skirts in period were around 75" to 120" of fabric.
Men's breeches could contain almost as much fabric... that's
a nightmare waiting to happen when you try to pleat all of
that fabric into a waist band or bodice. In most cases, it's
virtually impossible. If you are able to do it, the results
are less than visually appealing, causing the seam to be much
more bulky than is necessary and probably resulting in many
swear words and a loss of much blood from fingertips.
How did they do it in period? This is where the magic of
cartridge pleating comes forth, to rescue both our sanity
and our fingers from certain doom. The following demo shows
the basics of this wonderful technique... once you try it,
you'll want to use it for all your pleating and that's ok.
Cartridge pleating shows up on sleeves, in capes, caps, and
bags as well as breeches and skirts Let's go!
The Working Layers -
be illustrating two ways of doing things in this demo. First,
however, let's talk about the components of a typical skirt
of pair of breeches. There's the shell layer or outside fabric,
illustrated here in black. There's the lining layer or inside
fabric, illustrated here in yellow. The red strip is a piece
of felt which was used in period to beef up the pleats. This
strip is not necessary unless both your shell and lining fabrics
are very thin.
In period, the most common way to make a skirt was to put
both shell and lining fabric together, flip over the raw edges
to the inside, and stitch the lining almost to the edge of
the shell, as show in the illustration to the left.
This type of treatment sealed the edges and sewed the fabrics
of the skirt together in preparation for cartridge pleating.
If extra beefiness was required, the felt strip was then inserted
on the inside, butted up against the seam edge.
way that I typically run my skirts together is similar but
doesn't require any hand sewing - I will place the shell and
lining fabrics right side to right side and run a seam along
the top of the skirts, press it, turn it and then press it
again so that I've accomplished the same thing. Once this
is done, I'll insert the felt strip if it's necessary. The
illustration to the right shows this action along with an
inserted felt strip...
Prior to Pleating -
After the shell and lining are together (and the felt strip
inserted if required), we are now ready to pleat. Because
you are pleating a great deal of material and will be tugging
on the thread you are using, you will want to use fairly sturdy
thread. These pleating threads will be left in the garment
after it's finished so you will want to get thread that is
fairly close to the same color as the shell fabric. It doesn't
have to match exactly but does need to be close. You will
also want to get heavy duty upholstery thread; the kind that
is impossible to break with your hands. We will be using this
thread not only to do the pleating but to also tack the skirt
or breeches onto the bodice or waistband. Why such strong
thread? For breeches, you could probably get away with less
but for a skirt, it's imperative that this thread be able
to hold up when someone inadvertently steps on your skirt
as you are walking... it will happen and if the thread breaks,
the skirt will pop off the bodice, leaving a large gap.
a nice medium sized needle that will allow the thread to pass
easily through and get a thimble. This will save some wear
and tear on your thumb through the whole process. When you
load up your needle, give your self a length of thread at
least three times the circumference of your waist. Load the
needle, double the thread and tie a strong, stable knot in
the ends. Locate the center back of your skirt or breeches
and mark it with a pin as illustrated in the photo to the
We will pleat up only one half of the skirt or breeches at
a time. The reason for this is that it is much easier than
pleating up the entire skirt and it allows us to fuss with
the skirt halves separately when we are fitting it to the
bodice. For men's breeches, the same technique can be used,
starting with the center back seam.
The Pleating Process -
am really poor at math so I do a minimal amount of it by choice
and by design. I've discovered, over the course of making
several garments, that the width of my thumb is perfect for
spacing pleats for a skirt. If you are really energetic, good
at math and want to figure out the proper width of space between
each pleat, divide the width of your skirt minus the circumference
of your bodice waist by the circumference of your bodice waist.
As an example, say your waist is 28" and your skirt
width is 120". 120 minus 28 = 92. 92 divided by 28 =
3.28. So the space between each pleat needs to be 3.28".
This is a lot so you can further divide this by two and space
each pleat by 1.64" or 1.5" if you want to round
it off. You can then mark the skirt every 1.5" prior
I just use my thumb and follow the edge of the skirt, making
sure I catch the seam allowances as I do my running stitch.
After the line of thread is running stitched from the center
of the skirt to the front edge, I then pull it tight, making
the skirt pleat together like an accordion. The illustrations
below show the line of running stitches prior to pulling,
what the pulling looks like on the inside and what it looks
like on the outside.
If the shell and lining are particularly thick or if you
are using a felt strip, you will probably want to run two
needles in the pleating action, side by side. It will look
like the illustration below. Two pleating threads provide
much more stability and make the pleats longer.
After the running stitches are in and have been pulled, pleating
the one side, you can either tie them off temporarily and
do the same for the other side, or you can measure the bodice
or waistband from center back to front edge, pull or release
the running thread until the pleated material is the same
length, and finish off the running threads by tying them securely
and hiding the tails. I like to do one side, temporarily tie
it off, do the other side, and then fuss with both sides until
the whole thing fits whatever I'm going to be pleating it
to. Then I permanently tie off the running threads and hide
Tacking On -
Next comes tacking the pleated material onto the bodice or
waistband. I usually use the same thread as I used to do the
pleating threads. As mentioned previously, it doesn't need
to completely match the shell fabric but should be fairly
close. Place the finished seam of the bodice or waistband
and the pleated material, right sides together. Grab your
thimble because this is where it can get a bit tough on the
hands. Using small, tacking stitches, as illustrated below,
place two tacking stitches per pleat and tack the pleats to
the bodice or waistband. The photos below illustrate this
the entire skirt or breeches have been tacked on to the bodice
or waistband, you will notice that the pleats hang a little
stiffly away. What I usually do, prior to hemming the skirt,
is to gently pull the pleats down and away from the bodice
or waistband, to encourage them to hang a bit nicer.
The photo to the right shows this action
and also shows just how little of the tacking stitch can be
seen from the outside. With literally hundreds of tacking
stitches done with a strong thread, you can take very small
bites of fabric when tacking without worrying that the skirt
or breeches will rip away.
Viola! Cartridge pleating... happy tailoring!