Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Side-pleated skirts

For HSF Challenge 20 the theme is "Alternate Universe".  This could mean making something from a book or movie, or, says Leimomi: "An alternative history might provide the opportunity to explore a garment that is theoretical, but not proven, to see if it makes sense as a working garment."

That's the approach I plan to take with this challenge.

The latest Aegaeum publication has a fascinating article from Dr. Bernice Jones* about the Minoan side-pleated skirt.  It's nowhere near as well known as the flounced skirt, and that's a shame because it really is a fascinating garment.  It's wide and flat like an 18th century robe de cour, and has three deep pleats down each side.

Here is an example:
Bronze female figure Cretan Late Minoan I 1600-1450 BCE Metropolitan Museum
Late Minoan bronze figure, image from Pinterest.

You can clearly see the pleats at the side of the lady's skirt.

Dr. Jones has reconstructed the skirt as a tube of fabric pleated at the waist.  The following pictures show a selection of Minoan figurines wearing side-pleated skirts, and the reconstruction Dr. Jones made based on them.

I've taken the liberty of photographing these pages from my Kosmos book.

With the greatest respect to Dr. Jones, I would like to propose an alternative method for constructing the Minoan side-pleated skirt.  My method involves organ pleats.  Organ pleats are what you get on a houppelande, and I think they look very much like the pleats on these Minoan skirts.

Looking at these figures' skirts, I wonder whether there might be two different construction methods.  Some of the skirts look like a tube gathered in at the waist, as per Dr. Jones' reconstruction, but others are narrow at the hips and widen out towards the hem.  I wonder if this A-line style might be made from two pieces of cloth.  Dr. Jones notes that Colette Verlinden reconstructed the side-pleated skirt with two pattern pieces, but frustratingly her book is in French and I do not read French.

My experimental pattern uses two trapezoidal pieces:

It doesn't matter which is the front of back because the seams will be hidden in the pleats.

Will it work, or not?  I don't know.  We'll find out.

If that looks like a very large waist measurement to you, it is.  Each set of pleats will take up 30 centimeters, and of course I also have to get the thing on and off.  I'm not yet sure how that's going to work.  I think laces will probably be involved.

Another question is whether there should be a support structure like a set of panniers underneath the skirt.  I suspect if you have a reasonably heavy wool cloth you probably don't need panniers; Dr. Jones' reconstruction didn't need any foundation structure.

*The article I'm referring to is: Bernice Jones, ‘The Construction and Significance of the Minoan Side-Pleated Skirt’ in Kosmos pp 221-230. 


  1. Ooooh, I'm so glad someone is exploring the challenge this way! What a neat garment - not one I was familiar with at all. I can't wait to see your version! I agree that the skirt looks like it flares from top to hem, but I immediately noticed the fabric wastage in a trapezoid, which is unusual for really early garments. Any theories on that?

    1. In many ways I think this is my favourite challenge this year, because it can be interptreted this way (though I did very seriously consider making a Mrs Miggins outfit). The issue of fabric wastage is a really good question, thanks for raising it! I will address it in detail in the next blog post, because I have a couple of ideas on that. Basically, if you top and tail your trapezoids with the weft running vertically, your wastage is pretty minimal and you have the selvedges at the top and bottom of the skirt so it saves you hemming.