In many historical costuming instances you’ll need to pleat up a length of fabric to fit another. Most commonly it’s a skirt to a waistband. However, this can be anything really. A sleeve cap to a bodice. Length of trim to an overskirt. A curtain to a bonnet neck edge.
A lot of times a pattern will state (or you’ll decide) to pleat the section to the corresponding garment. Ok…
But how wide do you make the pleats so it’ll all fit?? Re-pleating just plain sucks. (Right??) So I have a cool technique that’ll get that fabric pleated evenly the first time.
It’s called the Divide & Conquer method.
Now, first of all, I didn’t come up with the name. I learned this technique back in about 2001 while working in a well-known costume supply shop. Someone used the term “divide and conquer” for pleating. I thought it was a neat name and even super cool trick to getting my pleating project done quickly and making it look even too.
The basis of this method is simply to divide and quarter mark (repeatedly) enough times down to where you have a small, workable length to then create your desired pleat take up.
For ease of example, I’ll show you pleating a ruffle to the bottom of a bustle support undergarment. Although, remember this will work with most any length of fabric that needs to be pleated up to fit another part of a garment or fabric length.
You start by folding the ruffle in half, matching ends to find the center point. Place a pin here.
Then fold each half of the ruffle into half matching the end with the center pin you just placed. Pin mark at this halfway fold. You have now “quarter marked” your ruffle – the “Divide” part of this technique. Cool!
Repeat this quarter mark process on the garment.
Depending on the length of your ruffle or skirt to be pleated you’ll need to keep dividing further. Remember, halve and pin mark as many times as needed to get a workable – few inches – of ruffle to pleat up.
It’s a lot easier to continue halving and pin marking BOTH pieces into eighths and sixteenths before you start to put them together.
Be sure both initial halves of your ruffle/skirt and garment are pin marked the same. E.g. you have eight sections on the right half and eight sections on the left half of the center mark.
Fun Tip: I love to use long, multi-colored pearl head pins when pleating. I use the colors to help me keep track of which mark is what quarter mark as if they were numbered. For instance, red is for center marks, green for half marks. Then I pick other colors as I further divide. I’ll use the same colors for corresponding marks on both ruffle and garment.
After both ruffle and garment are quartered it’s time to start matching the two pieces.
Start with the centers and ends.
Continue to match pin marks until ruffle is pinned to garment with a couple inches between each set of pins.
Now for the “Conquer” part:
Pleat up each section between pins. Start smoothing over the ruffle fabric to one pin and fold the excess down creating a knife pleat.
Sometimes you’ll need to create two, or even three, pleats within each little section. If you still have too much between pins to make pleats, continue to halve & pin for smaller sections.
Be attentive to which direction you want the pleats to face when viewed from the correct side of the garment.
At the center of the garment you can choose to have a box pleat or inverted box pleat. Pay attention to this. Or you can simply make knife pleats in all the same direction along the entire ruffle.
Keep folding up the excess between each pin mark and fold it over to create pleats. Pin to hold each one.
It’s entirely OK if the pleat take-ups lay on top of each other. Pin as much as you need to secure.
The great thing about this method is how flexible it is. If you don’t like how large or narrow the pleats are turning out, simply remove the pins and divide more or less to personal preference. (See how colored pins would help out here??)
Once the entire ruffle is pleated and pinned to the garment sew in place. Baste, if necessary, first if you have a tricky or thickly-pleated area.
Now it’s time to go Pleat.All.The.Things!! 🙂 Good luck!
Have you used this “quartering” method when pleating?