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Knife pleats

Knife pleats are usually seen as creases in pleated skirts, and they appear in all kinds of traditional clothing worldwide. Pleats are usually stitched down at the top and allowed to open out at the bottom to create shape and movement in garments.

Material and Design Notes

  • Knife pleats are usually made using straight pressed creases and this technique works best with natural fibres.
  • They can be made very precisely by careful measuring, or by eye to create a softer, more organic look.
  • For the basic method described, each knife pleat is 2.5cm (1in). The fabric will be reduced to one third of the original width.

Basic method

The basic method describes making evenly spaced pleats, each one butting up to the next.

1). Fold the fabric over the end of the ruler and fold back again at the marked point which is the half-width measurement or 2.5cm (1in) in this sample. Pin the pleat in place at top and bottom.


2). Remove the ruler and place the 2.5cm (1in) mark on the underside fold. You cannot see this fold so lift the fabric carefully to check the placement. Reposition the ruler and fold the fabric back again to the 2.5cm (1in) mark. Pin as before, then repeat as required.


3). If you are enclosing the pleats in another sewn seam, tack (baste) across the top of the pleats to hold them together temporarily, otherwise machine sew across all folds to keep the pleats in place.


The basic method describes making pleats 2.5cm (1in) wide.


The basic method can be applied to make knife pleats of any width, such as these narrow pleats which are approx 1cm (⁵⁄₈in) wide.

Variations on the basic method

Vertical stay stitching

The knife pleats are made following the Basic Method, and then stitched down vertically to hold them in place. The stitching is usually the same length as the width of the pleat, which is 2.5cm (1in) in the sample shown, but regularity is not essential.


Knife pleats with vertical stay stitching.

Horizontal stay stitching

In this sample, narrow knife pleats have been stitched at the top and also lower down to contain the pleats before they spread out.


Knife pleats with horizontal stay stitching.

Bias edge

A triangle cut on the bias can be knife pleated in the same way as the Basic Method to reveal the reverse of the fabric. This is very effective for double-sided fabric, such as the woven wool used in the sample shown. bias-edge


Edged pleats

For this variation, the top side of the pleats is edged with ribbon before the fabric is folded. The pleats are made the same width as the ribbon and the space between ribbons is exactly two ribbon widths.

1). Mark the pleat and ribbon placement on the fabric allowing for two ribbon-widths in between. To give you the pleat fold line, mark the centre point between ribbons. When placing the ribbons, make sure each is completely straight following the grain of the fabric.


2). Make the pleats as for the Basic Method, placing the end of the ruler on the mark in the middle of the gap.



3). Fold the fabric over so the right-hand edge of the ribbon meets the pleat width on the ruler.


Edged pleats create striking effects in movement and would look stunning on a skirt.


Inset pleats

Knife pleats, or any other kind of gathered, ruffled or pleated edge, can be set into another piece of fabric as an inset ruffle or an inset square.



For an inset ruffle : The fabric is folded double then pleated along the top edge. The ruffle is then applied between two pieces of fabric following In-Seam Trims: Basic Method.


For an inset square : The pleating can be made on just one edge of the fabric or on both upper and lower edges. In the sample shown, the pleats have been made in the same direction on both upper and lower edges, and stitched in place; the stay stitching has been enclosed and hidden when setting the pleated piece into a log cabin square (see Stuffed Squares).

Machine pleated

Pleating directly on the machine produces pleats much faster than the precise measuring, pinning and stitching described in the Basic Method. The resulting pleats are irregular and often slightly wonky, but they will become more regular with practise.

Begin sewing a little way along the upper edge of the piece to be pleated. Stop sewing with the needle down and take a pinch of fabric just in front of the presser foot. Fold the pleat under so it just sits by the presser foot. Hold in place by hand and continue sewing.


Machine pleating direct to base fabric

In this sample, the ribbon is pleated in the same way as described for Machine Pleated fabric but the ribbon is sewn directly onto the base fabric. Draw a line on the base fabric as a guide to the ribbon placement. Begin sewing, manipulating the ribbon pleats as you go and ensuring the base fabric does not get puckered.


Ribbon pleated directly onto base fabric.

Machine ruffler foot attachment

A ruffler foot attachment can be very useful for creating gathers and narrow pleats and it is a lot simpler to use than you might expect. This works in a similar way to the Machine Pleated technique, but instead of you having to hand-manipulate the fabric into pleats before it goes under the presser foot, the ruffler foot attachment does this for you. It has a little shovel-like plate, which shunts the fabric under the foot creating a small pleat. The ruffler foot attachment has settings for making the pleats on every stitch or further apart as you prefer (see samples). Pressing the fabric after pleating makes the effect more like tiny pleats rather than gathers.


Machine ruffler foot attachment.


Ruffler foot attachment set to make pleats on every stitch to create close gathers or pleats.


Ruffler foot attachment set to make pleats on every 6th stitch on straight grain.


Ruffler foot attachment used to gather or pleat top and bottom edges.


Ruffler foot attachment set to make pleats on every 6th stitch on bias grain.


Ruffler foot attachment set to make pleats on every 12th stitch on bias grain.

Fabric Manipulation
150 CREATIVE Sewing Techniques

Ruth Singer