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How To Make A Box Pleat Or Inverted Box Pleat

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Pleats are the origami of the sewing world. And although you don't usually need to fold one into the shape of a swan, there are a wide variety of pretty pleats that add distinct visual and textural embellishments for both home décor as well as garment sewing. Each type provides a different look based on how it's formed. You can make: knife pleats, knife pleats in two directions, box pleats, inverted box pleats, inverted box pleats with a separate underlay, accordion pleats, sunray pleats, and wave pleats. In this tutorial, we're focusing on a box pleat and its identical yet opposite cousin, the inverted box pleat. We'll address knife pleats later this week and some of the more specialized pleats in the near future.

A box pleat is one of the most common types of pleats. It's formed when two equal folds of fabric are folded away from each other in opposite directions on the front of a length of fabric. The folds traditionally meet evenly at the center back, but they don't have to meet at the center. You can create a single box pleat or a grouping of box pleats, depending on the overall visual design. In addition, you can topstitch or edgestitch a pleat to help maintain its form.

An inverted box pleat is formed by two equal folds of fabric folded toward one another so they meet at the center of the pleat on the front of the fabric. Or, more easily stated, an inverted box pleat is what a box pleat looks like from behind.

The key to sewing any pleat is precise marking of the fold lines and placement lines. You'll want to test your marking tools on your selected fabric to make sure they are appropriate. The big question is whether to mark your lines on the right side or wrong side of the fabric, or both! You'll determine this by the type of pleat, project, and/or fabric. Another important detail to remember: it's always recommended that you do any necessary hemming prior to pressing the pleats. Which reminds us! Pressing is certainly another important component in making pleats. We will explain all of these details below.

For starters, lets get a visual on what a box pleat looks like. Below is a single box pleat.

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Here's a group of three small, closely spaced box pleats

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And, here's a group of wider box pleats spaced farther apart

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If we look at one of these examples from the back, we have inverted box pleats!

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As you can see, box pleats and inverted box pleats can take on a different look depending on how many you use, their size, and their spacing.

Where we see or use pleats

You've probably owned a pleated garment or two over the years, most likely a skirt. In fact, this may be where you're most familiar with seeing pleats. However, they're just as effective in other types of sewing! Box pleats look fantastic on a valance or drape, pillows, bags... in truth, they're a beautiful (and often very functional) accent just about anywhere.

Below are a few examples of projects we've done with box pleats.

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There is a single box pleat at the bottom of each pocket on our Nine-Pocket Door Caddy. This is a good example of a box pleat folded evenly to the center back.

We used single box pleats at the bottom of the pockets in our popular Quick Trip Diaper Bag. The pleats are what allow the pocket to expand to hold more stuff. If the pockets were flat, you wouldn't be able to use them for much.

In our cute Mother's Day Travel Pouch, we created single box pleats with edgestitching on either side. This shows how a box pleat can add dimension to an otherwise plain bag.

And, we incorporated inverted box pleats into our Storybook Bedroom Window Valance.

Pleats and fabric types

Pleats are created by folding the fabric at selected intervals (or measured widths). The folds are either pressed in place from top to bottom, or only formed at the fabric edge and left to hang as soft folds.

Depending on the fabric you use, you'll see a difference in the crispness of your pleats. Natural fabrics, such as wool or cotton, hold a crisp pressed edge much better than synthetic fabrics. This does not mean you can only use a natural fiber fabric for pleated projects. It simply means you'll have to take extra precautions when marking and pressing pleats in synthetics. As a rule of thumb, natural fabrics are traditionally better for full length pleats, and synthetic fabrics are best for soft fold pleats.

In addition to the type of fabric you select, the weight of your fabric will affect the pleat's overall appearance. It's best to use wider pleats on heavier fabrics to eliminate ending up with too much bulk at the fabric edge.

One more detail to consider is yardage. If you're not using a pattern that indicates the yardage needed, you'll have to calculate how much additional fabric you'll need. You have to add the widths of the folds and the distance between them to your overall cut measurement to make sure you have enough fabric to pleat.

Marking pleats

A box pleat or inverted box pleat consists of two fold lines and a placement line. These must be marked accurately on your selected fabric.

On commercial patterns, you will most likely see the fold lines indicated by a dotted line and the placement line for these folds indicated by a solid line. If you are incorporating pleats into a non-patterned project, it's best to use this same dotted and solid line method.

Usually, when folding your fabric to create the individual pleats, you work from the right side of fabric. Therefore, the fold and placement lines are marked on the right side.

As we often recommend, if you are just learning, it makes sense to first try your technique on scraps before getting started on your actual project.

The most common method of marking (and the way most professionals suggest) is to mark the lines on the wrong side of the fabric, then thread baste the lines so you can see them on the right side. Once you fold the pleat, press it, and sew it in place, you simply remove the basting stitches.

If you prefer, you can also use a fabric marking pen or pencil that will vanish or wipe away, and just mark the right side of the fabric. It really depends on the fabric type and/or project and/or your "pleating comfort level."

NOTE: Regardless of the method you select to mark your fabric, it may help to use two colors: one for the fold lines and a second for the placement line. If you have a number of pleats on something, it's easy to forget which line is which.

Below, we demonstrate how to mark using both basting and pen-only methods. The most important thing to remember is to be accurate. It's usually best to pleat the fabric before you cut it to its final size. However, if you're using a commercial pattern, the pleating has already been figured into the pattern drafting, so you cut the pieces out then create your pleats. Here at S4H, if we are design a project with pleats, we will also give you the appropriate cut size prior to pleating.

Thread basting to mark pleats

  1. Place your fabric WRONG side up on a flat surface large enough for your entire fabric piece.
  2. Working on the wrong side, use a fabric marking pen, pencil, or chalk along with a ruler, mark the fold lines with dotted lines and the placement line (where the folds meet) with a solid line. Here again, you can use two different color pencils to help differentiate between the two.
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    NOTE: If you're using a commercial pattern, you'll need to take added steps to mark your fabric because that tissue pattern is between you and the fabric. There are a variety of methods that can be used, including a tracing wheel and transfer paper, pin markings, and/or clipping at the fabric edge. The key is not to move the pattern piece too much so as not to skew the placement of the pleats. You can refer to our tutorial on How To Make A Dart. The marking process is similar.
  3. Using a hand needle and thread, run a long basting stitch through the marked lines. Again, you can use two different thread colors. We find this to be very helpful.
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  4. Turn the fabric over to the RIGHT side and begin to fold the fabric at the fold lines. Match the dotted fold line (or blue thread in our sample) to the solid placement line (or pink thread in our sample). You are pinching the fabric up in order to match the lines.
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  5. Then, you are folding it over on itself away from the placement line. Pin, pin ,pin to hold in place.
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  6. Continue working across the fabric in this same method pinning the folds in place.
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  7. Move to your ironing board for pressing.

Fabric pen or pencil to mark pleats

NOTE: For this example, we will demonstrate how to make an inverted box pleat. The marking technique is the same for either type of box pleat.

  1. Place your fabric RIGHT side up on a flat surface large enough for your entire fabric piece.
  2. Working on the right side, use a fabric marking pen, pencil, or chalk along with a ruler, mark the fold lines with dotted lines and the placement line (where the folds meet) with a solid line. Again, if you want, you can use two different colors.
  3. Pinch and fold the fabric right along the dotted fold line.
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  4. Then, bring your fold over to the placement line. Repeat for the dotted line to the opposite side of the placement line so you have two folds that meet along the placement line.
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  5. Move to your ironing board for pressing.

Pressing pleats

Depending on the size of your pleated fabric piece, you may need to take extra care when transferring the fabric from your work table to your ironing board. This is why we recommend using lots of pins. Of course, you do not want to press the folds with the pins in place - you'll leave pin marks in the pleats. Remove the pins, keeping just one on each end of the pleat to hold it in place.

If you're using a slippery or heavy weight fabric, you may have trouble keeping the fabric in place on your ironing board. Use the excess pins to pin the fabric to your ironing board to hold it in place while you press the folded edges.

Again depending on the type of fabric you're using, it's possible the pressed folds could leave an indentation in the fabric. To prevent this from happening, use a pressing cloth or brown paper under the folds as you press each one.

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NOTE: Remember to remove your basting stitches.

Basting pleats in place

Once you've completed pressing each fold, you again have to transfer your pleated fabric from the ironing board to your machine.

If your pressing was done well, this should help keep the pleats in place, however, you should still keep a few pins at the raw edge.

At your machine, use a long straight stitch or basting stitch to hold the pleats in place.

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Your stitching should be within the seam allowance of your project. When you sew across the pleats in the final sewing process, they will be secured in place.

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NOTE: As we mentioned above, if your project is a garment, such as a pleated skirt, you would have hemmed your fabric prior to creating the pleats.

In some projects, like our inverted box pleat pillow examples below, you may need to sew across both ends of the pleat to hold it in place.

The option to topstitch or edgestitch

Once your pleats are formed and pressed in place, you can sew the folds of the pleats with a topstitch or an edgestitch.

You will often see topstitching used on garments. For example, pleated skirts are normally topstitched from the waist to the hip. Topstitching is also typical when pleating heavier fabrics, like wool.

If you're using a synthetic fabric, an edgestitch on the fold of the pleat will help to hold keep the crease sharp. It also adds a very interesting detail. And, don't underestimate the appeal of using a contrasting thread!

NOTE: You can topstitch if you've already basted across the pleats, but for an edgestitch, you have to do this step before basting.

Edgestitching

  1. After your pleats are formed, pinned in place, and pressed, transfer your pleated fabric to the sewing machine.
  2. Using an average length straight stitch, place one fold of a pleat under the foot beginning at one raw edge. In order to sew just the fold of the fabric, keep the fabric folded onto itself.
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  3. Sew along the fold to the opposite raw edge.
  4. Repeat for the remaining folds.

Topstitching

  1. After your pleats are formed, pinned in place, and pressed; transfer your pleated fabric to the sewing machine.
  2. Using an average length straight stitch, place one fold of a pleat under the foot beginning at one raw edge. Keep the fabric flat and sew through all the layers.
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  3. Sew along the fold to the opposite raw edge.
  4. Repeat for the remaining folds.

Inverted box pleats with an underlay

Now that you understand how to make a box pleat and an inverted box pleat, you can try this fun option. It's one of our favorites because the underlay fabric creates a love kick of color inside the pleat.

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We used this technique on our Organic Box Pleat Pillows as well as their R&R Version, and it makes an appearance on our Citron-Gray Nursery Crib Skirt and our Tiger Eye Silk Color Block Pillow.

In order to create an inverted box pleat with an underlay, you have to sew a strip of fabric in between where the folds will meet. As with the other pleats we've already discussed, accuracy is key!

If you're using a pattern or following a tutorial (hopefully ours!), you will be provided with the correct size to cut your fabric strips. If not, you will need to take a few moments to think about the width of your pleats and the size underlay you would need in the middle.

In the examples we've been showing you, most of our pleats are ½", which means there's 1" in the middle under where the folds meet. You have to account for the width of the pleat plus the seam allowance on both sides of the strip. Using our pleat example, and assuming a ½" seam allowance, we need 1" under the folds plus ½" on each side for our seam allowances or a total of 2" in width for our underlay strip. The length should simply match the length of your main fabric piece.

Do this same math for each pleat, and then remember to include the spacing between pleats if you have more than one. We recommend drawing it out on paper for the best results, and even making a little prototype out of scrap fabrics to test your math.

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  1. Using a straight stitch and ½" seam allowance, sew the underlay in between two pieces of your main fabric (this is the fabric that will carry the pleat).
  2. Using the seam line as your guide, pinch and fold ½" of fabric and bring the fold over to the middle of the underlay strip. Pin in place.
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  3. Fold in the opposite side to match and pin in place
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  4. Transfer to your ironing board to press in place. Then, transfer to your sewing machine to baste the raw edges.
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    NOTE: Again as we've mentioned, had this been an actual project rather than just a how-to sample, we would have hemmed first and then pleated.

Contributors

Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly

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Comments (25)

Mari M. said:
Mari M.'s picture

I cannot seem to find a pattern for a circle skirt with box pleats. How would I edit a pattern to make room for the box pleats?

Cynthia Taylor said:
Cynthia Taylor's picture

Sorry, Mari, but you can't box pleat a circle skirt. When you pleat, the fold of the pleat has to follow the grain of the fabric. With a circle skirt the grain would be on the diagonal. You'll either have to make a circle skirt or a box pleated one, but it can't be combined.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Mari M. - I'm sorry; garments are not our focus here at Sew4Home. You might try Threads Magazine's website, or try a specific search on Youtube - I did that and found several options, including this one: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJUuxOTkbRE

Sheila Schmitt said:
Sheila Schmitt's picture

Great info. How do you do the rod pocket? It seems to be invisible. I don't see any stitching.

Raini said:
Raini's picture

Can you give a template for measurements for the photo where you show a group of wider box pleats spaced farther apart?  I'm just unsure of what kind of measurements I need to use to get that wider spaced look.  Thanks!

Raini said:
Raini's picture

Sorry either the wide spaced pleats or the close spaced pleats haha.

Anonymous said:
Anonymous's picture

So, if I wanted to do this for window walances (with underlay), I would have to measure, mark and cut each section to sew the underlay onto?

BrandiJ said:
BrandiJ's picture

Hi,  I'm making lined inverted box pleated draperies and I want to top stitch to hold the pleats.  Is it better to top stitch through both the fabric and the lining, or just the fabric?  I'm using black-out lining, so it's much easier to pleat the fabric rather than the fabric with the lining but I'm wondering if this would mess up the look of the drapery.

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ BrandiJ - I don't consider myself a full-on drapery expert. The closet tutorial I have is for a small lined and pleated valance, and we did pleat the layers togeather. But with super heavy fabric and black-out lining, I'm not really sure of your best bet. I'd search for for drapery tutorials and/or interior decorating sites for more details on sophisticated window treatments. 

here's the valance: http://www.sew4home.com/projects/curtains-panels/moda-fabics-lil-rascals...

Sara Ail said:
Sara Ail's picture

i said how do you make a box pleat  plases help me 

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Sara Ail - I'm not sure I understand your question. The steps to make a box pleat are shown above. Is there a particular step you do not understand? 

ZazzleFrass said:
ZazzleFrass's picture

This is great! I'm very new to sewing but I want to create a costume (a dress) that involves this kind of pleating :)

but again, I'm new to all this, so I bought a pattern that resembles the costume, and it doesn't involve pleating, whereas the costume is completely pleated in this fashion (including the sleeves). Would it work I I where to pleat the fabric first, and then follow the pattern?

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ ZazzleFrass - as long as you promise not to hunt me down if your project goes awry... I'll say that I think your plan should work . By pre-pleating large pieces, you are, in essence, making our own fabric. The challenge will be keeping the pleats straight when you cut out the pieces, and keeping the pleats in place as you sew everything together. Be super careful about lining everything up when you place the tissue pattern pieces on the pleated fabric to cut them out. Then, you might consider hand basting the pleats down on each piece. Keep them that way throughout the sewing process so you don't get any unwanted twisting or turning. 

tricia hughes said:
tricia hughes's picture

I would like to stitch half way down inverted pleat from the wrong side of fabric but finding it difficult ,any help would be greatly apprecieated thanks x

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ tricia hughes - it's hard to troubleshoot specifics from a distance, since we're not sure about the project specifics. Without knowing the result you are going for, I'd say it might be a time for basting and marking. Hand baste your inverted pleat closed so it doesn't shift when you are working from the wrong side. It might also help to drawn a line to follow, with a fabric pen or pencil, on the wrong side of the fabric. Since you can't see what you are doing quite as well from the wrong side, drawing in a stitch line to follow can be helpful.  

Mel maj said:
Mel maj's picture
Awesome informative explanation & pictures, a big help, thankyousmilies/smiley.gif
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture
@ Suzz - I'm not sure I'm totally following the question, but in general, as we mention in the tutorial, you should hem your cut piece prior to doing the pleats. If you are doing a lot of embellishing or embroidery, you would likely want to do this first as well. Regarding a lining, that would depend on the project; with lighter weight fabrics, the lining is attached to the main panel (usually along the top), the unit is hemmed and the pleating is done. With a heavier fabric, the pleats are normally just in the exterior fabric, so that fabric would be hemmed and then pleated and the the lining would be attached. That's a pretty general overview, but other than the "hem it first" recommendation, the other answers will be very specific to your project. Hope that helps a bit.
Suzz said:
Suzz's picture
Making the pleat is not the problem, it is easy enough. How do you hem it? Do you make a large rectangle attach embellishments, attach the lining and then make the box pleats? I'd be at a total loos as to making the finished product. The make up purse would not be a problem, I am talking curtains, skirts, couch covers.
tsetsgee said:
tsetsgee's picture
Great tutorial. Thank you very much again againsmilies/smiley.gif BIG Like

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