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This month I bring you a tutorial on complex pleats and folds. As the theme might suggest, the patterns are quite tricky. But I’ll do my best to explain them.

If you’re interested in more basic pleats, check out this beginner tutorial. And related to pleats, here’s an article I wrote about tucks.

Oh, and never mind about some of the names. It was actually quite difficult to invent how to call these! 😀

Flipped-around Folds

Here’s a bodice back, that has been divided into diagonal slices. You sew the slices in two layers so that you can flip them around at the center back and create the opposite side of the back piece. This forms triangular holes along the center back line.

You could also try using different colors for the two layers.

Let’s see the pattern.

Flipped Folds Pattern

1. Begin by dividing the c.back line of the bodice into even sections. Draw diagonal lines, until you reach the dart point.

In case you’re wondering, the pattern here has a bigger dart than usual, as it has been created directly on the dressform by draping. So you might have to draw one more line to reach the dart.

You can adjust the dart length slightly if you’re having trouble matching the point with your diagonal lines.

2. Cut the last diagonal line open so that you manage to close the dart. Then, finish drawing the rest of the lines.

3. Cut and fold the tip of each strip on itself at the c.back in a 90° angle. Mark a notch where the fold starts, as shown in the picture.

4. Mirror each strip (both horizontally & vertically) and attach along the c.back line. Copy also the notches you just marked. Test folding the strips to see that you got them right. They should look identical to the original when folded upwards.

Separate the 5 pieces.

Here’s what the pattern should look like. You’ll need to cut 2 of each to get both layers.

Sewing

First, work on each strip separately, uniting the two layers between the notches. In the previous picture you can see which bits to close, but practically it’s the neckline and the areas that will be forming the holes.

Turn the right sides out and unite all 5 pieces. Going in order gives you the possibility to sew both layers in one go.

After finishing one side, flip the strips around and sew the other side.

Twisted Pleats

I got the idea for this piece from the cross-stitched tucks I introduced in the forementioned Tucks tutorial. If it works with tucks, it will work with pleats as well, right?

In order to use this technique, you need to confine the pleats at both ends. The folds start in one direction and end in the opposite direction.

So I added these pleated arches to a bodice front.

Twisted Pleats bodice

Twisted Pleats Pattern

Twisted pleats pattern

1. The first step is to rotate the dart(s) to the side, so they won’t get in the way, when you’re drawing the arches.

2. Draw the two curved shapes where the pleats will be added. One of them should pass through the dart point to absorb it.

3. Separate the pattern pieces and close the dart. Smoothen the area around the dart point. Try to avoid an angle.

Divide the curved shapes evenly. There will be a pleat at each line. Number the sections.

4. Add pleat allowance in a 90° angle. It can be max twice as wide as the narrowest end of the sections to avoid bulk. Before cutting away excess paper, fold the pleats. Cut only the outer edge.

Then fold the inner edge of the pleats in the opposite direction and cut.

Cutting pattern piece for twisted pleats

This way you get the pleat intake right on both sides.

This method results in identical pleats on both sides of the c.front. If you want the knife pleats to continue in the same direction throughout the arch, then you need to draft the whole pattern (instead of just half a pattern).

Sewing Twisted Pleats

When cutting the fabric, remember to clip notches on both sides of the pleats so that you know where to fold.

Begin by pressing the pleats and stitching the outer edge to hold them in place.

Then fold the inner edge in the other direction and stitch.

After this you can unite the rest of the bodice pieces normally.

Kirigami Sleeve

Kirigami is actually a technique used for paper art, but I love mixing things up, so here’s a kirigami sleeve. Obviously, you need to take into account that there’s risk of fraying edges. But the cuts are made on bias, so that helps a bit.

Kirigami sleeve

The Kirigami Pattern

Kirigami sleeve pattern

1. Copy the sleeve pattern and regulate the length. In this example I’m making an elbow length sleeve.

Draw a line in the middle of the sleeve and 2 lines on both sides of it, at 4cm distance apart.

2. Then draw horizontal lines on top of the vertical ones. There’s 2cm between each. Aim for an even number of lines. These will be your guidelines.

3. With the help of the guidelines, draw the final, v-shaped lines as shown here. They should also be an even number.

Cutting and Sewing Kirigami

The easiest way to cut the sleeve, is to cut the v-shaped lines with the pattern still attached. Fold the sleeve in half to get symmetrical result.

How to cut and sew Kirigami sleeve

You’ll need to attach the folds by hand stitching. Lift every other v-shape so that the tips overlap, and stitch.

Once you’ve finished the kirigami, you can sew the rest of the sleeve as usual.

I’ve also made a bodice back with the same technique.

Kirigami bodice back

Contoured Folded Pleats

Let’s get into more complicated designs! As there are contoured tucks, I thought I’d try contoured pleats. I’ve bumped into similar designs on Pinterest when using the keyword fabric manipulation.

So first you make contoured pleats and then fold them downwards to get this 3D effect.

Contoured pleats bodice

When planning this pattern I wasn’t sure I knew what I was doing half the time, but in the end the result came out the way I wanted, so it worked! As a consequence, this pattern is quite difficult to explain, but I’ll try.

Contoured Pleats Pattern

Contoured pleats pattern

1. First things first, rotate the dart(s) to the side so they won’t get in the way.

2. Separate the central panel, passing through the dart point. Draw evenly spaced horizontal lines on the central panel. This will be the point where the pleats will be folded downwards.

3. This drawing illustrates the final look we’re going for, when the pleats are folded downwards.

The dashed line is the inside of the pleat. The upper part of each pleat will be attached inside the previous fold.

4. Here the pleat shapes are turned upwards, the way we will be making them initially. In this example there are 9 contoured pleats + one ordinary pleat. I also modified the neckline.

When adding pleat allowance, you’ll need to know the start and the end point of each pleat. We’re working between the dashed (inner fold) and pink (outer fold) lines.

5. To add confusion: As we are making contoured pleats here – meaning you take care of the shape afterwards – at this point the pleats are completely straight. I’ve eliminated all of the extra lines from this picture.

Now you just start copying the sections for each pleat. I’m not sure if this is more complicated than the traditional way, but the positive thing is that you get the pleat intake directly and don’t need to fold the paper.

The first pleat starts at the waistline and ends at the level where the first tip was located (A). This would be the outer fold.

Turn the pattern around and copy in the other direction, ending where it says fold 2 (B). This is the inner fold.

6. For the second pleat, start where the first pleat ended. And copy sections A and B as shown here.

7. The same for the third pleat. Continue like this until you have a long pattern piece with all of the pleats. For the last pleat you can add for example 3-4cm normally.

This pattern piece will be cut on fold. As for the side panel pattern piece, close the dart and smoothen the angle at the dart point.

Copy the shape of your contoured pleats on a more heavy weight paper so that you can use it as a template when sewing.

How to Sew Contoured Pleats

When cutting the fabric, clip notches where the tip of each pleat is and where it ends so that you know where to fold.

Fold the pleats right sides together and with the help of your template, draw the shapes on the pleats. Then you can sew the curves.

Before turning the right sides out, clip the seam allowance. Press and arrange the pleats.

Sewing contoured pleats

Starting from the top, fold the tip of each pleat and stitch it inside the following pleat. Ensure that you catch just the very tip to maintain a 3D shape. Otherwise you’ll get a flat result.

Here’s what the central panel looks like when it’s done.

After this you can attach the side panels normally.

Braided Pleats

The final design is a bodice with alternating, overlapped pleats that create kind of a braided look.

Let’s see how this was made.

The Pattern

1. First, separate the area where the pleats will be. Draw straight lines with the corner at the dart point. You could also shape the neckline so that it goes with this geometric look.

2. Draw lines where the pleats will be as shown here.

3. The dashed lines illustrate the depth of the pleats. To get an overlapped result, the pleats need to start under the previous pleat (=where the dashed line is).

4. You’ll have 2 pattern pieces: one for the vertical and one for the horizontal pleats. Here you can see the area they cover. You need to copy both.

Then you can add the pleat allowance, remembering the depth of pleat which you already decided earlier. For example, if that was 2cm, you’ll add 4cm of pleat allowance.

You’ll need to cut little slits in the center of each pleat as you can see in the picture.

The pink line shows which part will remain under the previous pleat.

All three pieces will be cut on the fold.

Sewing the Pleats

You don’t need to add seam allowance where the pleats are, except to the outer edge of course.

Start by pressing the pleats. Then work your way from the uppermost pleat downwards, overlapping the pleats, alternating between horizontal and vertical ones.

The slits you cut should help you with matching the pleats. Stitch each layer in place.

When you’ve united the two pieces, stitch the pleats in place also at the outer edge.

Here’s what the piece looks like on the wrong side.

After this, you can unite the pleated piece to the lower part of the bodice.

I hope you found this tutorial useful and got some inspiration for your future sewing projects!

Feel free to share it if you think others would enjoy it, too. 🙂

42 Comments

  1. JUDY JONES Reply

    Is it possible for you to make this into a pdf and post in resource library. Thank you

    • shapesoffabric Reply

      The whole article? I think there are sites that do it from a link you provide, so you might get it done faster that way. 🙂

    • Jenna Howell Reply

      There’s a great browser add on that’s print to PDF and usually it will print website pages perfectly. You can click and delete things you don’t want.

  2. I am intrigued by the kirigami… Since there seems to be no other layer involved, how do you prevent fraying of the fabric?

    • shapesoffabric Reply

      Yeah, it creates quite a cool effect. 🙂 I’m not sure there is any good way to prevent fraying. But at least the bias cut frays less than cutting in the direction of the grainline. I guess you just need to avoid the kind of fabrics that fray badly. I made the bodice in a kind of vinyl/faux leather, so it doesn’t fray at all, but it’s not the most useful material for normal garments. 😀

      • I think using a polyester or other synthetic fabric and using a hot knife to cut those edges would prevent fraying. I’m thinking a polyester organza would work well as it has some body to it.

        Another option could be to fuse either interfacing (if you like the look) or another fabric using that fusible webbing stuff to the back of the fashion fabric. That could create an interesting contrast and the fusing should prevent or minimize fraying.

        • Thank you for the tips! 🙂 It would definitely be great to stop the fraying immediately when cutting, but interfacing sounds like a good idea, too.

  3. Karen Alexander Reply

    Good Day, I am unable to locate how to draft a pants on your website.

    • shapesoffabric Reply

      Hello. It doesn’t exist yet, but this tutorial is the next one on my list to be created. 🙂 So stay tuned.

      • Its well understood,detailed and self explanatory,please I don’t mind if I can get it in PDF.thank you.

    • shapesoffabric Reply

      If you subscribe to my newsletter, I’ll send an email each time I publish something new. 🙂

  4. As usual, im intrigued. I pray i m able to try it out soonest. Love the contoured pleats most…

    • shapesoffabric Reply

      Yeah, these are interesting experiments although it can be a bit difficult to wrap your head around the steps. 😀

  5. Loretta Hoopes Reply

    Very nice ideas. It makes you think hard about more ways to do this. Great article.

    • shapesoffabric Reply

      Thank you. 🙂 Yes, it’s fun to figure out different ways to manipulate fabric.

  6. This so incredible! It’s exactly the kind of thing I was looking for – I’m a beginner with big dreams and I want to learn to make these kinds of complex pleats, my absolute favourite is the flipped around folds with the triangles at the back – how stunning!

    Where do you get your inspiration from? Are there designers that are well known for this kind of thing? I’ve just been googling ‘complex pleating’ but not having been trained or educated in fashion I’m not really sure where to look or what to call it.

    Congrats on making a super inspirational blog!! And thank you for sharing your skills.

    • shapesoffabric Reply

      Thank you so much for your nice message. 🙂 I think if you search for “fabric manipulation”, you should find some cool pictures. Or avant garde/sculptural fashion. I’m inspired by different shapes, mainly geometric, paper folding, origami, repeating shapes, architecture.. You should also check out Shingo Sato, who teaches creative patterncutting. 🙂

  7. This is so amazing. I’m really glad to discover your inspirational blog. Thanks so much for putting out such great material

    • shapesoffabric Reply

      You’re welcome. 🙂 I think they’ve rotated the darts to the neckline to get the volume needed for the pleats. The top seems to have a raglan cut, which enables you to add those pleats you see at the shoulders.

  8. Rosemary Heptig Reply

    Oh my goodness! I just found you because I did a quick Google to find a “slash and spread” tute for sleeves to share on an FB comment, and clicked on yours ‘cuz it was near the top. It was so nice I decided to poke around some more of your tutes, and I find this amazing bit of slicing and dicing!!
    I think you’re my new favorite person. <3

  9. Hi, I’ve been following your posts for a while. I think you’re amazing and love working out the ideas and instructions. This makes me feel better and helps me through tough times. Thank you so much for that.

  10. aishni advani Reply

    hey, I’ve been following you for a while and I just love your work. I’m very passionate about learning patterns and your blog helps a lot. please post variations in dress patterns as well. I wonder if you take any one on one online class.

    • Thanks so much! 🙂 It’s awesome that you’re learning new things from my tutorials. I’ll add dresses to my request list! I haven’t gotten into organizing classes yet.

  11. Hello Milan!
    I read this blog post sometime last year and I just couldn’t stop loving the flipped folds pattern.
    So, I finally made a jumpsuit with an off shoulder cowl sleeves using the patterns. I would love to share with you if you don’t mind.
    You inspire me greatly.

    Thank you!

  12. Chathumini Reply

    This article is very helpful. Thanks for sharing this amazing work. Planning to try these tomorrow it self 😉😄

  13. I’m so obsessed with the contoured pleats it’s my absolute favorite. I’m on my journey to figure it out . For the neckline that you modified, did you increase or decrease it? It’s kind of hard to tell from the picture I don’t know if the blue pen means the old line or the new modified line. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I am so inspired

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