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.