Liz Haywood explains all about pleats in this handy feature 'A Guide To Pleats'
What are pleats?
Pleats are folds made in the fabric to reduce the width but still allow for movement and volume. They can be used on the whole garment such as a skirt, or singly in some parts of the design. Different types of pleats can be combined for creative and unique effects. Carry on reading as Liz Haywood shares a guide to pleats.
The main types of pleats are knife, box and inverted
Knife pleats have all the folds facing in the same direction. The under-fold (the folded part of the pleat) might be equal, less or more than the distance between the pleats.
Box pleats looks like two knife pleats facing away from each other. The under-folds may or may not meet each other in the centre.
Inverted pleats look like the reverse side of a box pleat (two knife pleats facing inward) however the folds always touch.
Fabrics & pleats:
As well as the type of pleat – the way a pleat is made in the fabric and the type of fabric used can dramatically change how the pleats look.
Unpressed or soft-fold pleats are only folded at the top and allowed to fall in the fabric’s own folds. Almost any fabric is suitable for unpressed pleats, including knits. Unpressed pleats are easy to make – simply fold and stitch. The sewing pattern will have the position marked for you, so you know in which direction to fold the pleat. This pleat can be hemmed whenever as the hemline isn’t pleated.
Pressed or sharp-fold pleats are pressed in crisp, sharp folds the length of the pleat. The best fabrics for pressed pleats are ones that are smooth, crisp, light to medium in weight and firmly woven. Thick fabrics and knits are unsuitable.
Creating pressed pleats:
To press pleats at home
You’ll need an iron and ironing board or ideally a larger pressing surface, such as a table spread with a blanket and sheet.
- Hem the fabric first, otherwise, the pleat folds will be going in the opposite direction for the hem.
- Mark the pleat positions with chalk or basting thread.
- Hand-baste or pin the pleating arrangement. Double-check the spacing with a tape measure.
- Carefully and gently press the folds with steam to make preliminary creases, then take out the basting or pins. If you don’t remove them, they’ll leave an imprint on the fabric.
- Firmly press each pleat into place, using an up-and-down motion with the iron. For sharp, crisp folds, use a Rajah cloth or a wrung-out damp press cloth (pressing until the cloth is dry) or some brown paper wet with water and vinegar in a 3:1 (water to vinegar ratio) or put the water and vinegar in a spray bottle and spray it on. You can also use a wooden clapper on the folds to get them really flat.
- Let the fabric cool and dry before moving it.
They can create special pleating not achievable at home. To get your fabric professionally pleated check the companies website or chat to them to find out what they may need. Typically, the fabric needs to be synthetic to hold the pleats permanently, in pre-hemmed pieces. If possible, supply the fabric pieces on a roll so they’re crease-free.
By the way, what’s the difference between tucks and pleats?
Pleats stitched into place are considered tucks and are often used for decoration. It’s a grey area though – sometimes tucks are stitched part-way and left open at the bottom (known as release tucks), and sometimes pleats are stitched for a little way at the top.
Here are some examples:
A very old shirt with a box pleat falling from the back yoke. You can see from the pressing that the under-folds meet in the middle
A trench coat with an inverted pleat at the centre back. The folds of the pleat are stitched to make the creases stay in, and the pleat is held fast with stitching at the top and bottom
Another fashion trench coat, with an inverted pleat in the centre of a free-hanging yoke
The top of this strapless evening gown shows pleats radiating from underneath the bow. The back has matching pleats
Author: Liz Haywood