As one of my favorite looks of all time, this box pleat skirt is every bit the playful yet classic cut you want in a silhouette. From a technical stand point, drafting its sewing patterns form scratch is moderately simple yet a little more time consuming (proof in the duration of the sewalong video below).
The steps below will walk you through the complete process of sewing a full, box pleat skirt with invisible side zipper and side seam pocket, from drafting all sewing patterns (from scratch) to cutting, marking and sewing the final skirt!
Side note: This tutorial will emphasize the importance of using notches as they provide one of the most essential markers for matching pleats and pockets in the sewing process.
Drafting The Box Pleat Skirt Patterns
When I draft sewing patterns from scratch, I always work from a set of basic dress patterns (also called blocks) fitted perfectly to my size. If you choose to do the same, never work on your original basic patterns. Always trace a copy to a separate piece of paper that you can then completely alter into the new design. Doing so not only allows for re-usability but also takes the pressure off making mistakes! If you take a difficult-to-fix wrong turn, you can always retrace the basic dress patterns and start the process all over.
My dress patterns are cut on fold style with single pointed bust darts on the front and double pointed (contour) waist darts at the front and back. This style is as simple as you can get in terms of a non-stretch, basic fitted dress. For this skirt tutorial, I separated the bottom portion of each front and back dress pattern and used it as a blue print for drafting my box pleat skirt.
The Waistband Patterns
Before you start altering the body of the skirt pattern, use the original waistline to draft the waistband patterns first. It is a lot more difficult to draft the waistband once the pleats have alreday been added to the skirt's waistline as you would have to keep the pleats folded as you draft. No need to complicate things! Get the waistband patterns out of the way first.
You can view the full tutorial of drafting this particular waistband pattern here: How To Draft A Sewing Pattern For A Non-Stretch Skirt Waistband (Faced Style)
To give you a more succinct breakdown, here are some of the main steps in the process:
On-seam pockets are a staple of functionality. Whether used on casual garments or formal styles, they are undeniably a valuable asset to the garment's versatility. I find myself adding pockets to any design I sew from scratch, any chance I get. They are fairly easy to pattern and sew, elevating the garment with the addition of just a few simple steps. On-seam pockets have now become somewhat essential to me. I don't know about you, but I'm always instinctively searching for pockets to house my keys or phone when I'm out and about (doing a million things at once).
The simplicity of sewing on-seam pockets is often contingent on your sewing pattern. If you start off with a good, clear pocket pattern, the rest is easy to complete. There are a variety of different pocket bag shapes and styles you could choose from, but in this tutorial, I'll work from a skirt pattern to draft a simple, round pocket bag.
When drafting pocket patterns, it is easiest to use the main pattern of the clothing item (you are adding the pocket to) as a blueprint. You will be using the actual seam (on the pattern) to generate the pocket pattern. My skirt will have a pocket on one side seam, thus I'll draw the actual pocket bag pattern directly on the main skirt pattern using the skirt's side seam as a guide. This technique works for any clothing item whether a skirt, dress or pants as long as you work directly on the seamline of the main pattern, at the exact desired location of the pocket. To get more clarity, follow the steps in the video tutorial above and/or the step-by step breakdown below.
By the way, stay tuned to learn how to then sew this pocket in a video tutorial to come!
Deciding The Pocket Location And Marking Its Opening
First and foremost, let's decide on the pocket's location. Although you could technically place it just about anywhere along the seam, keep in mind the pocket's optimal functionality. You want to be able to comfortably insert your hand and easily retrieve (or place) items in without any discomfort.
The best way to measure how far down to place an on-seam pocket is to measure its opening in relation to the waistline location on the pattern. This rule applies specifically to pockets sewn into the side seam, which technically is the most common application.
As a general rule, the side seam pocket should open starting at about 3-5" down from the waistline. For optimal comfort, the pocket opening itself should be about 5-5 1/2" inches long, although that varies depending on your specifications (and type of pocket).
Time for another patterning tutorial! I know drafting patterns is not exactly the most exciting topic, but if you really want to learn to how to design and make your own clothing, it is an essential tool in dressmaking. Learning some basic pattern drafting concepts is not only beneficial for those that want to construct the entire style from scratch, but also in the process of adjusting and altering store-bought, commercial patterns. As you become a more experienced sewist, you'll find yourself needing to do the latter a lot more than you may think.
In this tutorial I'll walk you through an easy technique for drafting a non-stretch skirt waistband pattern. The same technique is applicable to other bottoms like trousers, shorts, and various other skirt styles. In this case, I'm working with a basic skirt pattern which has two darts at the front and two at the back. Due to the fact that both right and left sides of this basic skirt are symmetrical, the pattern in this tutorial is a cut on fold style. This means that I'll be working with only one side of the front skirt pattern (left) with the center front line serving as the cut on fold edge (the same applies to the back pattern piece). The center front and center back lines are the straight vertical lines that go down the very center of the front and respectively the back of a sewing pattern, dividing each (front and back) into two symmetrical sides.
If you are working with a full pattern, you can still follow the steps described below to draft the waistband. Regardless of whether it is a cut on fold pattern or a full pattern, the center front and center back lines are an essential element to use in the process as it provides a guide to help you draft a perfectly symmetrical waistband (as you'll see below).
The idea of drafting your own patterns can feel pretty intimidating. After all, it takes some acquired technical skill and understanding. It is true that there is a greater learning curve associated with learning pattern making. However, if you start the right way, learning just a few important principles, you can actually start making your own sewing patterns in no time!
The whole idea of patternmaking is based on altering basic patterns. Every dressmaker/patternmaker should have a basic set of patterns they work from. These basic sewing patterns are called slopers or blocks in the fashion industry. If your goal is to make patterns for yourself, then all you really need is a good basic dress pattern with a simple curved neckline. When it comes to a basic dress pattern, keep in mind that it should include all appropriate darts (bust and waist darts) and form a well fitted garment for your body type.
I personally like to work from a good dress pattern (form fitted to my body type) because it allows me to see the transition from waist to hip, providing a way to make longer tops and outerwear without having to physically piece together a bodice pattern and skirt pattern. A basic dress pattern keeps things simple and can be separated to create both tops and bottoms.
It may look a little intimidating, or even like a weapon, but fear not! The tracing wheel is a basic sewing tool that will become one of the most useful items in your sewing basket when it comes to pattern making.
A tracing wheel is a pattern making tool with little spikes or teeth, that allows you to transfer information from one surface to the next by tracing and making perforations (I’ll explain more below!).
The tracing wheel is a must have tool if you are learning how to pattern and make your own clothes.
Types of Tracing Wheels:
There are basically 2 types of tracing wheels out there: A needle point tracing wheel and a smooth serrated tracing wheel.
Personally, I prefer the needle point style because the markings are more dense and go through layers of fabric and paper with ease. It has a sturdy, wooden handle (conventionally) while the spikes on the wheels make deep indentations which really help when transferring information. The needle point version is built for durability. For me, it’s certainly well worth the investment, being only a few more dollars than the next option.
More commonly found at fabric shops is the soft serrated tracing wheel. This usually has a plastic handle and is available in two blade options: smooth or soft serrated. If you aren’t ready to commit to the needle point tracing wheel, the soft serrated version is still a great option to get your feet wet.
What are notches and how are they used in sewing and pattern making?
Notches are clips or wedges cut into the seam allowance in order to facilitate matching and sewing the corresponding seams during garment construction. In other words, you can figure out which fabric pieces should be pieced together to form the seam by matching the corresponding notches to one other.
Notches are extremely important in the sewing process. All fabric components of a garment should be marked such that each seam is easy to piece together once the patterns are removed. It is much easier to figure out which edges should be sewn to one another when you are looking at the marked patterns. However, once the fabric pieces are cut and the patterns are removed, a lot of important marks and lines are often lost visually, and you are left with fabric pieces that can appear a bit confusing, especially to the untrained eye. Transferring notches from the patterns onto fabric will ensure that that each edge is properly aligned and the front and back pieces are not mismatched during sewing.
Notches are always marked into the seam allowance, stopping at less than halfway through the width of the seam allowance itself. They become hidden on the inside of the garment once it is complete, and are used for construction purposes only.
Keep in mind- individual notches that are added to seam edges are strictly used to facilitate sewing and they should not add any form of tension release or affect the fit and look of the clothing item being constructed. Specialized notches and wedges used for release tension are cut in groups along more curved areas of a seam, and are applied much closer to the seam-line.
To learn more about tension release notches/wedges, check out this sewing tutorial: Clipping The Seam Allowance During Sewing: How And When To Use The Fabric Clipping Method.
Types Of Notches On Sewing Patterns
Triangle shaped notches-wedges: These style notches are found mainly on commercial patterns and most commonly used by home dressmakers. Triangle notches require to be cut in a v-shaped wedge which makes them most visible during the pinning process. For that reason, they are the preferred method for sewing beginners as they are easier to see during pinning and stitching.
A single triangle notch
Nevertheless, triangle or v-shaped notches take a bit longer to cut- you have to be very careful not to cut too far through the seam line in the process since it requires the cutting of a very specific triangular shape.
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