One of the easiest folding techniques is knife pleating. Knife pleats are a series folds, all heading in the same direction with each pleat being three layers of fabric thick. It is commonly used in skirts of schoolgirls and kilts (skirt-like garments were worn by men for military and ceremonial occasions in Greece and also the Balkans).
For a long time garments with pleats were considered a luxury since the process was complex and expensive. For more interesting details on the history of pleating don’t miss our post Fascinating techniques: Pleating.
Now you know where pleating comes from and how much work it required to perfection the technique, try it for yourself and create your very own pleated couture skirt!
For the skirt: Fabric rectangle
- Length: Length of skirt measured from waist down + bottom hem + upper seam allowance
In our example: 60cm+2.5cm+1.5cm= 64cm
- Width: (waist measurement x 3) + double seam allowance from both sides
In our example: 70cmx3+6cm= 2.16mts
For the skirt band: A long fabric rectangle
- Lenght: (desired lenght x 2) + seam allowance in both sides
In our example: 3cmx2+3cm= 9cm
- Width: waist measurement + seam allowance on both sides + Extra for overlapping
In our example: 70cm+3cm+3cm= 76cm
STEP BY STEP
Step 1. Determine the amount of fabric you will need
First, you need to calculate the amount of fabric you are going to need depending on your own body measurements and on the desired pleats width. Remember that when we pleat, we are folding the fabric, so we will need more fabric than we would need if we were going to make a flat non-pleated garment.
In our example, we will need to buy around a bit more than 2.16mts of fabric length, assuming it comes with 1mtr or 1.5mts width. Another option is to buy half and make the skirt with two pieces instead of one.
Step 2. Choose the fabric
It’s possible to make pleats with many fabrics, but some will hold the pleat better than others. Light-medium weight wovens that press well like cotton or linen are ideal to keep the shape of the pleats.
Step 3. Choose your pleats width
You need to think how full you want the pleats to be. For a fuller/fluffy skirt, you will need wider pleats. For a more straight/natural flow, you will need narrower pleats. Make sure to choose what fits best for your body type.
For a balanced look, you will need pleats of 2.5cm. When creating the fold, you will be folding the fabric on itself, and then folding it again, so that each 2.5cm pleat becomes three layers thick. That’s 7.5cm per pleat.
Step 4. Measure your waistline
To define the length of fabric you will need, use the measuring tape to measure your waistline. If for example, your waist measurement is 70cm, then you will need 2.16mts (70cm x 3) + 3cm either side for double seam allowance where we will insert the zipper. (Total:2.16mts). The waistline is multiplied by 3 because, as we said, each pleat becomes three layers thick.
It’s all about the maths. You need to calculate the amount of fabric you’ll need: once it has been pleated, it equals your waistline measurement plus seam allowance.
Step 5. Decide the skirt length
Now it’s time to decide how long you want your skirt, which is a personal choice. It could be full length, mid-calf, knee-height, over the knee or mini skirt. The measure will depend also on your own height, so make sure you don’t skip this step.
Use the measuring tape and measure from the waistline to the desired length, and add 1.5cm at the top and 2.5cm at the bottom for the hem. You can add extra seam allowance and cut it after just in case. As an example, we use a skirt length of 60cm for a midi look + 1.5cm +2.5cm = 64cm.
Step 6. Mark your measures on the fabric
Now we have the two measurements (pleated waistline and skirt length) we are ready to prepare the fabric piece we will need to cut. If you have enough fabric width to make it with one piece, great. If not, you can make two equal rectangles (One for the front and one for the back). In this case, remember to leave always seam allowance on both sides of each piece.
Step 7. Cut the fabric
Step 8. Start pleating
Once you’ve cut your fabric, start pleating from and until the seam allowance on each side, fold and press until you have finished, putting pins to secure the pleats.
Once you’re happy with how they look, check that it fits your waist and baste a line along the waistline. Once you have it secured, you can sew it.
*Sewing Hack: you can use a fork to make the pleats and it’s super easy. Check it out here!
Step 9. Sew the zipper
- In option 1 (one piece of fabric), insert an invisible zipper of around 15cm and close the back seam.
- In Option 2 (two pieces of fabric), sew one of the sides. Next, insert an invisible zipper on the other side.
Step 10. Sew the skirt band
Take the skirt band and sew it to the skirt. It should look like a sandwich of 3 layers: band, skirt and band again. Don’t forget to fold inside the seam allowance on each side of the band. You will notice there is extra fabric but it is fine, we want to overlap it after for a nicer closure.
For the finishing touch, sew the bottom hem of the skirt, sew the hook clasp, and iron your pleats once more. And you are done!