Pleats are folds of fabric that can be made in different ways to add fullness. They are often used for fabric to be full in one area but fitted in another and can add shape and movement. Pleats are ideal for soft furnishings where you want to add a little fullness around the bottom of a chair cover, for example. They work really well when used as part of a bag construction as they add fullness as well as being a feature. Learning how to sew pleats is a really useful skill if you want to make your own clothes.
The key to accurate pleating is measuring very carefully and pinning and pressing as you go – but they’re well worth the effort. In this guide, we’ll explain how to sew pleats and explain some basic techniques.
What fabric should you use to make pleats?
Some fabrics pleat better than others and the thickness of the fabric can be used to its advantage when pleating. Thinner fabrics pleat well and will add just a little fullness. Crisp cottons and linens will hold the shape of the pleat for more dimension. Slippery fabric such as silk and viscose won’t hold the shape of a pleat, so pleats will just add body.
Thicker fabrics don’t pleat as easily but add a lot of body. Consider all these qualities when choosing a fabric for your pleated project.
How should you mark your pleats?
When you’re pleating fabric, all pleats are marked in the same way. They all have an outer fold line, an inner fold line and a placement line. The outer fold line is placed on the placement line when the pleat is made. On pattern pieces you’ll often see the fold lines marked as dotted lines and the placement line as a solid one. Mark these lines onto your fabric either using tacking stitches or an erasable pen.
How to press pleats
If you want your pleats to be sharp and to hold their shape, then a good tip is to spray a cloth with half water and half white vinegar, then place this over your pleat and press.
What pleat should I use?
You can add a lot of shape with pleats – big pleats lay flatter and give a more structured look, whereas a number of small pleats are better for looser designs. Stitching just a few small pleats will add a little fullness where needed.
In this guide, we’ll look at how to make pleats of all kinds, from box pleats to knife pleats. We’ll also show you how to make a stylish pleated tote bag. Read on to learn how to make pleats…
This guide was originally featured in Simply Sewing Magazine.
You Will Need
To make the pleated tote bag
- Main fabric (45x112cm (18x44in))
- Contrast fabric (25x70cm (10x28in))
- Lining fabric (45x112cm (18x44in))
- Webbing for handles (4x130cm (15/8x52in))
- Basic sewing kit
How to sew knife pleats
Knife pleats all lie in one direction. They are the simplest to make and often used in kilt making. Decide how deep you want your pleat to be then double this to calculate how much extra fabric to add.
Measure and mark both sides of the depth of the fabric you want to pleat with a pin then fold one pin over to the other and pin into place.
Repeat this across your fabric, remembering that all the pleats should lie in the same direction and be the same depth.
Tack your pleats across the top edge to hold them in place.
How to sew inverted pleats
Inverted pleats are made by having two pleats facing towards each other. Calculate how deep you want your pleats to be and allow four times this depth for each pleat.
Each pleat has two outer fold lines, two inner fold lines and a placement line. Mark these lines in pencil on the wrong side (WS) of your fabric.
Mark with chalk or tack along these lines, using one colour thread for the fold lines and another for the placement lines to help you to distinguish between them.
Fold the fabric right sides (RS) together along the placement line, matching inner fold lines and outer fold lines.
Tack the outer fold lines together then press the pleat flat so the tacked outer fold lines match up with the placement line and the inner fold lines become the outer edges of the pleat. Tack the pleat down across the top before you machine stitch in place to complete.
How to sew box pleats
Box pleats add a little more bulk to the fabric and are often used singly. They are made in exactly the same way as the inverted pleat but, in step four, fold the fabric WS together rather than RS together.
Once you’ve stitched your pleats you can stitch them together across the top to hold then construct the rest of your garment, or you can topstitch down part of their length on the RS.
How to make a pleated tote bag
Cut the fabric as follows:
- Main fabric: two pieces 41x49cm (161⁄8x193⁄8in) each.
- Contrast fabric: four pieces 11x33cm (43⁄8x13in) each.
- Lining fabric: two pieces 41x49cm (161⁄8x193⁄8in) each.
Making the pleats
Download the diagram for the pleat measurements before you begin. Use a 1.5cm (5⁄8in) seam allowance unless otherwise stated. Place one main fabric piece right sides (RS) up. Measure and mark the placement (solid) and fold (dotted) lines on the diagram on the long top edge.
Fold and press the inverted pleat in the centre and the knife pleats either side and tack.
Repeat this process to pleat the back.
Making the outer and lining
Stitch a contrast top strip RS together across the top of the pleated bag front then the back.
Place the outers RS together, matching seams. Stitch together around the sides and bottom.
In each of the bottom two corners, draw and cut out a 5x5cm (2x2in) square.
At one corner, bring the side and bottom seams RS facing and stitch together then trim.
Repeat this in the other corner of the bag.
Gather the top edge of the bag lining pieces so they’re the same length as the contrast top strip. Adjust the gathers then stitch in place to the contrast top strip with RS together.
Stitch the lining pieces RS together as for the bag outer but leaving a turning gap in the centre of one side. Box the corners as for the outer.
Finishing the bag
Tack the short edges of half the webbing RS together to the top of the bag outer, matching raw edges and 5cm (2in) from the side seams.
Repeat on the other side.
Place the lining inside the outer so they are RS together and match all seams.
Stitch together around the top edge.
Turn the bag RS out through the turning gap in the lining then slip stitch the gap closed.
Push the lining inside the outer. Topstitch around the top edge to neaten and hold in place.
We hope you found this how to make pleats guide helpful! Enjoy using your new tote bag. If you’d like to practise your new pleating skills, try this beautiful pleated skirt pattern.
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