Box pleats are one of the most common types of pleats and are created from two equal folds of fabric that meet in the middle. They can be used as a single peat or grouped together to form a continuous piece of pleated fabric. The pleats may lie side by side or be placed with larger gaps in between them to create endless different looks. This tutorial will discuss more about what are box pleats as well as how to sew box pleats.
Box Pleats Tutorial
What are Box Pleats?
Box pleats is the name given to pleats that add fullness and shape to clothing, curtains and bags. They are created when equal amounts of fabric are folded to meet in the middle and can be inverted or standard types.
In clothing, they are often stitched at the top to hold them partially down and to create a flattering silhouette.
Types of Box Pleat
There are 3 main types of box pleats:
- Box Pleats - This general term is used where the pleat is folded externally. They are sometimes called standard box pleats.
- Inverted Box Pleats - These pleats are folded to the inside so are only visible with the movement of the garment. Inverted box pleats can be created from the same fabric folded or an insert of contrasting fabric. Really an inverted box pleat is just a reversed standard box pleat.
- Contrast Fabric Box Pleats - These have a new color inserted underneath.
Box Pleats vs Knife Pleats
The other main type of pleats are knife pleats. These pleats all face the same direction as opposed to box pleats which are formed by bringing the two edges of the fabric to meet in the middle.
When to Use Box Pleats
Box pleats are used to give shape and a sleek silhouette in garments. They are a way to let you move without restriction without adding too much volume to the body.
In home decor, they can be used as decorative highlights. Pleated curtains use variations of the simple box pleat.
Bagmaking makes use of box pleats to add depth and volume to bags. Without them it would be hard to fit many items inside as the pleats expand with your hand or more goodies.
Box pleats are often used in wool or heavy fabrics where it would be difficult to add volume by gathering. A pleat gives a more refined look to a wool skirt than gathering would.
Supplies for Sewing Box Pleats
- Sewing machine
- Lightweight fabric
- Iron and Ironing Board
Best Fabrics for Creating Box Pleats
Pleats are best created in natural fabrics which crease when pressed. Cotton, wool and linen are great choices as the pleats can be creased either at the top or along the whole length.
Polyester or man made fabrics should only be used where you just want the pleat held at the top and not pressed the whole way along its length. Synthetic fabrics will not hold a crease.
Thinner fabrics such as cotton can take smaller and densely spaced box pleats where as thicker fabrics like wool need wider and spaced pleats.
Box Pleats Video Tutorial
Here is a short video on how to sew pleats including box pleats. Subscribe to the Treasurie YouTube channel for weekly sewing videos.
Press play below >>How to Sew Pleats VIDEO
Formula for Box Pleats Pattern
Altering a Pattern (Width of Your Pleat)
If you are creating your own pattern, mark the center pleat and then two lines to the sides which are half that width. My center is 2 inches (5cm) and each of the lines to the side is 1 inch (2.5cm) away. This means that you would need to add 2 inches (5cm) to a pattern that currently has no pleat.
How to Make a Box Pleat Skirt
If you are making a skirt with box pleats, measure your waist and then divide it by the number of box pleats you desire. For example, a 40 inch waist can be divided into 10 even pleats spaced around the skirt. Each pleat will need 3 times the fabric. So you will cut 40+(10x3)=70 inches of fabric.
How to Sew Box Pleats Step by Step Instructions
1. How to Sew Standard Box Pleats
Step 1 - Marking Box Pleats
- Transfer the markings from the pattern you are using or create your own. Commercial patterns usually have pleats marked with dotted or dashed lines.
- Transfer the box pleat markings from the pattern to the right side of the fabric.
I have created a box pleat with a 2 inch (5cm) width and a 1 inch (2.5cm) depth.
How to Mark Box Pleats
For fabrics that can't be marked with chalk or removable pen, it is common to mark the pleat positions with a long basting running stitch in a contrast color. You may even want to use two colors of markings to represent the folded line and the ending line.
Since the markings need to be on the right side, do a check first to see if your marking method can be removed easily.
Accuracy in marking is essential as the lines must be parallel and evenly spaced to get good results. Pleats that go at a strange angle don't look good and won't allow clothing to hand well on your body.
Step 2 - Fold & Press the Box Pleats
On the right side of the fabric, crease along the center (pink) lines and bring them over to the outside lines. As you can see, each side is folding out in the opposite direction.
How to Press Box Pleats
- Press along the center lines to hold the pleat down.
- If the fabric is delicate, such as wool or silk, use a pressing cloth to prevent marking or scorching as you press the pleats down.
- On cotton, some spray water may help hold the pleats in place better.
- For fabrics where the pleats will not stay closed easily, try some pins along the length of the pleat to hold them in place until you are ready to sew the next step in your pattern.
Step 3 - Baste & Stitch
Baste across to top to hold the pleat in place. This can be done with a long machine stitch, by hand or just using pins.
2. How to Sew an Inverted Box Pleat
The inverted pleat is very similar, except we are folding in the opposite direction. You could also create the pleat exactly the same way as the standard box pleat and then flip it over.
Step 1 - Marking
Alter your pattern in the same way as the standard box pleats in the instructions above. Draw 3 parallel lines which are evenly spaced. I have drawn lines 2 inches (5cm) apart.
Step 2 - Press the Inverted Box Pleats
On the right side, fold along the outside (pink) lines and bring the creased edge in to meet at the center line (blue).
Step 3 - Baste the Box Pleat
Press along the center lines to hold the pleat down. Use Basting stitches across to top to hold the pleat in place.
You can see here how it looks when it opens up.
3. Contrast Inverted Box Pleat Pattern
The great thing about inverted pleats is that you can use a contrast fabric to create a fun insert in a contrast fabric.
Look at the pleat from the Bella dress pattern. You can use this technique for one large box pleat or several inserts in a row. The brighter the contrast fabric the better.
My Bella dress pattern gives you the pleat sizes and a pattern to cut the insert with. But if you want to create your own box pleat pattern here are the cutting instructions
Determine the width of the underside of the pleat and then add a seam allowance to either side. I am going to make the underside of the please 4 inches (10cm) with ½ inch (12mm) seam allowances so will cut this strip 5 inches (12.5cm).
UNDERSIDE FORMULA = Width of pleat + (Seam Allowance x 2)
For the side pieces add to the pattern the finished underside width plus the seam allowance. So for our piece above, add to the pattern 4 inches (10cm) plus ½ inch (12mm) seam allowance which is 4 ½ inches (5.2cm). Now you may be thinking that this is too much since they meet in the middle but don't forget the pleat is folded back on itself. Cut one piece for either side.
TOP FORMULA (Cut one for either side) = Width of pleat + seam allowance
How to Sew Box Pleats in Contrasting Colors
- Use a straight stitch and your regular presser foot to stitch the center to the sides with right sides together.
- Fold the sides to the center so they meet in the middle.
- Baste across the top with a long machine stitch or using pins.
Now it is ready to join on to a waistband or anther item. You can even sew the top of the pleat closed for a partial exposure. Here is what is looks like when the pleat is spread apart slightly.
Box Pleats - In Conclusion
Now you know how to sew box pleats you can add them to all kinds of sewing projects for some extra fullness or even a pop of color.
- Sewing Basics
Standard Box Pleat
- Transfer the markings from the pattern on the right side of the fabric.
- On the right side of the fabric, crease along the center (pink) lines and bring them over to the outside lines.
Inverted Box Pleat
- Draw 3 parallel lines which are evenly spaced.
- On the right side, fold along the outside (pink) lines and bring the creased edge in to meet at the center line (blue).