Thursday, March 3, 2016

Tutorial: Cartridge Pleating

Another Old-To-Me-But-New-To-You tutorial. Not really new to anyone, as this technique is centuries old, but yeah. The tutorial itself is newish. Cartridge pleating pops up over and over again over the centuries. Pretty much any time fashion required large amounts of fabric to be squashed into a small space, tailors employed this technique. 

There are multiple schools of thought on the proper method of attaching skirt to waistband - some sew only the outer folds to the bottom edge of the waistband, others sew both the inner and outer folds, and others still will sew along the entire serpentine of the pleats. This tutorial focuses on the former, but that is not to imply that this is the best and only method. In fact, I generally stitch both the outer and inner folds when attaching slops legs to canions/leg bands in order to get the right look. You also don't have to add felt to the pleats; it's pretty and eliminates the need for a bumroll, but it's not necessary to do, if you don't mind a more smooth/flat transition from waist to skirts. 

It's also worth noting that some people prefer to stitch gingham ribbon to the inside of their skirts, as the little squares in gingham weave make it easy to gauge their stitch length. And others still employ shirring tape, meant for drapery, which eliminates measured stitches entirely. The only downside to this last method is that you can't control your stitch length, so you'd better hope that your fabric isn't too thick to fit into whatever you're planning to attach it to.

Okay, enough pedantry. Onward, to the tutorial!


Cartridge pleating is a period method for gathering a wide piece of fabric to be attached to a smaller width of fabric, like attaching a skirt to a bodice or full slops to a waistband. This kind of pleating allows the skirts or slops to spring out from the waist, creating a period silhouette. In this tutorial, you will learn not only a method for cartridge pleating, but how to pad out the pleats and make them fuller and sturdier. You can use one thickness of felt or two – one piece will give you a nice, soft curve to your pleats, and two pieces will give you a very sturdy and rigid pleat. This tutorial uses a sewing machine and hand stitching, but if you’re feeling really gung-ho about it, you can hand sew the whole thing.

You will need

 Your skirt fabric
Your lining fabric
Your already constructed bodice or waistband
A strip of felt the same length as the circumference of your skirt or calze
A spool of the strongest thread you can get your hands on (I like upholstery thread)
A sturdy needle
A thimble (or a dime stuck to your finger with a bandaid)
Optional – A second strip of felt the same length as the first, with half the width

Step One: If you are using a double thickness of felt for your pleats, stitch the two widths together at least once. If you are only using one width of felt, you can skip this step.

Step Two: Sew your skirt/slops/whatever fabric and lining right sides together along the waist seam, with at least a ½” seam allowance. If your fabric isn’t pressed yet, you should probably do this now. I’m using some cabbage left over from another project, so let’s just pretend that this sample is pressed.

 Step Three:  With your skirt/cslops/whatever fabric and lining pressed open with the wrong sides facing up, stack your felt on top of the seam allowance. With one side of the felt butted up against the seam, stitch the felt to the lining, about a ¼” away from the edge.

Step Four: Flip your garment right side out. Using your extra-super-strong thread, make two lines of stitches through all layers of your skirt (self, felt, lining), near the top of your skirt/slops/sleeves/whatever. Don’t eyeball it like I did; take the time to make sure your stitches are evenly spaced. Remember that the circumference of your garment will determine how wide your stitches are. Mine are usually at least 1”.

Step Five: Gather your stitches, making sure that the fabric folds where you want it to. Extra funky folds should be tugged or cajoled into place. The tighter together your pleats are, the more rigid they will be.

Step Six: Right sides together, stitch the top edge of your slops/skirts to the bottom edge of your waistband/bodice, using the same heavy duty thread. Make sure to pass the needle through the lining, the felt, the slops/skirt fabric, the waistband/bodice fabric, the waistband/bodice interlining, and the lining. You can use as many stitches as you want per pleat; I use two.

Congratulations! You have finished cartridge pleating your garment! And look – they spring away from the body without the aid of a bumroll or arming bolster! One less layer to don in the morning; how exciting is that? If you’re wearing a sottana and properly executed the doppia at the hem of your skirt, you have eliminated TWO extraneous pieces of clothing! For an example of what this looks like in practice, check out my hastily compiled post on the Florentine Barbie ensemble.

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