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DIY Pleated skirt

Another day, another skirt... Seriously, we can't get enough! Today girls, we will mostly be showing you how to make a knife pleated skirt (did anyone get the Fast Show reference??).

Pleating is just another way to manipulate a length of fabric by folding the material to make it narrower at one end and fuller at the other (another example of fabric manipulation to manage fullness is gathering or ruching). One of the simplest folding techniques is knife pleating. Knife pleats are a series of sharp, narrow folds, all heading in the same direction, reminiscent of school girls in teeny tennis skirts à la Cher from Clueless and Britney circa Baby Hit Me... It's a good look.

The key to pleating is all in the maths. You need to calculate the length of fabric you'll need so that, once pleated, it equals your waistline measurement, plus seam allowance. We love the look of pretty narrow pleats so we settled on a pleat width of 1". When creating the fold, you will be folding the fabric back on itself, and then folding it forwards again, so that each 1" pleat becomes three layers thick. That's 3" per pleat. In terms of fabric choice, we'd recommend light-medium weight wovens that press well. Cotton is ideal.

Next, measure your waistline. Let's say for example, your waist measurement is 28". You will need 84" (28 x 3) + 5/8" (15mm) either side for seam allowance.

Once you've cut your length of fabric, mark the seam allowance on each side, and start pleating from there. Using the diagram as a guide, fold and press all the way across the fabric, pinning the pleats securely at both ends.

Once you're happy with your pleats, and you've doubled checked that it all measures up and fits your waist, baste the pleats into place along the waistline.

We've recently discovered an amazing sewing hack which you can use to form your knife pleats as well! All just by using your standard kitchen fork (first measuring to make sure it is approx. 1inch wide): 

Next, insert an invisible zipper and close the back seam (see our definitive tutorial here), and attach a waistband (another of our awesome tutorials here). To hem your skirt, press the raw edge in by 1/4" and again by 1/4". Stitch. For the finishing touch, go over your pleats once more with a hot iron for extra crispiness. Now go! Pull on some over-the-knee socks and go seduce your professor.

PS. Apologies for the dull photography... it seems the grizzly British Winter weather is not on our side.

Comments on this post (34)

  • Sep 09, 2020

    So I have a couple of questions…
    If you want the pleats to go all the way down and be
    a little wider at the hem, do you have to draw/sew them wider too or do they fall so that they look wider?
    And how to draft the pattern if you want the skirt to be asymmetrical?
    Hope to get some answers (it’s been a couple of years after all:)

    — Ida.Kll

  • Aug 19, 2016

    Hi Sarah, to make a full 50s style skirt, you’ll need a length of fabric that’s about three times your waist measurement. Then simply pleat or gather it in to match your waistline, add a zipper and a waistband and off you go! I hope this helps! ~Elisalex

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jun 25, 2016

    Hi! What would be the best way to go about making a full, 1950-style skirt to wear with a petticoat? More panels, more fabric, smaller pleats? I love pleated skirts and I found a beautiful cotton print of blue and white dots with a pink floral border print that I’d love to make one out of.

    — Sarah

  • Sep 22, 2015

    Hi Doris, thanks for your comment. I’m not entire sure I know what you mean though about hemming without cutting the existing hem… Are you able to simply fold and press it up so that the hem is shorter? If you’re worried about losing the original pleats, they can easily be re-pressed into shape once you’re happy with your new hem. I hope this helps a little, if not, please drop me a line at


    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Sep 20, 2015

    I need directions on hemming a pleated hand-me-down school uniform without cutting the bottom hem

    — Doris

  • May 28, 2015

    Hi Grace, yes that’s right! And good on you for sewing your daughter’s uniform! Very impressive x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • May 26, 2015

    Id like to sew my daughter’s uniform, but the pleat measures 2", do I have to multiply its waistline by 6? Thanks!

    — grace pagli

  • Jan 10, 2015

    Hi Heather – hemming a pleated skirt is basically the same as hemming a regular skirt, you don’t want to be sewing through and therefore anchoring the pleats! Hope this helps, Elisalex x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Jan 06, 2015

    Hi! I really loved this tutorial – it was extremely helpful!

    One question: When hemming the bottom of the skirt, do you sew through each individual layer of every single pleat, or just sew all layers and pleats together?

    — Heather

  • Sep 22, 2014

    Hi, love the tutorial, I was wondering how you would go about calculating the actual length of the skirt not the width, and waist part, but the length.

    — Elizabeth

  • Jul 15, 2014

    I’ve always sworn to myself that I would never make my own clothes (it’s always seemed so complicated), but this skirt has changed my mind!

    — Caitlyn

  • Mar 18, 2014

    Hi Ashley, you only need to multiply your waistline measurement by 3 and then add on the seam allowance for the back/side seam. The 84" was the measurement we got from multiplying our waistline by 3. Hope this makes sense! x

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Mar 10, 2014

    Question for the waist measurement. So I take my waist and times it by 3. But I was confused do I times it by the 84’’ as well or no?

    — Ashley

  • Feb 27, 2014

    Hi Tara – you got it! Simply sandwich the two layers together and attach the waistband. Sounds lovely!

    — Elisalex - By Hand London

  • Feb 23, 2014


    I’ve just made this lovely skirt in a cotton with a tiny elephant print. I’d really love to make something similar in a black lace. How would you line this? Make two skirts almost (one in lace and the other in the lining fabric?) and put them together?

    Love your blog

    — Tara

  • Aug 02, 2013

    I’ve got a question about how the pleats at the top stay at an inch in width, but towards the bottom they seem wider. Did you measure the pleats as 1" all the way down the length of the fabric then iron the pleats and because they’re not sewn down, they become wider? I’m intending on making a pleated skirt and was advised that any polyester based fabric is best for keeping the pleatings permanent, but do you know if the pleating still stays after washing polyester fabric? Thanks

    — Michelle

  • Aug 04, 2013

    Hi! I think it seems that the pleats are wider at the hem simply because they aren’t stitched down so are allowed to spread. When pressing we definitely made sure the pleats were even all the way down. In terms of fabric, we actually really recommend that you avoid polyester as it will probably melt under a hot iron as it’s basically plastic! The pleats will also wash right out of polyester. We recommend 100% cotton, which will press beautifully and is easier to re-press into shape after the wash. Hope this helps!

    — byhandlondon

  • Apr 30, 2013

    Do you think this would hang well with a 28"-30" finished length? I’d like to try this out.

    — Beth

  • Apr 30, 2013

    Oh definitely! Pleats are chic at any length! Just make sure you keep the press nice and crisp all the way down.

    — byhandlondon

  • May 01, 2013

    By the way, What is the order of construction? Pleat, then join panels? Or join panels first?

    — Beth

  • May 01, 2013

    Join panels first (leave out the zipper and back/side seam – wherever zipper will be), pleat, insert zipper and close back/side seam. Attach waistband :)

    — byhandlondon

  • Mar 07, 2013

    Thanks! Adding basic side seam pockets to a skirt – or anything with a side seam for that matter – is super easy. We’ll definitely make side seam pockets our next tutorial so watch this space!!

    — byhandlondon

  • Apr 08, 2013

    I was so happy when I found this on Pinterest, I’ve been sewing for awhile but sometimes I find pleats a little iffy. I bought some purple fabric awhile ago with the intention of making a pleated skirt but I’ve never gotten around to it, maybe this will inspire me! I adore the colour too.

    — Zoe

  • Apr 08, 2013

    So glad to hear! Really hope our tutorial has made pleats seem less scary, and we’d LOVE to see what you make!

    — byhandlondon

  • Feb 21, 2013

    I love the mint colour of the fabric and the skirt. I was wondering what type of fabric you used for the skirt and where it was from?

    Can’t wait to try it,

    — Mel

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