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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Simplicity 1818--How to Put A Lot of Fabric onto a Small Waistband

Before making my first Victorian skirt, I'd given no thought to how all those yards of fabric were attached to a small waistband. If someone had asked me, I would have guessed that the fabric was gathered and sewn onto the waistband in the usual way. I would have been very wrong.

The skirt from Simplicity 1818 is 170 inches wide--the width doesn't vary with the size of the pattern, only the size of the waistband changes. The waistband I'm using for this skirt has a total length of 29.5 inches. Gathering 170 inches of fabric onto a waistband that size would probably be impossible. No...I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it is impossible--especially if one is using taffeta, as I am.

Instead of gathers, the waistband is pleated in two different ways. The front and sides are pleated with a series of overlapping pleats while the back of the skirt is constructed with a clever kind of pleat--the accordion pleat--which allows a large amount of fabric to be attached to a very small length of waistband. Intrigued? Please read on... 
The accordion pleats are on the left, the overlapping pleats on the right.

The first step to making an accordion pleat is to mark dots, using a disappearing ink marker, every 3/8 of an inch across the 52 inch back panel, and then making a second set of dots 1/4 inch below that.Then buttonhole twist is used to sew through the dots. 

After completing this step, you get to abandon the accordion pleats for a bit and forge on with the more familiar overlapping pleats. These are made by folding the skirt at marked places and bringing those folds to a specific point and pinning them in place.
Overlapping pleats pinned in place in front and on sides. The back is prepped for the accordion pleats to be made next.

As the fabric is folded again and again to make the overlapping pleats, it gets very thick--too thick to apply the waistband in the normal fashion.
Therefore the waistband is sewn on by hand using a whip stitch. This is a lot easier than it sounds. I rather enjoy it, but a sharp needle is a must. At this point, only the overlapping pleats are attached to the waistband, leaving the rear portion of the skirt unattached.
The waistband being sewn to the skirt front.
After the pleated front and sides are attached to the waistband, it's time to deal with the back. As you can see, there's a lot of fabric to go on a very small amount of waistband. The first time I made this pattern, I was like, "Oh, yeah. This is going to work." But it did.
In this view, the skirt is folded in half. The front and sides are attached to each end of the waistband, leaving the back part unattached.The portion of the waistband held in place by the shears is the amount of waistband available for the entire back section of the skirt. 

To start making accordion pleats, all you do is pull the strings, creating folds.
Only the front edge of the fold is sewn to the waistband.... that the back part of the fold swings free.This is what allows a tremendous length of fabric to be attached to a short span of waistband.
Outside view of accordion pleats attached to waistband.
Inside view of accordion pleats, showing how only front fold is attached to waistband (lined in black cotton poly) while the rear fold swings free.

Front view of overlapped pleats:

Here's the back with the accordion pleats:

And here's my unpaid assistant, Tillie, modeling the unhemmed skirt. The skirt is supported by a 120 inch hoop and a crinoline.

Next, the jacket, which I hope to finish tomorrow before heading back to school on Tuesday. Wish me luck.


  1. Oh, Jeannie, that was fascinating. I wonder how anyone ever came up with that! Now, does the waistband get covered in any way to hide your hand stitching? How do those accordion pleas feel when you're wearing the dress?

    1. Hi Kris--The waistband gets covered by the jacket which is tacked to the skirt in a couple of places. At first it bothered me having stitches that showed, but after wearing the garment, I forgot about it. The accordion pleats are not at all bothersome. They flatten out once the skirt is on. Also, I wear a hoop and a crinoline over the hoop, so I can't feel the pleats. Technically, I should also be wearing a corset, but I'm not going there, lol. I like my comfort and when I go to Dicken's Fair, I like to eat. A lot. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Ok I hope you respond to this...... I'm stuck on how the sides of this is to be cut do I cut them length or width ,its the pleats that are throwing me off on the pattern pieces.. Help lol please

  3. I hope you may reconsider the use of the corset. It is not so much about holding you in, rather it adds much needed support to hold up the weight. It is kind of like a weightlifters belt in that it provides support for muscles to push against as the body deals with an incredible extra load. A corset does not need to be as tight as the Victorian idealized waist: that silhouette wasn't your priority for this garment. If you want to have the energy to enjoy the day, it will make all the difference. Your dress may be beautiful, but your countenance will reveal exhaustion. Remember to wear a cotton chemise beneath it to prevent chaffing and absorb sweat. Enjoy!!