Learn How to Make a Pleat

on May 21 | in Sewing + Quilting Tips, Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 80 Comments

From Beth: We love Lynne and Melissa’s beautiful clothing and Sugar City Journal blog, and we crossed our fingers when we asked if they’d share some expert advice for Women’s Clothing Month. Being the talented women that they are they’ve kindly (and clearly) broken down the fine details of pleats for us; now we can incorporate a little Sugar City attention to detail and classic styling into our wardrobes. Enjoy their article on pleats, and be sure to visit Sugar City Journal for a daily dose of beauty and sewing inspiration.

From Lynne: Melissa and I are sister-in-laws who learned to sew at the feet (or sewing tables, actually) of the women in our lives. We now love to sew for our own little ones and occasionally ourselves, and share our designs and ideas in our blog, Sugar City Journal.

Melissa and I both design and sew best when we are working intuitively, rather than strictly from a book or pattern (which is definitely easier when you are sewing for non-curvy little girls than women!). Working like this means learning some techniques that allow you to manipulate fabric, a totally 2-dimensional thing, into something 3-dimensional. Making a pleat is one such simple skill, as pleats can add dimension, depth, shape, movement, and charm to a garment. Below you will find our admittedly non-technical interpretation of different ways to pleat, and some examples of looks you can create. Hopefully your creativity will be sparked by one or two of these ideas and you’ll be able to incorporate some of these variations into your sewing as you make and tailor your own clothes and accessories to your specific style. To quote this blog, just jump in there and sew, Mama, sew!


  • Fabric Choice
    One thing that’s important to think about when deciding to pleat or not to pleat is fabric choice. This is probably really obvious but certain fabrics pleat better than others. A crisp cotton or linen, for example, folds nicely and irons up beautifully, whereas the more slippery (for lack of a more professional term) fabrics – satin, etc. – will not hold or show the lines your pleats will create so well (which is one of the neat things that pleating can give you – a really strong linear impact). So consider your fabric: crisp=good; slippery=bad.

  • Movement:
    Adding pleats can mean adding movement to your garment, because you are giving more body through the extra fabric to your item. Pleats make certain activities like spinning or turning quickly very fun, as the fabric can pouf out depending on how you anchor the pleat.

  • Shape:
    Pleats are good shapers. If you are going for a sleek look, use bigger, well-anchored pleats. The fabric will lay flatter, creating a cleaner overall look. A lot of small pleats are great for loose, empire-waisty kind of designs.

As you consider the kind of shape you’d like to create, also think about direction. You can fold pleats all in the same direction (think cheerleader skirt) or, when doing a lesser amount of pleats, fold the fabric inward on itself…

… or outward…

… Or in opposite ways (you’ll see an example of this below). In my opinion folding the fabric inward into a pleat is more slimming, while folding your fabric outward will add slightly more bulk to the section of the fabric directly beneath the pleat (maybe good for the back of a shirt or dress).

Making a pleat is essentially a very simple process of folding, pinning, ironing, and then sewing your fabric. Basic tips are to make sure your pleats are even. A little plastic ruler can be a great tool for you here (unless, of course, you are being purposely asymmetric, which can look really great, too). Also, it’s good to remember to hem the bottom of your garment before you pleat because it’s kind of a pain in the neck to do this after you’ve sewn, ironed, etc. And my last tip is to keep that iron hot and use it! The iron is a pleater’s best friend.

Pleating with topstitching

Here’s an example of a front panel that’s been pleated across the entire width, with the pleats anchored down through the chest, and then topstitched. (I like the strong verticality that the repetition of all the pleats creates). I did this by first finding the center of the front, and then folding pleats outward, evenly, to the left and then to the right from the center. Pin your pleats as you go, and iron them all down really well to make the pleats crisp and flat.

Sew the pleats down onto the fabric, about 1/3 of the way to the bottom of your panel. At the point where you want the pleats to separate from the fabric (you know, become twirl-able – and yes, that is a technical term), stop sewing them DOWN and switch to topstitching each pleat beyond the anchored point.

Inverted pleats

The next example is an inverted pleat. If you are feeling really crazy, you can add a contrasting fabric inside the pleat for a little excitement, like I did. To do this kind of thing, find the middle of your fabric, pick two equidistant points on the sides of the middle, bring those points together, pin and iron in place.

Open your folds. Fit the contrasting fabric on the panel within, cut it to size, and pin in place.

Flip over, and sew the edge of each side of the pleat down with what will be a hidden stitch. This will help to hold the shape of the pleat as well as fasten your contrasting fabric to your garment.

Then, anchor the pleat gently at the top by folding over the top edge and sewing across. Voila!

To get a different look, make an outward pleat, simply the reverse of the previous example. I used a hidden stitch on the wrong side, down each pleat edge, just like on the above panel. (You can see what this looks like in the description of an outward pleat above).

Freeform pleats

My final example is a kind of free-form row of pleats, where I just eyeballed-it by making small folds, and then anchored them with a seam at the top. The looseness of the overall effect reminds me a little bit of the fabric equivalent of a painterly brushstroke, or of a slightly more defined gather.

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80 Responses to Learn How to Make a Pleat

  1. Nicole says:

    RE: Kristin (and anyone else confused)

    See how the pleats are vertical? That’s your DOWN. If you do not want your pleats to go all the way down the garment’s length (usually also along the grain line), then where you want it to stop, stop stitching. For instance, I have a skirt with pleats. The DOWN stitching stops just underneath my butt! That’s when you switch to topstitching, just along the top of all those lovely pleats, to hold em even more down. Like when you want to get them ready for a waist band, in the example of my skirt!

  2. Patricia Brannon says:

    Great job in explaining how to do pleats – I will be trying
    this info out today.
    Thankyou for making it easier for others.

    Have a great day!

  3. Gina says:

    nice! this is awesome.

    but one question: where would you get a mannequin that is really cheap but is good quality? i need a mannequin and i can’t find one for under $30. help plz!

  4. gloria watson says:

    I would like to know how to make a body shaper.

  5. Christina says:

    Thanks for this. Now it makes sense!

  6. Zegi says:

    What a great article! Any tips for how we might allow for pleats in a commercial pattern?

  7. Amanda says:

    This is wonderful. I have always been hesitant to attempt pleats but this makes it seem pretty straightforward. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Mean Mommy says:

    Such a helpful entry! Thanks. LOVE Sugar City Journal!

  9. grace says:

    oooh i want to make a pleated skirt now. like right this instant. but i think i’ll have to wait till i get some fabric…

  10. Amy W says:

    Wow! Great directions!

  11. amy says:

    Thanks so much, this is great!

  12. Michelle says:

    Those pleats look so pretty, I’m looking forward to trying that!

  13. Jodie says:

    Thank you, thank you!

  14. tammie says:

    great article! It looks like something I could do!

  15. Valerie says:

    Great tutorial — it is always so much easier to understand directions when there are pictures involved. 🙂

  16. Jordan Durbin says:

    I love pleats! I think they’re probably my favorite detail to add to garments. I’m a really big fan of ruffles as well, but having three boys, I don’t get as much mileage out of them.

  17. Rae says:

    Thanks! I love how those pleats look!!!

  18. anja says:

    love the contrasting fabric in the pleat–great idea!

  19. shannon says:

    Great tutorial! I’ve always wondered how to do this. I can’t wait to try it out. Thanks!

  20. jenn says:

    I’ve always wondered how to do this and have had to pass up on so many cute patterns because i never knew! I’m so excited now, thanks!

  21. AnnaW says:

    Brilliant! I recently became a mom, and hope that many adorable pleated dresses and skirts are in future for my darling girlie. Thanks so much!

  22. Tammy says:

    Very Informative, thanks!

  23. EmmyLizzy says:

    After making Amy Karols Pleated Beauty Handbag, I became obsessed with pleats! Thanks for showing us all of the different ways they can be used.

  24. Liz Reese says:

    great job lynne!

  25. stephanie calkins says:

    I have always been terrified of making pleats! But this is awesome…i cant wait to try it….thanks:)

  26. Lindsey says:

    i’ve been dreading pleats, so thanks for this article it makes them seem a little less scary 🙂

  27. Jaclyn says:

    Thanks, this was very helpful! I hope to try the pleating with top stitching- I love that look.

  28. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for the great tutorial! I can’t wait to incorporate this into dresses for my daughters. They are going to be so cute!!

    Carolyn in MA

  29. Sagan says:

    Another excellent article! I love women’s clothing month! My only complaint is that the month is almost over. Can we have a “women’s clothing two months”?

  30. maren says:

    Thank you so much for this wonderful information. I would love to try my hand at some pleats. This makes it look so much less intimidating!

  31. susan says:

    Thanks for the great photos — they really help clear everything up for me!

  32. Jeannine says:

    Very informative, thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  33. Jenny says:

    I loved this tutorial and I love the sugar city girls’ inspiring clothing. Thank you for sharing and for essentially giving me the green light to just eyeball something and sew!

  34. Julie says:

    Thank you so much! I’m going to make my self a summer dress, and I can’t wait to use your tips! and maybe the free fabric!!!

    Thanks, Julie

  35. BethAnn Rivers says:

    THank you soo much for these wonderful articles/tutorials, All of them are extremely helpful and easy to follow!!!

  36. Ursa says:

    I love your tutorial. It is clearly explained and I have no fears of attempting them myself.

  37. Jamie says:

    This is such a great tutorial! I’m sure I will be using it in my new creations!

  38. Solidia says:

    Thank you! This was a really informative article.

  39. Very inspiring!

  40. Jean says:

    Sugar City Journal is such an inspiring blog- it is so great to be able to peak behind the veil at their techniques!

  41. Nicole says:

    i have a new blog bookmarked now! thanks!

  42. Kim B. says:

    Great instructions!

  43. Tasha Early says:

    ooh. Pleating.

    So informative, thanks!

  44. Mel says:

    I loved this… i always found pleats so intimidating but this makes it seem so easy. I love inverted pleats.

  45. Jill Tanner says:

    Great instructions! I love the sugar city journal–those gals are amazing. Thanks!

  46. Melissa says:

    Thanks for the info!

  47. Mrs. Pear says:

    Thank you! I started sewing when I was 9, and will be 33 this summer, and I have never managed to get pleats right! Thank you for explaining this – clearly, despite what I thought – it is not rocket science!

  48. so great! thank you

  49. mj says:

    I think there’s definitely a need for pleating in my future.

  50. Megan VS says:

    Thank you! Your blog is wonderful as well!

  51. Teri says:

    Wonderful tutorial! I love your blog and was so happy to see your input here! Please consider sharing more of your knowledge and creativity with us again soon! I’m a new sewer and can’t wait to try my hand at pleats.

  52. Tammy says:

    This information was so helpful for someone new to sewing (like myself). Thanks for always sharing helpful information for us all to use and grow!

  53. Sarah Lisle says:

    Great detailed instructions! Thank you so much.

  54. Stacy A says:

    I have always known I could make these with a little help. Sometimes you just need a bit of instruction for something to come together in your mind. This has done that for me, what a great help. Thank you so much.

  55. Christy says:

    Pleats alwasy appeared to be a difficult task! Thanks for making them seem easier! Love the instructions!

  56. jackie bateman says:

    great tutorial. i love this blog and drool over the cute clothes they make. thanks!

  57. Kerry says:

    Great info on pleats! How about gathers next?

  58. Wow, great directions and a fabulous blog. I was inspired! Wish I had little girls to sew for! Maybe I can find some….

  59. Christine says:

    Great information from you talented ladies. Thanks!!!!

  60. Kristin says:

    This is great! I’m confused about this part though “stop sewing them DOWN and switch to topstitching each pleat beyond the anchored point. ” Can someone explain, pretty please? 🙂

  61. jill says:

    What a beautiful piece!

  62. Bess says:

    thanks for these instructions – now i just need my three little ones to understand that mama needs some sewing time!

  63. Mellissa says:

    I can’t wait to try pleating. Those are great and detailed instructions. Thanks so much!

  64. Can’t wait to try this!!!!

  65. Great tutorial!!

  66. Fantastic tutorial Lynne! I can’t wait to try a little dress with a pleat with contrasting fabric. You’ve totally inspired me!

  67. Alejandra says:


  68. Amber says:

    Thanks this is great~

  69. Lynne says:

    Hello! This is to try and answer Emily’s question about how much extra fabric to use when pleating. That’s a really good question, and I think the best I can tell you is that you’ll probably need to just get out your calculator to figure it out, as it depends on the width of the pleats you want to use. For example, if you wanted to incorporate 3 one inch pleats, you’d need to add at least 6 inches to your fabric (2 inches for each pleat). That, and be willing to play around. If you are improvising it is so much trial and error, no? Good luck!!

  70. Teresa says:

    Love this…thank you!

  71. Karen says:

    Beautiful “journal” and beautiful tutorial. Thanks for the direction and inspiration. Can I ask where you found a child-sized dress form?

  72. Lil' d says:

    You guys have put me off making any clothes until this month is over, as each time I’m reading the blog entries, I’m thinking “oh, I’m glad I found that out before starting to sew it”… Thanks!

  73. Margie says:

    Wow I really love this wonderful information.I’ve made pleats but shy away because I figure I will mess them up. I need to find something to put a pleat in!!

  74. Kelsey says:

    This is a very clear tutorial that I am sure I will use someday. Pleats were always a bit daunting but I think this is just what I need to get the hang out them!

  75. Jess says:

    You guys are the best!
    I love the ‘painterly’ pleats.
    I will have to try that with my own hug-a-bug’s clothing.

  76. Andrea says:

    great! I am sure going to use this now. Thank you

  77. stefanie says:

    I’m wondering what formula you use to determine how much material is required…You make this look so easy that I actually want to try something without using a pattern:)

  78. emily says:

    this is great but i still have one question. how much more fabric do you need when you are going to pleat a garment? do i need to make my skirt bigger first or pleat it first and then cut it?

  79. Mary says:

    Thanks for even more wonderful inspiration!

  80. J says:

    These are awesome instructions. I’m going to expand my skills and try to pleat a skirt- thanks for the inspiration!

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