The Simple Art of Pleating

My husband and I are renovating our kitchen this month with all new cupboards, tiling, flooring, etc. and I thought it would be nice to have new curtains to hang after all the work has been done. I purchased linen last September for this purpose, but I became ill before I could get them made, so the fabric sat in my sewing room waiting for me to stitch it up into something special. My initial vision for this fabric involved simple, yet elegant pleats.

Finished Pleats 2

I have worn pleats my whole life. My mother, an amazing seamstress, use to add pleats to her creations as a frugal way to make an ordinary garment, extraordinary. As stunning as her work was, it wasn’t until she gave me a hand stitched petticoat, about 25 years ago, that my love affair with these folds actually began. The slip was very old, possibly made during the early 1900’s, and the fabric was the finest, lightest weight cotton that I have even had the pleasure of touching. It was a handkerchief weight with the finest 1/4”, hand sewn pleats running vertically down the bodice and horizontally across the bottom of the garment. I can remember studying those tiny pleats and marveling at the size of the stitches and wondering about the skilled hands that made them. That petticoat was one of the finest things that my mother ever gifted me with and it is with great regret that I admit that I no longer own it. I gave it back to her when my husband and I moved to Montana and I have no idea where it is today.

Finished Pleats 3

With this undergarment in mind, I set out to create my own pleats on my new curtains. My pleats are not as fine as those on the petticoat because of two reasons. The first is that my fabric is much heavier and the second is because I machine stitched them instead of  using a single thread and hand stitching them. Medium weight linen requires the durability of two all purpose 100% cotton threads and a size 14 machine needle.

To make, what I consider a perfect pleat, you first need to turn up the hem of your project. The reason for this is that often when hemming and folding the fabric 2x’s the bottom edge can become uneven a bit, especially when working with 100% linen. Normally this goes unnoticed, but when adding detail close to the finished edge, it can be like an arrow pointing straight at your mistake. So I choose to press up the hem first. Then I mark where I want the folds of the pleats to be and I press them in place, one at a time.

Marking the Pleating Lines

Pressing the Pleating Line

Pressed Pleating Line

Stitching the Pleat

After each pleat is pressed I take it to the machine and I use my pressure foot with the guide bar to stitch a scant 1/4” away from the edge. The pleat is then pressed (not ironed) to set the threads from the right side of the fabric, before I flip it over and press the pleat in the direction I would like it to go, which in this case was downward. Flip it over one more time and give the front a good pressing and it’s done. One perfect pleat.

Pressing From Behind


Pressing the Second Pleat

A few things worth mentioning are that I do not sew my bottom hem in place until all the pleats are sewn and pressed and the sides of the project have been hemmed or sewn. This is so I can adjust the hem if I have made any mistakes with my pleating. I also sew S.L.O.W. when pleating. Sewing fast, in my experience, makes uneven stitching lines. Since the thread stitching will be showing on each and every one of these pleats, I want the lines to be as uniform as possible and that cannot be achieved if my machine speed is set on high and I am heavy footed on the foot peddle. Keep it slow and steady.

Completed Pleats 1

Completed Pleats 2

Finished Pleats 1

Completed Curtains

Pleats are a ridiculously easy to transform any of your fabric projects from plain and ho-humm to something special.

Happy Sewing!

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