Tip: Make a Mermaid Skirt

Where do I find a pattern for a cabaret mermaid skirt? I’d like to make one with a velvet top portion and chiffon bottom portion. ~ Sharifa

I love the mermaid style skirt that you have suggested in a couple responses, such as the pear-shaped figure and the hip drape. I cannot find a pattern for a skirt like this! I want a slinky classic mermaid style skirt to wear with my cabaret costumes. Can you suggest a pattern or where to get one? ~ Linda

It’s true, the “mermaid” style of skirt (form-fitting above, very flared below the knee) is surprisingly hard to find in a commercial pattern – it must not be trendy at the moment. I made my own patterns by modifying a basic long sheath (straight skirt) in one of several ways.

Quickie mermaid

To make a modified mermaid with a a slight flare at the bottom, begin with a simple two- or three-piece stretch sheath pattern, and flare the lower half of each piece at the side seams. If there is a center back seam, that can be flared as well. The extra room at the bottom means you can eliminate the side slits that a form-fitting sheath skirt always has.

Fringe on the hem is optional; it creates a pleasing movement, since the skirt hem is not all that ruffly. The Easy Mermaid is illustrated in Book #2, Easy Costume for Bellydancers.


Gathered ruffle - Circle ruffle - Princess
Gathered ruffle – Circle ruffle – Princess

​To create a very ruffly look on the lower skirt, there are several methods: a Two-part mermaid skirt with separate ruffle (left & center), or a Princess mermaid skirt with vertical seams (right).

The two-part mermaid is flattering on an average-to-tall figure. If you are short-legged (like me), it may “cut” your lower body too much, especially if the upper and lower skirts don’t match. The princess-seamed skirt (below) might be more flattering because it features vertical lines.

In either case: first, take measurements. Determine your lower hip size; beltline size (where the hipband sits); distance from beltline to knee; and from knee to floor. Allow several extra inches on each measurement for seam allowance and adjustments.

The upper portion is a standard sheath skirt of two, four or six vertical panels. Most of the pattern companies have these. A stretch fabric works best for a form-fitting look.
You will cut the waist edge lower, so that it sits on the beltline. That edge is edge is finished with a casing for elastic, as usual. A hipbelt or hipscarf will cover the casing.
Upper skirt width: Make the skirt just wide enough at the top to get it over your lower hip measurement easily. Extra width will gather around the abdomen, detracting from the smooth, slinky look you want.
Upper skirt length: should be slightly above the knee (although some prefer slightly below the knee). The fit should be snug, but not tight, and the seams taper in slightly from hip to knee.
Practice dancing in just the upper skirt to make sure that it’s not too constricting. There are some moves you just can’t do in a tight skirt (like floorwork), so avoid those.

Then replace the lower half of a sheath with a ruffle.

The ruffle may be either a gathered or circular ruffle. Use knee-to-floor measurement (with shoes if you wear them) to determine the length.Print

The gathered ruffle is just a long rectangle on the straight grain of the fabric, either horizontal or vertical. The top edge is gathered with two parallel lines of basting (long) stitches. The ruffle should  measure about two and a half to three times the width of the upper skirt, or even wider if it’s a soft, sheer fabric like chiffon.

If you need to seam the fabric, place the seams where they’re less noticeable – not center front. Trim seam allowances small, and finish very neatly.
Angled ruffleI think it’s more attractive if the gathered ruffle comes to a slight point in the center front or off-center (illustrated above), rising to slightly above the knee at that point. This will also give you a little more knee room for dancing. To make this, draw a 3-4 inch point on the edge of the sheath at center or placed over one knee. Draw a corresponding point on the rectangle, but make it three times wider, since it will be gathered. It’s important to sew this seam and the point neatly, so baste it first, distributing the gathers evenly. Once basted, try on the skirt again to make sure it looks and feels right before sewing.

Very full 3-pc circle ruffle

The circular ruffle is made of two half-circle pieces (for a 1-circle ruffle) or three half-circle pieces (for a fuller 1½-circle ruffle, left) seamed together. It’s like a tiny full skirt. Seams are on the sides for a one-circle ruffle or at center back and front sides for a 1½-circle ruffle.

The “hole” in the middle of the circular piece should match the measurement of the upper skirt lower edge for a smooth seam, so it requires careful measuring. Or, the ruffle may be gathered slightly.

Staystitch and clip the circular seamline in the opening to allow the seam allowance to straighten out when sewn to the upper skirt.

The circle ruffle can also be sewn to an slightly angled upper skirt that rises over the knee. Make the ruffle several inches longer to allow for this, and trim it at the hem to adjust the length. Let it hang a while first, because like a circle skirt, the bias areas of the ruffle will stretch.

I like a “princess” style or continuous flare because it has no horizontal seam, only vertical ones.

Pattern-eight-circle godets
PATTERN for 6-eighth-circle godets

I started with a long six-panel sheath, and inserted six godets (pie wedge-shaped pieces) into the lower seams. The godets can be from one-eighth circle each (left) to one-quarter circle each (for a very full hem). The center line of each godet should be on the straight grain (horizontal or vertical) of the fabric. That way, they all hang with the same degree of stretch.

The godets may match the body of the skirt, or be a softer fabric like chiffon. If so, you may want to make each godet a half-circle instead of an eighth- or quarter-circle, since the fabric is so light and sheer.

Careful sewing on first one side of the godet, and then the other, will create a sharp point where the angles meet.

Cut out 6 godets
Cut out 6 godets on straight grain

Instead of inserting godets, you might simply flare each of the 6 (or eight) panels from the knee down, but that results in hemline unevenness due to the slanting grain of the fabric. The hem must be carefully evened out, either way.

Allow either type of mermaid skirt to hang for several days first, if the fabric is stretchy.
Mark the hem to about an inch from the floor (with shoes on, if you are wearing shoes to perform).  Have someone help you measure. A tiny narrow hem looks best on a curved edge.  ~ Dina Lydia