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Padded Pleats and Hem Stiffening

This was the official “test dress”. The design and patterning are based on a pattern for a german dress on page 252 of Karl Kohler’s History of Costume. The bodice and skirt front are cut as one, but the pleated skirt sides and back are cut separately and sewn in. The actual point of this dress was to test some theories on padded pleats and stiffened hems. I was hoping these two techniques would be able to make lighter weight or shifty fabrics behave like the heavy brodaces and stiff fabrics that we think we see in portraits. The dress is made out of a wool twill (decidedly shifty and slinky) and lined with plain muslin. The cartridge pleats are padded out with about a 1/4″ thick strip of cotton quilt batting. The strip is about 3″ wide, and runs the lengthof the pleats. The idea was to give the pleats enough body and stiffness of their own that support underneath them would not be necessary. The bottom of the skirt has a line of 3/8″ cotton upholstery cord embedded in the hem. This was to provide extra stiffness and stability to a fabric that is neither stiff nor stable.

Results and Notes:The padded pleats do keep their form nicely, and stay in very smooth rolls, even though there is only one line of stitching in them. I have found, however, that they only stand out like they are meant to when the fabric supporting them is pulled very taut. The dress mysteriously does not fit me the way it fits my dress dummy, and “pulled taut” is not an easy option. The upholstery cord in the hem works well to hold the dress out and make it look stiffer – too well, in fact, as it sticks out so well on it’s own that it looks mildly ridiculous over the corded petticoat. I have since added a line of stitch that goes straight through the coring around the bottom, and this makes it a little less unwieldy. I have started padding all of my cartridge pleats out with batting or felted wool now, as this worked so well. I’m not as satisfied with the dress pattern, which constantly wants to bunch at the waist. I think it would work better out of a heavy cotton, rather than a slinky wool.

Would I do it again?: Yes. Would and have actually.
My venetian courtesean dress incorporates wool felt in the skirt pleats as
pleat padding, as have several other skirts since. I’ve been working on documenting the historical accuracy of the padded pleats.


  1. Liz
    Liz June 13, 2013

    Where could I find more information on the way this dress is laced? My search skills have failed to come up with anything useful.

      • Liz
        Liz June 14, 2013

        Thank you for getting back to me so quickly. I’m actually asking about the holes the lacing is going through. It looks like ribbon sewn down at intervals?se

        • missa
          missa June 14, 2013

          Ah – There’s a hemp cord on the edge – it’s tacked down by hand between the areas the lace goes through. I was experimenting with the idea of a lacing method that does double duty and provides support to the edge so it doesn’t wrinkle up when you lace down. It worked ok, but I don’t recall being overly satisfied with it.

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