Pleats Please!

I get so many questions in my workshops and classes often about the simplest of things… or at least I think they’re simple! I think what I am really being told with all these questions is that poeple aren’t finding it as easy as they should to find somewhere that will help them to sew. Hopefully my upcoming posts about the basics of sewing will go some way to rectifying that.

So, in the first of many, lets learn about pleats! Pleats are formed when fabric is folded, historically to fit the form however; in more recent years because they are pleasing to look upon. Pressed they set in to a sharp crease, left unpressed they hang in soft folds. It really is delightful the difference in look you can gain from this. My favourite way to treat pleats at the moment is to press the top, & leave the bottom to fall in to gentle waves. I find this looks most attractive. If a pleat is sewn down along some or all of its length it is called a tuck. There are many, many different types of pleat…


  1. The Accordion Pleat, described beautifully in this video the accordion pleat is probably the simplest. They’re ‘very narrow pleats of uniform width resembling the bellows of an accordion.’ You will see these commercially as it is difficult to get this effect at home.
  2. The Box Pleat has ‘two fold lines & two placement lines; the two folds of each pleat are turned away from one another’. This video describes how to measure & form them very easily. Not the most attractive of pleats, this is more commonly found on upholstery, and always reminds me of my much despised school skirt! The reverse of the Box Pleat is known as the Inverted Pleat.
  3. The Inverted Pleat, most frequently found on Vintage and Retro styled clothing & most attractive when flaring out from the waist or hip. You can manage some lovely looks by using this simple little pleat which is as lovely as the reverse is ugly! This article Playing with Pleats illustrates some of these wonderfully.
  1. The Cartridge Pleat, much feared by Costume Interpreters everywhere this has a reputation for being very difficult. Found & used mainly on historical garments & costumes a clearly illustrated tutorial can be found here , alternatively a very concise & detailed photographic tutorial can be found here. Most popular during the 15th & 16th centuries for men as well as women, this form of pleating was developed to ‘gather a large amount of fabric into a small waistband or arm scye without adding bulk to the seam. This type of pleating also allows the fabric of the skirt or sleeve to spring out from the seam’. As with anything slightly more complex, preparation is key.  Sometimes referred to as Organ Pleating.
  2. Fortuny Pleats, the eternal mystery of how Fortuny made his pleats in the early 20th century will now never be known. What is left to us is a legacy of visually stunning garments, & a sublime fashion mystery which ripples like water.
  3. Honeycomb Pleats, used as a foundation for smocking & highly decorative when teamed with contrast stitching. A lovely photographic tutorial for this technique can be found here.
 1watteau2Drawing from grave 5173
  1. The Knife or Side Pleat, what a trooper! The simplest to construct & the most common, this video shows you exactly how. These pleats have ‘one fold line & one placement line, all the folds are turned in the same direction’. About as complicated as this gets is having some turn to the left & some turn to the right, what bliss after reading about Cartridge Pleats & Honeycomb Smocking!
  2. Watteau Pleats, I always sigh mentally in bliss when thinking about Watteau pleats! Not a contemporary term at all, the pleats found at the back of 18th century gowns were used to shape large lengths of fabric (historically fabric was almost too valuable to cut, & instead is was shaped with pleating then sewn down, which could then be removed when the next style came along), & were so named for the beautiful drawings & paintings by Antoine Watteau illustrating these stunning gowns. As this really is for historical costuming there’s not much out there on the construction of theses however; I’d buy Norah Waugh’s The Cut of Womens Clothes if you are interested as this covers every major fashion from 1600-1930.
  3. Plissé Pleats have been found on linen chemises or smocks pleated with this technique in 10th century Viking graves in Birka. According to analysis, the pleating was achieved by gathering the fabric with a needle and thread, and subsequently drawing the thread tight, then moistening the fabric, stretching it and leaving it to dry before removing the thread. More on this can be found here.
Aren’t pleats delicious? I say this to all my students, and myself on occasion!, when constructing pleats it’s all about the preparation, & having a good iron on hand. I do hope you have found this useful.
Happy stitching!

Images from Google searches.  Information in quotation marks from The Readers Digest Complete Guide to Sewing & Wikipedia. List of pleats from Wikipedia.

International Pleating Co.

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