Overskirt: Adventures in Cartridge Pleating

$$ Budget: $40 for fabric, $2.50 for heavy-duty thread, $3.00 for skirt hooks

Time budget: 16 hours

  • Evening 1 – cutting fabric for skirt and bodice
  • Evening 2 – sewing 6/7 skirt panels together
  • Evening 3 – sewing the last skirt panel seam, sewing waistline facings together, hemming front open sides of skirt, sewing facing to skirt, flipping, ironing, and pinning
  • Saturday afternoon – cartridge pleating, sewing skirt to waistband
  • Evening 4 – adding skirt hook closures
  • Long evening 5 – hemming the bottom of the skirt

Yes, it’s possible to pleat 10 feet of skirt into two feet of waistband. It just takes  a while!

The overskirt is one of the biggest changes I made to the Simplicity 3782 pattern – I made it front-opening and separate from the bodice. I find the back gap in the pleating in the original pattern unattractive.

I wanted to make the dress in two pieces for a few different reasons. Firstly, for ease of sewing – the #1 complaint online about this pattern is how hard it  is to sew the gathered bulk of the skirt, bodice layers, and skirt tabs. Secondly, for ease of putting it on. And lastly, for ease of rescuing in case on piece of it gets damaged!

Here’s how I did it:

  1. I cut a strip of fabric 4 inches wide and 6 inches longer than my waist measurement, folded in half with right sides together, sewed the long edge, turned it right-side out, and topstitched it. Voila, a waistband!
  2. Because I was sewing the skirt to a standard waistband instead of having to gather it to a point that dips down in the front, I used 8 of the side/back panels instead of 6 side/back panels and 2 front panels. I sewed these panels together with french seams. Holy cow I thought the seaming would never end. 36 feet of them! You might be OK with seven panels instead of eight, depending on the size of your hoop skirt.
  3. In order to properly wrangle the fabric into cartridge pleats, I cut 8 waistline facing pieces based on the the top four inches of the side/back panel pattern. I pieced them so the free edge (bottom edge) of each piece lay along the selvedge of the fabric – a cheat so I didn’t have to finish yet another hem!! I sewed then all together into a long curving strip and then sewed it (right side together) to the joined skirt panels.
  4. I pleated the central 6 panels of skirt used the cartridge pleating tutorials from Jennifer Rosbrugh at Historical Sewing. Her explanation is really clear and helpful! She writes for a more 1800s audience but the advice is good for 1500s too. I ran three rows of stitches with heavy-duty thread. Each row was 0.5 inches apart vertically, and every stitch was separated by 0.75 inches. I really like how it turned out!!
  5. I put two knife-pleats into each of the two outer panels that would form the front of the skirt, and basted them in place. I wanted a sleeker silhouette in front, and in this respect my skirt has something in common with the pleats on the original 3782 pattern.
  6. So I drew up the fabric into knife and cartridge pleats, adjusted it to it fit the waistband, pinned it to the waistband right sides together… then I had to hand stitch them in place. I stole my mother’s favorite chair/ottoman and Ott-Lite daylight lamp for this effort, and propped the fabric on my bent knees.  Because my fabric weighs so much I erred on the cautious side and ran three whip-stitches through each pleat.
  7. After I tried it on over my corset and hoop skirt, I realized that the waistband stretched under the weight of the fabric. I rearranged the front pleats to take 1 inch off of the circumference of the waist and re-sewed them, and then finished the waistband with dress hooks.
  8. I sewed decidedly non-period lace hem tape to the right-side of the bottom edge (hey, if the Elizabethans had it they would have loved it, right?), and tried the skirt on over my hoop skirt, underskirt, and bum roll.
  9. My patient and amazing mother pinned and hand-hemmed the bottom edge! In her comfy chair with her feet propped up and her Ott-lite. I was A-OK with being exiled to the couch to hand-sew my bodice that evening. We sewed and drank tea until 12:30 AM.

I’m delighted with how it turned out. The added bulk of the waistline facing plumps up the cartridge pleats – they look wonderfully sculptural! It pleases my inner perfectionist to no end. My mom did a wonderful job on the hem.

 

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