DIY: The Perfect Pleats Skirt

Hey there! How was your weekend? I survived my second triathlon, and think I’m hooked. It is so much fun to switch up the events! Just as I’m about to drown, I hit the shore and can’t wait to get on the bike. Then, around the time my sit-bones go completely numb, it’s time to stumble off of the bike and pound the pavement running. I gave it my all, and thoroughly enjoyed stuffing my face with bananas, pizza, brownies and powerade post-finish. I’m sure I overcompensated on calories, but it was gooo-od.

Yesterday (which is actually still today for me, since it’s the wee hours of the morning and I’m not in bed, yet.) was a really long day for us. Eliot barely napped and just wanted to be held most of the day. I think he’s getting some more teeth. It was too hot to play outside, and Milo and I were both stir crazy. We did manage to make it to Costco for a pizza lunch (I’m seeing a pattern here…) and then spent the rest of the day with our good neighbors, trying to keep all of the kids happy and playing. It was one of those days where I remember how much my kids need me to just be there for them. Just me, mom. Not seamstress mom, or party-planning mom, or creative chef mom…sometimes they just need regular old mom to sit and built towers of matchbox cars for them to knock down. And I need that, too.

On that note, let’s dive right into a 24 step tutorial for a perfect pleated skirt! Haha, put’s things in perspective, right? Above all, I love being a wife and a mom. And I also like this crafty stuff too. So, seriously now, let’s get on with it.

I adore pleats. I think they are just so classic and flattering. I’ve used them often when sewing for myself (like on this maternity skirt, this Easter dress, and this awning stripe dress) and have come up with a simple way to keep my pleats even. Last week as I was preparing to sew up this pleated skirt in a summery chevron print for my friend, I thought I’d  take advantage of the chance to take some photos and share the way I make a perfect box-pleated skirt. There are a lot of steps, and I’d say this project is for people who are pretty comfortable sewing, though if you’re a real beginner, there’s no better way to learn than by taking on a big project! Okay, are you ready? Let’s do it. 
Before you begin you’ll need about 1-1.5 yards of fabric, a 9-12″ invisible zipper, contrasting fabric for pockets, and all your sewing stuff…

(yellow chevron print here, if you’re interested!)

1. Measure your natural waist. Add 1.5″ to that measurement  (for ease and seam allowance) then divide by 2, because we’re making a front and a back. Add 12″ for pleats to that number and cut two rectangles of your skirt fabric to that width, and the height of your natural waist-knee measurement+2″ for hem.

2. fold each panel in half width-wise

3. measure two inches from the fold and mark with disappearing ink or chalk the whole length of the fold

4. Pin so the fold doesn’t slip

5. stitch down your lines with a very wide basting stitch (you’ll unpick this later, so keep it wide!)

6. open up the folded seam and lay it flat. Press with an iron

7. if you flip your fabric over, you should have a straight seam down the center

8. Measuring from the seam (not the folded edge of the pleat) mark at 4″ and draw a line the whole length of the fabric using a clear ruler

9. Measuring from that line (a), make another mark at 2″ (b) and one at 4″ (c) (this first 4″ will be the face of the pleat, and the second will be the inside of the second pleat)

10. Fold the fabric with RST so lines (a) and (c) meet and line (b) runs the length of the fabric on the fold, pin and stitch a basting line along line (a)

11. Repeat steps 8-10 on the other side of the center seam

12. When you flip your fabric, you should have three seams (or two nice box pleats:) Repeat steps 3-12 on the second piece of fabric. Now the pleats are perfectly straight, and run the length of the skirt. We’ll continue finishing up the construction before unpicking to make sure the pleats stay nice and perfect!

13. Pockets are totally optional, but I’m addicted. If you want to add some, fold your contrast fabric in half  and cut around your hand with about 1-2″ of room. Use that as a pattern to cut another 2 pieces

14. lay the pockets RST onto the skirt panels, one on each side, about 3″ from the top of the skirt

15. Stitch along the edge to secure the pockets. You should be able to flip them right-side-out (they’ll look like wings:)

16. Lay both skirt pieces RST and stitch from top to bottom, around the pockets


17. Cut two waist band pieces to the length of your natural waist+1″/2 and about 4.5″ wide

18. Stitch them RST end to end to make one long piece. Fold in half lengthwise and press with an iron

19. Match up the seam on the waist band to one of the side seams on the skirt, and pin ONE of the edges down (leave the opposite edge free to use as a facing inside the skirt)

20. To put the zipper in the side seam, with the pocket in place, you’ll cut down the side of the skirt, about 3/4″ from the intact pocket and side seam. Totally unconventional (aka I made this up:) But it works! Trust me. Now stitch the pinned edge of the skirt and the waist band


21. Fold the waist band back along the pressed center, and turn the edge under just 1/4″ on the inside of the skirt and pin in place. This fold should just barely cover the seam you just finished.

22. Top-stitch the edge of the waistband, as close to the seam as possible, ensuring you are securing the facing fold as well

23. Press your invisible zipper and place in the open side seam (here’s a great zip tut, if you need one. I’ve been meaning to create my own…) You’ll be sewing the zipper onto the 3/4″ of fabric on the back of the zipper side seam, so be careful of the pocket.

24. Yay! You have a zipper AND a pocket in the side of the skirt!


25. NOW you get to unpick those six basting seams that are holding your perfect pleats in place! Take care to not rip through your fabric, or the waist band at the top

26. Your skirt should be looking mighty fine about now! All that’s left is the hem

27. Measure from the top of the waistband to the desired hem length and fold the fabric up and pin

28. Fold the raw edge of the fabric under to create the desired hem width, and stitch as close to the top edge as possible. You’re done!

Pretty perfect little pleats, eh? I’m excited to make one that I can keep soon (the best stuff I make seems to always be for other folks!) Let me know if you have any questions. I’ll do my best to clear things up if needed! I know that side zipper/pocket thing is tricky. When I make my own Perfect Pleats Skirt, I’ll make a step-by-step of that process. For now you’ll just have to give it a go! Good luck!
p.s. The white shirt I’m wearing is a refashion I did a couple years ago. I still love it. One of these days I’ll do a DIY for it…


  1. Posted July 17, 2012 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    Great tutorial, thank you! My pleats always end up wonky so this will be a great help!

    • Miranda
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      Thanks Helen! It’s amazing what a little basting will do to keep lines straight. Good luck!

  2. Posted July 17, 2012 at 5:34 am | Permalink

    This is great! love how flattering pleated skirts are. .. another thing to make added to my list. 🙂

  3. Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    I love that all (or at least most) your skirts have pockets… That is something I miss in every skirt I buy!

    • Miranda
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      Yep, I’m fully in favor of pockets. Especially if I’m making something myself, why not add them!?

  4. Emma
    Posted July 17, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Do you have a way to set the pleats? I like how you have the crease running down to the hem, but I should think that would wash out – When I’ve tried to look into pleat setting, I’ve only heard that one should get it professionally done. Otherwise, beautiful skirt and blog (I’ve been lurking on Google Reader for a couple months, but just now commenting – excited to see a DC-area sewing blog!).

    • Miranda
      Posted July 17, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Hi there Emma! It’s nice of you to hop out of reader to comment:) I don’t know how to permanently set pleats. These are just pressed with a steam iron. I have heard of setting pleats in polyester or other synthetic fabrics with really high heat, but I’m not sure it would work with cotton like this. To keep these pleats all day, I’d plan on laying flat to dry with the pleats folded well, then starching and ironing. xo

  5. Posted July 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Excellent! My sister requested I make her a dress similar to this Shabby Apple version from a few years back , and I was wondering about the easiest way to do box pleats. It would work to use your tutorial and add a bodice, I do believe. Thanks!

    • Posted July 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      HTML blunder — this Shabby Apple dress.

      • Miranda
        Posted July 17, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Hi there Michelle!

        It looks like the pleats on that adorable dress are knife pleats, which are super similar to box, but all the folded fabric goes the same direction. To do knife pleats, after sewing the 2″ seam for the pleat, instead of centering the fabric to press, you’ll just iron it all to one side. Also, you can make the pleat faces narrower–about 2″ instead of the 4″ I talk about here. Adding a bodice and a wider waistband to this skirt would make a really darling dress, though, too! Good luck!

  6. Stephanie
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    This is such a great tutorial. I am looking forward to a step by step on the zipper though. I ALMOST get it, but not quite enough to articulate what I DON’T get. (Don’t you love that?) Also, did you serge the sides/around the pockets to keep things from fraying?

    Thank you again for a great tutorial!

  7. ashley
    Posted August 11, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

    love this! thank you! found a beautiful skirt wayyyyy out of budget but thanks to you i will be making it for just under $14 woo hoo!

    • Miranda
      Posted August 11, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      I’m so glad Ashley! Hooray for making it yourself:) xo

  8. Posted December 21, 2012 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this tutorial! I made my first pleated skirt with it. I did mine in gingham.

    • Miranda
      Posted December 21, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      This is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing, your skirt looks amazing:)

  9. Bekka
    Posted February 6, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    This tutorial is amazing! I have never made clothes before but have been wanting to make the jump, but I do have a quick question – what is the seam allowance for the sides and waistband? I’ve only made quilts before, where the default is 1/4″, but didn’t want to assume. Thank you!

    • Miranda
      Posted February 6, 2013 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Great! I hope you try it! The seam allowance is generally 1/2″ when sewing garments. Since this isn’t an actual pattern, though, you can use whatever you’d like and account for it when you cut your pieces! Good luck!

  10. Posted February 20, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this tutorial. I was precisely looking for it. So…if I want to add just 2 pleats instead of 3, do I have to add 8 inches instead of 12 to the pattern? Is each pleat is 4 inches wide? Sorry but I am very bad visualizing this!

    • Miranda
      Posted February 20, 2013 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      Yep! You’ll need to add 4″ for each pleat. Those are the additional 2″ for each side of the pleat that are folded under, creating the folded edges. I don’t know how 3 would work, though, because you will need a even number of seams to create a balanced skirt. For example, this skirt actually only has 2 real pleats, but it has 3 points where the 4″ sections were sewn together. Does that make sense? You add the extra inches to where the folds of the pleats will meet. Hope that helps!

  11. Jenna
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    If I would want to make the skirt wider at the bottom, do I make the pleats bigger? Or how would I go about that?

    • Miranda
      Posted March 1, 2013 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, that would work. Whatever width you hide in the inside of the box pleats, you will have in fullness at the hem. You’ll just need to make sure you don’t add too much as to overlap folds on at the waistline, because that will add bulk up where you want it flat, you know? 🙂 Good Luck!

  12. Andrea
    Posted March 22, 2013 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    I don’t get how to do the zipper when you have no seam allowance. Help!

    • Miranda
      Posted March 25, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Hmm, good question. I used the 1/4″ on either side of the seam as seam allowance for the zipper, then eased the seam into the zipper to avoid any puckering. Does that make sense to you? If you want, you can insert the zipper before sewing that side seam, then finish the seam after, so you have a clean seam. good luck!

  13. Abby
    Posted March 30, 2013 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    Hi 🙂
    I’m attempting this right now but I’m stuck on how to get from step 16 to 19 (after I’ve made the waistband). It looks completely different and I’m not sure whether I’ve done something wrong D:

  14. Posted April 18, 2013 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    The waistband part is confusing 🙁

    • Amy
      Posted June 26, 2013 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

      I believe she means half of your waist measurement. At least that’s how I interpreted it. Personally I would use one piece the length of my waist plus an inch.

  15. Amy
    Posted June 26, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    I am so going to make this! My grandma gave me a beautiful purple, lightweight cotton that has exquisite embroidery along one edge that would be perfect for this skirt. I may not be able to stitch the pleats as you have for fear of visible needle holes, but I’m sure I’ll manage :] thank you for the lovely tutorial

  16. Claire
    Posted August 9, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Heya- stumbled across your website while looking how to turn my jeans into a pleated skirt and turned out alright 🙂 Gotta say never done anything like this before and it was really fun 🙂 Thank you

  17. Posted November 6, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Hi Miranda!
    I love your tutorial–thanks so much for putting it together. I just included a link to this post (that includes the cute picture of you wearing your skirt) on my blog. I hope that’s OK–let me know if not.

  18. Posted November 12, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this super easy tutorial! I’ve been wanting to make one of these for so long but all the website’s instructions I found were so complicated, that I never got around to it. I can’t wait to try this!

  19. Posted April 22, 2014 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    I’ve just made this skirt out of the bits of curtain that were left after shortening them for my sons bedroom! I now have a beautiful stripy summer skirt. I’m not buying any clothes for a year so it’s great to have something new. Thank you.

  20. Posted August 25, 2014 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    Nice skirt. I was making my own and was stuck with the pockets, and your post cleared that up. Thanks

  21. Melissa
    Posted June 1, 2015 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    im sure you have had this posted for a few years, but I have just found it through Pinterest. I absolutely LOVE this tutorial! It was easy to follow and you explained steps well. I just completed my skirt. Thanks so much for sharing!

  22. Posted July 9, 2016 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    I love this tutorial! And you even showed how to put pockets in! I wish I found this earlier, time to make some more!
    I hope you don’t mind me linking this on my blog where I’ve just made a similar skirt 🙂

    loves <3 Rinniboo x

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