Sharply pressed is a perfect way to describe knife pleats. The knife pleat folds back on itself to make a crisp sharp edge. They are used in a number of styles to create different effects and are particularly popular for skirts. Knife pleats are also used in upholstery and crafts.
Knife pleats are a pleat type where the edges of the folds are all facing in the same direction. The knife pleats can be really small and numerous or larger and just placed strategically. Knife pleats are often permanently pressed into the fabric so they maintain their crisp edge the entire way along. They can also be stitched just at the top in order to stay in place.
Knife pleats purpose is to add fullness and shape to garments as well as adding some interest to an otherwise plain item.
Other types of pleats include box pleats and accordion pleats where the folds face different directions. The most important part of sewing knife pleats is getting the placement and spacing correct.
Knife Pleats - Supplies
- FABRIC - Knife pleats are best in fabrics that can be pressed easily. These include fabrics like cotton, linen and rayon. If you use polyester or synthetic fabrics, the knife pleat can be stitched at the top but will not be able to be ironed along its length as the fabric may melt.
- THREAD - Matching thread in an appropriate weight. I generally use a polyester all-purpose thread.
- SEWING SUPPLIES - Machine, pins, ruler, fabric marking tools
Knife Pleats – The Video
Here is a short video on how to sew pleats that includes knife pleats. Subscribe to the Treasurie YouTube channel for weekly sewing videos. Press play below >>
How to Sew Knife Pleats
Step 1 - Marking
Using a fabric marking chalk or removable pen, mark and match your notches or measures of the pleats on your fabric. Keep reading below if you are making your own pattern.
Calculating the Size of Knife Pleats
Everything about knife pleats is calculated by 3 times the width. If you want a knife pleat measuring 1 inch (2.5cm) you need to calculate 3 inches (7.5cm) of fabric.
If you are making your own pattern, a rule of thumb is that a pleat takes 3 times its width of fabric. That is if your pleat is 1 inch (2.5cm), you will need to add to your pattern 3 inches (7.5cm) for every pleat. If you are making a skirt for yourself, don't forget to add seam allowances for the side seams. Your pleats may be right next to each other, or spaced out with large or small gaps in between.
Making a Skirt Pattern with Knife Pleats
Measure your waist and add one inch (2.5cm) for ease. Determine how many pleats you would like. Add 3 inches (7.5cm) for each pleat. So if you want 8 pleats of 1 inch each all the way around, add 24 inches (61cm) to your waist measurement. This becomes quite wide so you may need to put some joins in your skirt widths.
Once you have completed your pleats, you can add the waistband using the same method as the gathered skirt pattern.
The added lining would not be pleated and would be cut to sit above the hem length.
Step 2 - Pin and Press
It is a good idea to sew your hem in place before you match up the knife pleats. Small, narrow hems are best.
Pin the pleats down the length of the fabric by bringing the pink line over to the next and allowing the fold to form along the blue line. I'm sure you won't be color-coding your marks like my sample above so just think about bringing your line across to every second line.
After you have pinned the pleats and checked each one is exactly right then, to get the best results, baste each pleat in place.
Once you have put in the basting stitches for each and every pleat you will press the pleats. This may seem laborious, but it is really worth the effort. Making a mistake or pressing incorrectly makes more work in the end as you try to put it right.
Step 3 - Stitch
Stitch along the top of the pleats using a ¼ inch (6mm) seam allowance. If you are making a skirt it is a good idea to stitch the lining in at the same time.
Step 4 - Press Again
Press the knife pleats from the top down to the bottom as you remove the pins or basting.
Press on the right side of the fabric for a crisp pleated look. Remove the pins as you press and do not press over a pin it will spoil the clean smooth pleated look you are aiming for. A presser cloth will give a softer look while pressing without a cloth and some added pressure will give a sharper finish. Take your time to ensure that each pleat receives the same pressure and is exactly the same size.
Different-sized knife pleats will show up and spoil the effect.
Step 5 - Continue the Garment
Attach the waistband or bodice to the pleated skirt. Pin right sides together and enclose the pleats in the waistband of the skirt or neaten the waist edge joined to the bodice. Remove the basting and press the pleats again. Yes, all the pressing is necessary to keep the pleats knife-edged sharp!
How to Make a Pleated Table Skirt
Table skirts can be used with or without a table cloth. They fit round the edge of the table and usually hang to the floor. Table skirts hide ugly table legs and give an elegant draped look. They do make it difficult to sit at the table because the fabric is in the way of the seated person’s legs. Table skirts make beautiful fabric drops for tables to be used as trophy displays or to serve the food at a banquet.
- Measure around the edge of the table to find out how much fabric you will need. For a table skirt, measure in the same way as you did for a waisted skirt. Remember to measure the length and add on a small hem. The height of the cloth will determine if you can use a standard 45” width of fabric or will you need something wider.
- Pre-wash and iron the fabric in the way you will wash and iron it when it is made up. Trim off the extra fabric not needed.
- Fold the raw edges under by ¼ inch (6mm) pin and sew all around. Remove the pins as you sew.
- Lay the fabric out on a large flat surface. The floor can be used if necessary. Measure accurately where the middle of the fabric is and put a pin to mark the spot.
- You are going to start pleating from the middle to the edge. Make sure the pleat is going in the right direction. Start pleating the size pleat you want and put a pin in each pleat. Continue working your way around the edge of the cloth and adjust the pleats accordingly.
- Move back to the middle of the measured fabric and continue to pleat in the same way to the other side. Check the pleats all fall the same way.
- Machine sew across the top of the table skirt. Sew 2 inches (5cm) from the top first then another row ½ inch (12mm) from the top. These two rows secure the pleats at the top.
- Sew some Velcro to fasten the tablecloth skirt at the top. The overlay of cloth covers the skirt and drapes over the top. This covers the table and falls over the top of the table skirt.
What Else Can You Do with Knife Pleats?
Knife pleats make great little trims or borders on aprons and cushion covers. In the upholstery world, knife pleats are very popular for the edge of a slip cover or a curtain valance.
The Scottish kilt has traditionally used knife pleats to create the smooth look of the kilt, but at the same time allow for movement. According to kilt standards, there should be 29 pleats on tartan fabric. The pleats may be put into the tartan according to their stripe pattern or to their set pattern, this will give a different effect. Whatever the pattern is the knife pleat is the most popular traditional pleat. During one period in history, the kilt was banned in Scotland. Now it is allowed and is especially worn on special occasions.
Knife Pleats - In Conclusion
Knife pleats have been part of decorative fashion and upholstery since the sixteenth century. and continue to be a popular way to add fullness and interest. Knife pleats are easy to sew and even beginners will be able to tackle this sewing project.