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An Introduction To Pleating

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a kilt? A Highland Jacobite charging through the glen into a battle? Pipe bands marching in neat rows with bagpipes and drums roaring louder than anything you've heard before? You Dad at a wedding dressed up to the nines?


For many, the most iconic element of the kilt is the pleats and that great big swing ever proper tailored kilt has. It's this swing and the pleating used to create it that sets the kilt apart from every other garment. It's not just about how it looks, it's about how it moves....

So let's take a closer look at pleating and from a textile design perspective, what this means.


Pleating Up:

Let's start with the very basics and take a look at paper examples of pleating. First of all, pleating most cloths (matching setts) works moving forward then moving back. Always start by finding a centre point to start - begin by using the cloth up from the centre back to yourself then return to the middle and use the cloth from the centre away from yourself.

A simple introduction to the concept of pleating is the simple concertina:

Start by folding stripes back and forth neatly on top of each other using up the entirety of the paper. Open out the concertina band and see the pleats as simple zig-zags.

Another simple approach, is to mark out where each pleat meets the next: Simply calculate how wide you want your pleats to be and mark these points on the paper. Pinch and fold up to meet the indicated lines.

To The Sett: Pleating cloth up to recreate the pattern exactly is commonly used across fashion and is an iconic part of the kilt. The tartan is pleated to recreate the design called the Sett. Every repeat of the sett must be recreate in exactly the same way so there is uniformity across the depths of the pleats. Some may be deeper than others - this doesn't matter, the aim of the game is to perfectly recreate the design across the pleated section. Choose a point in the cloth to start and begin by creating the pleat next to it. To do this come back towards yourself to the section that matches the beginning point. Pinch and move the cloth away from you creating a rough pleat about 2cm wide. These are called knife pleats.


Starting with MacLean of Duart Weathered - a matching sett meaning it is perfectly symmetrical in every direction.


Getting a wee bit trickier now, MacDonald Muted tartan - although also a matching sett, there are a lot more tightly packed lines to be aware of and not miss when pleating up.


Isle of Skye takes a bit of thought when pleating up, for slightly different reasons. Again this is a matching sett but there are very subtle colour changes in the sett that can easily through what you think is a simple pleat up, off.

To The Stripe and the Horizontal:

Another approach to pleating is to the stripe. The aim is to choose a prominent stripe in the design of your cloth and pleat these up next to each other. Traditionally, kilts pleated to the stripe are worn by the military however it is an aesthetic choice. Notice how the bulk of the colour changes in the tartan disappear, changing its look to become primarily one colour.

The horizontal means choosing a band of just plain colour, no vertical stripes at all, and bringing these plain bands together so the cloth is pleated to only showcase horizontal stripes.


MacLean of Duart Weathered can be pleated to the blue stripe or the pink horizontal.

Isle of Skye can be pleated to the white stripe or the brown horizontal.


The Military Box Pleat:

Kiltmaking is already a complex skill creating just knife pleats. Another form of pleating is described as box pleating - creating a knife pleat then folding it back on itself to create the "box". The box pleats are always done to a stripe - making the process easier and traditionally used for military kilts. This example is the most broken down version of box pleating videoed in a way to make the process clear. If you were box pleating for a kilt this would be done in many more steps and in a more precise way!


Box pleating creates a thickness to the pleated section, and instead of swinging side to side, swings slightly more forward and back.


Pleating Plain Cloth: Working with plain cloth presents different challenges. There are no lines to guide you or remind you where to pleat next...so, you've got to chalk them out precisely yourself. Heavier cloths hold pleats best! So tweed is another cloth popular in kiltmaking.


Start off by chalking out your pleats. Depending on the size of the customer, tweed kilt pleats are about 6" apart, meaning they are 3" deep.

Precision is key! This example makes a mark every 3".

Next, treat the lines as the edge of a pleat, pinch and move the cloth to the next line as shown. This creates knife pleats. You can experiment further by creating a slightly different style of box pleat too - pull one chalked line towards you and another away from you to create a "box".


Pleating Printed Cloth: It's not just tartans or tweeds that can be pleated. Fashion has see pleating across the centuries in a variety of beautiful cloths. Pleating a printed cloth works similarly to a tartan - find a point in the print to start and carefully find the next point in the cloth to recreate the design in pleats.


Setting Your Pleats:

kiltmaking requires one third of the total length of the kilt, called the fell, to be sewn. The hanging area is tacked into place for pressing to set those perfectly formed pleats into a sharp knife edge.

Depending on the length of the cloth, it's wise to put a few lines of tacking in to hold your perfectly formed pleats in place until the work on the garment is complete and it's almost ready to wear! A back stitch and a zig zag stitch are used to keep each pleat exactly in place. Careful pressing then sets the pleats in place before taking the tacking out and releasing that famous swing!


And Finally...: Release those pleats and enjoy that movement!


Photgraphy by Rose+Julien & Nathan.A.Ross



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