Friday, August 10, 2012

Cora's Dress-How To Make The Gauged Skirt (cartridge pleating)

Gauging or cartridge pleating?
Many years ago I was in a historical
ladies group, and a civil war reenactor.
We made period clothing and often gave
fashion shows from different periods in
history.  When I began to make dolly clothing I
 came upon the term cartridge pleating and
frankly, I had no idea what that was.  After some
research I realized it was the same technique
 used in civil war clothing construction, it's
 just the more modern term.  The proper 1800's
term is gauged plaiting.  Gauged refers to even
 measurements, plaiting just means pleats.
Hence, even measured pleats. 
They are the same thing and both terms are
Gauging is the perfect technique to incorporate a
large amount of fabric into a vary small space.
Bigger pleats, more fabric. Smaller pleats
less fabric.
Ladies wanted to accentuate a small waistline but,
have the yards of fabric required to cover the
large hoop petticoats during the mid to
later 1800's. When the basting stitches are
removed the pleats literally fan out
to cover the hoop.
In the last post I showed how Cora's
bodice was made, here I will show the
process used to make her gauged skirt.
I do iron periodically during the sewing
process, sometimes I finger press.  I
 just don't mention often it in the tutorials,
but, it's very beneficial to the look of
your finished garment.  I own a teeny
tiny ironing board purchased at CR's
crafts on the web for a few dollars. 
For me, it's a must.
Back to the skirt!
I had 1/2 yard of this 45 in wide fabric. I started at
 one selvage end and turned under about 1/4 in. all
along the top.  I turned under about 35 inches.
I make very few measurements, 
I fit to the doll.  Your doll will be a different size!
I then turned under about 5/8 inch.
Turn in about 1/4 in. on the side.
Turn again to about 3/8 or 1/2 inch.
For a gauged skirt you will need to make 2 or 3
rows of synchronized running stitches.
That means exactly the same,
 evenly spaced stitches. 
 Here's my cheat for making evenly
spaced stitches:
Gauging Tape 
 I have a striped fabric, I wanted the
top of my pleat to have the wheat colored stripe
showing.  This is how I spaced my stitches
to achieve that effect.  Play around with this, it can
make a big difference in the look of the skirt.
Iron well before gathering your pleats.
I used 3 rows.  It holds the pleats firmer & I find it
easier to work with.  If you want to leave your
basting stitches in the skirt when finished, use
a coordinating color thread.  I have seen the basting
stitches left in antique clothing & clothing with no
basting stitches.
This is the effect I wanted for Cora's skirt.
I put the skirt on Cora to make sure I would
have enough pleats, I allowed enough fabric for
the folds at the other end & added a bit extra.
 I can always squeeze in a few more pleats. 
This type of skirt looks best when it's full.
Then I cut it off.
I placed the fabric on Cora to determine the
hem placement.  I folded up about 1/4 inch
all along the bottom, then folded where I
wanted her hem.
This is what I had left to cut out the bodice pieces.
Time to finish the end sections of the skirt.
I started on the left back side.
I turned toward the inside my 1/4 inch.
Then my next fold.
Butting it up against the first pleat.
Actually making another pleat.  I made sure
the stripe matched the other pleats.
On the back side, I took several stitches
firmly securing it to the next pleat.
(you can see a couple knot ends from the
running stitches hanging out)
I moved to the other end of the skirt. This side
will be overlapped by the left side, SO I didn't
want a lot of bulk here.
I made my 2 folds,
Secured it down with several stitches, but
I did not butt it against the first pleat on this
side.  I left it flat.
I then sewed the side seam.  Leaving
 an opening a the top, about 3 or
4 inches long.

I whip stitched the edges of the opening down.
I folded the edges of the back
seam under, and whip stitched the sides.
I then finished the hem.
 Notice the horizontal stitches at the bottom
 of the opening.  I did this to add strength at
 the top of my back seam.  A child can take
the dress off and on without busting out the
I used double thread to attach the skirt.  I
  started at the left back side.  I inserted my needle
between the stitches of the waistband.  Coming
 out at the bottom corner edge.  I pulled my
thread until my knot was secured within the
fold of the waistband.  My knot was hidden.
I inserted my needle through the front of the
 first pleat fold,
drawing it securely.  I did a second stitch. I made
a tiny knot. (you can barely see it at the top of this
photo)  To hide my thread end, I inserted my
needle into the fabric right next to the knot
between the layers of fabric & came out a
 short distance away.  I scrunched the
 fabric and cut my thread.  No thread ends
showing.  I use this technique a lot to hide
knots and thread ends!
This end securely sewn.
I did the same thing to the other end, with the
addition of stitching along the flat inside
This is what it looked like on the right side.
Again, you can see knots from the gathering
Both ends firmly attached.
Knots & thread ends hidden!
Cora's skirt had 76 pleats.  I don't like to measue,
but I did need to count!  I marked the middle
front of the bodice and the half way point on the
skirt and pinned.
I continued marking half way points and counting
pleats and pinning until I had every pleat pinned. 
Sorry, I forgot to take a photo.
Do this on a ladies skirt a few times, this size
is easy!!
Starting at either end using double thread, hide
your knot within the waistband. Come out right
where you want to attach the first pleat.  Remove the
 pin, take a single whip stitch in the front edge fold 
of the pleat.  Remove the next pin, take the stitch
repeating until all pleats are attached. 
 Don't miss one!
I folded it like this to do my stitching.
These are the stitches from the front.  They are
very tiny.
Remove your basting stitches.
If you leave them in, secure the thread ends
neatly, hiding the knots within the folds.
Her dress is sewn!
Cora's waist is 5 1/2 inches around,
there are 35 inches of fabric in the skirt.
(FYI~I measured after I was finished!)
Imagine the amount of fabric & hand sewing
 required to make a civil war ladies skirt!
Next post is Cora's hair and bonnet.
Stay tuned!
Thanks for all the positive comments Cora
and I have received on her tutorials.  I hope
these posts have helped to make your sewing
experience more pleasurable! 
Happy Sewing!


  1. I have never done cartridge pleating, but thanks to this awesome tutorial, I know I can. Have you thought of putting all of this into book form for publication? Your pictures and explanations are the best I have seen! I am looking forward to making a dress like Cora's...may take a break from cowboys and Indians!

  2. Mary is right, you should make a book on your techniques. They are much easier to understand. Such a beautiful dress. Thank you for showing us how to do this. Making the dolls is fun, but if they don't have the right clothes and well made, then you are only half done. Thanks, Martha

  3. Sheri, can you spell I told you so? :~D Loved the tutorial, great detail. Can't wait to see Cora's bonnet and ensemble all...ensembled!

  4. How excellent! I love to do hand sewing. Really. Some day I will try this way of making a skirt. Not tomorrow, but someday for sure


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