In episode fourteen of The Sew Much More Podcast: 30-Minutes with Workroom Tech, Ceil DiGuglielmo and Susan Woodcock talk about pleating draperies.
You can listen to this episode here: Pleating Draperies Podcast
Pleating draperies can be a challenge. If you own a drapery workroom you are going to have to pleat! There is no way around it, but with practice it becomes easier to figure pleats and spaces.
To create pleats you have to start with fullness. To learn more how fullness is used in window treatments, listen to episode three of the podcast "Understanding Fullness" and read the supporting blog using the link below.
"Understanding Fullness" Podcast and Blog / Episode 3 from November 2018
To begin, you must know what type of hardware will be used, and whether it's a one-way draw with one panel that pulls left, or right only like a sliding glass door, or a two-way draw for a pair of draperies with a panel on each side.
To best understand pleating, think about a flat drapery panel before pleating... the extra width left over after you deduct the width of the rod is then sewn into equal sections or pleats. That's pleating in a nutshell!
The Fullness Factor
Generally, Susan plans for two and a half times fullness for a standard pleated drapery. That gives enough fullness for nice looking pleats and spaces. There are times when she prefers three times fullness such as; two story windows to achieve larger pleats for better proportions; or when pleating to pattern to ensure there are enough horizontal pattern repeats for pleating.
Trish Whitton made this pleated-to-pattern, interlinedr apery in class at Workroom Tech.
This drapery has three times fullness.
Some styles require lesser fullness. Inverted pleated draperies will not function properly if there is too much fullness because the pleats are sewn to the reverse and can bunch up. A small reverse tuck uses less fullness and is very tailored and pretty.
Learning from Experience
Susan shared that she uses averages as a starting point for figuring pleats and spaces. For example; a drapery made with two and a half times fullness based on the rod width will generally have an average of 5 pleats per width for single width panels, 7 pleats per width for one and a half width panels, 10 pleats for two width panels and so on.
Knowing the averages saves time. Susan explains... "You can mark the overlap and return, measure in-between, subtract what you need to cover the rod and then divide what's left by the number of spaces using the average number of pleats".
Easy! Well, that doesn't mean you can stop there with every project. you have to work around seams and within the restrictions of your fabric and hardware, but if you are new at sewing draperies this will give you a head start.
Pleating is not just about the pleats. The spaces between pleats is also important. Pleat sizes can be adjusted but spaces should all be the same size. Susan prefers 3.5" to 4" spaces between pleats for styles like French or Euro pleats. "That's an average - a starting point - but you might use smaller or larger spaces to fit your rod".
An average pleat size is 5 inches. Less fullness will create smaller pleats and more fullness will mean your pleats could be 6 inches or more.
It's acceptable to adjust sizes of the pleats across the panel to achieve better seam placement. You will not notice the differences in the fullness of the pleats but because the spaces are flat, they need to be consistent.
In professional workrooms, seam placement is always a consideration. You should try to hide the seam, or put the seams in areas where they will be less visible. On pleated draperies, the seam should fall at the back of a pleat; either within the back side of the pleat on at the edge of the space near the stitching.
You want to avoid a seam in the front of a pleat where it falls forward, or in the center of a space so that when the drapery is closed it is visible. The exception is when making stationary panels where the drapery will never be drawn closed. A seam in the center of a space on stationary non-working drapery can be dressed so that it's not seen. Another exception is when pleating to pattern. In the drapery game, pattern trumps seam placement!
Math and Manipulation
Pleating is part math, and part fabric manipulation. Susan admits that math is not one of her strengths. "Sometimes I have to make a template on paper or a piece of buckram to understand what I am doing. I can mark the seams on the template and reuse it again if making multiple panels of the same size".
Susan learned how to sew draperies from her Mother, and shares some of her pleating tips in a 1-hour recorded Home Dec Gal webinar "Sewing Custom Draperies: Pleating Tips and Techniques" which you can view below.
Tips for Sewing Pleats
Pleated draperies have a lot of layers of fabric and buckram. An industrial machine is necessary for many drapery projects.
To sew pleats, you will fold over the top of the flat drapery panel and stitch from the top edge to the bottom of the heading or buckram. Susan recommends that you seat the needle down into the fabric 1/2" down from the top edge, sew in reverse to the top and then stitch forward to the bottom and backstitch. By starting down from the top edge, you will prevent the layers from shifting.
Susan hand sews or "tacks" pleats except for sheer. Hand tacking on sheer isn't always the best option so she will set the machine to a short stitch length and sew a tack at the base of each pleat. If you produce a lot of draperies it is wise to invest in an industrial tacker.
Buckram or crinoline is a stiffener that is added to drapery headings. It is a great addition to pleated draperies, especially if they will be opened and closed often. You can crease the buckram in the spaces - this is known as "breaking the buckram", and gives the drapery heading memory, so it will fold back and forth evenly.
For a softer look you can omit buckram. "I make a lot of draperies without buckram because my clients often prefer a softer, less structured drapery", Susan said. The photo below is from a project where Susan did not use buckram in the drapery heading.
Credit to Interior Designer: Susan C. Lankenau, The Red Door
Heading Fabrication Methods
Susan recommends both a double-fold heading, and a low-bulk heading. If she is not using buckram then she will use the double fold heading to add extra body. But, for projects where you want full coverage of lining on the back, like a window or door where the glass goes up higher, she prefers the low-bulk method. Both methods of construction are covered in the Custom Draperies: Level I class at Workroom Tech.
Popular Pleat Styles
A traditional three finger French pleat will never go out of style. A three finger pleat brings the fabric forward, creating pretty columns of fabric falling from the pleat.
Currently Euro pleats are the most popular. If you look in decorating and design magazines, that's what you will see! Susan loves to sew two finger Euro pleats because it can be sewn with the hidden tack method that she developed. See the video below to learn how to sew with the hidden tack method. There is also additional information on Susan's Home Dec Gal website here: Hidden Tack Pleats
You can learn more about pleating and sewing custom draperies with Susan's book, Singer(R) Sewing Custom Curtains, Shades and Top Treatments, and hands-on with Susan's class Custom Drapries: Level I at Workroom Tech.