HOW-TO | 18th Century Style Pleated Skirt
Updated: Jul 14
I love the look of pleated, eighteenth century petticoats. I also love their function: they look polished, have a nice tailored waistband, while also being completely adjustable, much like a modern wrap-skirt. These petticoats can be easily transferred to modern day wear, and become what I like to call an “18th century style pleated skirt”. You can make yours whatever length you prefer, depending on if you will be using this for costuming purposes or modern day wear.
Fabric, at least 2.5-3 yards, or more depending on desired length and fullness
(I used 2.5 yards of 60” wide linen fabric)
Ribbon for waist ties (1”) *
optional, can simply extend waist band to form waist ties
Interfacing or extra fabric, for stiffening waist band *
STEP 1: Cut out rectangular panels
Determine your desired length of skirt by measuring from your natural waistline to where you want the skirt hem to fall. Account for hem seam allowance.
Determine width of rectangular panels by taking your hip measurement and multiplying it by 2, 3, or even more depending on how full you want your skirt.
*You may need to seam fabric together to achieve desired width.
STEP 2: Cut out and form waistband
To determine length of waistband, first decide if you will be using ribbon for your waist tie, or if you will use the fabric of the waist band for your ties. I used ribbon, so I measured half of my waist, added a few inches for extra ‘tails’, and cut out my two waist band pieces, that length x 3 “ width. (that was for a 1” wide waistband). I then folded and ironed these in half along the length, then folded the outer edges in until they were halfway to that centre fold, and ironed again. Similar to making double fold bias tape, except easier.
If you are using interfacing, you can either use a single layer or a double folded layer, with no seam allowances included.
STEP 3: Pleat Skirt panels
18th century skirts have a specific pleating pattern, which is shown in the video. I created my pleats through feel, meaning they weren’t totally uniform, but this is fine and minor variations will not be noticeable when the skirt is worn.
You will be pleating down the width of your panels until each one is approximately half your waist measurement, plus an inch on each side for overlap, plus seam allowance. This sounds complicated, but the way I did it was by simply pleating down my panel according to feel, then holding it up to my body to see if it was the proper width. Admittedly, I had to re-pleat a couple of times to get the right width, and it still ended up a little off. If you want to avoid this or if you feel better using numbers, simply have your desired measurement (half of waist, plus 2 inches, plus seam allowance) in your mind and use a measuring tape to make sure the panels are that width after pleating.
STEP 4: Sew side seams
The key here is to first determine how far up the skirt to sew the side seam. An open slit needs to be left from the waist down a distance, to tie the skirt and have it sit relatively flat.
A handy rule of thumb is to have the slit end at the height of your low hip measurement (ie. the level on your body where your hip measurement is the fullest). For this particular skirt, I sewed a regular seam and then pressed it open, folded the seam allowances under, and stitched those down on either side of the seam, continuing up the side of the slit as well.
On a previous 18th century petticoat, I sewed french seams up the sides, ending at the slit opening. At this point, I snipped into the seam allowance in order to finish the slit edges separately from the side seam.
STEP 5: Attach waist band and waist ties
As mentioned earlier, your waist band should have its edges pressed under as well as a crease in the centre before beginning this step. It’s similar to double fold bias tape.
There are a couple ways you can handle this step. The first is the slower, more couture and polished way, and the second is the fast but not as attractive way. In my video, I used the fast method.
1) Slow method: Gently unfold the seam allowance on one side of the waist band, line it up with the pleated seam allowance of the top of the skirt, with right sides together. Sew along the crease of the waist band. Next, arrange the waist band so that the inside is lined up with the inside of the skirt, and hand stitch that down using your preferred inconspicuous method.
2) Fast method: Carefully pin the waist band to the top of the skirt, with the pleated skirt seam allowance sandwiched between both sides of the waist band. When pinning, try to pull the inside of the waist band a little lower on the inside of the skirt, to ensure it will be ‘caught’ in the seam you will sew.
Finally, sew the waist band to the skirt from the right side, as close to the edge of the waist band as possible, while also making sure you are catching the underside of the waistband in the process. If you miss a spot on the underside, you can always go back and hand sew it down (I had to!).
Next, you have to attach the waist tie ribbons (if using). If you are simply extending the waist band, then simply sew the edges together along the length, and fold the raw edges inside at the very ends.
If using ribbon, you have two options: You can attach the ribbons to the waist band right at the edges of the skirt panel, or extend the fabric waist band a few inches out and attach the ribbons there. I used fairly narrow ribbons, so I used the latter option. I recommend using 1 inch ribbon, or ribbon the same width as your waist band, so you can avoid the finagling I had to do at this point ( see video!). Assuming fabric waist band and ribbons are the same width, simply fold the raw edges of your waist band under, pin the ribbon so that it is sandwiched between, and sew together.
STEP 6: Hem skirt
You may want to try your skirt on at this point and have a helper to pin the hem, to make sure it is level. However, if you don’t have anyone to help you it should turn out just fine on your own, especially if you cut your panels out evenly. Again, at this point you can sew a quick machine hem, or a hand-stitched invisible hem.
Ta da! That’s all there is to it. Reading through these instructions may have felt overwhelming, but trust me, sewing this project up is much easier than it may sound. The pleating is really fun.
If you have any comments or questions leave them below. If any of you create this 18th century style skirt I would love to hear about it!
Contact me at email@example.com
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