Box Pleating Made Easy(er)

When I made my first skirt I picked box pleating as my method of gahtering pretty randomly. I found instructions and managed to figure things out after some finagling, and I really liked the way things turned out. This isn't an overly complicated process, but I think I would have liked a step by step process to follow when I was learning just to keep things straight and especially notes on how to figure out how many pleats and how big. So that's why I'm making this- in hopes that it will help some other lonely pleat-less soul. :)


Why Box Pleats?

In terms of authenticity, the types of pleats you will use really depend on what you're making- time period, country of origin, etc. Try looking at paintings to determine what looks the closest. I plan to post pictures or research or something to help justify this pages existence, but right now my primary argument for box pleats is that I like them. ;) They make wonderful deep pleated folds. Their neat and geometric at the top (which I like because things are just nice and tidy) and they fall into graceful folds through the length of the skirt.


Spacing, Measuring and Marking

Strictly speaking, box pleats have a 3:1 ratio. That means that 3" of fabric will become 1" of pleated fabric. Double box pleats have a 5:1 ratio. This means that if you just start box pleating your skirt, the final measurment will be a third of what you started with for single and a fifth for double box pleats. But what if your waist measurment isn't a third of a fifth of your fabric? I use a simple formula to figure out what combination of single and double box pleats (and sometimes unpleated fabric) to get down to the correct size.

Ok, first you need three measurments: the size of one pleat, the size of fabric you'll be pleating and the size it needs to end up (the size of the waistband if you're pleating a skirt.) I use 1" box pleats- they seem a good size and they make the math easier. The skirt I just finished was 120" around and had to be pleated to fit a 30.5" waist. I'll use these measurments to demonstrate.

Since each pleat is 1" when finished, whether it's a single or double, the number of pleats has to equal the final size. So in this case we're going to need a total of 30.5 pleats (it's okay to have half a pleat with box pleats- skip down to construction to see what I mean.) Know let's call the number of single box pleats "S" and the number of double box pleats "D". 3 times S plus 5 times D has to equal the amount of fabric we're starting with. That's because each single pleat starts as 3" of fabric and each double starts as 5". Confused? Try looking at these equations and see if that helps.

S+D = waist measurement
3xS + 5xD = fabric width

In my case, that would be S + D = 30.5 and 3xS + 5xD = 120. Now you just have to solve for these two equations. Sorry if this sounds like a bad flashback to math class, but bear with me, I'll walk you through it.

I'm just going to cut through the chase here. There are a few steps to solve this, but you're probably not here for a math lesson. Take your waist measurment and multiply by 3. Subtract this from the fabric measurment. Divide by 2. This is the number of double pleats you need. Subtract this number from your waist measurement to determine the number of single pleats. In my case it looks like this:

30.5"x3=90.5

120-90.5=29.5

29.5/2= 14.75 Double Pleats

Subtracting this from my waist measurment gives 30.5-14.75= 15.75 single pleats

Now you may remember my saying that half a pleat was ok, and it is, but you can't have a quarter of a pleat. You can have unpleated fabric, though. The easiest thing to do is just leave a little bit unpleated somewhere (on either side of the hook and eyes or whatever you're using to keep your skirt up seems most logical to me.) So now we're going to have 14.5 double pleats and 15.5 single pleats, but start 1/4" from the edge of our opening.

Now mark your fabric. If you're doing 1" pleats, mark every half inch. Six of these spaces (a total of three inches) will become one pleat (see diagram.) For double pleats, it will be 10 spaces- 5 inches. See, I told you those ratios mattered!

Alternately, you can leave a larger (1") space in the center of each pleat. This is useful because you can see where each pleat starts and ends. The 1" space is the center of the pleat and the two spaces to each side fold in on it. (For double pleats, it would be four spaces on either side.) To mark the single pleats, skip every sixth mark and for double pleats, skip every tenth.



Folding the Pleats

Start folding at the second mark (an inch in.) Put your thumbnail on the mark to help make a crease and fold the fabric towards the center of the pleat (the right in this case.)

Stop folding the fabric when you get to the next mark. In other words, you're folding it back over itself (to the left) at the second mark.

You made your first half a pleat! Two of these facing each other makes a full pleat.

Here is a blury picture (sorry!) of what the folding looks like from the top- sort of a "z" shape.

Stick a pin into the pleat to hold it and start the second half. Remember, this is the same thing we just did, but in reverse. Use your thumbnail to create a crease. We're still folding towards the center of the pleat, but this time that's to the left. These folds will alternate between left and right.

Fold it back over itself at the next mark (or where it hits the other half a pleat- these should be the same spot.) Voila! A box pleat! Tres facile, non?

The complete box pleat, pinned in place, without my fingers in the way. :)

Here is a sample pleated all the way across. Each pin holds a half a pleat. Notice how they alternate directions?


Double Box Pleats

Double box pleats are much the same as single box pleats. There is just an extra fold in them, which makes them fuller (remember that 5:1 ratio?)

Starting with a (half a) single box pleat, use your thumb to form a crease at the mark at the outside of the pleat (furthest from the center. Fold it towards the center. You're basically making a second layer just like the first.

Fold it back over itself again. The final results should be a half inch (or half of whatever your pleat size is), just like before. It'll just be thicker. It will look sort of like a Z and a half when you look at the pleat from the top.

This is a skirt I recently finished. I a combination of single and double box pleats. This picture shows the finished box pleats, still pinned and waiting for a waistband to finish it off.

Here's what all those double box pleats look like from the top.

I sewed to rows of running stitches to hold the pleats down, since I'll use the machine to attach the waistband and machine + pins = bad. I made sure I went through each half pleat twice so they'd all stay neat and in place. I'll also iron the top so the creases are nice and neat.

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