Pleating Fabric

Recently, I’ve been obsessed with fabric pleating. I don’t know how many videos I’ve watched of fabric pleaters making paper molds & pleating fabric. There’s something very calming about watching someone pleat fabric. I think it’s the precision & symmetry of it that appeals to me.

After a while though, I started to think, this isn’t all that hard, surely I could do this at home.

I had a skirt that I wanted a pleated panel for. I had a look in my local fabric store for pre-pleated panels but they didn’t stock many & I didn’t really like any of the colours or fabrics. Then I had a look online. There’s a lot of fabric pleaters out there, but I just didn’t want to pay a huge amount of money for a small panel of pleats.

So I decided to give it a go myself. After all it’s just making a paper mold & baking it in an oven right?

The first time I found out about the pleating process was in this blog post from Poppykettle. This Threads article explained the basics quite well so I started with that & looking back over all the YouTube videos & articles I’d save to try to work out an actual method. This YouTube video was the most helpful for the actual bake temperatures & times. Also, I learnt a bit from someone I met at a supplier workshop (part of my day job as an engineer). By chance, his hobby was folding paper to create different types of expanding designs – he had some pretty incredibly patterns & so we ended up speaking for a while about creating different paper patterns.

The Pattern
I decided on a pattern of pleats that gradually reduce in size. So I set about making the paper mold. For the paper I used painter’s masking paper from Home Depot. It seemed to be a good weight & was the right size for what I needed to pleat, but mostly it was because we already had half a roll of it in the basement that was left over from painting our house.

I drew a series of lines with a ballpoint pen to mark out where the creases of each pleat would be. There were 3 lines for each pleat, an inward facing crease, outward facing crease & an alignment line (I used a different colour for each). The benefit of using a ballpoint pen was that it also slightly scored the paper if you pushed down on it, this made the subsequent folding portion easier.

Once that was complete, I started folding. This took the better part of an afternoon, but was a very relaxing activity.

Now technically you need two copies of the same mold for this pleating method to work, so I just cut mine in half as I didn’t need the pleated panel to be too long. Otherwise I would have had to make another identical mold.

The Fabric
The fabric I used was literally just some cheap polyester I found at JoAnns. The only criteria that I had was that I wanted the same fabric in a few different colours because I wanted different sections of the pleat to be different colours (because you know, why not make my life more complicated).

The Pleating & Baking
At this point I had to go back & start watching videos again to see how professional pleaters do the actual pleating. I tried so many different ways & I just couldn’t get the fabric to sit properly or to hold the paper molds in place properly. In the end I found this video most helpful.

I borrowed the hubby’s clamps & started by clamping the first part of the paper mold down at one end. Then I stretched it out & clamped it down on the other side

I laid the fabric over the mold. Because I had a seam where I had joined two pieces of fabric together, I had to align that with a specific point in the pleat mold. I used little bulldog clips to hold it in place (it was just what I had lying around).

Next I placed the second part of the paper mold on top & aligned the pleating points of both molds. At this point I also undid the clamps at one end & reattached them to secure both molds together, (one clamp at a time so that there was always at least 3-points of pressure on the stretched mold). Finally I removed the clamps at one end & started to re-fold the pleat board together with the fabric. As I went I used bulldog clips on either side to secure the folds temporarily.

I slid a baking tray under the molds (this was to make moving it to the oven easier) & put a heavy baking dish on top to hold the central part of the pleats in place.

I baked the pleats at 180C for 25mins.

The Results
I’m pretty happy with the results for a first try. The pleats themselves hold really nicely, however my technique clearly needs some fine tuning. Firstly, I think I need to reduce the bake time – there were a couple of areas of the fabric that developed little yellow spots during the baking that I want to avoid. Secondly I need to work on alignment – particularly of the seam, this flipped & slipped when I was putting the molds together so it doesn’t look right.

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