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The Talk is Pleating with Designer Babette Pinsky

Babettes original pleated raincoat design, introduced in the early 1980s.
Babette designs the garment first, like this shirt, planning how much fabric will be consumed by pleats.
This particular Babette shirt is to be hand-pleated. Here, its been bunched and twisted into a spiral.
A stack of hand-pleated shirts, ready for the autoclave. The autoclave uses heat and pressure to bake in the hand-twisted pleating.
With the pleats baked in by the autoclave, a sample pleated shirt hangs at far right, next to more pleated samples at Babette Pinskys Oakland, California, factory.
For what Babette calls pattern pleating, the fabric is pleated between identically scored paper pieces, like the one shown. Pattern pleating has multidirectional and shaped results - check out the chevron pleating on the skirt in the next photo.
Pattern pleating created the chevron effect on the skirt of Babettes Muse dress for Spring 2012.
A pleating machine at Babettes factory. Flat yardage goes in - knife-pleated fabric comes out.
The pleating machine has heated knives in it, running the long way. Paper sheets protect the fabric from being burned as it passes over the knives, but the knives are hot enough to permanently pleat the fabric.
Machine pleating creates even knife pleats, like those on this skirt from Babettes Spring 2012 collection.
Designer Babette Pinsky.
Babettes original pleated raincoat design, introduced in the early 1980s.

Babette's original pleated raincoat design, introduced in the early 1980's.

Photo: Provided by Babette Inc.

For Threads no. 159, I interviewed designer Babette Pinsky for the Designer Spotlight series. If you aren't familiar with her work, she creates fascinating garments with textiles that she pleats, folds, scrunches, and otherwise manipulates into unique and very flattering designs.

We didn't have enough room on the printed page to cover the techniques she uses in her Oakland, California, factory, to pleat fabric by hand and machine. There was more to my interview with Babette, and you can read it here, including her description of three methods she uses to create textures in her garments. You can view the new Babette collections for 2012 at   

THREADS:  Do you pleat the fabric or the garment?

BABETTE PINSKY: We never manipulate yardage. We design the garment, cut it, try to anticipate how much fabric will be consumed by pleats and then try a sample. The garment is cut first. Sometimes each piece is pleated, sometimes part of the garment is pleated, and sometimes the whole garment is pleated.

TH: What qualities do you look for in a fabric?

BP: All of the pleated fabrics are either polyester or nylon, because nothing else will hold a pleat permanently. So we look for interesting polyester fabrics.

TH: Tell us how you manipulate fabric.

BP: We use three types of pleating. The first is hand-pleating, in which someone sits at the table with a cut piece or the whole garment in front of them. With their hands they twist, fold or bunch it. After it is ready, the fabric is tied in shape, and then it is baked in an autoclave.

TH: How hot does the autoclave get?

BP: I think it’s about 240 degrees. It’s not terribly hot, but it applies heat and pressure to set the pleats. The autoclave is maybe 6 feet by 10 feet long. It looks like what dentists used to have in their offices for cleaning instruments.

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Comments (7)

user-313021 user-313021 writes: For really fine pleats, you could pleat the fabric with a smocking pleater...
Posted: 7:53 pm on June 7th

seamslikeagoodidea seamslikeagoodidea writes: am attempting to make gathers on a victorian gown costume that unfortunately is made out of a pillow weight fabric. I have to take a lot of fabric and pleat it down to about 8 inches.....suggestions?
Posted: 6:37 pm on December 28th

nobodysgrandma nobodysgrandma writes: On a smaller scale, you could pleat first and cut your piece out second., Try using your sewing machine's pleater, perfectly aligned, at both ends of the fabric. Then stretch and machine baste. Lastly, press in the pleats with a press (not iron). I even found an old mangle iron circa 1960 to do neat things otherwise not possible with the usual sewing room equipment. But what I wouldn't give for a second pair of hands to help with this and other manual-intense projects. My ambitions overwhelm my osteoarthritis, which I regret the following day.
Posted: 9:40 am on December 28th

Susanc22 Susanc22 writes: Or baking in a low oven? (Only half kidding). Beautiful pleating.
Posted: 1:14 am on December 28th

FrancesC FrancesC writes: Some years ago, I pleated an acetate fabric using an iron only and it holds pretty well, although the garment hasn't been washed very often. If I had a suitable polyester or nylon fabric, I would give pleating a try using an iron. Be warned, however, that making the pleats is fiddly work and working with slippery fabrics would be slow going and the pleats would need to be basted in place. Maybe think twice about it!
Posted: 12:44 am on December 28th

Corrales Corrales writes: Love this coat!! Anyway of getting a pattern of it??
Posted: 5:15 pm on December 27th

theonlysuz theonlysuz writes: love this - is there a way to make permanent pleats like this at home? In the dryer, for example?
Posted: 2:38 pm on December 27th

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