Saturday, 7 November 2015

Pleated skirt - a long ago promise still not fulfilled

Some of you may be aware that my husband got some tartan specially woven. I say some - it's a lot!

This post is not going to cover our tartan sagas - I'll leave that for David. He'll post about that and our tartan silk adventure at a later date

The first time was nearly 15 years ago. The tartan had to be specially woven as his tartan is not a tartan that is woven or even appears in any of the tartan encyclopaedias. We found note of it on an Internet search (we didn't have such searches when we first sought it) and were able to get a company to weave it and make David his kilt. It cost an absolute fortune as we had to agree to the minimum print run as well as a very high price per metre. Nice tartan, though, heavyweight.

David in his kilt, casual mode.

My youngest daughter requested a mini kilt made of the tartan. This was in my pre-sewing days so we were going to have to get it made and that was another stumbling block. We felt the tartan was too heavy and were able to order some medium weight tartan from the same company. There was a long time between the request and the new order!  At least 5 years perhaps a lot longer!  This time, our minimum run was 30 metres but the cost per metre wasn't so high.

I finally thought it was time to consider making up her request. However, it wasn't clear what she wanted. She pointed out various designs. Skirts with a couple of box pleats, some with yokes but she also mentioned kilts and full pleated skirts…

When I made her a skirt recently, it's clear she's now wearing her skirts longer than she used to. She's getting older!  They're still short on her endless legs, though!

Anyway, I finally decided now was the time to try. I have Helen's measurements (I'm going to be customising a form for her next week using a tight fitting ‘moulage’) but there was no point in asking about styles as she is too busy following moving into her flat and thinking about and arranging renovations to consider the question. Originally I thought I'd make a skirt for her birthday later this month.

  • First decision - I decided to make a toile. Using tartan but not ours. A much cheaper option. Reasons - I've never tried to match a plaid - well I've just realised that's not true - the skirt above as a slight plaid effect, what do you know! Anyway, I've never made a successful pleated skirt (I did try a skirt with a front pleat way back),  and couldn't be sure that the size would fit.
  • Second decision - I decided to make a full pleated skirt.
  • Third decision - I wasn't going to use a pattern.
I looked at Winifred Aldrich’s book ‘Metric Pattern Cutting’ and also The Great British Sewing Bee ‘Fashion with Fabric’. The latter has good instructions but for a kilt. The former’s instructions are minimal and only cover the fabric folding not construction techniques. Both say to work directly on the fabric, no pattern needed.

So I worked out how to make the pleats. I folded, refolded and folded again until I thought it was looking okay. I ended up with a pleat width of approximately 2 inches. I didn't measure the main body of the pleats as I was folding with the pattern. This test tartan effectively had one plain dark green section alternating with a red striped section. The blocks were rectangles rather than squares.

My pleats were looking okay and I basted them by hand.

Next section was to reduce the width of the waist. This meant that each pleat had to be pushed over a bit more at the waistline. The calculation for how much is effectively ((hip size - waist size)/number of pleats).  To give an example, hip size 36” less waist size 24” is 12” so this amount has to be lost in the pleats - so if there are 24 pleats,  each pleat has to be narrowed by ½” at the top. These are not the actual measurements I used,  just numbers to make the concept clearer. The amount I had to lose on each pleat was somewhat larger and I had 20 pleats.

Showing the waist section; machine basting along waistline and hand-basting 3 inches down

Here came my first (known about) major mistake. I carefully adjusted each pleat, tapering out the adjustment back to zero at hip line and tacked again. Then I realised that the waistband would be fastening the wrong way around. Fortunately, I was able to turn the skirt upside down. I had to undo my tacking, recreate the waist at the other, now correct, end and release the modified waist. Then re-tack.

Looking okay.

So now I just had waistband to do. Closure. And hem.

I realised I had no idea how to do the closure. Winifred didn't help. GBSB was for a kilt not a skirt. I asked my Thursday tutor. She wasn't sure. I wondered about ‘no closure’ - I'm sure I remember having a skirt like this with just a hole inside the overlap and as my tutor said,  this is how pockets are often done. Eventually we decided I'd try an invisible zip, which in turn would be concealed under the pleat. In the meantime,  David suggested a series of hooks and eyes, hook and loop tape or poppets. I bought some hook and loop tape.

I tried the zip and it didn't work. It's possible a lapped zip could work. Not sure. The Velcro is a good idea,  I think. Although I topstitched the edge, it isn't held down so Velcro would solve that issue.

I pressed the pleats, then top stitched them down to hip level.
Before pressing

After pressing

Next discoveries:

  • I think the skirt will be too big. Not sure, as there is a lot of bulk at the waist. It's certainly too big on the dress form.
  • I don't know how long to make it.
  • The red pleats and the green pleats are not the same width.

Now I had to remember this was a TOILE or even a proper test garment,  testing out pleating etc, not a finished garment. It can't be for Helen's birthday.

So, I am going to post it as is. No waistband, no closure, certainly no hem.  If it is too big, there's no point in continuing with this particular attempt. I may get a better idea from Helen about length and style for a future attempt.

I've learned quite a lot. Particularly from my mistakes
  • How to work with wool
  • How to pleat
  • The importance of planning the whole garment before you start. I'd I had stated the pleats differently, the closure would have worked but not as I did it.
  • The confidence of working without a pattern
  • The stuck feeling when I don't have a pattern to hold my hand!
  • The sinking feeling when my tutor doesn't have ‘the answer’!
  • I'm rather to hung up on researching methods and practising on samples and over-thinking rather than just doing. This was an attempt to just do.
I photographed and then took out all the tacking. I found that the pleats had slipped open a bit at the waist, despite the 2 rows of machine basting along the waistline and the row of hand basting further below. This may make the waist bigger than I had intended.

Once the tacking was out, the pleats gape more than perhaps they should . In a kilt, the pleats are much smaller than they are here - perhaps I should have more pleats, more closely spaced if attempting this again. That would mean that the overlap for reduced waist would be smaller and more manageable and there would be a greater ability to alter for size. As things stand, to remove even just one pleat would greatly alter the size. And I might be wrong, but think I would have to remove two to get the pleats to match?

On the form, tacking still in place

On the form, tacking removed. Are the pleats too wide/

Again, although the skirt is too big at the waist on the form, I couldn't get it closed properly at the side.
You can perhaps just see the top stitching

I'm very comfortable with how I've left this. Helen may not like it at all and that's okay as I've had some practice. I rather think a skirt like McCall's 7022 would be more suitable - lighter weight and more youthful. A full pleated tartan skirt would be difficult to look after. However.  I'm happy to wait. I'm also sending another skirt toile I'd done for her.

McCall's 7022, view B - I like this view and bought the pattern after seeing it

View B

Now I need to get on with my college homework; not too taxing this week. Then I need to make our evening meal. Warming food for a miserable day,  though it has cleared up a bit.

I'd love your comments!


  1. Hello Anne - I was going to reply to your last post this morning, but lo, I find another. So I shall reply to both here. Firstly, I hope you are feeling better after your adventures with teeth, car bingles, and parking fines. And that the nausea is passing. What a time. I did feel for you with the car bingle. Reminds me of the time when I was a student, and nursing part time as an RN and picking up extra shifts when I could. I volunteered for an early Sunday morning shift, really needing the money, woke up with dreadful sinusitis - but I was the only R.N. so had to go - and when I parked my car, I managed to reverse into a brand new car's front lights. I had a feeling it belonged to one of the staff, so at morning tea made my announcement, and of course offered to pay. I think that shift cost me!!. Still, I had a moral sense...

    You have done a good job on the skirt - and it is so hard to get them just right because a slight increase or decrease in pleat width means the whole skirt is either far too tight or far too loose. I made one once, to prove I could. Never again! Then there is the ironing of the pleats, unless you send it out for permanent pleating. I can't remember how I closed it. Most sewing is solving problems as you go along, I find. Each garment is different, all fabrics perform differently, so experience and making mistakes is part of the process.

    1. Hi Sarah Liz. I've just read your post about bubbly pants and recarbonating sewing - I hope you are starting to feel better.
      I've never heard the term 'bingle' - is that an Australian word or from your original part of the UK (don't know which part that was, sorry). Anyway, thank you for your good wishes. I am beginning to feel better.
      I had an accident as a young resident coming off an A&E shift early in the morning before it was fully light and when I was tired - I reversed and a low lying spike that I didn't see pierced my very old banger of a car. At least it didn't cost me. I thought I had learned not to drive when I was tired, ill or distracted!
      I thought of you when I was making the skirt, you know! I tried to adopt a bit more of an experiential approach. I agree with your final comment. I didn't know that you could send garments out for permanent pleating. If I do end up making a pleated skirt or kilt from our proper tartan I'd certainly consider that. I've also read about pleat boards which perhaps could be helpful. This experience hasn't put me off but I would need to sew like a chess player - thinking a few moves ahead!

    2. Bingle is a vernacular word in parts of South Australia. I rarely use the word, but it can be quite descriptive, especially for small scrapes that don't do much damage to people. I was born in London, and spent my childhood years from 4 in Shropshire. Most of the time I speak "Southern English" ( had to suffer elocution lessons at school) mixed with Australian inflections. And rarely resort to the verncular idiom. My father was very proper!

    3. Thank you for thinking of me and my experimental approach - while I can be methodical, it does help to get things going if you take a more creative approach. I learnt this in the Creative Arts. I find it is a good approach to move a block and get something happening.

    4. Bingle sounds like the perfect description, certainly. The other party (a company) is not pursuing a claim. I find that some of my Scottish words have different meanings in the NE. The obvious example is 'canny'. However 'BBC English' was my norm. I've been in the North East for over 30 years now and while I can understand a lot, well some, of the Geordie dialect, I certainly can't replicate any of it! Then a lot of English people can't say 'loch'!
      Having dived in to the skirt here and to customising Missy now, I agree that my total block has shifted.

  2. Permanent pleating, as far as I know, requires at least some polyester in there. Pure wool won't PP. So with a kilt I think you have to tack the pleats down and send it to the dry cleaners (very occasionally - I think they are worn for months between cleans). I am interested in your experiments as I plan on making one.
    I do like the look of your kilt - the pleats are fairly wide but they look balanced and nice to me. I don't know what has happened to the waist but I think you must have not stitched it down properly because you definitely did it right. The fastening could be an invisible zip if it a kilted skirt - I am assuming you haven't done the overlap to make a proper kilt. And like SL I was sorry to hear about your woes with your teeth and car lights.

    1. The final skirt tartan is pure wool; not sure about this toile. I feel that pure wool would have pleated more nicely and taken more heat. I'm not at the moment sure how wide the pleats will be in the final skirt.
      Helen likes the full pleated skirt rather than the McCall's one which I thought she might prefer. She has requested the skirt for her Christmas. A little shorter.
      I spoke to my tutor tonight when I was padding the model and got advice about inserting a (handpicked) zip with an extension piece to support. However, I will send Helen the current toile, with its roughly hand basted zip, for sizing. There is an overlap which is why an invisible zip wouldn't work - also the fabric is very thick.
      Thank you for your sympathy. Teeth improving. Car issue in the process of being dealt with; as is customised form for Helen. All good! I've arranged a couple of 3 hour classes with my tutor specific to wedding dress and Helen will be able to go to the second of these for real life work. I feel that things have now started moving - I was so stuck.

  3. Hi Anne, I don't think the pleats are too wide, they follow the pattern of the tartan, For the fastening I'd either try hand-stitching a zip in (I find that easier anyway!) or do a pocket closure, though you may find it tricky to get that to hang straight, I've only ever used them om full skirts. Looks good though!

    1. Thank you. Helen has now had a chance to try on and as suspected it's too big. The waist is too high, as it is on the dress form, probably by 2 inches (she hasn't sent photos) and it's too long by quite a bit for what she wants. I guess the high hip area is sitting at the waist - I wondered if this was because it's too tight there but she says not. So not sure why. Otherwise she loves it! So I'm going to redo. This will give me an opportunity to plan in the closure at an early stage instead of thinking about it at the end! I had sent with a hand basted zip, as your suggestion, and can see that would work. Helen is keen for me to use the proper tartan - I just don't know if I'm ready for that yet!


Thank you for taking the time to visit my blog. Please leave a comment. I welcome each and every one. I value criticism (constructive of course! ), love hints and tips and would appreciate suggestions for future direction.

Do you know? Can you answer?

I put up blog posts via Blogger. I follow blog posts via Bloglovin’ with a few via email. The stats on the Overview stats page o...