How to Embellish with Pleated Bands for Stunning Organic Detail
The pleat is the key
This buttery stunner in rayon crepe is a study in the powerful effects of understated embellishment. Its nipped waist consists of two triangular side panels, which are graced with an arrangement of flowers. To achieve this floral effect, fabric bands were molded, pinched, and crimped into shape and placed atop vines of couched cording. The dress embraces the period in which it was created: 1940s wartime. It’s practical, a little austere, contains military-inspired details at the shoulders, but most of all, it is an elegantly designed gown. To see how to create this embellishment, read this article from Threads #160.
The embellishment on the gown shown on the back cover is so delicious it looks as if it were squeezed from a pastry tube. Creating these delectable shapes from fabric involves manipulating pleated bands and then stitching their edges into organic forms. The bands are on-grain, self-fabric strips that are folded into tape, then pleated diagonally, making them malleable. The pleated bands take on shapes that a bias or straight grain strip or ribbon could not. Select a fabric that will take a crisp crease in pressing, but not wrinkle too much in wearing. The original dress (above) fabric is unknown. The samples (below) are silk shantung.
After a brief description of how to manipulate pleated bands, I’ll show you three ways to pleat them. Experiment with the methods, then put them into a memorable design.
Imagine the accordion player working his instrument open and closed: Consider how the alignment of the pleats moves and changes. They fan in and out to form different angles and only occasionally settle into parallel alignment.
Cut the strips on the straight or cross-grain 13/8 inches wide. Press the long edges under 3/8 inch for finished bands that are 5/8 inch wide. Then use one of the techniques below to pleat them, with a pleat depth of 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch. This enables you to shape the bands without keeping the pleats or side edges parallel. Form the pleated bands along a preplanned design, then take hidden stitches along the edges through each pleat to hold the sculpted shape. Turn under the ends and stitch, or hide them under other motifs.
Three ways to sweet pleats
This is an easy pleating project because the bands are narrow and stay aligned. You won’t need large equipment for pleating. Begin by preparing the bands as described, then pleat them using one of these methods. Experiment with pleats at different angles to achieve different effects.
A hair crimper is an inexpensive, effective substitute for a pleating or smocking iron. Use dry heat, and test on a sample band to make sure the heat is not too high. Crimp a small section at a time, and move to the next adjacent section.
For perfectly perpendicular pleats, use this Amanda Jane pleater (SewFancy.com), normally used for smocking. It has grooved rollers that hold and move the fabric as needles stitch the pleat from the wrong side to hold it in place. Leave the thread in the band to help organize the pleats—you can slide them back and forth until you have the exact shape you want.
This pleating method comes from a dyeing process. Start with a heavy cardboard tube or PVC pipe. With the right side against the pipe’s surface, attach a strip to the pipe. Attach it lengthwise, as shown at right (you can pleat two or more strips at once this way), or wrap it in a spiral around the pipe to produce diagonal pleats. Next, tape a string end to the pipe at the top; wrap it tightly around the tube over the band. Space the wraps by about twice the desired pleat depth. When you’ve traversed the band with wrapped string, slide the string together along the pipe. The fabric will scrunch and pleat with the string. Press the fabric on the pole with an iron to lock in the pleats. Release the pleated band from the tube by cutting the string with fine scissors.
Judith Neukam is Threads senior technical editor.
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