July 5, 2014

Quick and Easy Way to Mark Cartridge Pleats (On Some Fabrics)

It's not every day that a mistake turns in to a Eureka! moment, but luckily yesterday was that kind of a day.

Petticoat cartridge pleated to waistband.
If you need a neat, historically accurate way to cram 5+ yards of fabric into a teeny tiny waistband, cartridge pleating is your insane but awesome friend.  I LOVE the look and extra volume cartridge pleats give skirts and petticoats, but they are labor intensive and take forever and a day to do.  If this type of pleat is a new thing to you, check out Historical Sewing's tutorial on how to make cartridge pleats here, and you'll see what I mean about how time consuming they are!

Since I wanted as much floof and poof as possible for my 1830's tucked petticoat, cartridge pleats were really the only way to go.  I pulled out the partially finished petticoat and resigned myself to spending an hour or more painstakingly marking out the usual dotted guides for stitching.  Only then did I notice that I had made the silly mistake of flat felling the back seam all the way up to the top, leaving no opening for getting in and out of the petticoat.  Curses!  Out came the seamripper, and out came the stitches.  But look what they left behind on my nicely starched fabric...

Usually this is a bad thing.

Extremely clear needle marks that could possibly act as stitching guides.  Of course, the holes left by the two separate lines of stitching don't match up, but what if I used a double needle and stitched two rows of marks at the same time?

Now with twice the stabbing power!

I've got a pretty big double needle meant for topstitching jeans that was left over from a failed pintucking experiment.  The needles are spaced about 1/4" apart, which is a little close for cartridge pleating, but totally workable.  Since the double needle is meant for heavy denim, the needles are quite thick and sturdy, which means they'll leave pretty clear holes on certain types of fabric.

I popped the double needle in my sewing machine and set the stitch length to the longest possible stitch.  I only wanted the marks left by the needle, so I took the bobbin out and unthreaded the machine, then stitched all the way around the top of the petticoat, keeping the right needle about 1/4" away from the edge of the fabric.

It worked!  Clear, even marks that are perfectly aligned, and it only took a minute or two to do the whole top edge of the petticoat! 

The largest stitch my machine can make is about 1/8" long, which was a bit small for what I had in mind.  However, it's really quite simple to skip every other dot, or more for wider pleats.  I've stitched a sample with red thread so that it's easier to see, though of course you'd use a matching color.

Sadly, this method won't work for all fabrics; only those that will show the marks left by the needle will do, so YMMV.  The marks are extra clear on my cotton petticoat fabric because it's been starched within an inch of its life and is practically paper-like.  I tried a sample of wool fabric, but the holes closed right back up.

Wool experiment fail.

However, silk taffeta worked splendidly, as did various types of crisp cottons.

Silk taffeta works!

I still have another hour or so of hand-sewing each individual pleat to the waistband ahead of me, but using this trick shaved off more than a third of the total time it takes me to complete cartridge pleats, so I'd call it a win!


  1. You are brilliant! I am so going to try this.

  2. Major win! That is so clever. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks! Sometimes the cleverness just sneaks up out of nowhere, I swear.

  3. Ooh, I need to try this!

  4. Have you ever tried the "gingham" method? You sew a strip of gingham onto the top edge of the fabric you are going to cartridge pleat. I use one with 1/4" squares, but you can use any size that works for you. Then you use the squares as measurements of pleats. You can make small--4 square _ pleats, or larger----8 square pleats, or what ever size you want.

    1. That's a great solution too! However, this petticoat is just a little bit see through, so I wouldn't want to use something that might show through. Definitely trying that when I get to the main skirt though.

  5. Marvelous idea! It certainly will be much useful for my job as a costume maker for ballet. Thanks!

  6. For fabrics that don't "hold" the hole, sew through stiff paper and pounce through the holes with tailor's chalk or baby powder to mark the fabric.

  7. Hmm I wonder if there is a roller for doing two rows of pricks at once for those of us who hand sew and have no sewing machine... I am sharing your page with friends who do have sewing machines.


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