How To Sew Knife Pleats: The Emma Skirt Sewing Tutorial

Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats Featured Image

So I'm thinking there are two reasons you're here. One, you love love the pleated Emma Skirt and want to make your own. Or two, you just want to learn how to sew knife pleats. But either way, the end result is the same, no? You want to learn how to create some beautiful pleats.

The Emma Skirt was one of our very first sewing projects here on the blog, and has become an absolute favorite. It was so close to perfect I only had to make a few minor adjustments when touching it up a few weeks back--Namely adding side pockets to the skirt, because.. Pockets.

But what makes the Emma is the pleats. I mean, it's basically what the entire skirt is--Just a giant piece of pleated fabric. And it's beautiful.

But learning how to sew knife pleats properly can be a bit tricky. While it's not necessarily difficult.. It is incredibly time consuming, without question.

You must go slowly if you want perfection.

And that's what this post is going to walk you through: How to recreate the beautiful pleats that make the Emma Skirt. But in your very own sewing projects!

While I created this tutorial sewing up a skirt, the same process can be applied to any kind of project really. Whether you're sewing a pleated dress or adding some knife pleats as a detail to a blouse, it does not matter.

Trust in the process and you will end up with a beautifully pleated sewing project!

(Want to learn how to sew pleats like those on the Emma Skirt? Girl, we got you. Check out our brand new & highly improved step-by-step sewing tutorial on how to sew knife pleats below! You’ll have your own beautifully pleated project in no time.)Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats

But first.. What is a pleat?

How To Sew Knife Pleats Full Front View

How To Sew Knife Pleats Full Back View

Here's the textbook definition: A pleat is an excess of fabric that has been folded over and is then created by doubling the fabric in on itself. Quite a mouthful, am I right?

Basically, a pleat is just a fold that is sewn closed and (usually) pressed flat to keep its shape.

There are a wide, wide variety of pleats out there, which can be pressed & folded in all kinds of unique ways. Originally, when I drafted the Emma Skirt, I didn't really pick out a pleating technique to follow.. I just did it.

So when I came to write this post on how to sew pleats, I had to look back through my textbooks to see which pleating technique I had emulated.

Originally, I thought I was recreating accordion pleats.

But after getting an email from a reader, suggesting that I was actually recreating knife pleats.. I went back through my textbooks and realized she was absolutely right.

Accordion and knife pleats are pretty similar, but there is a difference. A knife pleat is a pressed pleat that has the crease line firmly pressed the entire length of the pleat.

Unlike accordion pleats that vary in size from top to bottom, knife pleats, like those on the Emma, are the same width the entire length of the pleat. No matter what the technical name of the pleat is, I think this technique is an incredibly popular one. Which is why I wanted to create this tutorial in the first place! So. Let's get started, shall we?

(Want to learn how to sew pleats like those on the Emma Skirt? Girl, we got you. Check out our brand new & highly improved step-by-step sewing tutorial on how to sew knife pleats below! You’ll have your own beautifully pleated project in no time.)Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats

How to sew knife pleats sewing tutorial: Step 1

Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats, Step 1

To start, fold each pleat along its fold line. The most important part of this step is making sure that you match your notches accordingly. By matching the correct notches, you create the folded pleat.

However, if you match the wrong notches, you should be able to tell pretty easily--One pleat will be giant, while another will be very small. Or you may just run out of fabric entirely, with a friendless notch looking for its mate. And we don't want that.

Because like Bob Ross says: "Everyone needs a friend." And the same is true for pleat notches. Pin each pleat near the notches, to ensure they stay put.

NOTE: You may want to sew the hem first, before fully pinning & pressing all of the pleats out. While I prefer to stick with sewing my hem at the end, there are others that prefer to just get it over with, before everything is finished up and ironed out.

(Want to learn how to sew pleats like those on the Emma Skirt? Girl, we got you. Check out our brand new & highly improved step-by-step sewing tutorial on how to sew knife pleats below! You’ll have your own beautifully pleated project in no time.)Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats

How to sew knife pleats sewing tutorial: Step 2

Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats, Step 2

Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats, Step 2.1

Pin and baste stitch each pleat the entire length of the fold. (I prefer to pin first and baste second.) Not half the length of the fold, not 3/4 length of the fold.. THE WHOLE THING.

I also highly recommend measuring the width of each pleat as you're pinning. Like, with an actual ruler. I prefer to measure the width of a pleat at the top, at the bottom, and in the middle. This ensures that all of your pleats are the same width, all around.

When basting, make sure your stitches are nice and long, since you will be taking them out later. You don't need to spend a ton of time on the basting, it's just to ensure that your pleats stay put when you're sewing.

Also, it's a bit of a safety precaution when pressing your pleats. Have you accidentally ironed a fold, and tried to then iron that fold out? It's not easy, and it's not fun. Basting your pleats the entire length ensures that they will be stitched and pressed correctly. The first time.

How to sew knife pleats sewing tutorial: Step 3

Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats, Step 3

Stitch along the top of the pleated section, with a 1/4" seam allowance. This essentially just holds the pleats in place when attaching the waistband.

(Or whatever it is that you may be attaching your pleats to. In the case of the Emma Skirt, we are attaching the pleats to a waistband.)

NOTE: If you are sewing in a lining (like when making a skirt) you can also pin the lining to your pleated skirt's waistline. When stitching the 1/4" line to hold the pleats, you can also stitch in the lining, knocking two steps out at once.

If you aren't confident your pleats will turn out properly, sew the 1/4" line along your pleated self, then pin your lining to the self and sew a second 1/4" stitch line along the waistband. This is an excellent option, and it honestly won't take up much more time than just sewing the self and lining in one go.

(Want to learn how to sew pleats like those on the Emma Skirt? Girl, we got you. Check out our brand new & highly improved step-by-step sewing tutorial on how to sew knife pleats below! You’ll have your own beautifully pleated project in no time.)Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats

How to sew knife pleats sewing tutorial: Step 4

Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats, Step 4

Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats, Step 4.1

Next, press all pleats from the right side of the fabric. Remember: The right side is the side that everyone sees when you're wearing the skirt.

As you press from top to bottom, remove the pins. I really do not recommend ironing over pins--Just don't do it. Go slowly, so that you don't accidentally press an unwanted fold in your pleats. They are not fun to try and iron out.

NOTE: You can press your pleats with a light cloth underneath the iron, and on top of your pleats. This will give your pleats a softer look. To contrast, if you're going for a sharper finish, use more pressure without a cloth.

And remember: This is a very, very time consuming step, so take your time. Ensure all pleats are pressed the same width, and if the measurements between pleats are off, then fix it. If pleats are different sizes, it is very obvious. So just make it right.

How to sew knife pleats sewing tutorial: Step 5

Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats, Step 5

Now it's time to attach the adjoining garment to your pleats. In our case, this would be the skirt waistband.

To attach the waistband, pin the skirt and waistband right side to right side. Stitch the waistband to the skirt. Once the waistband is attached to the pleats, fold it over and then fold the seam allowance under, so that it matches the edge of your pleated skirt.

At this point, all of your raw edges should be hidden. Pin along the fold line, across the entirety of the skirt waistband. Topstitch to close. Once the waistband it finished, press it flat.

NOTE: If sewing a project other than a pleated skirt, this step will be slightly different for you. The end goal is the same though--Attach the pleated section to the garment and close it up.

(Want to learn how to sew pleats like those on the Emma Skirt? Girl, we got you. Check out our brand new & highly improved step-by-step sewing tutorial on how to sew knife pleats below! You’ll have your own beautifully pleated project in no time.)Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats

How to sew knife pleats sewing tutorial: Step 6

Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats, Step 6

Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats, Step 6.1

And now it's time for some finishing touches! Pull out all of the basting stitches and press the pleats flat one more time.

I LOVE (and highly recommend) using starch to hold the shape of pleats. Spray the starch as you press for the final time--The pleats will hold their shape so beautifully and last so, so much longer. Also I think starch smells SO yummy too! (But maybe that's just me.. #psycho)

Also.. DON'T FORGET TO MEASURE YOUR PLEATS!

I cannot emphasize this point enough. While it may take longer to complete the project, measuring as you go makes such a big difference in the finished project.

So. Ready to sew some pleats?

How To Sew Knife Pleats: The Emma Skirt

That's not too bad, right? As I said before, pleats can be a bit time consuming, but they aren't necessarily difficult. And when done correctly, with the right project, they just turn out absolutely gorgeous.

Now, once your pleats are perfectly pressed, your project might have a few more finishing touches. With the Emma Skirt, there is an invisible side zipper to finish it off. But since we recreated that tutorial a few months back, you already know how to sew an invisible side zipper, right?

While pleats may look complicated, and are a bit challenging to draft patterns for.. They really are pretty easy to sew.

And they can completely transform a design!

Whether you love sewing with pleats in all of your projects, or you've never before sewn a pleat in your life, learning how to properly sew and press a pleat can truly add wonders to the right project.

And I can guarantee that you will come across knife pleats at some point in your sewing education. They are an almost nostalgic fabric manipulation that is the perfect pleat to start learning with.

What kind of projects are you sewing knife pleats into right now? Drop me a photo in the comments, I would truly love to see!

(Want to learn how to sew pleats like those on the Emma Skirt? Girl, we got you. Check out our brand new & highly improved step-by-step sewing tutorial on how to sew knife pleats below! You’ll have your own beautifully pleated project in no time.)Sewing Tutorial: How To Sew Knife Pleats

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