How To Pleat Fabric? Part 1 – Permanent Accordion Pleats

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After I have read PauI Jackson’s book about pleating, I felt really inspired to start hand pleating fabric. How to hand pleat fabric at home is touched on in the publication fairly briefly and the lack of detail has led me to trying out my own ideas and resulted in slightly refined methods compared with those described in Paul’s book.

In this tutorial, you will learn what tools you need and what steps are to be followed to hand pleat fabric permanently at home applying heat. You will create an accordion type of pleat using A4 kraft paper (see the images below). For big project apply the same technique with larger paper.

If you decide to pleat fabric and use it in your sewing projects, you might be also interested in my blog post about hemming pleated fabric.

Accordion pleating mould.
Accordion pleating moulds with fabric inside.
Accordion pleats on micro satin fabric.

Before you start, make sure your working area is clean and large enough, while all tools listed in this tutorial are at your fingertips. You need to be able to spread out the pleating moulds and keep them free from dirt, marks, or stains so that these can be reused in the future without any risk of blemishing your fabric. Be prepared that pleating takes some time and practice as you have to work precisely in order to get satisfying results. Let’s start with the necessary tools.

What tools you will need for hand pleating fabric?

For hand pleating with heat you will need the tools listed below:

If you would like to skip the description of individual tools, look here and read the instructions:

1. Kraft paper 200 gsm will be needed for pleating moulds

Do not buy paper with much less than 200 gsm, otherwise the pleating process will misshape not only the paper but also the pleated material.

I recommend buying kraft paper in sheets for smaller experiments like this one. You can always get a big roll of paper for larger projects later on.

If you fail to buy brown kraft paper, bleached (white) paper can be used instead, it is a little more expensive option though. It too should have at least 200 gsm.

A4 kraft paper sheet (200 grams per square meter) that can be used to make pleating moulds.
Sheets of A4 kraft paper.
White bleached paper in roll (200 grams per square meter) that can be used to make pleating moulds.
Roll of bleached paper. 200 gsm.

Do NOT use cardboard as it is ‘filled’ with air between the layers of paper. Apart from this, its paper plies are glued up in certain places. This prevents you from making a smooth and even mould (see the images below).

Cardboard paper unsuitable for pleating.
Do NOT use cardboard for pleating.
Cardboard paper unsuitable for pleating.
Do NOT use cardboard for pleating.

2. Long rulers

For smaller projects a ruler up to 50 cm (20 inch) long is sufficient. Later on, when you plan to pleat a full length skirt, you will need a ruler up to 1 meter long (40 inch). (I use metal rulers with adjustable handles.)

Long metal rulers.
Long metal rulers for drawing lines for pleating.

3. Mechanical pencil

For drawing individual lines that will become pleats at some point, you need a classic or mechanical pencil. I prefer using a pencil to a ballpoint pen or a sharpie. When you make a drawing mistake, the pencil marks can be erased easily.

Mechanical pencil is always sharp so that you can draw more precisely than with with a classic one. Whether you choose a classic or a mechanical pencil, make sure you are buying one with a hard graphite that does not blur easily. 2H is a good choice.

In this tutorial, I use a 0.5mm filling size, but 0.3mm is fine too.

Mechanical pencil for drawing pleating designs.
Mechanical pencil and filling.

4. Quilting (omnigrid) ruler (optional)

The quilting ruler is useful when creating markings on the papers that will become your moulds (see further instructions).

Omni grid ruler.

5. Art knife

You do not need a super sharp art knife since the pleats are going to be pre-pressed with its spine (not the blade).
Instead of an art knife, you can also use a ball pen that ran out of its filling, or another instrument that allows you to press thin lines into the kraft paper. Always test the selected tool before pressing all your dawn lines.

Art knife used to pre-press lines on kraft paper that will become pleats.
Old art knife.

6. Cutting mat

If you own a cutting mat, I recommend to place it underneath the paper before you start to press the pleats with an art knife or a similar tool. This keeps your table safe from damage. ( I also tried DTD or or MDF boards instead, but they got bumpy and were no longer suitable).

Cutting mat MAXKO is ideal used underneath the kraft paper while pre-pressing the pleats.
MAXKO self-healing cutting mat.

7. Cotton twill tape

The twill tape will be used to tie up the pleating moulds with the fabric in between them. It is firm and flat and will not be damaged by heat of the iron or the oven.

(I do not recommend using round laces. During the pleating process they might misshape the moulds and thus the pleated fabric itself.)

Cotton twill tape prepared for fixing fabric in pleating moulds.
Cotton twill tape.

8. Iron or oven

Use an iron with steam to pleat with heat. It is suitable for bigger projects.

For smaller projects like the ones introduced in this tutorial, a conventional oven in your kitchen will do sufficiently. However, make sure it is clean inside. It must not leave any oil or other stains on your moulds and/or fabrics.

Iron is suitable for bigger pleating projects.
Steam iron.
Conventional oven in the kitchen is suitable for smaller pleating projects.
Conventional kitchen oven.

9. 100% polyester fabric

For this type of pleating, you will need fabric that is made of 100% polyester. While pleating with heat, the polyester fibers melt to some extent and bend in the shape of the moulds.

You can choose from 100% polyester satin, georgette, or chiffon, to name a few.

Beige 100% polyester micro satin fabric prepared for permanent pleating.
100% polyester micro satin fabric

How to create moulds for hand pleating fabric?

I strongly recommend creating a small pleated sample like the one shown here every time you are about to use a new fabric. Some fabrics are really tricky to fix in between the moulds, so it is extremely helpful to give your project a small scale try before undertaking your intended big project.

1. Draw lines on A4 sheets

Repeat the following process twice that is with two A4 kraft paper sheets as you need both for pleating one piece of fabric.

Draw lines 1,5 cm (5/8 inch) apart from each other on the long side of the paper. A quilting (omnigrid) ruler is an ideal tool to do so. Place the ruler perpendicularly to the short side of the paper. On either side of the ruler create marks 1,5 cm (5/8 inch) apart from each other (see the image below).

Drawing markings 1.5 cm (5/8 inch) apart from each other to make even pleats.
Markings 1,5 cm apart from each other.

Work as accurately as possible. Make sure that the individual marks are exactly opposite to each other and connect them.

Pairs of markings opposite each other prepared to make pleatx.

2. Press the drawn lines

The best method is to press the lines of the folds with the spine of an aft knife (not its sharp edge). You have to find optimal pressure. When you push the art knife too hard, you may unintentionally cut the paper and that is NOT what you want. When you push too little, you may not be able to fold the paper where it is supposed to be folded.

Try to work as precisely as possible, press the art knife exactly where you have drawn the lines.

Visible inaccuracies are not advised. If the pressed lines are not evenly spread, your moulds come out corrupt and will not fit together properly. As a result, pleating is hard and the result poor.

Press all the drawn lines on both sheets.

Pre-pressing the individual lines with an art knife that will become pleats.
Pressing the lines with the spine fo the art knife.

I have also tried other methods instead of pressing the lines with an art knife, but they did not work well. If you are curious what does not work and why, read on the text below, otherwise skip it and go directly to step 3.

DO NOT simply fold the paper

My first attempt was simply taking a sheet of paper and folding it. There are two problems linked with this approach. The first issue is that it is not easy to make the folds exactly where they should be, even with the outlines pre drawn on the paper.

The second issue was that the folds were too rounded as well as the fabric . The pleats on the material were neither appealing nor sharp.

DO NOT cut through the paper

I used the sharp side of the art knife and pre-cut some parts of the folds. I had seen some cut-through moulds somewhere on the internet and thought I should give it a try. The result were really sharp and nice pleats. Also the fabric samples came out really nice. However, the moulds were falling apart very easily after being used just once. It was impossible to re-use them.

3. Fold the pre-pressed lines

You begin by folding one half of the lines and then the second one. Put a ruler right next to the first line, slightly lift the kraft paper and push it against the ruler. Skip the second line and go to the third line. Repeat it- lift the paper on the left side slightly and push against the ruler. Do the same with the 5th, 7th lines and so on.

Folding pre-pressed lines of the accordion pleat.
Folding pre-pressed lines of the accordion pleat.

You will end up with a folded piece of paper like this:

Folded pre-pressed lines of the accordion pleat.

Turn the paper to the other side. The pre-pressed lines are visible. Fold every second line and your mould is almost ready (see the images below).

Folding pre-pressed lines of the accordion pleat on the other side.
Pressing the other half of the lines.
All pre-pressed lines of the accordion pleats are folded in both directions.
Almost finished mould.

4. Create the final shape of the mould

Gently push one end of the folded paper towards the other end and create an accordion. In this phase the folded lines gain the expected shape (see the images below).

Pushing one end of the accordion pleats towards the other in order to create the final shape of the accordion.
Forming the final shape of the accordion pleating mould.
Final shape of the accordion pleating mould.
Final accordion pleating mould.

Do not forget, that you need two moulds. In case you have created one only, make another one.

How to pleat fabric fabric at home?

1. Prepare the polyester fabric

Properly pretreat the fabric in the same way the final garment will to be treated. Wash or dry clean, let dry and iron. (In this tutorial, I’m using 100% polyester MICRO SATIN.) To read more about preparing fabric for your sewing projects, read this blog post.

Cut out a piece of fabric you would like to pleat. It should be slightly smaller than the unfolded pleating mould itself.

Beige 100% polyester micro satin fabric for pleating.
100% polyester micro satin fabric.

2. Place the fabric in between the pleating moulds

Spread both moulds and carefully place the prepared piece of fabric on one of them. Align the edge of the fabric with the edge of the pleating mould.

Polyester fabric placed on the bottom  pleating mould.
Fabric placed on the bottom pleating mould.

Place the other mould on the fabric. Start at one end and push the ‘sandwich’ (two accordion moulds with fabric in between) towards the other end.

Folding the accordion pleating moulds with the fabric inside.

You should end up with something like this (see the image below). This is a tricky, but an important part of hand pleating fabric.

Fabric inside accordion pleating moulds.
Accordion pleat moulds with fabric in between.

3. Wrap the moulds

Now take the cotton twill tape and firmly wrap it around the accordion. Go from one end to the other one and back. Place the node at the side of the accordion (see the images below). If your tape is too long, just roll up the redundant piece and place it beside the mould.

Accordion pleating moulds with fabric in between wrapped with a cotton twill tape.
Accordion pleating moulds with fabric in between wrapped with a cotton twill tape.

4. Pleat with heat (choose Method 1 or Method 2)

There are two ways to pleat with heat. For small projects use your conventional kitchen oven. For large ones using an iron is preferable.

Pleating method 1: Steam with iron

Set the temperature on your iron to the maximum degree and set the steam control to minimum. Hover the iron above the moulds at least 5 minutes from one side, and 5 minutes from the other side. With the steam control on, do not touch the mould.

Steaming the accordion pleats with an iron.
Hover over the wrapped accordion pleat.

Do not steam too close to the moulds. Otherwise, the kraft paper absorbs too much moist, get wavy and the fabric inside will copy this deformed shape (see the image below).

Distorted accordion pleats by using too much steam. Pleated duchess satin.
Duchess satin that came out of a deformed pleating mould.

Pleating method 2: Use your kitchen oven

In the first place, your oven has to be suitable for the size of your moulds. For the accordion made from the A4 craft paper should definitely be sufficient. Select a program that does not use the fan at the back of the oven.

Place the prepared ‘sandwich’ on a grid in the oven. Place a tray with water under the grid. Set the oven temperature to 170 degrees Celsius (338 degrees Fahrenheit) and ‘bake’ for 20 minutes.

Observe the oven and moulds while baking the pleats. DO NOT LEAVE THE OVEN UNATTENDED!
When the time is out, take out of the moulds. Use a pot-holder to protect your hands, the moulds are really hot!

DO NOT TAKE THE FABRIC OUT FROM THE MOULDS YET!

Accordion pleats in oven.
Baking the accordion pleat in an oven.

5. Let everything cool down

After you have done ironing or finished baking your pleats, let the moulds with the fabric inside cool down. The longer you wait, the better. After a while the moulds might seem cold enough, yet, inside there is still a lot of folded fabric which needs to cool down properly as well.

If you take out the fabric when it is still warm, the polyester fibers might get distorted. This time in an undesired way, so patience is a vital ingredience here.

6. Take out the pleated fabric

After everything has cooled down, you can finally take out the fabric. Untie the cotton twill tape and spread the moulds a little. Lift the upper mould and take out the fabric. Now it is pleated and can be further used for your project.

Micro satin, 100%  polyester pleated by accordion pleating moulds. Pleated satin fabric.

Conclusion: How To Pleat Fabric? Part 1 – Permanent Accordion Pleats

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. If pleating impressed you, I strongly recommend buying Paul Jackon’s book about pleating. You will find out how to add more interest to one type of pleat (see the images below). How to make other fascinating types of pleats and how to combine them together in order to create really attractive designs. In the first place, however, you will be able to construct your own pleating patterns.

If you liked this tutorial, you might also be interested in another type of hand pleating fabric – knife pleats.

Alternative accordion pleating design. Pleated georgette fabric.

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