How to make pleats on a formal gown

Written by michelle powell-smith
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If you are sewing a formal gown or perhaps having one made, consider opting for a pleated detail on your gown. Pleating can add interest to the bodice of your gown, whether you choose horizontal or vertical pleats. Heavy satins and silks can be pleated, but so can lightweight and delicate chiffons for a very different look. Use pleats to give your formal gown visual interest without adding to the expense of lace or other trims.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Formal dress pattern
  • Fabric and notions required
  • Pleating board, optional
  • Sewing machine
  • Coordinating thread
  • Scissors
  • Pins

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  1. 1

    Decide where you would like to place your pleats and whether you would like horizontal or vertical pleating on your formal gown.

  2. 2

    Cut a rectangle of fabric substantially larger than the pattern piece on which you would like your pleats. Allow at least three times the length or width needed for the pattern piece before pleating.

  3. 3

    Create pleats by hand, measuring them out carefully and forming even folds in the fabric, or use a pleating board. Iron each pleat into place using an iron. Soak a piece of muslin or a flour sack woven dish towel in water and wring well. Place this damp cloth between the pleated fabric and the iron to help set the pleats. Hand baste the pleats into place using a long running stitch. To do so: Bring the needle up through the fabric and back down into it. Come back up and repeat across the length of the fabric.

  4. 4

    Pin your formal gown pattern piece into place on your newly pleated fabric. Add additional pins to keep your pleats secure. Sew around the outside of your pleated fabric piece, then cut just outside the stitching. Use a disappearing fabric marker to mark the original sewing lines onto your pattern, but do not trim away the excess fabric. Repeat for any other pieces you would like pleated on your final gown.

  5. 5

    Use a few additional pins when sewing your pleated fabric. Sew carefully, avoiding bending the pleats out of shape. Expect your pleated fabric piece to be slightly larger than the original piece, so sew along your marked lines. Trim and finish seam allowances as desired.

Tips and warnings

  • Try horizontally pleating a fitted sheath-style gown with shallow, widely spaced pleats.
  • Narrow, closely spaced vertical pleats are a pretty accent on an empire-waist bodice.
  • Pin fabric and experiment to see if you like the effect against your body before adding pleated details to your formal gown.

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