Sunday, March 22, 2009

Pleating a Broomstick Skirt

The distinguishing feature of a true broomstick skirt is the pleating. Especially with a tiered skirt, the sheer volume of all that fabric can be overwhelming. The pleating (or "brooming") changes the look and helps to control all of that fabric. The skirt below is the traditional tiered style. I used a lightweight cotton ikat for this one.

Here's another picture of it spread out. As you can see, there's a lot more fabric in it. I think this one took at least 5 yards, maybe more. This one was made using the LJ Designs Ultimate Broomstick Skirt pattern.

I also pleat the skirts I make from the Leslie's Broomstick Skirt design.

I learned how to do this when I took a class from Nancy L. at Ann Silva's at least 12-15 years ago. I've developed my own refinements to the method, but I've done this many, many times over the years. So I'm providing the basic method that you can use as a jumping off point.

Remember, this technique works best with lightweight natural fibers such as rayon, cotton, or silk. Polyester or polyester blends do not pleat well. Also avoid fabrics with lycra or spandex in them.

If the fabric has been prewashed, starching it won't hurt it, but test a scrap first if you have any doubts. You can also pleat without starch but the pleats will last longer with starch. Yesterday, I pulled out an old tiered skirt to show you and the pleats were still in it. It probably hasn't been worn in 5 years. That skirt is the one that appeared at the beginning of this post.

I've heard of people dunking their skirts into a sink full of starch. Please don't. It puts too much starch into the skirt and will probably mildew before drying, even in a dry climate like New Mexico. You can imagine what might happen in a more humid climate.

Supplies. You'll need the following:
  • Water

  • Sta-Flo Liquid Starch (or equivalent brand)

  • Spray Bottle

  • Skirt Hanger

  • Clean Broomstick or Large Dowel, 1-2 feet longer than the skirt,

  • Heavy-duty Rubber Band

  • Panty Hose (an old pair is fine), cut off the legs

  • Safety Pin

So here goes:

Run the skirt through the rinse cycle of the washer and spin dry, or dampen the skirt by thoroughly spraying it with water. Wetting allows you to use less starch and also helps the fabric absorb the starch evenly. You can put the skirt in the dryer for a short time until damp. The skirt should not be dripping wet.

Mix equal parts water and liquid starch in a spray bottle. Don't use canned spray starch; it flakes. Don't use starch on velvet, just pleat it without starch. The amount of starch depends depend on a number of factors: the fullness of the skirt, the thickness of the fabric, and the amount of stiffness you want.

Lay out the damp skirt on a flat surface and spread it out as much as you can. Or, hang the skirt on a hanger over the bathtub or outdoors. Spray the entire skirt with the starch mixture. Get it as even as you can. The skirt should not be dripping wet when you finish. I use the top of my washing machine, but my skirts aren't that voluminous and I've done this process many times. Give yourself some space the first few times you do this.

Get out the broomstick and wrap the waistband around the top end, keeping the waist level as you wrap. After wrapping, hold the skirt in place with the rubber band wrapped tightly around the waistband. Don't stretch out the waistband while wrapping.

Gently pull the leg of the panty hose down over the skirt, leaving 4"-5" of the skirt's bottom exposed.

Place a safety pin in the hem at any spot on the outer edge. You are just marking a beginning and ending point.

Lean the broomstick against the wall. Using both hands, tug on the skirt hem every 1"-2", forming the pleats. Move both hands in the same direction, working your way around to all layers wrapped onto the broomstick. Doing this allows you to straighten out the pleats as much as possible.

Once you have finished tugging those pleats, remove the safety pin and carefully pull the panty hose completely over the bottom of the skirt. If necessary, realign the pleats at the bottom. You can even do this through the hose. You can use the panty hose legs over and over again; this is a great use for ones that have snags or runs.

Allow skirt to dry 24 to 48 hours in a well-ventilated place. I often take mine out to the patio and lean them against the wall of my house.

Carefully remove hose and gently unwrap the skirt from the broomstick. Do not spread the pleats. Your skirt may still be quite damp. Hang on a skirt hanger and make sure all areas of the skirt are exposed to the air. Allow to dry completely. I don't do this, but I live in a dry climate and the skirt is often fully dry before I remove it from the broomstick. If you live in a "normal" climate, you'll need to take it off the pole before it's fully dry.

When ready to wear, shake out the skirt and wear with joy!

This process is repeated each time you wash the skirt.

If desired, you can re-roll the skirt and store it in the panty hose to preserve the pleats.


Pamela at Stitcher's Guild reminded me of the Gypsy Skirt instructions that appeared in Threads Number 125 (July 2006).

The article doesn't appear to be available online, but the back issue is still available. While I didn't like some of the sewing instuctions (ugh, exposed seams!), the basic techniques appear to be good ones. Make use of your ruffler attachment if you have one; it will save a lot of time over hand gathering.


Gretchen the Household Deity said...

Cool instructions, thank you! So, do you pleat the upper part of the skirt while smoothing the panty hose over it? Or is it just sort of compressed? Pics would be awesome next time you happen to be doing this.

Christy said...

I'll have to try your method. Instructions that came with a store bought broomstick skirt told me to take it out of the washer and twist it, as we do when we wring out a cloth, and continue to twist until the skirt is one big twisted knot, and let it dry that way. I found that to be very hard to dry before mildewing.

I enjoy reading your blog. Been following you for a couple of months now.

Duchesse said...

A wannabe (have not sewn) for past 25 yrs) but I still pleat my skirts; the key is gentle, consistent low heat when on the stick. I have an Aga stove so twist my skirts around the bar along its front. But otherwise, you can prop it on top of your dryer if you use it often, hang outdoors in indirect sunlight or one of my friends put hers on the overhead rack of her car and drove it around for two days!

NancyDaQ said...

Trena, the entire skirt pleats from waist to hem using this method. That's part of the reason for the tugging. The panty hose also compress the fabric. I plan to add pictures once I have a lighter colored skirt made. Even if I re-pleated the black one, it would be hard to see what's happening.

Duchesse, yes, heat helps. I suppose that's why I like leaning the sticks against the wall of my house. It's stucco and aborbs the heat on sunny days.

NancyDaQ said...

Christy, I've never been a bit fan of twisting and rolling the skirt up for this reason. .

Wendy said...

The Yahoo Fabrics and Notions coop has Rayon batiks in the ordering database right now for all your summer broom stick skirts!
Wendy in NM