Want to add pizazz to your Victorian dresses? Well, pleated trim is a fantastic way to go. You can cut strips of your dress fabric or use ribbon. Fold it, pleat it, gather it, or ruche it to make trim that complements your gown perfectly and adds that “Pop!” we all want from the historical gowns we make.
A few weeks ago I came across an absolutely fantastic dress at the Western Reserve Historical Society’s Tying the Knot exhibit. You’ve probably seen it… or at least the bodice. When I shared it on our Facebook page the response was not only was it a stunning gown, but “I want to know how to make that trim!”
Into my library I went to explore options on just how to reproduce it. I found a close match and wanted to share with you how to make it yourself. 🙂
The original trim is obviously tapered in size. You can see it wider at the back of the neckline, probably around a full 2″ or more. My guess is that it was cut from a double width of fabric and folded with the raw edges under the center stitching, OR three or more different ribbon widths were used.
My instructions here are based on the Maltese Cross Plaits pattern from the book Ribbon Trims by Nancy Nehring. [Fabulous book, btw!]
I used wire ribbon which really helped with the pleating. But you can use a soft ribbon, like satin or grosgrain, too. My ribbon was 1.5″ wide which is a basic width and good size for ribbon pleating. This trim would be stunning in a 2″ or even 3″ wide ribbon!
The book instructions say that you’ll need 4 times the length of your finished trim, but I’ve found that’s when you’re pretty exact in your folding. Personally, I’d recommend a bit more than that. So if you have a neckline of 22″, you’ll need a minimum of 88″ or 2.5 yards. Bump this up to 3 yards.
Whatever your ribbon width you’ll need to know the half measurement and quarter measurement. For this tutorial, my 1.5″ ribbon, half is 3/4″ and quarter is 3/8″.
When making the trim I found I measured the half width for the first few motifs but then eyeballed the 3/8″ (quarter width). Also, as I sewed I had to be cautious to not make my motifs smaller each time. I found this to happen naturally, so measuring as you start a new set of pleats will help keep things even.
1 . Start an inch or two from the end and make a full pleat 3/4″ wide (half your ribbon width).
2 . Make two more pleats each 3/8″ wide (quarter of your ribbon width) keeping the folds right on top of the first pleat.
3 . Make another 3/4″ wide pleat on top of the stack. Fold the loose ribbon back again to form 5 folds. With each motif I had to count constantly to make sure I had 5 folds. It’s very easy to only have 4 but you need 5. Adjust the ends of the ribbon into another fold if you need to.
4 . Tack the center of the pleats through all five folds. Simply do a few whipstitches in the center and tie off.
5 . Open up the pleats so you have a large and small pleat on each side. The stitch tack will show a little bit on the back side.
It’s really important to remember to OPEN YOUR PLEAT STACK AFTER YOU TACK. Don’t do what I did and forget to open them before moving down the ribbon and starting the next folds. Oops!
6 . Move over 3/4″ from the pleat fold, or rather a full ribbon width (1.5″ here) to start your next set of pleats.
These pleats will form *on the other side of the motif.* I was confused here at first and had my brain set to pleat always in my right hand. No. You stack the pleats on the right, tack, then move down the ribbon and stack more pleats on the left. Or simply turn the ribbon around so your pleats are always forming in your right hand.
Sewing Note: for faster pacing of making the trim, follow the above directions to pleat the entire length of ribbon first (as seen in the above photo). THEN move on to part B in forming the motifs. I found that “stopping” to pull up the centers broke the rhythm of making the pleats and tacking first. It also made the ribbon harder to hold with the completed motifs.
Also, at this point you may have to hold yourself back from using the reverse side (as in photo below) of the pleated ribbon as the face side of the trim. It’s so pretty from the back!
7 . Pull up the long selvedges of each pleated section and tack together in the center. Just a few whipstitches will do. Knot off.
8 . Repeat with each flat section of pleats making motifs down the length of ribbon.
9 . Fluff each pleated motif making the folds rounded and soft. Pull them apart, unbend the wire, and make them appear more 3-D awesome.
Even the back side of the fluffed up motifs is really cool looking!
10 . Tack the trim around your neckline. This trim is quite loose and can easily twist around curves. Pin to the garment and tack lightly at the first pleat fold tacks to hold.
Experiment with various ribbon and fabric strip widths for different looks. Think about combining two or three widths of the same ribbon to produce a tapered trim. Play with making additional stacked pleats within each motif for a really full look.
Have you pleated ribbon to use on a Victorian dress? How did it turn out? Anything you’d do differently?