Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pleating the Fifth

This post is destined to have a multilayered quality i.e. schizophrenic for those of you looking for more qualification. It focuses on a new project I've been working on, not for myself, but for my sister - I know, it's like a miracle of generosity! - Vogue 8602.

The Goods:

Here's what it looks like on the pattern envelope:

And here's what it looks like in real life...

Not so fast. First you need to hear the full disclosure and click I Agree: The photos are crap. I don't know if iPhones take crap pics or if I just don't know how to use mine yet, but pls. be warned. I have no energy right now to sew, write about it and to ensure good pictures. Apologies. Oh, and another thing, this is a work in process. The waistband is being held together by pins - it's nowhere close to being done...

Now take a look and listen to the tale:

Let's pretend the overexposure is to help you see the details...

And that the fuzziness here is to distract you from the boobs part of the dress form. Note: I'm taking this pic from below so the proportions are distorted... Nonetheless, I feel strangely naked.

The part I'd ask you to pay particular attention to is the back of the skirt:

IMPORTANT: The drag lines here are artificial (see para below). Essentially, I've already pressed pleats that don't work, so I'm trying to find new ones that will work. Of course, once the pins are removed and the new line is pressed, the back of the skirt will be flowy like the front of it.

What you see here is my effort to redraw the pleat pressing line because the freakin' skirt pops out at the back like some crazy clown thing at the outer edge of each back pleat. I can't figure out the origin of that fitting weirdness because, on me, it's definitely too big in the hips and through the ass.

Actually, I think I get it. Back pleats are stupid and unnecessary and, to suit my dimensions, these should have been about an inch wider to take about 2 inches out of the back of the skirt. I know my sister has a different shape than me so it's kind of stupid to worry about this in the abstract, given that it might not be relevant on her body (see below), but I feel I have to resolve this issue to whatever extent I can. I don't imagine it will go away simply because her hips and derriere may be slightly broader. Emphasis on may be, given that I'm working from memory. I know, I know...

The Considerations:
  • The pleats should fall softly. I have them pinned to the skirt on the underside to get a sense of alignment.
  • This skirt is a size 14 made in a gorgeous wool suiting (has a fabulous pedigree that one day I'll get around to sharing with you) with a slight bit of crosswise stretch.
  • Ordinarily I'd grade this for my particular shape but I'm making this for my sister who has different proportions. What exact proportions I'd love to tell you, but she's yet to advise me. So, as indicated, I'm going from memory. She's just slightly taller, longer-waisted, larger-boned, flatter of stomach but larger of hip and leg. Practically me, but entirely different! I decided not to shave width from the 14, my usual practice, because I'm unsure how that will work for her in the hips and ass.
  • Interesting side note: Lest I imagine that there's no apple lurking beneath my hourglass shape, think I've finally figured out that I'm a Big Four size 14 in the waist only but a 12 in the hips/ass and a 10 in the legs. And a 12 in the top, with potential FBA-requirement. That's going to make it much easier to grade from paper next time I cut a pattern, rather than removing 3 inches of fabric from everywhere but the waist.
  • In true, Vogue doesn't show any kind of rhyme or reason when it comes to final length, I'll need to slice 4.5 inches (?!) off this to put it just above knee-height for her with a 1-inch hem. That will be its cutest, most youthful length IMO. But it's going to be a bitch given that I've already serged the bottom and the pleats are well ingrained. I think I'm going to have to chalk a new horizontal line with my ruler, go back to the serger, and hope for a steady hand. A wide hem will be too bulky, I think.
The Irony:

Not 2 days ago, I found myself waxing rhapsodic about my love of pleats with my talented friend, the uber designer Stacy Lomman. (No, I don't have any shame.) The lesson here is that you shouldn't brag to actual fashion designers about techniques you love as if you have any experience to speak of. Really, you shouldn't ever talk about enjoying any technique 5 minutes before undertaking it. It's just asking for trouble. Note, however: I really do love pleats. Sewing them is so fun.

The Questions:
  • Could I get away with a large hem, even given the pleating, which increases bulk?
  • What experience do y'all have of pleats? Has anyone encountered this challenge before? What did you do to resolve it?
  • What do you think that can I do to resolve the fall line on me? Yes, I know it isn't my skirt, but old habits... Or, to put a different way:
  • Do you think at a certain point, if I keep fussing, the fabric will stop taking new pleat lines and I'll have a wretched mess i.e. in the absence of my fit model, is less more?
  • I can barely find any info at all about this skirt. It appears to be really marginal, for some reason. Anyone reading made it? If yes, pls. share your story.
Thanks all for providing your great feedback.


  1. OK, to start with, you are a saint for taking on a project for your sister without even measurements to work from---I would've told mine where to go (ok, if I had a sister.)

    I like wider hems, but I can see it potentially being a problem with the pleats. I think you should try it out with some scraps and see how it works---depending on the thickness of the fabric, it might be all right.

    I like looking at pleats. I haven't had much luck sewing them. And when I have sewed them, I've realized that now I have to press them everytime I wash the garment to keep them looking good. I press like crazy while I'm sewing, but I hate ironing.

    So basically I have no good advice, except that I actually think it's looking really good as far as I can tell (since my monitor has randomly decided to only display black and white at the moment. Argh.)

  2. So I made a skirt almost identical to that almost 20(yikes) ago out of a mid weight linen. The biggest diff was no back pleats but the front pleats were identical.
    Couple thoughts. Don't use more than 1" to 1 1/2" hem as the weight will distort the pleat fall. Don't overfit the back as that will distort the front pleats.

  3. Mmm... if I'm reading this right these are meant to be inward facing pleats? If so I don't think they'll ever work there on a relatively fitted skirt unless they are stitched down, and that will contrast with the front styling. You could try outward facing pleats which I think sit much better over the b.., I'd make the foldline straight, starting about 9cm from CB at the waist and ending about 1" wider at the hem. But to be honest, I think simply darting the back waistline would look best!

  4. I'd do absolutely NOTHING until your sister can try it on. Your solution might not work for her, overworked wool is just such a sorry sight to behold, and a skirt that's hemmed too short or too long will just negate all the elegance of the pleats. Conveniently, this solution also requires the least amount of effort on your part, which is another good argument to go this route ;)

    When your sister tries it on and the hem needs to be higher up, I'd cut it of and hope for the best. Deep hems in wool are stiff and unattractive, imo.

  5. I made a pleated skirt in denim, normal weight denim, pleats in front and back, with like a 4 inch hem. It worked fine, but I was going for a full skirt, that is a fairly big difference between waist and hem. The deep hem gave it a nice fullness at the bottom, not ridiculous but with the fullness nicely supported. With a lighter fabric I think it's likely a 1 1/2 hem would be fine, and a deeper one would probably work too. Unless you want it to hang really straight.


  6. I think the pleats are backwards. It will make a big difference if the pleats face in the other direction. They look odd as they are. The straight of grain is really important with pleating. Did you check to make sure the grain of the wool was straight before cutting into the fabric and that the pattern piece was aligned when pinned? I'd go with a 1 1/2"-2" hem. Anything deeper will add too much bulk. Anything narrower and you lose the opportunity for alterations.

  7. Thanks everyone for your comments!

    Debbie - I hear you. Going for smaller hem and will aim not to over fit the pleats.

    Sherry - I get very confused by the difference between inward and outward facing pleats. The front is an inverted pleat (or 2 that form a box pleat). The back ones, according to the pattern are knife pleats. I double checked to make sure I didn't sew them on the incorrect side but it appears I did it right.

    Roses: I'm liking your advice :-)

    Erika: I think a thick hem would work better in denim. I think the skirt might look better in denim :-)

    CGC: I did check that the fabric was on grain. And I double checked on the back pleats. Unless my brain is totally scrambled, that's the way they're supposed to be sewn in. Hmmmm.

  8. I <3 inverted pleats. And 20" should just graze the knee cap :)

  9. I attempted to make this skirt and had all the same problems you have described. The pleats in the front would not sit right and pouffed out in a terribly unflattering way. The pleats and darts in the back also pouffed out making it look like I had horns on my ass.

    I don't have any experience with fitting so I had no idea how to fix the problems. I ended up taking it apart and using most of the pieces I cut (along with some extra fabric I had) to make McCall's 5591 -- which is a great skirt to sew!

    I'm interested to see how you deal with these issues because I really do like the skirt!

  10. S: I have to measure the length now!

    Julie: As I mentioned in my email, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I think M5591 looks great!