How fabric is pleated
One of my best-selling styles in the line is the Melanie Top. It is a classic 3/4 sleeve t-shirt, but it contains a very special element to it, a pleated back. This pleated styling adds a geometric feel to the garment. This special treatment allows it to be dressed up or down and elevates it above a simple tee.
I have been working with someone locally to do pleating for a few years. It is an absolute artform, one that I hope will continue within the US. However, with the move of most domestic manufacturing overseas, it's making it less lucrative for younger generations to learn this amazing trade.
Any fabric can be pleated; however, it works best for woven fabrics (as opposed to knits). The pleats are set either by hand or by machine using a heat/steam and pressure process.
Polyester fabric is the easiest to pleat because once pleated, it holds it shape even when wet. Natural fibers like silk, cotton, and wool can be pleated but first need to be treated with chemicals. These chemicals can break down over time or be dissolved when a garment is dry-cleaned. Therefore, it's very important to read the care instructions on a pleated garment. No pleated fabric should ever go in the dryer because the heat from the dryer will un-set the pleat.
There are a multitude of different patterns for pleating. The most common is the knife pleat. This type of pleat is typically done using a machine. Fabric is fed into the machine, which sandwiches it between two pieces of paper and then it is pleated. You can tell the machine how wide and how deep you want the pleat to be.
Fortuny pleating is named for designer and architect Mariano Fortuny. IHe designed a group of dresses inspired by ancient Greece. The column dresses were like accordions, and they fit the curves of the body. His technique for pleating the long columns of silk was so cutting edge, it's still unknown exactly how he did it. Some believe the silk fabrics were stitched together before steaming and then the stitches removed, but it is still unknown. Nowadays, the Fortuny effect can be achieved in a machine by feeding the fabric through twice, and it is referred to as mushroom pleating.
The final technique is hand pleating, which is responsible for the famous "starburst" pleat. For a starburst skirt, you cut the fabric into 2 half circles. It is placed between two heavy pieces of cardboard, which is the "pattern." The pleats are then gathered by hand, tied up, and put into an oven to set the pleat. There are thousands of different options for this kind of pleating, and every pleating facility has their own set of patterns. Below I have a video of a famous pleating house in Paris where you can watch them do this amazing technique.
You can pleat a piece of fabric to insert into a design, pleat yardage to cut a design out of, or even pleat a finished garment a la Issey Miyake.
I absolutely ADORE a pleated piece because it's like a piece of art. The skill and technique involved in making clothes has always been something that's attracted me to fashion. It's something I have terrific respect and affection towards.
If you'd like to add a pleated piece of art to your closet, check out my Melanie tee. It has a knife pleated piece inserted into the back to form a high-low, architectural element. It comes in black and ivory and is a classic piece you'll enjoy for years to come.
Get it HERE.