Man VS Machine

 Man VS Machine


This article was first published in Your Wardrobe Unlock´d. My idea for this article was to test out some mechanical methods of making trims for hats, things that I usually do by hand and see if the tools or machines where worth the money. Or if they made a simple job more complicated, along the way I will demonstrate some very eye-catching hat trims for use on period or modern hats and costumes.


Bias Tape


I often use bias tape in costuming and on the edges of hats. Usually I would use a metal bias tape maker and an iron to make my bias tape. They work fairly well. I usually burn my fingers. So, I was happy to try the Simplicity Bias Tape maker. I must say it works like a dream, which was the opinion of every one in my quilt group, costumers and non- costumers alike. There are many You Tube videos on how it works so I donÕt need to have lots of pictures of the process. One of the drawbacks is that there are not as many tips available as with the manual tape makers and the price is any where from 99-64 US dollars. I would say that if you make lots of bias or you can go together with some friends it is well worth it for what a nice job it does and no more burnt fingertips.

Stephanie Flora´s 1860´s Style Brimless hat.


Rotary Cutting


Strips of fabric both on straight of grain or on bias are what I seem to need all the time in hat making and costume making, thatÕs why I have cutting mats as the surface of my sewing table. I usually use a straight edge and a rotary cutter to make these strips. It can work very well and you can usually make quick work of cutting a large number of strips. Rotary cutter blades come with different size and shape blades and you can cut a straight edge or pinked edge for decorative work like these costumes from my site I made to look like period slashing and pinking that was cut with a tool much like a modern wood chisel and a mallet over a sheet of lead. My biggest problem with rotary blades is that I always seem to run over unexpected pins and ruin the blades.


So again I was very happy to see that Simplicity had another small machine for cutting strips of fabric and got one. There are You Tube videos on how it works so I donÕt need to have pictures of the process. My friend Kate and I tried it out and once we added a piece of tape to the width gage plate so that thin strips of fabric did not fall down and get into the machine it worked fairly well with stiff fabrics like starched cottons and silk taffetas. I think the machine goes too fast and it would work much better if it could go very slow. It does cut thru the fabric well. Even though it has several different blade designs none of them are very distinct because the design can only be two or three centimeters wide. I made this trim shown from the back with a bias strip of shot silk, more later in the pleating section below.


 I could have made it faster with a pinked rotary cutter blade and straight edge. Unless I have a lot of strips to make out of a very stiff fabric I will go back to the ruler and rotary cutter method.

One thing I needed to do for an 1890Õs hat was to cut some net rounds with a ruffled edge they needed to be nearly perfect and all the same size. So, I gave the cutter a try out.

First I stacked and pinned 5 layers of 4 different colors of tulle along with printing out the circle I wanted.

I cut out the circle and pinned it over the stack.


I basted around the circle with a thread that could be seen.

I tested the cutting wheel on paper first.

Then on the stack to see if it would cut all the way thru the 20 layers.

I then cut the circle and pulled it away.


I picked out all the red thread.

I separated the layers of tulle.

Starting with the lightest color I gathered them near the center.

I added the next darker color and gather it over the first.

I then added the two darkest colors one at a time.


I pinned and tack stitched the puff into the groove of the under side of my 1890Õs hat/



I added all five and pinned them into place.

When they where tacked with thread I added one layer of tulle to cover the entire bottom of the hat.

This is how the finished hat looks from the front. I know I could never have cut those rounds as well by hand.




There are several ways to pleat, you can mark you fabric with a ruler and with an iron press the lines between the marks or you can send you fabric away to a commercial Pleater. Commercial Pleaters are fantastic everyone should create a costume with lots and lots of pleats and send the fabric off to a Pleater at least once but it can be very expensive for small jobs. Somewhere between the labor intensive and the pricy is to use a pleating board, there is a nice explanation on how they work on this site. Cotilde has a small 1/4" with a 3/8 return pleating board for about 30 dollars and they go up from there but you can make your own board for knife pleats with one piece of single buckram, a piece of crinoline the same width and three times long and a piece of fusible web the same size as your buckram. You mark the pleats you want onto the crinoline, finger press then, hard press them with an iron. Sandwich the web between the buckram and the pleated crinoline. Then use your iron to fuse the layers together. This will take you about an hour or maybe two. Making your own is great because you have the choice to have whatever gage you want for example in some ribbon work you might want the return section of the pleat to go back farther that the top.

            Pleating boards work well for knife pleats but not so well for box pleats or other complex pleats, I´ve tried it. I have another solution Freezer paper, another thing that started in the quilting world. Freezer paper is white bond paper that has a layer of plastic on one side. This layer of plastic lets you iron it to fabrics that can take at fairly high iron settings. It sticks well but can also be pulled off easily. And here is the best part it can be reused many times.

Here is what I did to make the pleated silk taffeta for Stephanie´s hat.

  1. I measured the total length and width of the hat and added a little extra.
  2. I cut a piece of fabric and freezer paper that was 1X the length and 3X the width from the measurement above.
  3. I drew a series of parallel lines 1/2" apart on the paper side of the freezer paper.
  4. I used a straight edge to help me fold the freezer paper into the 1/2" knife pleats I wanted and finger presses them.


  1. I flattened the paper out and ironed the silk fabric to the slick side of the freezer paper.
  2. I finger pressed the pleats into the fabric/paper.
  3. I then pressed the fabric/paper with an iron set to silk. I used as much pressure as possible.
  4. I pulled the fabric from the paper and readjust the pleats and pressed it again.


Of course this is more work than just marking the fabric and pressing the pleats into the fabric but you can now use the freezer paper over and over. It is easily stored and will be there the next time I want 1/2Ó pleats. I usually go another step farther but most people might not fine this of use, I draw the lines I want on the computer and print out the page. This way I donÕt have to read the ticks on the ruler I just trace them thru the freezer paper as it is somewhat see thru.


For the double box pleated trim on the red hat above.

1.     I cut a long strip (about 40") of freezer paper as wide as my bias strips.

2.     I marked the fold lines I needed to make a double box pleat. Which are at 2.1"-1"-1"-1"-2.1" -1"-1"-1" repeated until the 40" are covered.

3.     I measured just how long of a fabric strip I needed. For a double box pleat you need 5 times the finished length of your trim.

paper printout of lines in back and finger pressed freezer paper in front.


4.     After I finger pressed the paper I opened it up and ironed on the first length of my bias to the paper.


5.     I finger pressed this and then pressed it with the iron.


6.     After I pulled the paper away and repeated the steps until all the length of bias fabric is pleated.


7.     When all the bias fabric has pleats I ran a running stitch thru the center of the bias.


8.     Save the freezer paper for future use.




Cartridge Pleats

Cartridge pleats are created by rows of measured parallel running stitches.  As a rule the thinner the fabric the closer the stitches and the more fabric you need to fit into the small space the farther apart the stitches.

Usually the parallel rows are about 1/2 inch apart and for skirts I usually set the stitches 1.2" apart. Over the four or five yards of a skirt it can take an hour or two to mark the dots needed. Years ago my friends husband made us a ruler that can speed up the process by a lot. He drilled a set of holes with his drill press and a jig. The holes are large enough for a pencil or disappearing fabric marker. If I want stitches 1/4" apart I can do one set of marks and move the ruler 1/4" in one direction and nothing in the other and mark the holes again.

I made the marks on this wedge of petersham ribbon to be able to use cartridge pleats to gather it up to create a wing shape.



With just four parallel rows of 1/2" apart rows and stitches this wedge of petersham gathers up to make a large faux wing for this 1890´s hat.


Along with the faux wing I made some pleated ribbon curls with the smocking pleater machine below.



There is another way to make cartridge pleats. It a machine invented in South Africa in 1950´s, the smocking pleater. 

It´s a number of long gears that have grooves for curvey needles. You thread your fabric thru the gears and it gets picked up by the needles and comes out of the gears to get pulled on to you threads. Considering just how much time it can save I can´t believe that so much smocking was done before the 1950´s. Not surprisingly it is not an inexpensive machine but if you can find one at a garage sale now you know just how useful it can be.



You can use a smocker with 1.5" wired ribbon to make flowers. I threaded two of the needles on the left side of the machine.

Then I start turning the crank and feeding the wired ribbon between the two gears.




I continue as more of the ribbon goes thru the gears and onto the needles.

From the backside I pulled the ribbon onto the threads.






The gathered ribbon gets cut from the machine and the gathers are adjusted. I wrapped the gathered ribbon in a spiral to make the flowers below.



The same thing can be done with ribbon that is about twice as wide.


I cut about 1.5 yards long.


I folded it half and lined the folded edge in the area of the needles on the left.

I turned the crank and guided the ribbon so that the edge stays on the edge.

I continue to crank and slide the ribbon from the needles to the threads.


I pulled all the ribbon onto the thread and cut it away from the needles and knotted it off.


I spiraled the ribbon around it´s base gluing it every so often with a small dot of glue.

Here is a finished flower and below is the hat from the cutter section above with some smaller versions of similar flowers.


If you would like to make similar flowers and can´t afford a smocker I have been experimenting with a paper crimper. The one I have was made by Fiskar and it worked quite of course you have to gather one edge of the ribbon after it is crimped.


In my quest to come up with non-bird wings for hats I decided to try using the smocker to make a smaller version of the fabric wing that I did above. First I starched the fabric I wasted to use. I made a bias cut along the fabric with a pinking rotary blade


I cut a piece of fabric that was a wedge shape that was folded along the short side. I basted it to keep the two halves aligned while it was being threaded thru the machine.

I threaded the 12 tightest needles with matching thread and I started from the point with the bias cut side to the left side.


I made a cord button to cover the center hole on the front wing that is created when the threads are pulled to form the wing shape.