I used to have issues with pleats.
I don’t mean sewing them, I mean wearing them. After a brief infatuation with pleated plaid schoolgirl skirts (I was a teen in the 90s, after all), I realized that for the most part, all those folds around my waist and tummy weren’t really doing it for me.
But I’ve since learned a lot about how to work with pleats, and the truth is that it’s all in the execution.
Two types to consider
A loose pleat that’s just folded and sewn into the waistband can feel like a little much for those of us with roundness about the middle, especially in a bulky fabric. This kind of pleat is sometimes referred to as a released pleat or an open pleat.
But If you stitch that pleat down, the effect can be dramatically different. The pleats can form a really flattering shape around your upper hips, almost like a skirt yoke, before flaring out into a full hem. You get all the lovely fullness of a full skirt, while still giving some definition to your waist curve.
These partially stitched pleats technically should probably be called tucks rather than pleats, because they’re stitched together before releasing the fullness of the fabric. But most of us, when we see them on a skirt like this, think “pleat.”
Getting the right fit
Now, here’s the thing about sewing pleats (or tucks). They can go wrong pretty easily.
Why is that? Well, you’re typically working with a bunch of them on any given garment. If you’re off just a little bit when you mark and measure those suckers, you can end up with pieces that don’t fit together.
Let’s say you’re working on a skirt with 12 pleats in it, like Zinnia. If you mark each of those pleats just 1/8″ too small, you could end up with a skirt that is a full 1 1/2″ too small for your waist. Yikes.
But you can prevent this with a little careful measuring and marking. I’m going to be showing you how I sew pleats and minimize measuring errors for a good fit.
1. My favorite way to mark internal areas of a pattern is to punch a hole where I want to mark. I use a screw punch, which is really handy, but you could also cut a slit or small hole.
2. After cutting your pattern out, use a fabric pen, chalk, or pencil to mark the bottom of the pleat. Be sure to make your markings on the wrong side of the fabric.
3. To mark the top of the pleat, cut small snips into your fabric.
4. Connect the top and bottom of the pleat with a straight line, using a ruler and your pen, pencil, or chalk.
5. To be extra careful, remeasure to make sure that the distance between the pleat lines is the same on your fabric as the pattern. It’s particularly important to get it right along the seam line.
6. Pin the lines of the pleat together, with right sides together. Stick your pin right through the line on each side of the fabric.
7. Baste down the marked line, from the top to the bottom.
8. Press the pleat flat.
9. Fold the pleat towards the side seam of the garment and press again.
10. Edgestitch along the fold of the pleat, from the top to the bottom of your stitching. Backstitch when you get to the bottom. This will hold your pleat in place, and keep it nice and flat and crisp. Remove the basting.
Note: You don’t necessarily need to edge stitch them, but I like it. If you want to skip step 10, just stitch them in place instead of basting in step 7. Backstitch at the bottom, or pivot and sew to the edge of the pleat fold.
But I do love a good topstitched pleat. So nice and crisp.