Tuesday, June 2, 2009

SAAS (Sewing at Any Size): Pleated Skirt (and curtains)

Yep, it's definitely skirt week! Since they're the easiest thing to sew I thought I'd get them all out of the way before moving on to more complicated things. The same basic concept can be used to make your own pleated curtains and valances, so I've included the basic instructions for that at the bottom.

For those of you first joining me with this post, I'm doing a series on Sewing at Any Size to address the general ugliness of clothes this year, unavailability of certain sizes, and the over-complicatedness of sewing patterns. My goal is to help people who've never sewn before actually make basic clothes to fit them without having to learn complicated techniques. You can follow the series by clicking on the SAAS topic link on the sidebar.

As this will eventually be a book, please don't reproduce or re-print it anywhere. You can certainly print for your own personal use (that's what it's for).


Once you get the pleating down, this is actually one of the easiest skirts to make. Choose fabric that will hold a crease when you iron it (cotton, linen or blends with high cotton/linen content). You'll need to reference the information on waistbands in the first skirt entry here.

For the basic skirt you will want your waist measurement (where you normally wear a skirt or pant’s waistband) your hip measurement (widest point below the waist) and the length from the waist to where you want the hemline (we’ll call this last number L for Length).

Of your waist and hip measurements, which is larger? You want this to fit you comfortably everywhere, so no cheating! My waist is larger than my hips due to a belly, so I use that measurement. Multiply the number by three and add 3” (we’ll call the total number W for waist).

Cut a rectangle of fabric W by L. (remember to use test fabric, like old bedsheet material or pennies by the yard type clearance fabric, so that you can practice without ruining the expensive stuff!)

There are two types of pleat that work for this. One is the knife pleat and the other is the box pleat. The knift pleat will give you a more form-following pleat as it’s designed to fall straight down along the pleat lines. The box pleat will cause the skirt to flare out from the waistline, like a tennis skirt. Try them on your test fabric to see which you like better.

First decide which of the two long sides is the bottom hem. Fold up ½” of fabric, iron it to lie flat, and sew it closed (essentially, hem it). Hemming will be much more awkward once the pleats are in place.

Using a ruler or measuring tape along the top (unhemmed) long edge, make a mark every 1 inch with a marker, pencil or chalk. Number them from left to right starting with the first pencil mark (1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

Have a hot iron and ironing board ready.

This may be a tough visual, but look at the numbered marks on your fabric and follow along.

For the knife pleat: fold the fabric so that mark 2 touches mark 4. Iron down the crease all the way to the hem and pin at the top. Then fold the fabric so that mark 5 touches mark 7. Repeat the iron/pin.

If you notice the pattern so far, you skip one inch, then accordian-fold the next three marks together, then skip a mark and repeat. The final result should look something like this:

Note: While my lack of drafting skills makes the pleats look slightly uneven, try to make your’s as even as possible for a finished look.

For the Box Pleat, you still want to have your 1 inch marks numbered. Take marks 1 and 5 and bring them in so that they touch at mark 3. Iron the seams flat and pin at the top. Take marks 7 and 11 and bring them in to touch mark 9. Iron the crease and pin. Continue the pattern all the way across the fabric. The end result should look something like this:

Using a straight stitch, run a line of long, loose stitches (a.k.a. basting) about an inch from the top of the fabric, capturing the pleats

Now, using the larger of your waist/hip measurement, measure along the top of the fabric and make sure the finished size is correct. Pin the short ends together (leaving ½” seam) and hold the skirt about an inch below your waist. If it’s too large, trim a few pleats off to fit. If it’s too long, run another line of basting stitches an inch below the desired length to hold the pleats in place and cut away above the new row of stitches. Remember that you’ll have a 1” waistband at the top.

Check for fit again, then close the skirt by putting the two ends together with the right side of the fabric (the side you want visible when you’re wearing the skirt) facing each other and stitching ½” from the fabric edge. This will create a seam that is only visible on the inside of the skirt.

Follow the instructions in the entry on gored/panel skirts for making an elastic or drawstring waistband for your pleated skirt. When using test/practice fabric be sure to use basting stitches so that you can tear it apart later and use it as a pattern.

When you’ve assembled the entire skirt using test fabric, mastered the art of pleating and made any adjustments to the size and fit, tear it apart and use the pieces as a pattern for making the final skirt out of good fabric.

Note: you can experiment with the size of the pleat by making the mark increments larger or smaller (1/2”, 2”, etc.). Use test fabric to see what the final result will look like!


The same pleating methods can be used to make curtains and valances for your windows. For a set of two curtains, measure the window you’d like to cover. Take the width, multiply it by 1.3 (so that the curtains gather and overhang the sides of the windows), then multiply that number by three and divide by two. We’ll call this number W for width.

Determine your length (usually a few inches below the sill, but could also be floor length to add height to the room). Figure out what you’re using as a curtain rod (for instance I use eyehooks and lengths of ½” thick bamboo. It’s cheap and looks interesting.). Hang the curtain rod above the window. Take a measuring tape, drape the end around the curtain rod in a loop until you like how it hangs (remember to leave it loose enough to get the rod in and out of the fabric). Find the point on the measuring tape where you want the hem to hang and add ½”. We’ll call this total number L for Length. Look at where the tape looped over the curtain rod meets itself and note this number. This is the amount of fabric you’ll need for the curtain rod sleeve at the top of the panel.

Cut a rectangle of fabric WxL. Hem the sides and bottom of the curtain panel and follow the pleating instructions above. When you’re done, measure down the fabric by the amount you determined you’d need for the curtain rod sleeve. If you’d like to double check you can actually hang the curtains, pin them onto the rod and check the length. Run a line of basting stitches across the fabric where the loop will join to hold the pleats in place.

Make sure the top (rod sleeve) is folded in the same direction as the bottom and side hems. Stitch it onto the main curtain. Slide it through the rod pocket and you’re done!

1 comment:

Tari said...

I totally love that you're doing this series. Awesome and really well done!!