circular ruffles, Cloning Designer Garments, couture sewing, Drafting Patterns, Draping

Drafting Circular Flounces

My style tends towards sleek, tailored clothing but this blouse with its many circular flounces was one I had to try.  The inspiration is from Alexander McQueen’s RTW line and retailed for over $1000.  Wonderful look for summer that I could definitely do for less.

McQueen White Ruffled Top 1 McQueen White Ruffled Top 2

I draped a slim fitting princess line top using my body double dress form. It extends to the high hip line here so I can play with the placement of the hem flounce.

Blouse Drape

An interesting technical point is that these are known as flounces, not circular ruffles. In the garment industry, a ruffle by definition has the excess fullness gathered into a seam while the fullness of a flounce comes from the curved flare of the fabric.

The flounce pattern is created by drawing concentric circles. The inner circle is attached to the garment.

Drafting the flounce does require some basic math and decisions about how full you want the flounce. The left diagram shows a flounce with an inner circle of 1 inch diameter and one inch wide flounce. The circumference of the inner circle is 3.14 inches which will be the length of the seam joining to the garment. The outer edge of the flounce will be 9.42 inches. Fullness is calculated as 9.42 divided by 3.14 equals 3 or 3:1 ratio.  However, imagine that you need a 6 inch long flounce. Drawing a 2 inch diameter circle surrounded by a 4 inch diameter circle creates a flounce 6.28 inches long with an outer edge 12.56 inches long. Note that the fullness has changed from 3:1 to 2:1 (12.56 divided by 6.28).  If the desired fullness is 3:1, then the flounce will need to be cut using two of the smaller circles and seaming them together.

lower flounce

I’ve drafted a 3 inch deep flounce for the lower edge of the blouse, cut a test from muslin and attached to the toile.  To achieve 3:1 fullness, I’ll use four sections (two back and two front).

Drafting the flounces for the neckline and center front required more complicated methods.  Flounces behave differently depending upon the seam they are attached to.  Vertical hanging flounces cascade down in folds.  The fullness of a flounce is increased when attached to a inside curve and decreased when attached to an outside curve.  The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff is a wonderful resource which more fully explains these concepts.

The neckline is an outside curve. Therefore to maintain the same appearance of fullness, the flounce at the neck was drafted with 4:1 inner to outer ratio.  The math can get complicated, especially when you need to consider the length of flounce needed, width AND fullness ratio desired plus adding seam allowances.  Then compound all this with varying width flounces for the center front and armholes.  I’ve devised a relatively simple way to draft all this.

Either buy a tablet of graph paper or print some out. There are free internet sources for printing all sizes of graph paper. I like .  Search for graph paper and print out a few sheets of 1/4 inch size. Metric users try 0.5 cm; I found the 1 cm. size just a bit too large to produce smooth curves using my method.

math drillsBack neck pattern

Measure the length of the seam the flounce will be attached to. Measure the SEAM LINE, not the cut edge. All drafting is done referencing the seam line; seam allowances are added afterwards. I’ll show the back neck: seam line from CB to shoulder seam is 3.5 inches. 4:1 fullness is desired and 1.75 wide flounce so I’ll cut and tape together a strip of graph paper 1.75 inches  by 14 inches (3.5 times 4).

Cut along every fourth line leaving a tiny bit attached at one long edge. If you cut through, it’s no problem to just tape it together. Overlap the sections so there are four blocks at one edge and one block at the other edge.

Cut graph paperline up overlaps

The inside edge won’t line up perfectly but I just eyeball it. You can also draw in a line to help. Tape the sections in place as you go. This is what the pattern will look like. It’s very clear that there is a 4:1 ratio of inner to outer length. Also it isn’t a complete circle which is good as there is space to add seam allowances.

completed overlap

The pattern can be cleaned up by using it as a gauge to draw circles with a compass. Use the end points on the outer circle and connect to the center for symmetrical seam lines. I find this much, much easier than trying to mathematically calculate the dimensions of the inner circle, outer circle, width of flounce, maintain fullness ratio. With all these variables, I wound up with a partial circle and calculating the percentage needed of such circles produces some dizzying math.

cleaned up draft

The graph paper method greatly simplifies creating the long cascading flounce along the center front.  If you draft a flounce and trim off the outer edge to create a flounce narrower at one end, the proportion of fullness changes.

spiral draft

Here is a flounce which gets narrower at one end.  I trimmed off the outer edge of a 3:1 circle. If you count the squares, it goes from a 3:1 fullness to a 2:1 fullness. This may be what you want, but what if you want to maintain the same fullness the entire length?

Here’s how I created the center front flounce. Measure from center front to the desired length.  After some experimentation, I decided 3:1 was a good fullness. Create a strip of graph paper 3 times the finished length by the wider width. Draw a sloping line from wide point to narrow point.

sloped graph paper

Trim off the paper above the sloped line. Cut along every third square and overlap to create a curved pattern.

overlaped spiral

The pattern will spiral over itself.  Keep going and let it overlap. It will be divided into sections later.

completed flounce

My front flounce needed to be divided into two sections to avoid the pieces overlapping.  Deciding where to place the cuts is a trial and error process. You want a few seams as possible and the seams need to be placed where they are inconspicuous.

It may take several muslin trials to get seams where you want them.  Trace off your master pattern so it is intact in case your first seams aren’t where you want them. Since the diameter of the circle is constantly changing along the length of the flounce the circles will turn into ellipses.  Here is the lower section of my front flounce. I’ve left room for tiny seam allowances to join to the upper flounce section.

maintain ratio

My pattern traced off to pattern paper.  Label everything as the pieces will get VERY confusing. I also keep my graph paper models intact just in case I need them.


The armseye flounce is drafted in the same way. I did experiment with a 5:1 fullness but felt it too much and ultimately went back to the 3:1 proportion. Some experimentation is necessary as every flounce will behave differently depending on its width and placement.  The fullness is removed under the arm at the side seam.

5 to one draft underarm

completed toile

Since this design is symmetrical, the toile is only of the right side. I’ve also hemmed the center front flounce as the drape of flounces does change with the edge finish used. Drape flounces in a fabric similar to the fashion fabric as a silk chiffon will behave much differently than a crisp cotton. I will use a woven textured white cotton that looks almost the same on both sides as the wrong side of the fabric will show on this. Blouse is in production for the next post.

69 thoughts on “Drafting Circular Flounces”

  1. Fascinating, Mary. Reading this made me think the retail price on the RTW is maybe not all that excessive! However, your version is going to be prettier, I’m sure, and I’m looking forward to seeing it. Now I am going to examine every flounce I see, and maybe even attempt my own with your outstanding explanation to go by!

    1. When I started this I didn’t think that there could be so much to consider with what looked like a simple ruffle. Fascinating though once I explored the options. I wonder if the RTW version takes all this into account. Maybe the expert drafting is part of the cost with high end clothing.

  2. I loved this post! The spiral is spectacular visually and the process does make sense. All of this gorgeous math for a flounce! I believe you created a logarithmic spiral, (true??) and I am quite sure I would have thought one would make an archimedes spiral to ge the draping effect. I am inspired to follow your lead and create a blouse with a front flounce. Thanks for the oh-so-fun glimpse into fashion design.

    1. Interesting math questions but the spiral created is neither a logarithmic nor an archimedes. The radius of a logarithmic spiral expands at a much greater rate than desirable to create this degree of fullness. In The Art of Manipulating Fabric, Colette Wolff illustrates a spiral cut flounce, which is basically an archimedian spiral. The difficulty with this spiral is that as you radiate out from the center of the spiral the ratio of the inner to outer edge of the flounce approaches 1:1. It’s a simpler way to draft the front cascade but you lose control of the fullness ratio. I did experiment with ways to draft these by pure mathematics but once I realized the decreasing width of the flounce created ellipses and the difficulty with calculating the circumference of an ellipse, especially concentric ones with varying radii, the graph paper method was much, much easier. Thanks for your insight and please post your experiments with flounces. It does make you realize there may be a use for all that math!

  3. What a gorgeous top and what a wonderfully clear explanation. I’m newly enthused about sewing after a hiatus of many years due to focussing on family and career. This project is so exciting and I’ll be watching with anticipation to see how it turns. I might even try a similar but less ambitious project of my own using your methods. Thanks for the inspiration.

      1. I finally got round to doing the flounces. I made a wrap skirt with a high low hemline and attached a reducing width flounce all around. Although it took a long time to make the pattern using this method it was very enjoyable – and it looks fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing.

  4. Great post! What a practical solution.

    I hit a similiar problem when trying to draft hats. Next time the urge hits ( ☺), I think I’ll try adapting your idea.

  5. What a beautiful blouse! I love what you make; they are so well-thought out. I’m always eager to read your next post.

    Thanks for sharing the process!

  6. Thank you for showing what you did so clearly, I love to read about drafting. The result is a simple WOW, you nailed it. Looking forward to your final garment.

  7. How impressive! Thank you for taking the time to document your logic and method. Your thinking is remarkable–love your reasons why. Fascinating problem which you solved with aplomb! I am inspired.

  8. Cool photos and great descriptions and math skills! I’d say, never throw away that graph paper sample!!!! So happy to see the narrowing at the underarm and just beautiful the way the front joins the side flounces! Once again…you show us that you really know your stuff and can explain it so the rest of us understand the planning and thinking time involved in high end clothing…thank you, Mary!!!

  9. Thank you so much for this detailed and comprehensible description and doing the math (not my strongest point). I am looking forward to your finished blouse, and I am inspired to try something “flouncy” myself.

  10. What a beautiful piece of work. It’s exquisite and will look wonderful on you. While you suit a pared down look a this will be sensational for summer evenings with a long skirt or pants. Thanks, as ever, for perfect instructions.

  11. Absolutely fantastic bedtime reading; I mean this seriously.
    Especially welcome reading after days of unpacking a house.

    1. Hei. How are flounces in haute couture sew on to a skirt? I have been looking even in MET but the pictures gets blurry with the enhancement. Someone told me that they are folded on the top and sew with running stitches onto the skirt, but I dont find any examples. (Pictures). THANKS.

      1. The method you describe sounds right. Flip the flounce up and stitch the seam allowance in place. Allow the flounce to fold down covering the stitches.

  12. Wow …fall in love with this white.The pattern and the flow of it is really gorgeous.Wanted to have for sure in my wardrobe.Liked the illustration and pictures,very well explained.

  13. Oh my! I recall a dress I made myself as a 4H project when I was in the 8th grade had a flounce around the neckline. It was so elegant and I felt so very grown up when I wore it! Of course the commercial pattern included the perfect pattern piece which I so took for granted. I’ve been wanting to recreate that neckline and have been unable to find a similar pattern or recall how it was done. Thank you so much for the explanation and the math. I’m sure there’s more experimentation in my future to get it right, but I have a clear path now. Thank you so much!

    1. Thank you so much Susan for letting me know that I had useful info for you. It was an interesting challenge to figure out the match and proportion of fullness to width. I hope I’ve given you a starting point for your own experiments.

  14. Please could you give me some tips on creating a continous flounce to go around a skirt from top to bottom. Will it work if I cut it in a circular spiral?
    Your help will be much appreciated.

    1. A circular spiral might work but you won’t have as much control over the fullness from top to bottom. A circular spiral will be very flared at the center with the flare ratio decreasing as you move outward from the center. Read through the comments at the end of the post for more discussion of this. Whatever method you chose be sure to make a test flounce in fabric that has similar hand to your fashion fabric. Once you’re happy with the look, then cut. Hope this helps.

Leave a Reply to jmadukeCancel reply