There are 6 main types of pleats used to create shape and volume in clothing and home decor sewing projects. This tutorial will show you examples and drawings of the different types of pleats and how they can be used. For truly creative and unique pieces, different pleats may be used in conjunction or layered.
What is the Purpose of Pleats
A pleat is a fold of fabric that is held in place by stitching either at the top, bottom or both. It adds volume and interest to otherwise flat, boring fabric. In clothing, it fits the curves fo the body and gives shape and volume where needed. Pleats can be functional or purely decorative. You will also find pleats on home decor items such as the corners of couches and at the tops of curtains.
Pleats are often pressed along their entire length but they can also just be pressed at the top. It is easier to hem the bottom of a garment before you start pleating.
The depth of pleat can be shallow or deep to reflect the amount of volume you wish to have. Tiny pleats like those formed by a ruffler become gathered in appearance.
Types of Pleats
Box pleats have the fabric pressed outwards and are more commonly used in curtains and other sewing projects rather than clothing. The box pleats can be singular or double-layered.
In the yellow dress the box pleats are so close together they form inverted pleats in-between.
Box pleats are created by pressing equal distances of fabric outwards. The inside corners may be touching or separated.
Most skirts and dresses use inverted pleats. The underneath fabric can be the same or sometimes an insert is used for a pop of color. Usually, when inverted pleats are sewn, they are only secured at the top and are not pressed all the way down.
If you compare this picture and that of the box pleat above, you will see that an inverted pleat is really just an upside-down box pleat. The fabric is folded in instead of out.
Kick Pleats are a type of inverted pleat that you will find on tight skirts to enable you to be able to walk. Any tight skirt below the knee will need some kind of pleat or spit if you want to take steps that are more than a few inches at a time.
Knife pleats can be large or small and all face the same direction. They are commonly used in skirts. The pleats can be attached to the waistband or start below the hips and are pressed all the way down.
Accordion pleats are evenly spaced in and out pleats used for dresses and skirts. They are often made in permanent press types of fabric so that the pleat extends all the way down the skirt to the hem.
Pintucks are small pleats that are stitched along their length. They add interest and texture to clothing rather than volume. Many tuxedo skirts have fine pintucks along the front. Pintucks can also be sewn across in different directions to add a 3-dimensional look.
When pintucks are sewn close together and overlapping you can't see the stitching so they look more like tiny little folded pleats. You can see this in the tuxedo shirt as opposed to the blue samples where you can see the stitching.
Further Reading: How to do Pintucks
Pleats can be controlled by stitching the top of them down or by using a permanent press in synthetic fabrics so the pleats remain even after washing.
See my full tutorial on how to sew pleats.
This video will show you how to sew a box pleat, inverted pleat and a knife pleat.
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Tiny pleats can be sewn with a ruffler foot. This large sewing foot has a mechanism that moves back and forth to create small pleats. It can even join fabric at the same time.