The second and last part of our tutorial on pleating. This time, let's draft some pleated skirts.
A Basic Pleated Skirt
So now, armed with some knowledge of how pleat works, we can start drafting our first pleated skirt! We will start with an accordion pleated skirt using full depth pleats. In fact, this basic pleat skirt is pretty straightforward that requires minimum drafting; you could even chalk the skirt directly onto your fabric!
This skirt is essentially a rectangle, with its width the desired skirt length and the width 3 times the waist circumference.
You can now decide how many pleats you would like to have around be the waist. I recommend to work in whole numbers as much as possible, to simplify your calculations.
So, let’s say I'm making this skirt for a 68cm waist circumference. We will need about 4 - 6cm ease to accommodate movement as well as fabric bulk from the pleats. Let's work with 72cm finished waist circumference. I could work with a 4cm spacing for each pleat, which would give me 18 pleats around the skirt. Or I could do 36 pleats that are 2cm wide. The choice depends on the desired look, the fabric type and the amount of time and effort we can afford on the project. (The closest in imperial units is a 28” waist circumference accommodating 18 pleats at about 1.5” wide each)
For illustration here, I will choose 18 pleats at 4cm wide each (or 18 pleats at 1.5” wide each). Let's assume we are going to draft on paper before committing to fabric. We will draw the rectangle, with its height the desired skirt length and length 3 times the waist circumference. From the left edge of the rectangle, mark every 4cm (1.5”) interval, all the way to the right edge. Indicate how the knife pleats are formed by using the symbols discussed above. See the above figure for the finished skirt block.
With the skirt block, we can now plan how to cut the fabric. Due to the length involved (3 * waist circumference), we usually need to align this edge along the selvedge of the fabric and cut the skirt on the crossgrain. If we are using a border print fabric, this layout works out beautifully. We can also get away with no side seams in this layout; there’s only a centre back seam where we will insert our zipper.
At this point, we do have to make a note about the fit of this basic pleated skirt. Since the skirt is a simple shape of a rectangle, we can expect that it will not follow the body contours very closely, especially at the curvature of our waist and our hips.
Curve of the Waist
Our waist is actually a slight curve, with its lowest point at centre back, curving up at the sides and then dipping gently at centre front. With a rectangle, we have lost this waist shaping. It is something quite minor but it could make a difference in the fit.
As with any project, how much detail and precision we would like to pursue is in proportion to the time and effort we could and want to put into the project. Oftentimes, I find myself adopting simpler designs - where the loss in detail or fit is still deemed acceptable - so that I could produce something quickly and efficiently.
Fit Over the Hips
Here we have taken no consideration of the fit of this skirt over the hips. At full depth pleats, we have 3 times the waist circumference of fabric around our body by the time it reaches our hips. This should be more than sufficient to flow over our hips nicely. Suffice to say, we would not be able to stitch our pleats close like what you see in some skirts; the pleats have to be able to open up from the waist down to provide room at the hips.
If you choose to use shallower pleats, we need to check and make sure the width of the skirt at hip level is more than our body measurement.
Alternatively, we could use hip circumference to determine how wide our basic pleated skirt block needs to be, but we would then require some way to make sure we can fit the waist.
A Better Pleated Skirt
We can improve the fit of our basic skirt. To tackle the two fit issues we have identified, we would now need to do minor adjustments to our rectangle block.
First, we need to know some dimensions. For illustration, we will continue with a 72cm (28”) finished waist circumference as we have used in the previous post.
For the hips, we will work with a body measurement of a 90cm (35”) circumference. With this hip measurement, we need to include 4 - 6cm ease to accommodate for movement and fabric bulk from the pleats. Let's work with a 96cm finished hip circumference.
Lastly, let's set they desired skirt length at 56cm (22”), which is about knee length for a 1.6m (5’3”) tall person.
We can now decide on the number of pleats and each pleat size. Let's do 24 pleats with each pleat size, or spacing of 4cm (1.5”). Since this time we have an even number of pleats, we can easily work with half instead of full blocks. That will give us 12 pleats for half the body.
We will draw a rectangle block that is ½ hip circumference along its length and desired skirt length for its height. Mark a vertical line halfway from the vertical edge. This is the side seam. Mark out 12 equal intervals.
We then adjust the waist curve by lowering 1-1.5cm (⅝”) at the centre back and increase by 0.7cm (¼”) at the side seam.
Now we need to fit the waist.
Difference between Waist and Hips = 96cm - 72cm = 24cm (35” - 28” = 7”) for whole body, or 12cm (4.75”) for half a body.
To distribute the difference evenly among the 12 pleats, each pleat will take in 12cm / 12 = 1cm dart each. (In imperial units, it's 4.75” / 12 = ⅜” dart for each pleat)
You can see the above figure on how to establish the depth of the pleats. Each individual pleat would have to be sewn down to this point in the skirt construction.
Prepare a fresh sheet of drafting paper that's 1.5 x hip circumference in length and desired skirt length in height. For my skirt, that's a 144cm x 56cm sheet.
Rule in a vertical line 4cm (1.5”) away from the left edge of the paper. Paste segment 1 against this line. Rule a second line 2 x 4cm (3”) away from segment 1. Paste segment 2 against this second line, making sure the hip lines are all aligned. Repeat this sequence until all 12 segments are secured. Rule in the last line 3cm (1.5”) to the right of the last segment.
This is now the improved pleated skirt block that you can use for fabric layout and cutting. The pleats can now be sewn down to the respective dots as shown in the half skirt block above.
This improved pleated skirt block definitely takes more time to set up but the fit is much better, especially over the hips. The pleated skirt blocks here have used full pleats, where underlay is decided to be as deep as the overlay. This requires a lot of fabric and sometimes, we do not yield good utility of the fabric we have on hand unless we allow for more seams in the skirt.
Fabric Usage Optimisation
To optimise fabric usage, we can take the width of our fabric into account and derive the underlay instead. Let's work with a 60" wide fabric, or 150cm.
Still using a finish hip circumference of 96cm, let's assume we have a 4cm tall waistband
The total underlay available to us is
= 2*[150cm - (0.5*Total Overlay) - (Waistband Height) - (Seam Allowance)]
= 2*[150cm - (0.5*96cm) - 4cm - 4cm]
If we divide the available total underlay over 24 pleats evenly, we can have no more than 7.83cm for the underlay of each pleat. For instance, we could choose to work with 7cm underlay for every 4cm overlay, or spacing. As we can see, this is not a full pleat; but it's quite a close one and has the added advantage of fully utilising the width of the fabric.
Finally, we have been talking about knife pleats so far. but the blocks discussed here can most definitely be used for box and inverted pleats, or even a mix of pleats.
Pleats are truly versatile when we want to create interesting features in our garments. With a bit of mathematics, we can make pleats garments that are not only beautiful but well fitted. Be inspired!