Monday, August 13, 2012

Tutorial: chemically set pleats

Some may have noticed that I've been doing lots of pleated things lately.  It started with the first skirt for Skirting the Issue, and then while I was at it, I made Grace's first day of school dress and I just finished Nicole's latest outfit.  While it's not--exactly--possible to have no maintenance pleats with natural fibers, it is possible to make them easy to reset after washing.  Most commercially pleated garments--those with permanent pleats that don't require maintenance--are made from polyesters and other artificial materials.  Cotton, linen, and rayon are fairly easy to set pleats into, but they will require the pleats being "reset" when you iron them before wearing.  However, if you simply iron the pleats after washing, the pleat lines will be gone and make it very hard to reset them correctly.

I know of two methods of setting in the pleats.  1)There is a commercially available product.  I'm told it's a special chemically-treated press cloth.  2)Use what's in your kitchen!  Bear with me, and I'll explain. 

I always use #2 because, well, I'm cheap.  Why should I go and spend money when I have the equivalent in my kitchen cupboards?  Okay, your first step is to mark the pleat lines, fold the fabric into pleats, and pin it.  One hint--this is a lot easier if your fabric has a regular pattern, like stripes and dots--you have straight lines already practically in front of you, making it easy to get your pleats straight.

Next, start basting.  I prefer doing this by hand, as it's both easier to pull out, and less likely to leave marks on the fabric.  Once you've basted the front, turn the fabric over.

Baste the back.  This will keep your pleat lines from slipping as we press them.  Remember, our goal here is clean, crisp pleat lines. 

Here we are with it all basted.  The next step requires what's in your kitchen cupboards. 

Mix 1 cup of white vinegar with 2 cups of plain tap water and soak a press cloth in it.  I use a cloth napkin.

Wring out the press cloth until it's not drippy.

Lay the cloth over your first pleat and press it--don't move the iron.  Steam should rise from it.  When the cloth is barely damp, remove it, and put it back in your vinegar/water solution. 

Iron the pleat dry.  Now, repeat the process on the rest of the pleats.  Finish sewing the garment, leaving the hem for the last.  Once you have it sewn together, remove the basting stitches and hem.  Now you're going to have to reset the pleats during the final ironing.  This will put the lines into the hem, and I count it as extra insurance. 

Simply lay the garment on your ironing board and lay the pleats in place before repeating.  You really only have to do this on the bottom, but as I said--it's insurance.  The pleat lines will now hold up without help through three-four washings, but since if you're like me, I have to iron cotton things to get the wrinkles out, you'll want to press your pleats after washing.  The vinegar part doesn't have to be redone.

Enjoy your garment!


  1. Nice article...can you use this method on other fabrics like wool, polyester and silk as well? I like to pre-wash everything first, so hopefully all the wools and silk can continue to be handwashed.

  2. As far as I know, you can. Perhaps with moisture sensitive fabrics, however, you might want to purchase the press cloths they make to accomplish this...

  3. Thanks for sharing, I will try this on my next project.

  4. This is a fantastic idea & concept to having permanent pleats. Thank you so much for sharing this information. ♥♥♥

  5. Wedding dress has pleated tulle. LOTS OF PLEATED TULLE. I was hoping to baste and refresh them. The vinegar mixture with press cloth sounds like a great idea. Your thoughts?

    1. Generally speaking, tulle has nylon in it, which melts. My advice is to try it on a scrap on the highest setting the material will allow.

  6. I have been looking for this trick for years. I remember way back, like 25 years ago, reading something about using vinegar to set pleats, but I could not remember the details. My search is finally over, thank you for sharing!