Box pleats are said to be knife pleats back to back springing out from the waistline to create fullness and ease. They work really well on thicker fabrics to create an even fuller look. They are known to be the most popular types of pleats for Italian Renaissance and 16th century costume and are used for skirts, petticoats and large sleeves. Butterfly sleeves on the other hand are sleeves that start at the shoulder and get wider toward the end of the sleeve. In this post, I will be incorporating both styles to create a top and a skirt. Let’s get started, shall we?

You would need Fabric (I chose a cherry blossom pink wool crepe fabric), Tape measure, Scissors, Pins, Needle (a large sized one if you are like me who just hates how rigorous threading a small one could be), Thread, Tailor’s chalk and Zipper.

THE SKIRT

First, take a waistline measurement. Next, you would need to decide on the width of the box pleat. Do you want a large sized pleat or a small one? Are you opting for a fuller pleated skirt in which case your go to option should be smaller pleats. For the width of the fabric, preferably work with one with a very large width especially if you are going for smaller pleats as fabric would be taken in on each side of the pleat width measurement to create the pleat. I am going to term my pleat pattern a “closed box pleat” as it requires no space to be left between each pleat.

CALCULATION

Let’s assume the desired pleat width is 2 inches;

Divide 2 inches by 2 = 1 inch (this is how much you would need to take in on each side of the pleat)

When 1 inch is taken in, it is laid over another 1 inch which means 2 inches of the fabric disappears underneath the pleat width on one end. So the deal is, for each 2 inches of pleat, 4 inches of extra fabric (2 inches on each side) is required in fabric excess to create the pleat.

To determine the exact width of fabric required;

Assuming the waistline measurement is 24 inches,

Fabric excess x waistline = 2 x 24 = 48 inches; in this case, the fabric excess of only one side of the pleat is used in the calculation rather than both sides combined.

Add the waistline measurement to the above figure and that should equate to 72 inches. From the calculation, the fabric width should be 72 inches plus about 2 inches as seam allowance.

You may also want to know the number of pleats required as well. It’s simple, just divide the waistline measurement by the pleat width. So for our instance, divide 24 inches by 2 inches; the skirt would have 12 pleats in total.

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Next, determine how long the skirt should be (waistline to hem measurement). Measure it out on the wrong side of the fabric including seam allowance at the top and the bottom for the waist band and hemming respectively.

Pin each fold after taking in the fabric on each side of the pleat (I prefer to do this on the right side of the fabric). The edge of each fold should touch each other behind every pleat. Once all the pleats are pinned down, the waistband should be measured and cut.

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The width of the waistband should be the same as your waistline with extra added inches as seam allowance. The length should be of your own choosing depending on how big or small you would like the band to be. This measurement should be doubled as the fabric would be folded over itself. Add seam allowance on both ends. Fold it over and pin on to the skirt just beneath the pleat pinning on the right side of the fabric making sure to face the bottom of the waistband upwards (ensure the bottom of the waistband is in line with the top of the skirt). Run a back stitch and trim off fabric excesses at the top of the skirt. Remove all the pins.

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How to do a back stitch

Thread your needle ensuring that one end of the thread is longer than the other. Knot the longer end of the thread. Bring your needle into the fabric coming up from beneath the fabric but also leaving a little space at the start of the fabric. Take the needle a notch backwards to the space left empty. Bring the needle forward, a little further from the initial (first) stitch and bring the needle back into the hole of the last stitch made. Repeat.

To hem the bottom of the skirt, I chose to do a different kind of running stitch. A running stitch involves passing the needle in from the back and out to the back of the fabric with typically more thread visibility at the top than on the bottom. The reverse was the case. I opted for more thread visibility at the bottom with very minimal visibility at the top. The picture below clearly illustrates the description. Fold the seam allowance over itself twice and pin before stitching.

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Turning the fabric over to its wrong side, it is time to affix the two ends of the skirt together. Pin both ends together leaving about 8 inches unpinned where the zipper would be installed. Sew using back stitches and trim the excess fabric. Using an invisible zipper, still on wrong side of the fabric, turn the zipper to the back. Place the right side of the zipper on the left side of the fabric on which it is to be sewn and pin. Sew with back stitches. Place the left side of the zipper on the right side of the fabric, pin and sew. The skirt is ready.

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THE TOP

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The areas labelled A1 to A2 as well as E to F are the diagonal neck to shoulder measurement from the bottom of the neck to the top of the arm.

The areas labelled A1 to B as well as E to G are armhole measurements with a slightly extended length as the sleeves are made to be free rather than tight.

The areas labelled B to C and G to H are the remainder of the top length extending beneath the armhole. Basically, measure the full required length of the top and subtract the half length of the armhole.

The area labelled F1 to F2 is the back neck width.

The allowance for the area labelled A2 to D must have a precise measurement of about 2 inches or more as it would be turned in and ironed down to avoid stitching the area.

Remember all drawings should be made on the wrong side of the fabric and leave seam allowances on all sides.

As far as the fit of the top is concerned, it is made to be a loose fit with the bottom band serving as a body grip. Take a round width measurement at the bust level adding a few extra inches to create the loose fit. The area labelled H to I is half this measurement. The area C to D is a representation of the measurement from the next half to the point just before your next breast. So let’s say you are measuring in from the left side, the measurement begins from there to just before your right breast. You would need to create a mirror image of this on another fabric. So the question, isn’t the combined width larger than half the round width measurement? The answer is yes and no. Yes because realistically it is and no because one would overlap the other to the point where the measurement is just about right. Once you overlap the fabrics, pin just as the picture below.

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Pin areas BC to GH as well and repeat the same on the other side. Also, pin areas A1A2 to EF and repeat the same on the other end. Sew with back stitches and trim off excesses.

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For the back neck width, fold the seam allowance over itself twice and pin. Using the same running stitches as that of the skirt, sew this area.

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For the bottom band where the elastic would fit into, repeat the same procedure as the waistband of the skirt only this time, the length would be judged by the width of the elastic. So assuming you want to use an elastic 0.8 inches in width, you would require a 1 inch band. Pin this band to the bottom of the top as seen in the picture below and sew using back stitches leaving a space just big enough to fit in the elastic.

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What I like to do when fitting elastic into clothing is to take a safety pin and insert it going in at least twice at the beginning of the elastic. The length of the elastic was deduced by subtracting a few inches from my actual under-bust measurement. This is because elastic as we know is stretchy so the actual measurement would only be a loose fit instead of producing the desired grip. Once this is taken care of, insert the elastic through the space and just start pushing through making sure to not let the whole elastic go into the band. A bit of it is required to stick out in order to join it to the end with the safety pin. After you pull the elastic through the band, stitch both ends together and stitch the space closed.

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For the butterfly arm, you need a square or rectangular shaped fabric that would be folded over itself once and again. You would need to draw diagonally from the top to the side measuring in length the width of the armhole divided by 4. Leave seam allowance whilst cutting. From this line, measure out the desired length of the sleeve on all angles until the measurement is able to form a curve. Cut carefully on the line. Pin this to the armhole and sew using back stitches. Trim all excesses. Repeat for the other sleeve. Your top is completely done.

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Please try this out yourselves and I would really love to see the progress or the finished product or both. Also, please ask any questions if any process is not clear enough. Xx!

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26 thoughts on “SEWING: BOX PLEATS AND BUTTERFLY SLEEVES”

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