Most people understand the concept of pleating (what American woman hasn’t had a pleated skirt at one time in her life?) – but I would guess that most don’t realize how many different styles of pleating there are for drapes. I thought I’d shed a little light on pleating options.

Box Pleating
A box pleat is created by bringing the fabric together to form a loop on the face of the drape. This loop is then flattened against the face of the drape in equal parts to either side, making a “box” shape, and is then sewn into place. Depending on the amount of fullness desired, the size of the box pleat may range from about 3″ to 6″ or more in width. Box pleating is frequently used for heavier napped fabrics such as cotton and synthetic velour, though it can be used on nearly any type of drapery fabric, including sheers, satins, and other lightweight fabrics.

Box pleating is the style most used in traditional stage drapery, and the preferred style of pleating here at Sew What? As a matter of fact, I would estimate that at least 95% of the pleated custom stage curtains that we make here are box pleated.

Knife Pleating
For knife pleating, single pleats are created by folding each pleat in a single direction across the face of the drape and then sewing into place. A drape with knife pleating typically has a greater number of more narrow pleats than that of a box-pleated drape of the same size and fullness. Knife pleating is typically used for lighter, more delicate fabrics and for drapes with at least 100% fullness. Knife-pleated drapes are typically seen used as drapery for special events.

While not technically a style of pleating, shirring is also used to create fullness in drapery, by gathering the fabric together to create gentle folds. Shirring may be done manually, by stitching two parallel lines of strong thread across the top of the drape and then pushing the fabric together across the thread to form the gathers. Another method is to sew shirring tape across the top of the flat drape and then pull the built-in strings to gather the drape. Shirring is most often used on very lightweight fabrics such as voiles for a looser, more subtle form of pleating.

Pinch Pleating
For pinch pleats, a single pleat is created and then sectioned off make two or three more narrow pleats, and then sewn at the bottom of the header to keep the pleats together. Traditionally, drapery hooks are inserted in the box of each pleat in order to hang the drape from a traverse drapery rod, allowing the drape to be easily opened or closed through a cord operation. Today, however, there is also the option to utilize pinch-pleated drapes with clips and rings, for manual operation.

As pinch pleated drapery is almost exclusively used for formal residential drapery, this is a style of pleating that is practiced by manufacturers of residential drapery rather than by manufacturers of custom theatrical drapery such as Sew What?

The term “fullness” is used in relation to the amount of pleating in a curtain, and is typically described with a percentage. A flat (unpleated) curtain is said to have zero fullness. A pleated curtain would typically have anywhere from 50% fullness up to 200% fullness.

The fullness percentage refers to the amount of additional width of the drape in its flat condition, prior to pleating the curtain down to its finished width. A curtain with 50% fullness will initially be sewn flat at 50% wider than the desired finished width, a curtain with 100% fullness will start out as an unpleated curtain that is 100% wider, and so on. The extra fabric on the width is used to make the pleats.

Let’s say that you want a box-pleated drape, 20 feet wide, with 50% fullness. Our sewing staff would start by sewing together widths of fabric until they have a flat drape that is 30 feet wide. They would then pin the fabric to create the pleats. The top finish is then sewn and, with it, the pleats are also sewn in, and the finished width of the drape ends up at the desired 20 feet.

The percentage of fullness determines the size of the pleats. With 50% fullness, the pleat is usually about 3″ wide. With 100% fullness, the pleat is usually about 6″ wide. In both cases, there is typically 12″ from the center of each pleat to the center of the next pleat.

The amount of fullness that is recommended depends on several factors, including budget, fabric type, and desired appearance. Budget is a consideration because the lower the pleating percentage, the less fabric that is used on the drape, and therefore the lower the cost of the drape. Fabric type and appearance also affect the choice in fullness. Traditional theatre curtains made from velour are typically made with anywhere from 50% to 100% fullness, whereas specialty drapes made from voile (or similar lightweight fabrics) are usually made with between 100% and 200% fullness.