Hot! The ‘573 metres later’ skirt

Remember how, back during the Plaid challenge, I said I only had one piece of tartan in my stash that wasn’t 8 metres long and intended for a crazy Victorian dress?  Yeah, I wasn’t kidding.

OK, this skirt only took 4.5 metres of fabric, but it definitely makes up for it in crazy.  It’s 4.5 metres, fully pleated, and since it is a lightweight tabby-weave cotton, of those blasted pleats had to be sewn in back and front, and triple pressed to get them to stay pleated.

It took ages, which is why I started it May ’11, quickly got discouraged, and folded it up, pleats carefully pinned in, for almost a year and a half.

I started the skirt as an alternative skirt to my ‘By the Seashore’ ensemble – an 1880s outfit inspired by a Renoir painting.  I’d never loved the original skirt I made, and I had all this tartan fabric I’d inherited from Nana, so I decided to give it another go.  I wished I hadn’t at lots of points in the process of making it, but now that it is done, I’m glad I did.  The skirt is spectacular in person.  The pleats are arranged so most of the white is hidden, so the whole thing shimmers as it moves and bits of white are revealed.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able wear the skirt myself.  I gave a talk on the historical origins of Steampunk fashion at a Steampunk convention on Saturday, and was hoping to wear it, but alas, I ended up wearing my Japonisme dress because I couldn’t find a model to fit it, and a friend/model fit perfectly in the ‘573 metres later’ skirt.  Then I was hoping to do a photoshoot on Sunday or Monday, but it’s been miserably cold – too cold for me to be outside in it.  Still, my friend/model looks beautiful in the ‘573 metres later’ skirt, and I’ll get to wear it soon.  I hope!

If you want to read more about the talk and the other dresses, I’ll publish a post on it as soon as this one publishes.

So how do I know exactly how much thread I used?  Well, the first four 150 metre spools of thread that I used up made that part of counting easy – and then I just calculated the rest based on the length of seams and the waistband.

Just the facts, Ma’am:

Fabric: 4.5 metres of blue tartan tabby weave cotton (inherited from Nana)

Pattern: My own, based on historical examples

Year: 1883

Notions: 573+ metres of thread, tartan bias binding for the hem, hooks & loops.

And the insides? Flat felled seams, bias-turned hem, and just a little bit of mess.

Hours: Let’s not even go there.

First worn?: Saturday 13 October, by a friend

Wear again?: Yes.  This is my new favourite Victorian skirt

Make again?: Oh H-alifax no!

Total cost: $9.60 – for the thread


Leimomi Oakes - The Dreamstress

Leimomi Oakes learned to sew as a child in Hawaii, and hasn't spent a day without doing it in the-more-years-than-she-would-like-to-admit-to since. When she was 18 she was nicknamed 'The Dreamstress' and bought the domain name, and now she's stuck with it. After getting degrees in Art History, Costume Design and International Relations she worked in a number of fabulous museums before going freelance as a textile and fashion historian and historical seamstress. She lives in Wellington New Zealand with a lovely husband and a world-famous cat.


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  1. I just LOVE making pleated skirts like this? I’ve done a couple, I love the way the plaid shimmers and you get that peek of color in the pleats. Yours is AMAZING and I can’t believe you did it with only 4.5 meters! I’ve got a couple projects like this started but not far along and now you’ve given me the push to work on them. Congrats on a fabulous piece!!!

    • Thank you! I didn’t actually hate doing this, but I can’t say I really loved any of it but the result!

      You made me go back and check my notes on this, and it turns out I actually had 5.4 metres of the fabric – I got the numbers turned around in my head. Ooops! And I forgot to mention the 3 metres of heavy calico (muslin) support fabric. So not quite a 4.5 metre skirt!

  2. This is crazy project!!! Yo are very strong seamstress!%)

  3. Absolutely beautiful. The extra time was well worth it, yes?

  4. Ho. Lee. Cow. That’s amazing. I’m trying to put together the construction in my mind, and I’m glad you posted the side view too. It appears as if the pleats hang from a yoke that goes down as far as the hip? The plaid does give it an extra dimension; it must be even more impressive in motion!

    • Thank you!

      It looks ridiculously complicated, but the concept behind 1880s skirts is pretty simple. The whole skirt is put together over a gored under-skirt. The bottom pleats are sewn on to the under-skirt at hip level, there is a small piece of the plaid at the top centre front, and then the two side pieces are draped over it. A final tail piece covers the part where the side pieces are stitched down to the overskirt, and the placket that lets you get into it. Does that make sense?

  5. O M G! Seriously, a magical piece of work. I wouldn’t even know where to start. Brilliant stuff indeed.

  6. Wow this is gorgeous! I love the painting that inspired it, and the final skirt is breath-taking.

  7. I’ve just had to go and convert 5.4 metres in feet……… that’s 17 feet, wow. Speechless. It’s seriously beautiful though. I want…Hang on, that means….does the maths….that’s 1880 feet of thread, oh Leimomi, you HAVE to rename it 1880 feet later, no forget that, if you say 573+ then could the plus make it the 1883 feet later dress? 1883 being the year of By The Seashore! This sounds too serendipitous to be true :)