Sunday, 21 April 2019

A promise fulfilled! Years in the making - and finally finished

In the garden today - the blossom that became synonymous with sewing her wedding dress is in full bloom this weekend.

I think she may like it

As you may realise, if you have previously read my blog, I had been guddling around making different toiles of pleated skirts for Helen, using plain fabric or checked fabric (but not the real tartan) for a while (a long while!) and Helen hadn’t really liked any of them - or at least wanted to make changes. I had originally wanted to use a pattern but came to realise that modifying a pattern to fit the pleat depth I wanted in the pleated skirt was much more work than working the traditional way of setting out the size of pleats you wanted in the fabric.

So, last week, I bit the bullet. I had just sent another toile which was too big in size 12. I don't have a decent photo of it on Helen. The previous one had been in my view a bit neat in the size 12 - both big 4 patterns.

Too small imo in the 12

I had been looking at modifying the pattern but eventually decided against this. I’ve tried 5 different commercial patterns, I think … Helen told me that she wants all of the skirts, she can’t decide. So I had to decide for her. She brought all the toiles I've ever sent her home with her this weekend. She didn't want to get rid of them for sentimental reasons but I've encouraged her to leave them and say goodbye as they performed their function.

We didn't like a circular skirt with tartan

It was too big, anyway

This one ended up too big - and she didn't like the deep contour waistband

Helen said she really liked just about the first toile I made except it was too long and too big. I had done that on my own without a pattern. A full pleated skirt. See blog post here - from December 2015!

She does wear this skirt and has kept it. I offered to take in and shorten but she decided against that. She's keeping it.

So I decided to make a short full  pleated skirt by just folding the pleats how I wanted and using the proper tartan. Normal 1.25" waistband. Although the tartan was very expensive as we got it specially woven and we had to buy 30 metres to boot, it isn’t doing anything by lying in storage, is it? I said to David that I wanted to make a skirt and if it didn’t work out, so be it - we still had many metres left. I have previously blogged about the tartan's story. Here is one post

I looked at the real tartan. I asked the mill which wove it (Lochcarron of Scotland) what pre-treatment it might require before being cut - answer none but dry clean it later. The tartan has been lying rolled in a bolt for many years and it was off grain as it lay but I think that was due to the storage. I think that some better pressing and steaming might have helped that more than I did.

I took a piece of fabric and folded it in a number of ways to see the effect and gave Helen a choice. In a man’s kilt, the end result is such that you are looking at a recreation of a full pattern repeat over several pleats.  - but this means that the pleats are narrow and numerous. Helen didn’t want her skirt as heavy (and bulky) as that so our pleats are simply folded to get a pleasing effect.

The mill had also said that they use the selvedge for the hem edge and told me how to identify the right from the wrong side - both questions I had asked. On Instagram, I had asked about the hemming treatment and most suggested using the selvedge. So that’s what I did.

This meant of course that the fabric was cut cross grain. The skirt is so short, that not even half the width of the fabric was used. I needed about 3 metres in length.

I asked Helen to resend me her measurements so I would be working to the correct size. These measurements were 3 cms less than she had told me previously - no wonder the last skirt was too big! So 68cms.

The first part went very well. I worked out that I needed 17 pleats to meet Helen’s hip measurement plus a 1 cm ease allowance ( as per Aldrich’s Metric Pattern Cutting) - total 100cms. Last time, I got into difficulty with the zip but didn’t worry too much as that was a toile. Aldrich didn’t give me any help but there was a little help to be had from my other tome by Helen Joseph Armstrong - sadly I misunderstood the instructions. There were a couple of issues - firstly, they didn't specify right or wrong side of fabric, though that may not have mattered - but more significantly, the terminology they used literally changed from one page to the next (and was different from Aldrich’s terminology). I tried a few different lengths. To cut a long story short, when I came to sew the skirt in the round (there was only one seam, left side, where the zip goes), the seam and zip were visible rather than being hidden in the folds of the leading pleat as they should have been.

Pleats laid out for hip size. The other side is very green - very different. Sadly, this skirt is not reversible because of the zip though the next one might be made with the green dominant

Positively, I was now able to work out for myself what was necessary. I had insufficient fabric at one side and too much at the other. I decided to add in a piece of fabric to the short side and this worked okay. I tried to work out if it was okay before cutting the fabric but this proved a lot more difficult than it sounds! A lot of calculation and experimentation. So now there are two seams. Never mind - you can't see them.

Before I put the zip in though, I had to reduce the waist to the correct size. I used Aldrich’s method of snugging the pleat over after it is formed. By this method, the pleat is pretty straight up from the hem to about 5” below the waist, at which point it turns towards the pleat to one side, reducing the distance between them.

I tried a couple of times and then was reasonably happy that I had got the size right. It was a little too big for MIssy, Helen's body double created for her wedding nearly 3 years ago now (waist 66 cms) as I could pinch an inch and I was concerned it could be too big for Helen. Of course there is a difference between a real live human and a model in any case.

Helen was here for the Easter weekend and I had said that I’d have the skirt to a point where she’d try on and I’d adjust if necessary, then add the waistband.  I even had the waistband prepared - cut on the straight of grain.

It was going to be a little difficult or rather time consuming to reduce the pleats further - but YAY! it  wasn’t necessary. The skirt fitted - near enough.

I gave Helen the choice of green or black top stitching - she chose green - and I topstitched each pleat through all layers, except the leading pleat, which was decoratively top stitched.

I then added the waistband, slightly easing in the skirt. I trimmed and graded the internal seam allowances really well. When I had made the waistband, stitching right side of band to right side of skirt, I turned over and secured by stitching in the ditch from the front, using the green thread.

It was looking good!

I wanted to get the skirt finished for Helen going home todyt, so when I had problems trying to put in a buttonhole, I decided to forego that. I have bought a new thing for my machine which is supposed to help with this issue which I assume is due to the thickness and unevenness at the edge of the fabric  but I haven’t used it yet and this wasn’t the time to try!

The skirt is lovely. There are a couple of issues - the leading pleat doesn’t lie nicely so I am going to add some poppets down the edge (I tried hooks and eyes but didn’t like the effect). Secondly, the skirt is up a bit at the back. Helen has a very flat stomach but has more fullness at the rear. Next time I could take that into account. Interestingly, it was something that Lyn, my sewing tutor, brought up when I was looking at patterns for pleated skirts - back and front were the same.

So despite a couple of relatively minor setbacks this last week, I finally have the skirt that Helen requested 10 years ago (at least). This was before I sewed and originally we were going to get a skirt made up.

I enjoyed the process. There is actually very little machine sewing - a lot of careful measuring, hand basting, pressing. I found it therapeutic. It only took a week.

Today, I sewed some poppets along the leading pleat edge to help it lie flatter  and then sewed a label into the skirt. This was one of the ones Helen gave me a while back - I haven’t used them much as they are rather big but it worked fine here.


  1. Your skirt is absolutely lovely! I think it's something she will always treasure :)

    1. Thank you. I think she will. There may be others...

  2. It's wonderful Anne. A real credit to you.

    1. Thank you, Sarah Liz. I enjoyed the process and it's great to have created something that fits and is appreciated.

  3. How lovely! You should be really proud of yourself!

    1. Thank you, Ruth. I am, actually! Not very seasonal - but we're not this hot often!

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    1. Yes. I've considered getting a professional digitiser for one of my pieces. The test I'll play around with myself!

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