a black flounce on hers.  Since mine was the prototype I used the fabric I had. 

I hemmed it with the serger - not exactly a rolled hem but similar. Serging 43 yards of hem took awhile.  I don't know what women did before sergers!

I wore this with a a black underskirt for performing. I have since sold this one, but am making others.

Next:  The top ... coming someday ... meanwhile sewing more skirts and planning a double-flounce skirt for the next project.