The ABC: What is pleating?

A bit of history…

Today pleats are everywhere. In skirt, blouses, dresses, and even in curtains. But they are nothing new: the ancient technique was born in the ancient Egypt where it was used to decorate the tunics of the rulers as a symbol of power and wealth. Since the pleating of natural fibers (silk, cotton and wool) wasn’t either simple or cheap, they were considered a luxury.

The process to create them took a lot of time because it was made by hand: once the garment was washed, the pleats vanished and all the process had to be done all over again. Exhausting right?

There are many examples in history that show the use of pleats in the garments of the royalty. Queen Elizabeth, for example, use to wear a pleated collar called Ruff that became symbolic of her era. It was a circular collar made from a pleated frill worn by both men and women to adorn and frame their faces. A real craft in those days.

There were also other cultural and historic uses of pleats, like in Scottish Kilts or in the fustanella of the greek fighters. Strange as it sounds, the traditional pleated skirt-like garments were worn by men for military and ceremonial occasions in Greece and also the Balkans.

At the beginning of the 19th century,  the multi-tasked spanish artist Mariano Fortuny created a dress called Delphos, made with pleated fine silk. His popular invention, the Fortuny pleats, was a clear evocation of Ancient Greek column. His modern design and its natural elasticity, which gave freedom of movement and showed the natural curves of the female body, seduced avant-garde and emancipated clients. Still, the problem of fixing permanently the pleats so the dress could be washed, was not solved.


Pleats today

Eventually, pleating machines replaced the time consuming manual production, making pleats more available to a larger group of population. But it wasn’t until the production of synthetic textiles that the boom of the plisse took place, since they have a better durability and strength and do not take up their original shape again such as natural fabrics do under the influence of warmth or humidity.

Nowadays most of pleated fabric for ready-to-wear fashion are made by pleated machines. Only couture garments are pleated by hand and that explains why they are much more expensive.

In the last decades, pleated garments have become very popular and trendy:

  • The japanese designer Issey Miyake, for example, created his “Pleats Please” collection, a technique launched and patented in 1993: the pleats were added after a piece was cut and sewn, and not before. Clothes were very functional and practical; they could be stored easily, travel well, required no ironing, could be machine-washed, and they dried within hours. The secret of perfect pleats is baking them in the oven.
  • Stella McCartney’s use of micro pleats in her collections, shows the technique is up-to date in the current days in all kind of garments.
  • Ryan Mario Yasin, a young designer from London, gave an innovative use to an ancient technique. He recently created a flexible clothing line for kids that stretches and adapts to their bodies as they grow up. This is a simple and effective solution for waste in fashion and a way for parents to spend less in baby’s clothing. And can you guess what gives the garments its flexibility? Bingo! It is the pleating he applied on synthetic fibers.

So next time you buy a pleated garment, or even make one of your own, you will know about all the work, effort, and time it took to get to that “simple” piece. About all those men and women who dedicated their lives to create, redo and improve the technique. Remember: There’s a whole meaningful world behind your clothes. Embrace the essence and create future treasures!  

Would you like to put the technique into practice now? Go to How to DIY Pleated Skirt in 10 steps.




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Hi! I'm Daiana, author of Thread Stories: a Blog for the Fashion and textile inspired. A space to worship sewing and craftsmanship where you will find Tips, How to’s, Trends, DIY, Techniques, Tools & Resources to create for yourself in the most conscious, creative and inspiring way!

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