The Velvet Evolution: A Velvet Pleated Midi Skirt

This Velvet Pleated Midi Skirt is very simple but I struggled with it. I really did!

Midi-length skirt with elasticised waist made with a gorgeous pleated velvet knit from The Fabric Godmother

I know what you’re thinking.

What could there possibly be to struggle with?

Well, read on. This velvet pleated midi skirt is my third attempt at fashioning something out of this beautiful fabric. First, it was a gathered skirt. Then, a Colette Wren. Then,  it assumed its current form…

And, while I’m very happy with this skirt, at the end of the whole process, I finally came up with a good idea for what I should have done from the beginning!

You know when sometimes it’s just not your sewing day?

This one was all about the fabric

I fell head-over-heels in love with this pink micro-pleated velvet jersey from The Fabric Godmother the moment I saw it (it seems to be sold out in pink, but here it is in black + I think a range of brand new colours have just arrived, I love the silver …).

In order to get my hands on this fabric, I even identified a technicality to avoid my self-imposed fabric-buying embargo (suggesting to my Mum that she should buy this for me, for my birthday…)

I’d never even worn velvet before, so I had no clue what to do with it. I turned to the internet. Turns out velvet pleated midi skirts are kind of a thing this season (should have known that if Josie, the Fabric Godmother, had it in stock, it was probably pretty on trend). I loved the velvet pleated midi skirt look and figured it would make a comfy, but still a little glam, winter separate.

So I was set. This gorgeous fabric would become a simple velvet pleated midi skirt.

What could go wrong?

I should be finished in about an hour, right?

Velvet Pleated Midi Skirt: Attempt 1

For my first attempt at this velvet pleated midi skirt, I thought I could just duplicate a technique I had used to make this pre-pleated midi skirt.

Basically, I cut out two rectangular pieces and thought that I could just tuck the pleats in until they were the size of my waistband. Then I would sew. Easy peasy.

That didn’t work for reasons which are, in retrospect, obvious. First, these are very fine micropleats so they are too fine to tuck into a “pleated” position. Second, it’s a slinky knit fabric, so it really doesn’t hold any shape.

So here is where I really lost it. I decided to pleat my pleats!

What the?

Oh well, I’m the kind of sewist who needs to just make the mistake before I realise how idiotic the idea was in the first place!

So I pinch pleated my pleats at about one inch intervals and attached it to a wide pink waist band.

The result, predictably, was an enormous bulk of fabric around my not very defined waist.

It was not at all flattering.

But the drape of this fabric was just lovely. I needed to do it justice. So its second life was born…

Rebirth: Colette Wren Dress

I decided that to avoid the bulky waistband of horror, I would turn this into a dress. I thought that the v-neck faux-wrap style of Colette Wren could work. I had just enough fabric to squeeze it out.

I made a few modifications to the pattern pieces. I widened the sleeves because I wanted to cut them on the cross-grain so that the pleats would fall in the same direction as if it were a kimono sleeve. I really wanted actual kimono sleeves, but I didn’t have any sufficiently wide pieces of fabric left to cut them out 🙁 If anyone else is using this fabric for a top, I would highly recommend the way the sleeves look with the pleats falling in a kimono-style direction, I found it sooo pretty…

In addition, I knew that the gathered skirt of Wren wouldn’t work. I needed a skirt which would avoid waistband bulk while still using enough fabric for some lovely drape.

The great thing about having an oversized indie pattern collection is that you can always flip through it to find what you need!

I settled on the skirt pieces of Sewaholic Saltspring, which have already rescued me once before when a pattern wasn’t going my way! I had used the Saltspring skirt pieces in jersey before and it seemed like a good match for the Wren bodice, while achieving my aim of requiring much less gathering than the Wren skirt.

All was well. I had a plan. And off I went.

Trying to make it work

Throughout most of the process of making the Wren dress, I really thought it was going to come together.

I played around with the skirt and decided that the best way to make the skirt waist the size of my actual waist without adding too much bulk was an inverted box pleat in the front and back centres. I liked the look this created, giving the skirt a more slim-line but still fluid effect.

The bodice of Colette Wren, however, just wasn’t really doing it for me.

This was actually my second attempt to make Wren. The first one ended in failure after I accidently cut the neckband a size too small. By the time I realised this, I felt like the whole thing was looking a bit nightgown-ish and was feeling uninspired. So that one hit the trash pile.

On this attempt, Wren still didn’t really speak to me. Even though the size chart had me squarely in the “Medium” size, I ended up shaving about 2 inches off of each side seams on the bodice. Even with this, it was still hanging weirdly around the bust area. Moreover, the neckline was gaping significantly.  And this was even though I had used a tip I had read about and sewed some elastic into the neckline of the front bodice to try to make it more secure. This was definitely a “don’t bend over dress!”.

At the moment of truth, after I’d attached skirt to bodice, I was unimpressed. My bodice was pulling strangely, so one part was much lower than the other. I had also managed to attach my skirt on with the centre pleat off-centre.

Sorry for photo quality! This pic was supposed to just be my guide for the modifications I needed to make – didn’t realise at the time that the dress would soon be no more…

Go me!

I hit the quick unpick, with a list of modifications in mind.

But as I unpicked, I realised I was feeling a bit blah about the concept. The dress was feeling a bit “Office Christmas Party”. A far cry from the “interesting fabric to make a fun fashion-forward separate” that I’d had in mind at the beginning.

And so began Life No. 3.

Velvet pleated Midi Skirt: Mach 2.

Third time lucky: The Reverse Mullet Velvet Pleated Midi Skirt

The process of putting the Wren dress together (using the trusty Saltspring skirt pattern) had at least left me with a vastly improved skirt. After having played around with it a bit, I decided to lose the pleat at the back and go for a bit of a reverse mullet: drapey party fun at the front and straight business at the back.

Midi-length skirt with elasticised waist made with a gorgeous pleated velvet knit from The Fabric Godmother
Spot the toddler…

I also really liked the way that the side seams looked in the skirt – the pleats created a pretty chevron effect. To emphasise this, I cut the front piece smaller for a slight cocoon effect, making a bit of a feature of the side seams. This also gave the illusion of a slightly longer side, which I liked.

Midi-length skirt with elasticised waist made with a gorgeous pleated velvet knit from The Fabric Godmother

This time I attached a contrasting, rather than matching, elastic, which was a vast improvement.

Speaking of elastic, am I the only one who always manages to cut it too big? I measure it out perfectly, but when it’s time to cut, I chicken out and decide to give myself a little extra, just-in-case?

Midi-length skirt with elasticised waist made with a gorgeous pleated velvet knit from The Fabric Godmother

Unfortunately, when I attached the waist band, some horizontal pulling appeared across the top front of the skirt. This means that I can’t really tuck shirts into this skirt, as I had hoped. But, at this point, however, I had nothing left to give. I decided that I was happy to accept that it would be more of a wear-with-cosy-sweaters velvet pleated midi skirt.

And let’s face it, if this fabric had been any less spectacular, it would have been trashed long ago! It’s rare that I have the patience to see a project through this many set-backs…

If I could do it all over again…

It was only after I finished, that I accidently discovered how I would make this skirt if I could start all over again. As I mentioned above, the side seams, create a really pretty chevron effect.

My skirt actually looks great if you place the side seam in the centre and make the chevron the key feature. The reason I can’t wear it like this is that, in the end, I put a pleat in my centre front, but not the centre back. When I rotate the skirt to make the side seam the centre, where the centre-front pleat hits at my side, is actually pretty. It reduces the bulk around the waist, while still ensuring sufficient fabric along the length of the skirt to allow for the drape and flow this fabric deserves. But since I only have the pleat on one side, I can’t actually wear my velvet pleated midi skirt like this.

So if anyone out there is sitting on this fabric, I would highly recommend exploring the idea of planning chevron seams in the centre front and back and using inverted box pleats at the sides.

Working with this fabric?

I’ve had a few people ask me on Instagram what this fabric is like to work with. I know that others have found it very easy to work with, but there were a few aspects that I found a tiny bit challenging.

The main difficulty was just that it wasn’t the easiest to cut out pattern pieces. The size of your piece changes depending on what the pleats are doing at any given moment. So you need a pattern that is pretty forgiving. I think this is why I had such problems getting the fit of my Wren bodice right. Also, since I did a lot of unpicking, the fabric did weaken a bit, and I did make a few holes when I unpicked too vigorously.

Apart from these problems though, it handles just like any other jersey and even has a few additional benefits which makes it easy to use. The micropleats meant that you can sew straight lines that basically disappear invisibly into the pleat. In addition, as long as you get the length of your skirt right, you can use the selvedge as a perfectly straight and finished hem, no sewing required! It is also easy to sew with in that, when sewing right-sides together, the velvet sticks together and there is no sliding at all. I barely even used pins.

Overall, the fabric is not difficult to work with, it’s just best to make design choices that emphasise the fabric’s drape, rather than going in for anything too precise and detailed.

Velvet: Yeah or nay?

So while this one was a bit of a struggle overall, I have a finished garment which is consistent with my initial vision. Plus, I can tell already that this will be one of those projects that I will like more and more as I start to wear it (and the memory of the sewing struggle fades…)

This skirt has, however, caused a little marital discord in our house.

It turns out my husband hates velvet with a passion. He has terrible childhood memories of being forced to wear ugly velvet pants…

As I mentioned earlier, this is the first time I have ever even worn velvet. Not much call for it in the Australian climate, I guess! But it makes me feel a little like a glamorous winter princess.

Midi-length skirt with elasticised waist made with a gorgeous pleated velvet knit from The Fabric Godmother
I look a little like a drunk winter Princess in this shot but it’s 7 in the morning. That’s just exhausted delirium in my eyes…

It’s funny how some fabrics are divisive like that. You either love them or hate them. Velvet. Corduroy. Suede…

Simple Skirt. Long Story

And so concludes this long tale of what is, in the end, a decidely simple skirt.

What about you? Do you have a project like this which has just gotten away from you?

4 thoughts on “The Velvet Evolution: A Velvet Pleated Midi Skirt

  1. I really lk the way you write, it is really easy and fun.
    And the end result is totally princess, indeed. I love this color. Sorry you went for such trouble… but it payed off!

    1. Thanks so much! Luckily it all worked out in the end. Don’t you find that sometimes it’s the projects that were a bit of a pain that you end up loving the most over time!

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