Pleats can make a skirt or dress look chic and modern, especially since everyone seems to love them. Learning how to sew pleats may look complicated, especially if you’re a beginner, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The fact is, if you want to learn how to sew pleats in a skirt or other garment, all you have to do is follow a few simple rules.
The first thing to do is learn the different types of pleats, and there are lots of them. Once you get the gist of how to get started and what type you want to create, the rest should be easy and you should be creating pleated masterpieces in no time.
5 Types of Skirt Pleats for You to Choose From
When you’re researching how to sew pleats, the first thing you’ll notice is how many types there are available to you. Although most people think of just basic pleats, there are actually five common types that people use.
With knife pleats, all of the exterior folds of the pleat will face in one direction. If you’ve ever heard the term pintucks, these are actually a variation of knife pleats.
If you’re learning how to sew pleats in a skirt, this is a common type to use. With this type of pleat, the exterior folds always face the opposite direction, thus creating a very box-like shape.
These pleats are very similar to knife pleats except they are placed much closer together. They consist of, in essence, much smaller pleat spacing.
Radiating pleats look a lot like knife pleats except they radiate out from one single point, giving the garment a very unique look.
Inverted Box Pleats
These pleats look a lot like box pleats except that the exterior folds on the pleats actually face one another.
There are many other types of pleats as well, as you’ll learn once you start creating this unique look. Some estimate that there are roughly 20 different types of pleats, and the more experienced you get at making pleats, the more anxious you’ll become to try other types.
Once you get used to the basic types of skirt pleats, you can even start designing some of your own. If you try a variation on one of the above types of pleats, you’ll likely come up with something very creative.
Important Pleat Terminology to Know
Before we go any further, it’s good for you to understand some basic terminology that people use when sewing pleats. Knowing what these terms mean will help you when you decide to study how to make the perfect pleat, and they include terms such as:
- Pleat depth: this is the distance between the inside fold and the outside fold on each pleat.
- Pleat spacing: this is simply the amount of space in between each individual pleat.
- Pleat underlay: this is the distance of the depth of the pleat, multiplied by the number two.
Keep in mind that although there are many forms and designs of pleats, their basic construction and structure are essentially the same. Pleats add an elegant fullness to your garments and can reduce the width of the fabric while still allowing you to move freely when wearing the garment.
Most people reading this can picture in their minds what a pleated skirt looks like. Pleats give some subtle shaping to the skirt while allowing the skirt to flow out a little every time you move. Pleated garments are both comfortable and a lot of fun to wear!
How to Sew Pleats in a Skirt or Dress: Tips to Make it Easier
If you’ve never before sewn a pleated garment, it’s best to start with a basic knife pleat. This is a fairly easy pleat to learn and allows you to move up to more complicated folds as you gain a little bit of experience. The main thing to remember is to follow every step of the instructions to the letter if you want the pleats to come out looking like they should.
First of all, make sure you mark the fabric with all of the pleat markings shown on your pattern. More often than not, they’ll look like dotted parallel lines. To mark the fabric, use chalk, pins, or even a sewing pencil – whichever is more convenient for you.
Next, go ahead and fold the fabric right side up so that the right side is facing you as you look down at the fabric. Make sure the lines you just marked are lined up correctly. You can do this by moving the lines on top of one another in the direction of the arrow shown on the pattern. If the lines aren’t perfectly lined up, one on top of the other, move it around so that they do line up.
At this point, you’ll want to either clip or pin the folds in place. You can use a variety of items to do this, including sewing or quilting clips.
Then, iron the folds in place so they can have sharper-looking edges. As long as the fabric you’re using can handle ironing (some fabrics won’t), this is an important and helpful step.
It’s a good idea to use a basting stitch and sew at roughly half an inch from the raw edge of the material and along the top edge of each of the folds. This will help you know exactly where to aim when you go to sew the pleated piece onto the garment itself.
Other Things to Remember When Learning How to Sew Pleats in a Skirt
One thing we should mention before going any further is that when sewing pleats, there is a difference between a pleat and a tuck, even though the difference is considered very subtle by most sewists. Pleats are always secured at the top (or at the bottom, or both, depending on what type of pleat you’re sewing), but they are still able to open. Tucks, on the other hand, are folds that are secured in more areas than just the top or bottom.
In other words, think of a tuck as a pleat that you’re stitching down the length of. Tucks are either entirely or nearly entirely secured, as opposed to only being secured at the top and/or bottom like a pleat.
How to Calculate the Pleats on a Skirt
Learning how to sew pleats in a skirt usually starts by determining how many pleats you want in the skirt when you’re finished. If you don’t calculate this number ahead of time, you could end up with an uneven-looking skirt because not all of the pleats will be the same size.
For a basic box pleat, you’ll start by measuring your waist then dividing that number by the number of pleats you want. Each pleat is going to take three times the width, so multiply your waist number by three to determine how much fabric you’ll need to finish the skirt.
For example, let’s say your waist is 30 inches and you want 10 pleats. Thirty divided by 10 is three, which means each of your 10 pleats is going to be three inches wide. Now, just multiply 30 (the size of your waist) by three (the width of each pleat) to get the amount of material you’ll need: 30 x 3 equals 90 inches, or 2.5 yards of material.
For a basic pleat, you’ll have to add your seam allowance for the back. If the directions associated with your pattern tells you something different than all of these instructions – which are basic instructions – always follow those directions instead. Yes, learning how to sew pleats is a science as well as an art, but no one knows the garment as well as the company that created the pattern, so you should always follow that to the letter if you’re unsure.
The important thing to remember is that when you’re buying fabric for a pleated garment, you’ll naturally be buying a lot of fabric thanks to the fact that pleats take up a lot of fabric on their own. When comparing fitted garments to pleated garments, as a general rule, the latter will require roughly three times more fabric than the former.
What Exactly Are Pleats?
If you were to look back to the Egyptian and Babylonian cultures, you’d immediately notice that wearing pleats was very popular to both of them! Even fancy clothing found in Egyptian tombs that are thousands of years old had very elegant pleats in some of their fine linen garments. This makes pleats something that have been very popular for a very long time!
Later in time, there were garments with folds in them that they called plaits. But someone must’ve disliked this word because it wasn’t long before everyone started calling them pleats instead of plaits!
By the 1800s and early 1900s, the popularity of pleats grew tremendously and now, they are found in skirts, pants, dresses, aprons, and so much more. Some pleats are even preset in many synthetic fabrics, which means they’ll hold that particular shape forever. By contrast, if it’s an all-natural fabric, you’ll always have to iron the pleats to keep them looking neat.
Pleats serve many purposes in a garment, including their ability to add both texture and volume. On the other hand, many people use pleats simply for their decorative look because they add a lot of oomph and elegance to any article of clothing you create.
Although you’ll notice most store-bought garments have either box, knife, or accordion pleats, other more intricate forms exist in couture clothing lines and, of course, in homemade clothing. If you’ve ever seen a kilt, saree, or a school uniform skirt, you’ve seen pleats. But you can alter any type of pleat and make it your own, so to speak, so that your pleats look unlike anyone else’s.
For instance the “kick” pleat is often used to widen a skirt hem, and a box pleat can be used at the middle back portion of a dress.
Making Pleats on Skirts a Little Easier
If you’re a beginning sewist, you might think making pleats is a bit complex, but once you make your first set of pleats, you’ll quickly realize that learning how to sew pleats is not that difficult. The best thing to do is pay attention to all instructions, make sure you buy enough fabric to complete the project, and never be afraid to mess up and try again.
Some of the things experienced sewists have done to make creating pleats a little easier include:
- Place a thin piece of cardstock underneath the pleats so you don’t iron in the ridges.
- When you iron, always iron both the front and the back of the garment.
- When sewing the hem, use a blind hem stitch in contrasting color so the stitching is easier to see.
- When you iron, use steam to get the best results.
- When you baste the pleats in place, always use a long stitch.
Knowing how to sew pleats in a skirt or other article of clothing can benefit you later on because pleats go great not just in garments, but also in numerous arts and crafts projects, household items, purses, and dozens of other items. Once you master the art of sewing the perfect pleat, you’ll be surprised at how many of your projects are made much better-looking when you add pleats to them.
So, why should you learn how to sew pleats? For one thing, pleats are very versatile and can be used in dozens of sewing projects. They look great with almost all fabrics, including very thin fabric and even thicker fabrics such as denim and canvas, and they can be both dressy and casual.
If you learn how to sew pleats in a skirt first, you can move onto other garments, but at least now you’ve learned some tips and secrets to make that next pleated garment a lot easier to create. This is one sewing skill that will definitely never go to waste.