The Different Types Of Pleats

Adding pleats to a skirt or dress is a skill that some new sewers struggle to master. When done correctly, you will end up with a nice series of folds that accentuate the style and flow of the garment. When done incorrectly, the piece can look uneven. It is important to practice this skill and get a better understanding of the types of pleats. Some will be better suited to add to projects than others.

What are the different types of pleats?

There are lots of different styles of pleats determined by the shape and direction of the fold and the use of stitching. It is a good idea to start by learning the basic pleat method before moving on to knife and box pleats. Both forms are very different and have their own applications in sewing. You will also find that there are variants in box and knife pleats that could be useful to learn at a later point. From there, you could also learn some lesser-known and intricate options for specific garments.

There are lots of different types of pleats

There are lots of different types of pleats in dress-making, and you probably won’t find yourself using that many of them. The following is a list of some of the most basic and common, as well as some interesting alternatives. After mastering basic pleats, you are likely to find box and knife pleats in patterns.

  • Knife pleats
  • Crystal pleats
  • Box pleats
  • Inverted box pleats
  • Bias pleats
  • Kick pleats
  • Accordion pleats
  • Kingussie pleats

What are knife pleats?

Knife pleats sound quite simple on paper. You have a series of evenly spaced folds in a piece of material that all face the same way. What this means is that you can gather the material at the top of the skirt, or the bottom part of the dress, and create a more flattering and feminine shape. One of the best things about using this method is that you can end up with completely different looks depending on the measurements.

One option is to create a few larger folds around the skirt for a more minimalist effect. Or, you might want to go in for a much larger number to make them a bigger feature of the garment. When working from a pattern, the instructions should give you a good indication of the number and measurements. When creating your own pattern, you need to make sure that you leave enough material at the waist so that the item still fits when gathered. Take your time with the measurements and placement and remember to press the pleats in the same direction.

Forming Knife Pleats
Here’s a good video tutorial on how to form knife pleats for a better visual demonstration.

How do crystal pleats differ from knife pleats?

Crystal pleats are pretty much the same thing in that you have a series of folds in the same direction. However, these are much more defined and close together. You can find these detailed accents on items such as tuxedo shirts. They are tricky to perfect but, are worth trying if you want to make a spectacular shirt for a special occasion.

What are box pleats?

Box pleats are a common alternative that provides a very different shape. Rather than creating a simple fold in the material, you end up with a strip sticking out for a more three-dimensional shape. Hence the name box. These are often used in skirts for a different sort of formal shape, such as in school uniforms. You can also find box pleats at the back of dress shirts.

As with the knife pleats, these require precision and care for the best result. It is noticeable with these prominent features if the pleat is crooked, or if one is bigger than the other. You still need to create a balanced and symmetrical design. Again, a good pattern should provide the right instructions and measurements to get you started

Forming Box Pleats
Check out this quick tutorial by Colleen and she jumps right into how to make box pleats.

How do inverted box pleats differ from box pleats?

There is an alternative version called the inverted box pleat. All this means is that the box shape sits inside the design facing the body, rather than facing outwards. This can create a dramatic inward fold for greater definition without so much material on show. Make sure to check on a pattern if it called for a standard or inverted pleat and to present it the right way when finishing the garment.

Sewing Box Pleats & Inverted Box Pleats
With this video you can learn how to create a box pleats and inverted box pleats. As well as, when you may use each pleat.

Box pleats vs Knife pleats. Which should you use?

We can’t say that one option is better than the other because of their different looks and applications. On the one hand, you have a more basic shape that is easier to learn with the knife pleat. You can practice this often with skirts and dresses and get an idea of the best placement and measurements for the style of clothing. But, there are times when only a box pleat will do and these look great in the right place. Of course, there are times when you may need both options, such as some dress shirts or an item mentioned below.

Box Pleats vs Knife Pleats - What are the Real Differences?
Here’s a nice visual description of what box pleats and knife pleats are and when you may see each.

Other pleats to learn when you build confidence

It is a good idea to play around with other styles as they can appear in various patterns. Kick pleats, which are small pleats at the bottom of skirts aren’t uncommon. Bias pleats occur partway up the skirt with a 45-degree angle. Accordion pleats require careful measurements of depth and width for a fun shape. Then there is the Kingussie pleat. This is a complex design that combines styles into an intricate pattern and is seen in kilts. If you never plan on making a kilt, it might not come up. But, it is still a fun lesson.

How to make Pleats (tutorial)
In this video you’ll find a quick breakdown of 6 different pleats: box pleats, knife pleats, accordion pleats, mixing pleats, topstitched pleats, and cartridge pleats. This video has great simple steps of each pleat from start to finish.

Get to know the different pleats because you don’t know when you might need them

The more you learn about making pleats and the more you practice, the better you will get. The different versions, including the inversions and more delicate alternatives, show that there is an ideal method for each garment. This also means more room for error. Don’t worry if your first attempts are uneven or messy. Keep at it and you will succeed!

If you’re into dress making you’ll want to check out our guide on DIY dress forms since they make dress making all that much easier. Yet, they can be hard and pricey to come by. Also, this way you can make a dress form specifically to you or whomever your making dresses for to improve fitting.