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How to Sew Pleats

pleated skirt

If you own a skirt or a dress shirt, you may be familiar with pleats, which are special gathers in a garment that help add volume where you need it most. In dress shirts, the pleat is usually placed at the back of the shirt to allow the shoulders to spread as you move your arms throughout the day. In women’s shirts, you may find that some decorative pleats are placed in the front of fashion garments. You will also notice pleats near the waistband of your skirts and pants. Pleats are a clever way to neatly tailor a garment into the waistband and create room and give in your outfit. Plus, pleats can be a fun way to add shape and motion to your outfit. While they look complicated, pleats are actually quite simple to sew. All you need is an iron and your sewing machine to get started.


Basic pleats

A basic pleat can be made by folding your fabric twice and stitching over the folds.


  • First, fold your fabric so that the wrong sides are facing together.


  • Make sure the pleat falls at a straight angle, then press the fold.


  • If you're making a full-length pleat, iron all the way to the hem of your skirt.


  • If you're just making a pleat to add volume in a shirt or pair of pants, iron only to the edge of the seam allowance.


After you iron, you may wish to pin your fold in place as you work on the final part of your pleat.


  • Take your fabric and fold it back out almost flat again. For a deep pleat, fold the fabric back several inches away from your first fold. For a shallow pleat, make it closer.


  • Again, ensure that the pleat is straight and press it into place.


  • Once you have the folds pressed, you can stitch them into place. Use a basting stitch close to your seam allowance to hold the pleat in place. When you sew your seam, the pleat will be in the perfect position and you will have volume where you need it most.


Fancy pleat work

Repeat basic pleats can make a skirt that is full of volume without the gathers that give the illusion of a puffy waist or hips. If you want to do something a little fancier, try a different version of a pleat. Cheerleader skirts commonly use box pleats or inverted pleats to add volume and allow contrasting colors to pop through. You can use box or inverted pleats to add style or color to your outfits as well. Make one pleat as you normally would. If you want to make a box pleat, then start your pleat by folding the fabric with the wrong sides together. If you want to make an inverted pleat, begin your pleat by folding the fabric with the right sides together. Then a few inches away, make another pleat that faces the opposite direction.


A well-done pleat looks sharp and adds plenty of roomy volume without making your garment too puffy. Practice first on some scrap fabric and maybe make a few pleated pillows before you start on a full-on project. Simple practice will help you get the feel for pleats so you can sew them perfectly every time.

fancy pleats

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