How to do french pleats

Updated February 21, 2017

French pleats are the classic fan-shaped pleats at the top of pinch-pleated draperies. Use buckram behind the fabric to make stiff pleats. These crisp, stiff pleats look like the pages of an open book. They are appropriate for formal fabrics such as damask of taffeta. French pleats made with pleater tape, without interfacing, have a soft, rounded look that is appropriate for informal fabrics. You can pleat striped and plaid fabric along the lines of the print for an interesting effect.

Hem the sides of your curtains. Iron down a 10-inch hem in the top of your curtain. Open the fold and lay the fabric, wrong side up, on a large, flat surface.

Cut a length of buckram 6 inches wider than your curtain panel. Fold it in half and mark the centre with a pin. Align the bottom edge of the buckram with the crease you ironed in the fabric. Place the centre of the buckram in the centre of the fabric. Fold in the excess buckram at the sides. This provides extra stiffness at the sides of the curtain.

Fold the top of the fabric over the top of the buckram, then fold the fabric along the crease. You will have completely enclosed the buckram in fabric, with the original hem at the top of the panel.

Mark your pleats with pins. Start 2 inches from the edge and space the pleats evenly. Place the pins in groups of four, spacing them 2 to 3 inches apart. The pleats will be half as deep as the space between the pins. For example, to make 1-inch-deep pleats spaced 5 inches apart, place first set of pins 2, 4, 6 and 8 inches from the edge. The second group of pins would be 13, 15, 17 and 18 inches from the edge. The pleated sections should be larger than the unpleated sections. In the example, the pleated sections are 6 inches wide and the unpleated sections are 5 inches wide.

Bring the first pin to the second pin and stitch this pleat. Stitch the entire length of the buckram. Bring the third pin as close to this seam as possible and stitch in this pleat. Repeat for the fourth pin. Stitch all the remaining pleats in the same way.

Iron in all the pleats. Sew each set of three pleats together at the bottom. If desired, sew the tops of the pleats together. Insert pin hooks in the back of each pleat and at the edges of the curtain. The hooks should all be the same distance from the top edge. Hem the curtains as desired.

Hem the sides and top of the curtain panel. Cut a length of pinch-pleat tape the width of the panel. Be sure the centre of this piece of tape falls either in the centre of a set of pockets or halfway between two sets of pockets. This will ensure the pleats are evenly spaced along the curtain panel.

Fold under 1/2 inch on each side of the tape. Pin the tape to wrong side of the top of the curtain, 1/2 inch from the top edge. The opening of the pockets should face down.

Sew 1/4 inch from the edge along all sides of the tape. If your tape has the seam lines marked, sew along those lines.

Insert 3-prong pleater hooks into the pockets in the pleater tape. Turn the curtain over and pull the pleats out straight. If desired, sew the pleats together at the bottom. Insert pin hooks in the edge of the curtains. The hooks should all be the same distance from the top edge. Hem the curtains as desired.


If you wish to align your pleats with the pattern of the fabric you must use the first method. You may line the curtains before you begin pleating them.

Things You'll Need

  • Fabric
  • Iron
  • Measuring tape
  • Pins
  • Scissors
  • 6-inch-wide buckram
  • Sewing machine
  • Matching thread
  • Needle
  • Pin hooks
  • Pinch-pleat tape
  • Pinch-pleat hooks
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About the Author

Camela Bryan's first published article appeared in "Welcome Home" magazine in 1993. She wrote and published SAT preparation worksheets and is also a professional seamstress who has worked for a children's theater as a costume designer and in her own heirloom-sewing business. Bryan has a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from the University of Florida.