Making a pleated skirt – what could be simpler?

PI mentioned I would make a garment a month using my William Gee goodies. Just to get me back into the swing of things I elected to make a “simple” pleated skirt. The “pattern” was just a set of measurements from one of the Sew magazines and I pledged to follow the instructions.

I love a pleated skirt. I like how it doesn’t involve cutting and wasting fabric. I like how the pattern of your fabric is unaffected. I love how you need just one measurement – the waist as the hips are accommodated via the pleating. A pleated skirt can be mini, knee length or even floor length. If you have full hips and a small waist this is a great look as the eye keeps being pulled to the waist which looks tiny compared to the voluminous skirt.

Heat transfer printing maxi skirt
Hand printed box pleated maxi skirt (and printed T)

All pleats are nice, but I especially like the box pleat. I remember making my first box pleated skirt with my Mum when I was about 14. I seem to remember it was a light blue wool. She showed me how to just pleat up a width of fabric to my waist measurements (about 22″ at the time), with one side seam and a zip, and a waist band. Therefore I have known how to make a pleated skirt for over 40 years. And I knew it didn’t need a pattern. Second only to the gathered skirt, and the elasticated waist skirt, this skirt is absolutely great for beginners and people who don’t have an enormous pattern collection.

So I thought I would follow a pattern just for the fun of it. Pattern, interfacing, zip and bias binding kindly supplied by William Gee.

WmGee Project #1 The pleated skirt
WmGee Project #1 The pleated skirt

So I read the instructions and did the measurements, and then realised that we would be cutting a front that was 85 cms wide, and two backs at 44 cms each.

The fabric is 140cms across, and I had just over 1m.

I was a bit irritated at this point.

I always do my best to use the fabric as economically as possible, using either one full width, or two widths, rather than chopping it all up to fit the “pattern that wasn’t a pattern”. Generally the length I make is partly dependent on the material I have. Unlike my usual pleated skirt that has one seam and basically wraps around the body, this skirt had two side seams, a CB seam, pockets and no waist band. I thought I could combine the pattern’s approach with my own desire to use up all the fabric. But, and this is where I did something rather stupid – I decided to use two full widths of cloth. So now instead of 85 cms I had (allowing for seam allowances) about 135cms to pleat. And that was the problem.

I put in the CF pleat, the pockets, the side pleats and the pleats either side of the zip, as the pattern required. I then did my best to take up as much fabric as I could with box pleats at regular intervals. But even so the waist was too big so I had to pleat the box pleats with little tucks (small knife pleats). Of course I could have taken it all out and started again. I probably should have but I kept thinking – I would prefer a fuller skirt anyway, and I have never had a problem doing this without instructions. So why, when provided with instructions, do I become a complete nincompoop and incompetent?

The reason was that under pressure (I was trying to get it finished before Charlotte and Lee arrived for lunch) I couldn’t do the maths. Basically the problem is if you divide 135 by 3 (to take up the pleats) it gives 44 cms whereas my half waist is only 34cms. I think I really should give this Sew magazine skirt pattern a second chance and actually make it up as instructed.

Despite the hassle it is a pretty skirt. I love the pockets. The folded over waist band is comfortable but I prefer the belted-in feel, so I have added a belt. The textile is lovely and the colours are soft and pretty – a light muted palette that looks fairly zingy with a white shirt, but I think it would look good with a darker top too. Maybe for Me Made May 2017?

This is the first time I have been on the blog with a dog. The dog is Ruby Tuesday and she belongs to my step daughter Charlotte.  Ruby was very good to sit still for the photograph.

11 Responses

  1. Kathryn

    Is the top skirt one you self-drafted? I love it! They both look great but I think like you I prefer a waistband on this style of skirt. You’ve reminded me how much I love a Hobbs pleated skirt I have – can’t wait to get it back out for summer wear!

    • fabrickated

      The top one was “self drafted” in that I printed the fabric, then made a skirt to take up all I had. I put in a CB zip then pleated it on my dress stand. I needed to make the waist band out of another piece of fabric (pin linen) as I used up all I had of the printed fabric.

  2. Pia

    Despite the miscalculation the skirt looks good on you! Anyone not knowing your design intention wouldn’t have questioned the outcome.

  3. ceci

    Both pleated skirts are lovely; the pale muted colors in the pale muted landscape are especially striking! Ruby is indeed a good dog – mine are usually caught on camera attending to personal hygiene.


  4. helen

    I was interested to see this as I have a piece of patterned fabric that I’ve had over two years and my problem is I only have 80cm, it is 140 or 150cm wide. So I can only do one width. I shall give it a go anyway.
    I love the amount of fullness you have and the colours work well with the white shirt.

  5. Stephanie

    Love the look, Kate. The fabric is lovely. I wish I could wear this type of skirt as well, but being rather hipless I find I look like an overgrown child (much better in a pencil skirt). DF’s link is very interesting. I saw a skirt pleated in what I think is a similar manner just the other day and I thought I might try it. The depth of the pleats on the one I saw was tiny and the fabric a lightweight poplin. I was fascinated by how many small pleats there were though.

  6. Jay

    Both of these look lovely on you. The secret to arranging the pleats when the maths is just plain hard is, I find, to cheat, and overlap the underneath folds on one or two. Never shows.

  7. Vancouver Barbara

    I love the hand printed textile of your long skirt. Bright, beautiful and festive.
    “Rhonda’s Creative Life” blog has made a video that shows the inside construction of a dress that has a beautiful and unusual pleated skirt. Makes me wish I wore skirts. The dress is from the 60s but still very timely. Exquisite. Elegant.
    I think it would be fairly easy to copy, I think, and a very worthwhile garment to have in one’s wardrobe. Plus it has hidden pockets under the pleats. A great bonus.

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