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Caribbean Pirate Dress

The trick is to start out by making the top edge that you’re pleating dead straight. Pull a thread in the fabric as a guide to cut along.

A simple sum

Measure the top edge and measure your waist: clearly, your task in pleating is to reduce the former measurement to become the latter.

When measuring your waist, plan for the skirts to fit tightly. When you lace the bodice over them, your waist will reduce in size a little.

Here’s how it works for my measurements:

Width of fabric: 330cm
My waist: 75cm

Notice that I’m going to need to reduce the fullness in that top edge to about a quarter of its present measurement, and then I’ll still have some left over. (You may find you need to reduce yours to a third or a half, depending on fabric width and waist size.)

We’ll worry about the bit left over later, but for now, keep in mind that we’re reducing the skirt width to a quarter of what it was.

The first pleat

Decide how wide you want the pleats to be. If you’re using metric measures I’d recommend making them 2cm wide. If you’re using imperial, make each pleat 1” wide when finished.

Just consider one pleat now. If my finished pleat is going to be 2cm wide, and we know that this has to be a quarter of the width of the fabric that was originally there, then we know that 8cm of the skirt's full width has to become 2cm.

Lay the skirt out along the table with the top edge running side to side in directly in front of you. Mark the centre front of the skirt at the top edge with a pin (I use pins with coloured heads - I use a red one to mark the centre front so I don't get confused). Measure out 8cm from it and mark with a pin. Measure again 2cm from the centre front and mark with another pin. By bringing the two pins together, you'll have made 8cm into 2cm. Can you see how this works? Diagram

The bit left over

Many period shapes had extra fullness at the back and sides, so you’ll be fine to make the pleats bigger towards the back.

 

If, by some fluke, your waist measurement is exactly a third or a quarter of the full fabric width, the pleats will be the same all the way round. Otherwise, you'll have a bit left over, meaning that your pleats need to become a little bigger towards the back.

In my case, for example, if my waist measurement of 75cm was exactly a quarter of the fabric we've got to work with, I'd have a 4x75 = 300cm wide skirt. But my skirt is 330cm wide - I'm going to have 30cm left over.

So what do I do with the excess? Our pleats near the back will just need to hide away a little more fabric. You can do this however you choose - I could decide in this case, for example, to hide away an extra centimetre in each of the last thirty pleats. Instead of measuring 8cm and 2cm, I'd be measuring 9cm and 2cm for those last few pleats.

However you choose to hide away the excess, just make sure you do the same on both sides - in this case, I'd add an extra centimetre to the last 15 pleats on each side.


(Alternatively, I could decide to add an extra 3cm to each of the last 10 pleats, for example, concentrating much more fullness at the back.)

So now all I need to know is where to begin making those bigger pleats. I can do this by working out how many pleats there'll be in total. Dividing my waist measurement by the width of my pleats, I get 75/2 = 37.5 pleats. I'll round up to 38, meaning that I'll have a total of 19 pleats on each side.

Don't fret too much about making the calculations perfect - you can always fudge your last couple of pleats a little to make the fit perfect.

So now I know that my first four pleats will need to measure 8cm and 2cm, and the rest will be 9cm and 2cm.

Beginning to pleat the whole skirt

Mark further pleats as before, according to your calculations. Starting at the centre front, pleat each half of the skirt separately. I tend to make my pleats point towards the centre back (this does mean that you'll end up with what looks like a double width pleat at the centre front, where the two centre front pleats point different ways).

Pin a length of the skirt first, then pleat a few, checking that the finished row of pleats really are each 2cm (1") wide (they never come out right the first time, it's not you!)

To make the pleats hang straight, just make sure the top edge is always in line.

 

When you're about five pleats away from the centre back, measure the whole pleated skirt so far and compare with your waist measurement. Make your last five pleats make up for any discrepancies, ensuring that you end up with a skirt that matches your waist measurement.

Finally, baste and sew firmly over your pleats twice. Two rows of stitching will help to keep them straight.

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cathyhay  
  The article is now fixed as far as page 8; the rest should be done tomorrow. An outside hosting site that we were using in 2007 has changed things around without us realising it, so the task involves saving, moving and re-linking all the images on our own server, which is a big task. Thank you again for the heads up.  
 
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cindy  
THANK YOU!   I can see! Awesome. And I so appreciate the problem - I'm a web designer/developer... Good luck with getting it all together and thanks for not getting annoyed! Take care!  
 
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Cathy Hay  
  The article is now fixed in full, as far as I can see - let me know if I missed anything!  
 
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crimsongypsy  
  Unfortunately, the cartridge pleating tutorial is no longer at that link.  
 
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englishmouse  
maths   Love this tutorial and the dress and i'm really grateful you put it up, but i'm really struggling to figure out the math on these knife pleats withought a clear sum. my fabric has ended up 162" and I need to get it down to 30", I don't know where to even begin to get it to the correct width :/  
 

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