Category: Finishing Construction

Skirt Side-Pleat (and Under-Skirt) Construction

Many folks find the skirt’s side-pleats the hardest part of construction to wrap their head around.  It’s probably the part that’s farthest from typical fashion construction, so this is understandable.  I’ve been wanting to make a photo tutorial of these steps for a while, and have finally been able to take some photos while working on a dress this month.

I’m starting at the point after the skirt front and back have been finished separately (see photo of backs below).  In the 3rd Ed. patterns, this is step 37.  For reference, the skirt I photographed is a stiff single-panel (View VI in 3rd Ed.).  For a better fit on this specific dancer, I’ve added a couple small pleats in the back.  You’ll also notice that I’ve bound the center-back seam allowance in lining fabric.  This is because I hate seeing the contrasting seam allowance underneath when the dancer kicks.  In this case the seam would have been black on gold…so noticeable!  I believe these are the only two ways in which the photos differ from the original pattern.

1. Basting to the Under-skirt
Baste a skirt back to the under-skirt back.  Stitch along the dropped waist seam line using a machine baste.  I didn’t in the photo, but I’d advise continuing the stitching down the side edge as well.

Since I have a stiff front skirt, I’m not using a front under-skirt.  I just basted along the dropped waist seam line to make sure it’s visible.  If you’re making a soft front, you would baste the skirt front to the front under-skirt, in the same way as the back.

2. Stitching Front and Backs Together
Now we have 3 pieces, one front and two backs, with under-skirts attached.  With right sides together, pin the backs to the front at the sides (I threw my ruler in to show that the front is underneath…it’s hard to tell with the black velvet.  The ruler is not related to the task at hand). The order of layers here is, bottom to top:
1. Front Under-skirt (if using.  I’m not.)
2. Front Skirt
3. Back Skirt
4. Back Under-skirt
Of course with the under-skirts basted to the skirts, it’s only two functional layers; the front and back.

For best results, I’d recommend lining up the side-pleat line first, then pinning the seam based on that.  Because I did some alterations to the shape after constructing my backs, the shape changed a bit and the edges of my pieces don’t line up exactly.  The side pleat is pretty deep, so it’s not the end of the world if I lose a 1/4″ at the edge.  It’s much more important that the pleat-folds line up with each other.  In an ideal world both your pleat-folds and your seam edge will line up, but it doesn’t hurt to check just in case.

Once you have stitched the seam, trim seam allowance to about 3/8″.

3. Binding the Side-Pleat Seam
Bind the seams sewn in the last step either with bias tape, or a strip of your lining fabric (strip can be cut on the bias, but on grain will work too).  Be sure to use thread that matches the lining fabric…this will be seen!  Once you’ve finished with this step, keep the seams flat as they have been since step 2.

4. Tacking the Side-Pleat
The skirt is now all in one piece, but we haven’t yet made the pleats defined.  On each side of the skirt, double check that the side-pleat fold-lines are lined up with each other.  Draw them in, if you haven’t already (mine is that shadowy brown line…my disappearing marker is starting to die).  Pin through the top few inches of the fold line to keep it from shifting.  1/16″ away, stitch parallel to the line starting 1/2″ above the seam line and ending 1/2″ below.  You can do this either by hand or machine.

5. Pressing the Side-Pleat
The skirt is now complete, but the most important step still remains.  We need to press the pleats into the skirt, so that it gets its distinctive shape.  If you skip this step, the skirt will look weird and bulbous, even if it was constructed correctly.  Fold both front and backs along the side-pleat fold lines and press well.  Use caution with velvet; you don’t want to crush the pile.

The skirt is now complete and ready to be sewn to the bodice. Remember to fold the bulk of the pleat towards the front before stitching to the bodice, as shown below.

If you have a lightweight machine that has trouble with bulk, try our alternative method for stitching the dropped waist seam.  I’ll leave you with a couple photos of the completed side pleat.

Happy sewing!

Adding a Bodice Lining

I mention briefly in the intro to the pattern instructions about adding a lining and here’s how to do it.  You can use any thin material; I like cotton because of its breathability.  If you did a mock-up of your dress (and you should), you can even use the same pieces, providing you did not have to alter them beyond use.
I usually do the neck and sleeves after the bodice is built, as they are a bit easier before the skirt and zipper are added, but you can also put the whole thing in at the end.
1.  Preparing your pieces
To start, check that your lining pieces have the same seam allowance as your dress pieces.  Sew the bodice front and backs together shoulder and side seams, and attach the sleeves but do not hem them.
2.  The Neck Edge

How your lining attaches depends on how your neck edge is being finished off.
Finishing the edge with a satin stitch?
(You can do this step now, or at the end)  Press over the seam allowance at the neck edge of your lining, but press over a 1/4″ in from the neckline (so if you have 1/2″ of seam allowance at the neck, you’ll press over 3/4″).  Pin the lining to the inside of the dress, so the lining sits 1/4″ in from the edge.  Slip-stitch the lining to the dress.  You can stitch it to the fabric if it is textured, like velvet.  Otherwise, carefully attach it to the satin stitching (see picture below).  Stop stitching 1.5″ away from the center-back seam line.
Finishing the neck edge with a collar?
(You can do this step now, or at the end)  Follow the instructions above for finishing with a satin stitch, except that you can press the lining seam allowance right on the neck line, rather than 1/4″ in.  When pinned and stitched, the lining should line up with the neck edge line instead of being 1/4″ below, as directed above.  I don’t have a picture of this, but it’s fairly similar to the instructions above.
Finishing the edge by turning the seam allowance under?
Pin the lining to the dress at the neck edge with right sides together.  Stitch along the neckline.  Clip seam allowance and turn lining towards the inside.  Press the seam.  If desired, stitch 1/4″ away from the edge (see picture below).  Stop stitching 1.5″ away from the center-back seam line.  For the dress below, I topstitched a small facing to the neck edge of my lining first, so the white wouldn’t peak out the top.
Adding a lining after construction?
Follow the steps above for finishing with a satin stitch or with a collar, whichever is applicable.  If you don’t have a collar, use the satin-stitching method, so the facing stays away from the edge.  See step 5 (center back) before stitching all the way to the zipper.
3.  Sleeves
If your sleeves aren’t sewn into their respective bodices, do that now.  Hem your dress sleeves (but not the linings).  Press the hem of the sleeve linings up 1/2″ shorter than the original hem, and slip-stitch the lining down 1/2″ away from the hem edge.
4.  You’ll now continue on with the regular instructions, making your skirt, sewing the dropped waist seam, putting in your zipper, and everything else until the dress is finished.  I would even sew on any cape velcro you have to add to the dress now.  Make sure your lining stays out of the zipper and dropped-waist seam.
5.  The Dropped Waist Seam
Press the seam allowance up along the bottom edge of your bodice lining.  Pin the folded edge right along the dropped waist stitching line (you can see the stitching line in the picture, where I’ve pulled the lining up a bit).  To ensure your lining isn’t too tight up and down, have your dancer try it on quick, or put it on a dress form.  If your dress fabric is loose and bubbling, the lining might be too short and tight.  Re-press the lining 1/4″ down to loosen it up.  Slip-stitch the lining to the inside of the dropped waist seam, stopping your stitching 1.5″ away from the center back.
6.  The Center Back
Press over the center-back seam allowance 1/4″ away from the seam line.  Pin the folded edge to the inside of the zipper, 1/4″ away from the edge.  If you stitched the zipper on 1/4″ away from the edge, you can use the stitching as a handy guide.  Slip-stitch the lining to the inside of the zipper, and finish off the small gaps in stitching at the back of the neck and dropped-waist seam.
Your dress is now beautifully lined.  Linings not only catch sweat, but they also make the dress more comfortable.  Enjoy!


Sewing the Dropped Waist Seam (Alternate Method)

That’s it, you’re almost there! Skirt is done, bodice is done.  They just need to come together and you’ll have a dress!  For being a fairly simple step, sewing the dropped waist seam can be one of the trickier parts of your dress, depending on your machine and the thickness of your dress stiffener.  The bulky side pleat is often a bit too much for some sewing machines, especially slant-shank machines like Singers, which don’t perform well with too much bulk.  If your machine just isn’t having it, here’s a simply way to sew the seam without having to stitch over a mountain.
Start by pinning the bodice to the skirt the same way you would normally.  The side-pleats should be folded towards the front of the dress.  Edge stitch from center-back to the side-pleat.  Stop and backstitch, but make sure to keep the backstitching small and neat.
 Move the side-pleats to point towards center back.  Now that it’s out of your way, start stitching again where you left off and continue to the other side pleat.  Stop and backstitch again.  Fold the pleat back towards center-front, and sew the last section of your waist.
You have just sewn the seam in three parts, avoiding the bulk of the side pleat.  The under side of your dress should look like this.
 Fold the side-pleats towards the center-front, and tack by hand at the seamline.
 Aaand you’re done.  Same result without the bulk (and without the cursing!).  Stay tuned for more tips or ask a question yourself!