There are 6 main types of pleats used to create shape and volume in clothing and home decor sewing projects. This tutorial will explain what are pleats and 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.
Types of Pleats Tutorial
What are 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 the otherwise flat, boring fabric.
The depth of the 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. Pleats come in different sizes and can be evenly placed around a garment or unevenly and at strategic points.
How are Pleats Used?
In clothing, it fits the curves of the body and gives shape and volume where needed. Pleats can be functional or purely decorative on trousers, blouses and dresses. 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.
7 Different Types of Pleats
Here are the most common types of pleats for skirts, dreses, pants and clothing.
1. Box Pleats
Firstly, we have the popular box pleat. Box pleats have the fabric pressed outwards and in opposite directions 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 pleat lines 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.
2. Inverted Pleats
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. See how the fabric is folded in instead of out.
3. Kick Pleats
Kick Pleats are a type of inverted pleats that you will find on tight skirts to enable you to be able to walk. When wearing or making a tight skirt below the knee, it will need some kind of pleat or split if you want to take steps that are more than a few inches at a time.
4. Knife Pleats
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. Many times these kinds of skirt pleats will need dry cleaning as they are impossible to iron.
5. Accordion Pleats
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. Moreover, 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.
Similarly, 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
7. Smocking Pleats
Lastly, we have smocked pleats. Smocking uses tiny pleats that are then sewn in place. These types of pleats have an extremely small pleat depth. They are dense with little or no space between them. This style pictured below is a honeycomb pleat. Read my full article on how to do smocking for some other styles.
On sewing patterns, you will see most types of pleats marked by a fold line and placement line. These join together to form the pleat. 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.
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.
Pleats Video Tutorial
This video will show you how to sew a box pleat, inverted pleat, and knife pleat. Subscribe to the Treasurie YouTube channel for weekly sewing videos.
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