I’m writing this because cartridge pleating is one of my favourite techniques, not least because you can skip the measuring and maths involved in other kinds of pleating.You’ll have seen them in curtains, perhaps, or on academic gowns.
The pleats are created by hand-sewing and gathering, rather than folding. They form rounded, tube-like folds which can even be stuffed. Large versions of the cartridge pleat are known as organ pleats, and the method is also called gauging.
Cartridge pleating is easy to do, very effective and beautiful when finished. Maybe it’s the ‘hand sewing’ that puts people off. Hopefully reading this it will encourage you to have a go. There is a lot of advice already on the web – I have included some links at the bottom of the page – so what follows is more of a discussion with I hope some helpful tips.
Cartridge pleats are a great way of gathering a large amount of fabric into a small area, without adding the bulk you would get if you were gathering or pleating into a waistband. There are 6 yards, lined, in the one shown on the right.
Fabric fullness is what cartridge pleats are all about. The more fabric the better – don’t skimp. Too little fabric will leave gaps in the finished pleats where you can see the gathering threads.
The basic method is to finish your raw edges, fold over the top 2 or 3 inches of your skirt fabric, possibly inserting a hemmed strip of stiffening fabric under the fold, then run 2-5 rows of hand stitching a centimetre or so apart along the top. What is most important here is that your stitches must all be in line with each other. This is the key to making cartridge pleats. The stitches are left in as they create the rolled effect.
I see from the web that there is much discussion about calculating the length of fabric needed, pleat width and pleat distance. I have to confess I never bother with this. Of course measuring is necessary in some situations, but for a skirt you will anyway be working with 3 or 4 widths of fabric, as determined by your pattern. When doing the hand stitching you are taking fairly large stitches, almost like tacking. I find the thickness of the fabric actually helps determine the stitch length for you. Your stitch length will naturally be longer on thicker fabrics like wool, shorter for linen and can be even shorter for silk. It is easiest to go with your natural stitch length for the first row, and then follow this through exactly in later rows. My stitches fall at about 1cm on linen, longer on thicker fabrics, where I also use a larger, longer needle, and shorter on a fine fabric, where I use a smaller needle. Similarly, your rows will need to be closer together on fine fabric, wider apart on heavy fabric. Mine are usually 1- 3 cm apart – but use your best judgement.
A striped or checked fabric can be a huge help as you can stitch using the pattern as a guide, and also get some lovely effects. Here the white stripes were matched to echo the white trim – but I could equally have matched either of the blues, or alternated them. You can mark your fabric with chalk or a vanishing pen if you prefer, its particularly helpful to mark the rows, but it is not hard to match up the stitches even on a plain fabric – just pay attention to the warp threads as you sew.
I use waxed linen thread to make the gathering stitches, keeping the first and last gathering stitches on the inside, and leave the thread ends loose. You need to use a single lengthof thread for each row, sit down comfortably, spread the work out on a table and take your time.
Once the stitches are done, knot all the ends together loosely – so it can be undone. You might need to slacken off some of these threads later, once the pleats are attached. Then pull up all the threads together to make the gathers fit the length needed.
Attaching pleats is the part I find so satisfying. The edge you are attaching the pleats to should be fully finished. Usually there is only a little hand stitching to do here – less than a metre – and its whip stitching, which goes pretty quickly. I use safety pins to join the ends, centre back, and sides which helps distribute the pleats evenly.
Again, I use a waxed cotton thread, working from the inside, use a single stitch to sew the head of each pleat to the waist, making sure to go through the fabric, lining and stiffening, and both layers of the waistband or bodice, at each stitch. Don’t forget there’s a lot of weight hanging from this seam. When turned right sides out the pleats on the inside actually push skirt fabric outwards, rather than letting it hang straight down.
Once done you will need to undo the knotted threads at the ends to slacken off the lower gathering threads and fan out the pleats a little. This is especially important at the point at the back of the waist. Also watch out at the sides, or the front of the skirt on an open robe. If the gathers are too tight anywhere you will get kinks at these edges, so be sure to check all this before securing the ends of the gathering threads and cutting off the excess. Then enjoy your lovely, lovely pleats. They always make me smile.
Lots of tutorials for this are available on the web. This one has some particularly clear illustrations. http://www.elizabethancostume.net/cartpleat/
And this one shows some lovely work too: http://www.renaissancetailor.com/demos_cartridgepleating.htm
This one is interesting because Catherine discusses and illustrates lots of variations. http://katherinesummer.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/best-cartridge-pleat-tutorial-pt-1.html