Pleats are fabric folds added in a design to restrain extra fabric or to add extra fullness or as a design element for texture, contrast, movement, change in silhouette, etc.
They are added to clothes, accessories, and home decor in many different ways. They can be made singly, throughout the width of the garment or in some parts of the design. We usually associate pleats with curtains and skirts; but it is not all limited to these areas. You can add pleats on pockets, on the hem of sleeves as frills, at the neckline, on a purse, at the back of a jacket – all to different visual effects.
Related post : 12 different types of pleats.
Here are some simple tips on how to sew them.
Tip No. 1- Pleat does not work with all fabrics
Which are the best fabric for pleats?
All fabrics do not look good when pleated. Natural fabrics like cotton, linen, and silk are the best fabrics for pleating. Synthetic fabrics which are thin (polyester, nylon) may not hold the pleats unless you apply high heat. Thin sheer and semi-sheer fabrics like chiffon doesnot work great for pleating (unless they are machine pleated).
The easiest is to pleat chequered fabrics as well as striped fabrics – especially those with symmetrical lines. These repeated lines on the fabric serve as guides for accurately folding the fabric to make even pleats.
Some fabrics are better for soft folds, (wool) some for crisp pleats (linen).
When you are draping fabric on a dress form to make a pattern pleats can be made using bias cut fabric for a very interesting draped effect
Tip No. 2 – Get the right tools for pleating
You need marking tools, measuring tools, and enough fabric. You also need pins to keep the folds of the pleats in place. Pleating pins are fine sharp pins that are used for, duh, pleating, of course. After pinning you may want to baste stitch the pleats to keep them more secure so you will need hand sewing needle and thread for this.
Pleating boards were used by pleaters to make neat pleats. You can buy this and steam press the pleats in place. An alternative is to cut out cardboard pieces of same dimension and use this to press the pleats.
Tip No 3 – Marking the pleats
Pleats are marked so that there is a foldline and a placement line. The fold line has to align with the placement line. This is maintained throughout.
Pleats are usually marked on the right side of the garment. But sometimes it may be necessary to mark on the backside
Small scissors can be used to snip mark the pleat lines on the seam allowance, outside of the seam line. This is more visible than marks made using chalk. Crease the fabric along with the marks you have made.
If you want to make pleats straight and you do not want to mark on the fabric you will have to make basting stitches to mark the vertical lines
If using pins, Pins are used vertically along each pleat keeping the folds in place.
Tip No. 4 – Pressing is very important in making neat pleats
If you want the soft look, press only at the joining area otherwise for crisp pleats press the whole pleat. This will make the necessary creases that will guide you as you sew. Make sure that the outer folds and placement lines are aligned properly. Ensure that all the pleats are even in width.
If you want crisp pleats, you can dampen the fabric and press it in place.
Tip No. 5 – Baste stitch the folds in place.
You can baste stitch along the top edge as well as the bottom edge. An alternative to basting stitching is to tape the pleats down.
Stitch along the top of the pleats making sure that the pleats are not displaced. Basting stitches are removed only after all the sewing is done.
Tip No. 6 – Test the tension of the sewing machine on the fabric
This will ensure that there are no puckers when you sew pleats.
Tip No. 7 – Neat topstitching is easy
Topstitching along the fold – this maintains the crease well. Usually, in skirts, the edge stitching on pleats is done till the hips and then they are released. The top stitching is done through the folds just 1/8 inch from the folded edge.
Tip No. 8 – Hemming
Hemming is usually done before pleating. It is the easiest way. But sometimes you have to hem after the pleating is done.
Before hemming, trim the seam allowance of the side seams (if any) especially the bottom edge – you may want to trim extra; finish the edges; press seam allowance open. Then hem.
Tip No. 9 – Seamlines in pleated fabric
If you have already pleated and hemmed and then you want to add extra fabric, ensure that other fabric has the same hem depth; You will have to trim the seam allowance diagonally at the bottom edge to ensure that it is not visible outside.
When pleating ensure that any seamline is placed inside pleats so that the seam line is not visible on the outside.
Tip No. 10 – Fasteners and Plackets in pleated fabric
Pleackets (for fasteners) are usually sewn after pleat stitching is finished. The pattern for the fabric has to be made in such a way that there is enough seam allowance to sew the placket.
For inverted pleats you can cleverly conceal the fastener (zipper) down the center of one of the inverted pleat
You can learn more about sewing a waistband and zipper on a pleated skirt in this post on making a tennis skirt.