I’ve become a pleat fanatic! I just love the way a pleated dress or skirt looks as it makes fabric look so tres chic!

It was my recent experience with Specialty Pleaters in Melbourne, who hand pleated detail on a dress for me, that inspired this blog.

Upon chatting with Simon, the owner of Specialty Pleaters, I learned that he was on the verge of closing his workroom. I felt compelled to write a blog post about the fantastic art of pleating and what a true disaster it would be if the last pleat workshops were to close. Where would all the fashion loving race ladies get our custom pleats from?? Devastating!

So, I’ve collated plenty of information on the art form, examples of pleats worn at the track and inspo on the gorgeous looks they can produce.

I hope this post inspires you to try out a pleated feature in your next race day look or, to incorporate them in your next bespoke dress!

What are Pleats?

Pleats are an ancient art of fabric manipulation that originated in Egypt. They were a symbol of power and luxury, adorned by the rich; queens and pharaohs. ‘Pleating’ or ‘Plisse’ alters the shape of fabric to create geometric patterns and stripes. It turns a bi-dimensional surface into a tri-dimensional pattern.

Pleats are associated with luxury because of the skillset and time taken to create a pleated garment. Many years ago, pleats could be made by using egg whites or a liquid gum solution to solidify the fabric into the desired pleated effect, but once washed, the fabric would need to be pleated all over again. Can you imagine all that work unravelling before your eyes?

These days, while some pleated fabric for ready-to-wear fashion can be made by machine, the traditional art of pleating is still very much done by hand, especially for couture and one-off garments.

A number of couture fashion houses feature pleats in their runway collections year after year. Chanel took over Atelier Lognon, one of Paris’s last hand pleaters, in order to preserve the skills and knowledge of its aging owner who had no successors.

Christian Dior

pleated skirt dior

Image: www.vogue.com

pleats used in high fashion

Image: www.vogue.com

Givenchy

pleats couture

Image: www.harpersbazaar.com, www.vogue.com

pleats trend on the catwalk

Image: www.vogue.com

Chanel

layered pleats and shoulder pleat detail

Image: www.livingly.com, www.vogue.com

Peter Pilotto

vibrant shiny silk pleats

Image: www.vogue.com

Ermanno Scervino

edgy black white skirt pleats on runway

Image: www.vogue.com

Valentino

long flowing pleated garments

Image: www.vogue.com

Stella McCartney

rigid defined pleats in high fashion

Image: www.vogue.com

Iris Van Herpen

pleats navy runway bird feather inspired

Image: www.vogue.com

types of pleated fabric

Images: www.vogue.com

Pleats are a Dying Art

This age-old craftsmanship is on the verge of extinction. Even in Australia where there were once over a dozen pleating workshops in Melbourne alone, there are now just two left in the whole country: Specialty Pleaters in Melbourne and Rado Pleating in Sydney.

Specialty Pleaters is Australia’s oldest pleating company still in operation, and dates back to 1930. A workroom that once boasted a staff of up to 40 workers, now leaves behind just one, ex investment banker Simon Zdraveski, who took over the company in 2016 in a bid to save it from closing its doors for good.

milano imai pleated dove blue dress

Image: Wendell Teodoro Melbourne Cup Day 2018

I began my love affair with pleats last year, when my dressmaker, Andrew, and I featured pleats in my dove blue race day dress. I love the way they transform fabric into high fashion garments with an air of luxury.

It really does make me feel sad, thinking about this age-old skill dying out. Handmade pleats will no longer be available to us fashion lovers and designers.

A Trip to an Artisan Pleater

When I discovered that we had one of the few artisan pleaters left in the world, in Melbourne, I promptly contacted Simon from Specialty Pleaters to organise a trip to visit him in his workroom. I was so intrigued by the designs and patterns he was capable of doing and couldn’t wait to visit.

I booked flights to Melbourne and used the two-night stay I had won from Derby Day FOTF last year, to stay at the Sofitel on Collins. Very fancy! It took a tram, a train and an Uber to get me to Specialty Pleaters, located in Williamstown, my dressmaker in tow.

I never expected there to be SO MANY different molds of pleats. There were literally hundreds, his workshop was full to the brim with them!

artisan pleater in workroom with molds

different types of pleat molds

orange and red fabric pleats

Images: Specialty Pleaters

I spent an hour rummaging through his molds, asking copious amounts of questions and learning all about Simon and his work. Having planned for months that I wanted to have a feature pleated skirt in my Melbourne Cup day outfit, I was thrilled to have found the most beautiful mold!

 

Luxury couture pleat mold

How Pleats are Made

Creating beautiful handmade pleats is a process. Firstly, you choose your mold. This usually consists of two cardboard patterns which you sandwich your chosen fabric between. It can take two people to lay out the mold, as they can be quite large and fiddly.

 

Pleat mold spread on table

Depending on the mold you choose, there might be an intricate pattern featured within the pleating. The cardboard is folded in different ways, to create different patterns, and your fabric is sandwiched in between.

the process of making pleated fabric

From here the fabric is compacted and a fastening is tied around the mold to hold it in place. It is then placed in an industrial oven to be baked at a high temperature, which sets the pleats in place. The mold is then taken out and left overnight to completely cool and the fabric is removed the next day.

It’s a magical process, like the evolution of a butterfly, where the fabric starts off as a caterpillar and emerges as a beautifully intricate, striking butterfly. –I’m good at analogies hehe.

sketch of caterpillar turning into butterfly

I even drew this beautiful sketch for you.

Suitable Fabrics for Pleating

When having pleats made, you provide your own selected fabric. But there are some requirements. If your fabric is too thick, you will be limited to what (if any) pleats you can have, as the fabric must be able to be compacted into the pleat mould. A fabric too thick will not fold and can’t be manipulated as easily.

When selecting fabrics, polyester, silk and blends look great. You don’t have to choose a synthetic fabric as most people assume, natural fibres pleat up beautifully too. Silk is probably the favoured fabric for pleating because of its lightweight and beautiful movement.

If you are unsure whether your fabric is suitable, you can mail a sample to Specialty Pleaters who will assess your fabric and give you options of what molds you can choose from. You can then send in the rest of your fabric, or if you live locally, make a trip to go see them.

You will also need to keep in mind, when fabric is pleated, the general rule is that you will need three times the amount of fabric. The new dimension of the material takes up a greater volume in fabric.

Price of Pleats

The price of pleats will vary depending on the intricacy of the mold and how many panels you need. A basic sunray pleat may cost approximately $60 a panel, whereas, more intricate pleats can be up to $200 a panel. To give you a better idea, for a full skirt, you need two panels.

sunray pleat mold and fancy patterned pleat mold

Image: A basic sunray and a fancy sunray- also now known as the Milano Skirt ;) Image from Specialty Pleaters

If you want to have some pleats made, you can head to specialtypleaters.com and view a few of the molds they have on offer, or email them to find something to suit your needs.