Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Looking Sharp: The Art of Directional Knife Pleating

Please forgive me re: title. I couldn't help myself.

Directional knife pleating creates a lovely cascaded effect with a large geometric pattern.

There are several ways to compress a skirt width to a waistband, but for 1860s, my personal favorite is directional knife pleating. Here's a short how-to on the technique I use.

I started by seaming the skirt together. I use three panels if my skirt fabric is 54" or more, and four if it's 45". I'm using my plaid day dress skirt as an example, so there are three panels, since the silk was a decorator width. To make things easy on myself, I placed one seam at the center back, and used roughly one panel for my front width, so the bulk of the fullness fell toward the back of the skirt.

To prep the skirt for pleating, I hemmed it on the straight grain, so that the bottom is level all the way around. The skirt is then balanced from the waist, much like the technique that Katherine outlines here, though her example is for an 18th century petticoat. For the plaid skirt, I used pinking shears to finish the top edge of the skirt, just so it wouldn't fray too badly.

In the front, I always pleat my skirts the same way. That makes it easy to start there. I mark the center front with a pin and measure half an inch out from either side; that's where the first pleat will fall. This gives you a 1" flat space at the very center front of your skirt. The first pleat from the center is a 1/2" pleat. The "directional" part of directional pleating means that pleats in the skirt front point toward the CF, while back pleats point toward CB.

Half an inch to each side, followed by a half-inch deep pleat.

The rest of the pleats are 1" pleats, side by side. That is, they aren't stacked--each pleat lies next to the preceding one, with no overlap.

One-inch pleats--number will depend on distance between measurement and the side of the skirt.

The side of the skirt is the secret to directional knife pleating. See, the pleats point toward the center front and center back, respectively. The side is where they change direction.

Because of the way the pleats point, you'll end up with a box pleat at the side point of your skirt waist.

The process of pleating the back is significantly more organic. I don't really measure anything, but rather figure out how much space I have to cover and then pleat my remaining width down to fit it. With the large plaid, it was pretty easy to gauge, since the fabric itself acted like a guideline.

When you're done, the back and front will each have an inverted box pleat at the center point. Below, you can see what the inside looks like:

Lastly, don't forget a method of actually getting in and out of the skirt. It's common to see skirts closed at the side front, which isn't always intuitively obvious, especially if you don't have a seam there you can leave open for a faux-placket. For this one, I simply slit the inside of one pleat down several inches and bound it with some bias silk. When the skirt is closed, the back pleat laps over the front one and conceals the split.

Detail of the skirt closure.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this, Katie! I really appreciate it. :) --- ANNA

  2. Nice post! You did an awesome job pleating that skirt!

  3. Punny AND educational!

  4. Thanks, ladies! Alex, the title was not really my fault. It just...happened. ;)

  5. Excellent and useful article! Thanks for taking the time to post this.

  6. Yeah! Thanks to Samantha Bullat, I will shortly be using your tutorial for my 1863 skirt! Thank you for posting this! It WILL come in quite handy!

  7. By the way, you skirt is incredibly beautiful!

  8. Wow! If I can manage as well, I might go into dress making! The taffeta skirt is a plaid, so I am going to attempt it, but first on some muslin! Can't afford more taffeta!!