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Pleats is one of the most versatile styles we love. However, drafting pleats can be daunting and rather mathematically involved. Here's how we overcome it.

Pleats Everywhere (Images from Vogue)

I get lots of requests to draft pleats when I teach my classes. This versatile style can be seen in many of our garments, from skirts, pants to shirts and blouses. It can basically be used anywhere with beautiful results, if one considers properly on its size, placement and type of fabric to create that pleat.

What is a Pleat?

A pleat is simply a deliberate fold (as opposed to gathers, which are random in nature) in which to give fullness to the hem and of course, create an interesting design in the garment. (A small, narrow pleat is known as a tuck, and that is usually used in shirts and blouses.)

Today, we are going to focus on the application of pleats to skirts.

In terms of skirt styles, a pleated skirt requires more technical calculation and precise sewing than say, a gathered skirt. Hence, it is not the first styles I would recommend for total beginners to attempt.

It is, however, not impossible to make a simple pleated skirt with minimum mathematics and basic sewing skills. Let's start from the fundamentals.

Make Up of a Pleat

There is two main parts to a pleat, namely the visible outer fold or spacing (x), and the hidden underlay (2*y).

Make Up of a Pleat

A pleat could be a full depth pleat or a shallow one. If you refer to the figure on the left, for a full depth pleat, x = y. In a shallow pleat, y is smaller than x.

In pleat shaping, we could have a straight pleat, which has the same width, or x, throughout its length. Conversely, a shaped pleat does not have the same width traversing down the length of the skirt. Instead, it could be narrower (typically) at the top (or waist) and wider at the bottom (or hem).

Straight pleats are usually used for slightly shaped skirts; for more shapely skirts, we could use shaped pleats to better complement the silhouette.

Use of Pleats in Alice + Olivia "Nicole" Pleated Skirt

Types of Pleats

There are three types of pleats, namely knife pleat, box pleat and inverted pleat.

Types of Pleats

As you can see, knife pleats face the same direction all round. The box pleat has its folds meeting on the wrong side of the skirt, whereas the inverted pleat has the folds meeting on the right side of the skirt.

So a box pleat is essentially the inverse of an inverted pleat. In terms of pattern making, symbols are included to indicate how the fabric should be folded in order to obtain the desired pleat effect. The figure above shows the corresponding symbols typically used for each pleat. You may come across a different notation but its function remains the same.

Yardage Consumption

A pleated skirt can be quite wide at the hem, and as with all full skirts, it could use up quite a bit of yardage. We can show this by using the classic style: accordion pleated skirt.

The accordion pleated skirt is made up of knife pleats all round; they could be straight through to the hem or shaped (the latter is sometimes known as sunburst pleated skirt).

For the example on yardage consumption, let's assume straight knife pleats all round, and that they are at full depth.

So the fabric yardage needed is

= fabric needed for each pleat * number of pleats in the skirt

= (x + 2y) * (waist circumference/x)

= 3 waist circumference

Tada! So for future fabric shopping, you can make a quick estimate of the yardage you need to make a pleated skirt. Of course, this is only an approximation. In the case where directional fabric is used, the yardage can be higher; of course, you could choose to have shallower pleats to optimise fabric usage. However, do keep in mind that the final drape and look of the skirt might change with such alteration to the pleats.


Practically any fabric can be used for pleating. Depending on the fiber content, some pleats can hold their creases permanently. If that's the look you are aiming for, the fabric needs to contain some percentage of synthetic fiber, like polyester. Fabric of pure natural fiber would be unable to retain the creases after washing.

A Note on Pressing of Pleats

In order to avoid getting shadows or imprints of the pleats onto the right side of the fabric, a piece of cardboard can be slipped in between the pleats before pressing.

Commercial Pleating

Other than pleating by hand, you could choose to purchase pleated fabric right off the shelf, or better yet, pleat your own! Locally, you could go to Bewarp Design Studio for pleating services. You could even bring in your own fabric for pleating, so do consult the team on your design and fabrication to better achieve your desired outcome. Internationally, I'm pretty awed by Tom’s Sons International Pleating in terms of the range of pleating available. If you are interested in dwelling deeper into the technicalities of commercial pleating, they have published a book Pleating: Fundamentals for Fashion Design. This book can be found at our local library (ISBN: 9780764352966).

Now with all this information, we are ready to draft!

To be continued in PLEATS PLEASE (Part 2)



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