Fast Perfectly Spaced Pleats For Vintage Skirts & Dresses

Learn how to sew perfectly spaced box pleats, knife pleats on straight and gored vintage skirts

´This mini tutorial will show you the simplest and fastest way to make evenly spaced pleats in straight and gored vintage clothing. This can be used for many kinds of pleats, box pleats, knife pleats and even when you are not pleating the whole length of the waistband. 

Simple calculations made before you start to sew will give perfect results every time.

The aim is to sew a certain number of pleats either end and then you can simply fold in half and pleat the fold and repeat until finished. Download the free chart for easy reference to how to pleat and calculate your fabric needs. 

vintage 1950s full skirt dress pleated

There are a wide range of pleated skirts and dresses all through the 1950´s.  Learning to make evenly spaced pleats every time will give professional results every time. 

Many vintage and historical garments are designed with the intention  that the skirt or dress  will be worn over a corset or girdle to reduce the waist size. Always take measurements and do fitting over the appropriate undergarments.


First you need to work out what you want the finished waist length to be. If you are sewing a skirt part of a dress that will be joined at the waist seam then make the bodice first and fit it correctly. Make any adjustments to darts and pleats in the bodice waist. mark or iron any folds and facings where zips or buttons will be placed.

Now measure the bodice waist band and this is what your finished skirt needs to be. 

You can also just make a skirt with no pattern using this method. Cut and sew a waistband and when fitted comfortably with correct overlap for button and buttonhole, measure the waist length needed for the skirt.

The more pleats you need to do the better and more useful and precise this method becomes.

Next you want to know how deep or full you want the pleats to be. Your pattern may indicate the size and folding direction as shown in this picture. 

The general rule is don´t be mean on the amount of fabric in a pleat. Skirts hang better and look so much better with even and full pleats.

Heavier fabrics may need fewer but  deeper pleats to hang well.  But be aware of adding too much bulk at the waistline. Lighter weight fabrics can be tightly pleated and even have several pleats overlapping to give a full skirt and not add too much bulk to the waistline. 

Measure the sewing pattern pleat size on the printed pattern or by folding the fabric until you feel you have a suitable pleat depth you can now work out the waist length of fabric needed.

The skirt in the following tutorial is made from a straight piece of fabric that is joined from two  pieces the width of my fabric with the centre back seam left open until the pleats are sewn for ease of sewing. 

This skirt in the following tutorial has 11 gaps and 11 pleats. 

This diagram shows the way the top box pleats fold inwards evenly. Its  sewn so the  seams are inside the box pleats. Seam allowances are not shown in diagram.

1950s dress sewing tutorial vintage plus sized clothing

The desired waistband of my skirt is 36 inch (91cm). 

The math is basic. 

I will work in metric during the simple calculation.

Divide 91 by 11  (the number of gaps).   91 divide by  11 = 8.27 cm.   (round down to 8.2 cm)

Skirt length of my joined fabric for the skirt waist  before pleating  measures 284cm long.

Subtract the desired finished waist length from the total fabric waist length.

284 – 91 = 193  cm

The remaining fabric is divided by number of pleats, in this case 11.

So 193 cm /divided  by 11 = 17.5cm 

So each pleat will be 17.5 cm wide. 

Now the easy part of pleating!

vintage sewing pleating tutorial

Mark and cut out simple card templates. One the width of the gap and one half width of a pleat.

Now we want to position the pleats evenly all the way around the skirt. The centre front line and centre back of the skirt  I am making will be inside of a pleat. 

The back seam of the skirt is still open. There is very little measuring using this method once first 2 pleats are sewn in. 

Mark the seam allowance width clearly.   Then measure half the width of a pleat each side , so for this skirt half a pleat is 8cm.

From this line measure and mark the width of one gap, 7.6cm. 

Fold the fabric over, measure the width of half a pleat as the fabric is double and sew a straight line  5 cm deep. 

Now repeat at the other end of the skirt waist. 

plus sized vintage dress tutorial pleating guide

You now have 2  pleats sewn, one either end.  and 9 remaining. 

The downloadable chart shows how many pleats need to be sewn in each end before you can simply fold each segment in half.

For 11 pleats you need once pleat at one end and 2 pleats at the other.

Add the 2nd pleat at either end by marking a gap with your template and fold the fabric to fit your half pleats template like the picture. 

I am sewing just 2.5cm down, ( 1 inch). Different effect can be created by sewing the box pleats longer. I just want soft flowing pleats.

curvy larger sized 1954 vintage dress sewing tutorial

Next with right sides together  fold the fabric  again so the seam of the single pleat at one end touches the seam of the 2nd pleat ( the one furthest from open end centre back) . 

Mark a half pleat width at the fold with template and sew.


vintage dresses in larger sizes. tutorials on pleating skirts

Repeat folding with right sides together  fold the fabric so the seam of the middle  pleat touches the seam  of a pleat near centre back open edge. It is always the inner most pleats that touch. 

Mark a half pleat width at the fold  again with template and sew. Repeat folding fabric and sewing a pleat at the fold until you are down to the last couple, pin these and check your gaps are correct using card template. Adjust if needed a bit and sew. 

Notch the top corners of the pleats on the fold to make easy to align them central when sewing flat.

Align the notched pleat so the notch is even with pleat sew line and pin or baste. 

You may now sew the pleats flat along the waist edge, and press if required. My pattern does not have sharp pressed pleats but soft flowing ones so I only press the waistline edge. 

The skirt back seam can now be sewn, leaving the correct opening if using a zip fastener. 

Add the waistband or join skirt to dress bodice and finish as per your pattern. 

This method also works for simple knife pleats, the only difference is the pleats are not as deep and all fold to the same direction when sewing flat at the end.

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