How to knit pleats and tucks

Pleats and tucks can add textural interest and shaping to knitted garments. In this masterclass, Jen Arnall-Culliford shows you how to knit pleats neatly, and then covers adding tucks.

How to knit pleats and tucks

Pleats and tucks are a familiar feature of sewn projects and garments, but are less common in knitting. This is partly due to the inherent stretchiness of knitted fabric. The extra fullness that pleats can provide isn’t as essential, since knitted fabric will stretch enough to naturally accommodate movement. In a woven fabric you you can achieve similar fullness through the use of increases (or decreases) worked right across the row. This option is not always easily possible when sewing.

What are pleats & tucks?

Pleats are created by folding the fabric. They are secured at one end and add fullness. Pleats are most often arranged vertically, as in a pleated skirt. The pleats are secured at the waistband, and open at the hem where the fabric is wider.

Tucks can be vertical or horizontal, and are created by folding the fabric, but this time, the fabric is joined along the length of the fold. Thus a tuck does not add any width or length to the fabric, but rather a surface texture or shape. Sewn darts are tucks worked on an angle.

A pleat (or tuck) consists of at least three layers of fabric, so unless your yarn is reasonably fine, a knitted pleat may prove bulky and less attractive than its sewn counterpart.

Having said all that, when used sensibly, knitted pleats and tucks can be beautiful and add great surface interest and texture.

Knitting pleats tutorial
A single pleat near the hem adds interest to Veera Välimäki’s ‘Turmeric’ sweater top-down design

The pretty top-down ‘Turmeric’ sweater by Veera Välimäki uses a large pleat at the hem to create body shaping and to showcase a statement button. Kate Davies’ ‘Manu’ cardigan uses pleats at the neckline to sharply decrease the circumference of the fabric, as well as to give visual interest.

Tucks can provide strong vertical texture, as in Connie Chang Chinchio’s stunning ‘Geodesic Cardigan’, while a series of tucks worked on one side of the fabric is used to cleverly shape Ysolda Teague’s ‘Ripley’ hat like a cloche.

How to knit pleats

In knitting, pleats are usually worked from the widest part of the fabric, up or down to the fold section, where stitches are joined to create the permanently closed end of the pleat. Pleats can have added structure if the fold lines are emphasised by the use of stitch patterns that naturally help the fabric to hang as desired. The simplest way of achieving this in stocking stitch is to slip a stitch at each fold.

Celtic Leaves Shawl knitting pattern
This beautiful Celtic Leaves shawl by Judy Furlong (issue 17 of The Knitter) has a series of inverted pleats along the ends.

To help to describe pleats, we use three terms: overlay, turnback and underlay.

how to make pleats diagram

Pleat definitions

Instructions for making simple left and right pleats are described opposite. You can then combine pleats in a number of ways – some of which have their own names.

  • Knife pleats are a series of narrow pleats worked one after the other, all pointing in the same direction. A kilt uses knife pleats.
  • Box pleats consist of a pair of wide pleats (one right and one left) that meet in the centre. They are often used on a jacket yoke.
  • Inverted pleats are a pair of wide pleats (one right and one left) that are arranged so that the folds are apart from each other (the opposite of a box pleat).

Instructions for a pleat folded to the right

Cast on sufficient stitches for the widest part of the fabric. Make a note of how many stitches will be worked in the pleat. In our sample, 8 stitches are used for each section of the pleat, with 2 stitches at each end.

Place two markers to show the division between overlay, turnback and underlay. There should be the same number of stitches between the markers (this is the turnback section) as you identified for the pleat. Our sample has 10 stitches for the overlay section, 8 stitches for the turnback, and 10 stitches for the underlay.

Work in your desired stitch pattern. If you want extra structure in your pleat, on RS rows, slip a stitch with yarn in back adjacent to the marker between overlay and turnback; and slip a stitch with yarn in front adjacent to the marker between turnback and underlay.

Instructions for our sample would be:

RS rows: K10, slm, Sl 1 wyif, knit to marker, slm, Sl 1 wyib, knit to end.

WS rows: Purl, slipping markers.

For extra definition at the rear fold, on WS rows, knit the slipped stitch between the underlay and turnback sections.

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You Will Need

  • Yarn
  • Knitting needles

Total time:

Step 1

Continue in pattern until pleat is the desired length. Work until you are the pleat-number of stitches before the first marker. Slip the following pleat stitches onto a double-pointed needle (DPN), remove the marker and slip the turnback stitches onto another DPN and remove the second marker.

Step 2

Your underlay stitches will now be ready to work on your left needle tip.

How to knit pleats steps 1-2

 

Step 3

Fold the DPNs to give the correct arrangement of underlay, turnback and overlay.

 

Step 4

Use your right needle to knit together the first stitches from the left needle tip and both of the DPNs (K3tog). Repeat this a further 7 times (or as many as needed to use up all of the pleat stitches).

How to knit pleasts steps 3-4

 

Step 5

Work to the end of the row. Admire your pleat!

 

Step 6

The pleat will lay flatter after working a few more rows.

How to knit pleats steps 5-6
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Instructions for a pleat folded to the left

Cast on and set up stitches as for a right pleat. If you want extra structure in your pleat, on RS rows, slip a stitch with yarn in back adjacent to the marker between overlay and turnback; and slip a stitch with yarn in front adjacent to the marker between turnback and underlay.

Instructions for our sample would be:

RS rows: K10, slm, Sl 1 wyib, knit to marker, slm, Sl 1 wyif, knit to end.

WS rows: Purl, slipping markers.

For extra definition at the rear fold, on WS rows, knit the slipped stitch between the underlay and turnback sections.

Step 7

Continue in pattern until pleat is the desired length. Work until you are the pleat-number of stitches before the first marker. Slip the following pleat stitches onto a DPN, remove the marker and slip the turnback stitches onto another DPN and remove the second marker.

Step 8

Your overlay stitches will now be ready to work on your left needle tip.

How to knit pleats steps 7-8

Step 9

Fold the DPNs to give the correct arrangement of underlay, turnback and overlay.

Step 10

Use your right needle to knit together the first stitches from the left needle tip and both of the DPNs (K3tog). Repeat this a further 7 times (or as many as needed to use up all of the pleat stitches).

How to knit pleats steps 9-10

Step 11

Work to the end of the row.

How to knit pleats step 11

How to knit tucks

Now we’ll tackle how to knit tucks into your stitches, to create a strong visual line in a garment. Ready? Let’s get going and guide you through adding tucks.

Knitting tucks

Tucks can be worked in a number of ways, depending on whether you want them to appear vertically or horizontally on the fabric. A vertical tuck may be used to create a strong visual line in a garment, whereas horizontal tucks seem to be used more frequently and can be worked over part of a row (as in the shaping of ‘Ripley’ by Ysolda Teague), or over a complete row.

How to knit tucks tutorial
Ripley by Ysolda Teague uses tucks on just one side of the hat, to create a cloche-like shape.

Instructions for a vertical tuck

Vertical tucks are worked a bit like i-cord. Unless your tuck is only a couple of stitches, you will need to work them on DPNs, so that the yarn can be pulled tight across the back of the tuck. For very small tucks, just slip the tuck stitches on alternate rows, pulling the yarn firmly across the slipped stitches.

Cast on your stitches.

Steps 12 & 13

As you work across the first row, knit the tuck stitches onto two DPNs, then complete the row on the main needles. On our sample, there are 10 sts followed by two sets of 3 sts on DPNs, with a further 10 sts at the end of the row. It is a 6-stitch vertical tuck.

How to knit tucks steps 12 and 13

Steps 14 &  15

On the wrong side row, purl the stitches on the main needle, don’t work the stitches on the DPNs, and purl to the end, being sure to pull yarn firmly across the back of the unworked DPN sts. Work in pattern for as long as is required (knit all sts on RS rows, purl on WS, skipping the tuck sts).

How to knit tucks steps 16-17

Step 16

Cast off all sts.

Steps 17

The stitches viewed from the back should form a neat join.

How to knit tucks steps 16-17
The stitches in the tuck are only worked on alternate rows, so you may find that they pull the fabric up. If this is undesirable, you can either choose a larger size of DPN for the tuck stitches, or only skip the tuck stitches every fourth row rather than every alternate row.

You can work a vertical tuck for the whole length of the fabric, or just part. You’d simply need to either decrease away the tuck stitches, or just stop slipping them on WS rows, if you want the extra fabric width.

Instructions for a horizontal tuck

When worked over a partial row, horizontal tucks will gather the fabric, making it shorter in the tucked area.

Work in stitch pattern until you have sufficient fabric for your tuck.

Step 18

On the WS of the work, using a spare DPN, pick up stitches along the top of the desired tuck row. Sample shows stitches picked up 8 rows below.

Step 119

Hold the DPN behind and parallel to the left needle tip and knit together the first stitch from each needle.

Continue to work first stitches from each needle together across the row (or for as long as you want to work your tuck).

How to knit tucks steps 18-19

Steps 20 & 21

Continue in pattern, working further tucks in the same way as required.

How to knit tucks steps 20-21

For larger tucks, pick up stitches from lower down the fabric. For smaller tucks, pick up stitches closer to your live stitches.