Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Seamless Pleating Tutorial

Seamless Pleating Method #1
I am going to cover two methods of seamless pleating. I have used simple batiste because it was on my cutting table. And serendipitously there were two colors. At first I thought that would be a pain and then realized it was perfect. So it is two colors so you can better see where the seam would occur.

Seamless pleating can be used anywhere you need to combine two pieces of fabric and don't want the bulk or worse the "bump" of the seam to show for example a bishop or an insert for an older child that needs a tad more than 45" fabric to not look so s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d after construction. I know as Bunny commented on the butterfly bishop that you can push your French seam into the groove of the rollers as you pleat. For me, it works great for 3 out of 4 seams. Invariably the one seam it didn't work is on the front. Ticks me off every time. So I prefer seamless pleating.

And as always click on the pictures to enlarge.

Your first piece goes through the pleater as you would any other.

My first piece you can see has cleared the pleating rods.

Insert your second piece making sure that the tops are even, or in other words your top edge is lined up on the same location on the pleater rod. We often use the grooves in the rod as a landmark. Use the same groove for you second piece of fabric.

The two pieces after they have been taken off the pleater. Ignore the pleat "boo-boo" to the right. I was obviously not paying attention and must have pulled on it. See I even let you see my mess ups. I'm not proud.

Mark your seam allowance.

Choose the pleat closest to your seam allowance and mark the peak of the pleat. See what my pleating boo boo caused? That is how I know I must have been pulling on the fabric as it was feeding. Probably had the fabric between my thumb and forefinger right there at the center. But all that aside, this is a sample and I wasn't re-pleating it. Mark your peaks closest to your seam allowance.

I have pushed my pleats back together and you can see the pleat marked that signals my seam allowances.

Smock up to your seam, here my needle has pierced that LAST pleat I will stitch on my first piece of fabric.

Take your next stitch on the FIRST marked pleat of the second piece of fabric. Try your best to maintain a consistent tension. It will be a tad challenging since you are squeezing together 2-5 pleats. Don't fret it, trust me it will all come out okay.

Here I have completed the smocking. I know it is just 5 rows of cables but come on, I am just showing you, not stitching a masterpiece here. It is obvious on the left where the seam will be. On the right is the back of the piece.

Now remove your gathering threads. Take a deep breath, it is okay! Wait for the magic.

Voila! Look at that seam allowance pop up there as if by magic I tell ya!

Flip it over and your stitches look even. If the colors of the fabric didn't change you wouldn't be able to tell there was a break there. It is that easy. Now go back and stitch a seam on your marked seam allwance. Get as close as you can without stressing over it. You smocking is going to maintain your seam allowance.

Seamless Pleating Method #2

Again I have used two different color fabrics for better illustration. Mark the seam allowances on your pieces. Begin feeding first piece of fabric through the pleater normally being more careful than I was in the previous example to feed evenly and slowly enough to control it but not so slowly you wear yourself out before you get to the fun part.

When you come to the end of the second piece it should like the picture above.

Pull the piece OFF of the pleater. Relax, it will be okay, I promise. Pull your gathering threads out of the seam allowance. Leave gathering threads on the front.

DO NOT RE-THREAD YOUR PLEATER YET. Begin feeding second piece of fabric making sure again to have the top lined up with the same groove you used as a landmark on your first piece.

Here is the part you can't get too zealous or you will get ahead of yourself. Feed the fabric slowly onto the UNTHREADED needles, smooth out the seam allowance. Turn your pleater handle just enough to get your fabric to the end of the needles without going off.

Carefully without bending your needles or pulling too hard on your fabric, clear the fabric off of the needles just up to your marked seam allowance. Stand up straight and take a deep breath and stretch your neck. Remember to breath.

NOW re-thread your pleater needles being careful to keep them in the same order. How do I know that this is important you ask? You will have a hot mess if you rethread the needles in a random order and not the one that matches your first piece of fabric. Trust me, been there, done that.

Continue to feed your next piece of fabric. See how the seam allowance has fallen to the back allowing your fabrics to meet up and kiss? If you are doing a bishop you will repeat this process for all four seams. I think it is worth it.

This is the two pieces off the pleater. No visible seam.

Turn it over and there is your seam allowance waiting for you. You can go ahead and stitch your seams now if you want.

To finish the raw edges of your seam allowance you can roll and whip it by machine, finish it with a zig zag or do a mock French seam.

To do a mock French seam, stitch your seam with a straight stitch close to your smocking. Then trim one side of the seam allowance to 1/8". I fold the second side of the seam allowance over half way, fold again letting the folded edge meet the machine stitching of your straight stitched seam, making sure to encase the seam allowance you trimmed to 1/8". Whip stitch down.

I hope this helps you. Try it and see if you like it.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! You have no idea how much I appreciate learning these two techniques. Any tips that you have on smocking will be greatly appreciated by me!!!!!

  2. Fabulous tutorial, Martha, for which I am tremendously grateful. Thank you so much. I am going to pass the word on this.

  3. Thanks for this wonderful info, Martha. You make seamless pleating look so easy...I have fabric on my craft table for my next bishop...I'm going to try this next one seamless...I can't stand the bumps and they always happen in the front for sure...:(

  4. Thanks guys. I trust that everyone of you would be able to do this.

  5. Wonderful tutorial, as always! I normally use the second method. Next time, I will have to try your other suggestion.
    I have a feeling many beautiful little bishops will soon be stitched!

  6. Love it... but then your humor shows through and it is wonderful. Have I told you lately that I miss you? :)

  7. Thank you so much for this tutorial Martha. I can't wait to try this.

    Judy in MO

  8. Martha
    What a great tutorial!!Your instructions are always so easy to follow!! Thanks so much!!

  9. Thanks guys for the kind words. I hope it is helpful to someone. Just passing on what someone else taught me.

  10. Thank you so much for your tutorial. Seeing it is so much more beneficial for me than just describing - hmmm, guess I am a visual learner. You make seamless pleating appear to be so easy and doable. Guess now I'll have to try it and let you know the results. Thank you again for this wonderful tutorial.

  11. Jane I hear you, I am VERY much a visual learner.

  12. Martha...I have used both of these techniques before.....but I must say you make it look so easy!!! I know there was a lot more sweating and fussing taking place at my place when I have done this!!! Next time I'll remember your words to take a deep breathe....I'm sure that will help!!!

  13. Cindy, no need to sweat and fuss unless it is for a really special garment or REALLY expensive fabric. But like most things, if we take it one step at a time without worrying about the whole it usuallu will work just fine.

  14. Oh! That is amazing! I just did my first bishop for Easter and I trudged through getting the french seams pleated...successfully, but very slowly! I like the way you did it, though, so the seam isn't even visible. On mine, I could see the seam...like a larger pleat. Oh, that is good. That is very good. Thank you, Martha!

  15. pfarmwife, I am glad you liked it. I hope it proves useful to you. Sometimes I have tried to stitch the top layer of the pleat when the seam is caught in it. That helps but doesn't eliminate the seam. Good luck.

  16. Wonderful instructions. Thank you!

    I was browsing your blog and saw the pretty silk tissue covers you made back in December. It looks like you have a same fabric trim or a binding on the opening edges. Can you explain how you did them?


  17. Thank you for this fantastic tutorial!! I never even thought of doing this....brilliant! I love bishops but the only one I've done made me crazy trying to get the seams through the pleater. Now I can try this method :)

  18. Hi there Southern Matriach

    Meant to leave a comment ages ago.

    Found your tutorial back in the summer and used it with, of course, perfect results! Wow, way to go. Like you, there are times when there is one seam that doesn't go well, when using the standard method of stitching first then pleating.

    I was so thrilled, that I mentioned you on the Country Bumpkin forum; so, I am sure there are lots of my fellow forum friends who have also had 100% success using your ingenious method.

    Thank you so much. You made me ecstatic!!

  19. I have a question on the first method. I had read on a forum to do this and I did it on a bishop,got it all smocked and now what to do? Do I remove the pleating threads even though I haven't sewn the neck binding on? Will it come out ok not having that top holding row in there when I sew on my binding? Thanks for any help!!

  20. Anonymous, yes you remove your pleating threads. Your seam allowance will fall to the back. Stitch your seam allowance, trim it and finish it with a small zig zag. I often run a thread through my pleats at the top of the smocking to pull them up and attach my binding. Hope this helps. Otherwise email me through my profile and I will try to help you.

  21. I am using this first method to smock a bishop but have ended up with an odd number of pleats for the center front section. How do you mark the center when the center is not a valley? thanks for any tips.

  22. Just found this and can't wait to try it! Thank you for such a clear and easy tutorial. Of course, hopefully this student is smart enough to follow instructions. lol

  23. Hi Martha!

    I just wanted to pop in here & say "THANK YOU!" for your wonderfully detailed tutorial on Seamless Pleating. I just got done pleating up a tiny 6 month size "Lullaby" gown from AS&E #76 & I used your method #1. Went through like butter & worked perfectly not a single hitch! SEW EASY!!!

    I truly appreciate all the great teaching you have shared over the years.


    1. Oh Thank you Retta. It is a joy to know that someone has benefitted from it. I can't wait to see what you have created.

    2. OMGoodness!!!!!! I wish I had know this long ago when I was making little bishops for my great nieces! Those girls are nearly grown now, the oldest in her first year of college and I wanted to start some little things for their future babies. You do know that you need to get started early as possible don't you???? That will also give me some gifts when needed too so I like to keep something on hand. Right now I have nothing and my hairdresser wants things before Christmas and I simply won't have the time. These two methods on pleating will give a much nicer look to any seam, especially on tiny dresses where the French seam is so difficult to hide. I can't thank you enough for this valuable lesson. You did a great job showing us how with the pictures. You know, some of us still need visual aids. Judy

    3. Judy, I am glad it was helpful to you. Happy Stitching.

  24. hello Martha

    I just watched your tutorials on seamless pleating,l loved them!!! One question, when you sew your seam allowance doesn't it crush the pleats closest to the seam? Sorry I couldn't figure out how to get my name on this so here it is Lesley Wells

    1. Lesley, I don't have your email so I hope you see this. I don't sew the seams until the smocking is completed. So when I pull the gathering threads out, the seam allowance falls to the back. I just grab the extended seam allowance and stitch it. I stitch as close as I comfortably can. You can see hints of the smocking stitches from the back. I don't stitch into the smocking so it doesn't crush the pleats. The seam allowance falls from the valley of the pleats so it doesn't show on the front. I hope that answers your question.

  25. hello again

    I love your seamless pleating, it works like a dream!!! I have a question regarding pleated short sleeves. How much do you pull up the pleats? Do you pull them up like you do the dress, leaving only the seam allowance flat? My pattern says not to block them but doesn't say anything else about them. Thank you for your help. lesleywells@shaw.ca

  26. Martha a quick question---when using the second method and you are adding the second piece are you threading the needles with the threads from the end of the first piece. I am just learning to pleat and am struggling with seams. well really struggling with everything but one pleat at a time. thank you Suzie B.

  27. I did it ! I pleated a dress! Thank You for the tutorial. It took a couple of tries and I had to order another set of needles, but I did it. Suzie B.

  28. I was reading about these methods and I laughed out loud when I read that you said to breathe. I realized that I was almost holding my breath, as I was concentrating on each step!!! Wonderful directions. Thank you. :) Barb

  29. I love this post, your style and the fantastic technique. I'm going to go look around your other posts. I think I have found a new favorite blogger!! xoxo

  30. Hello,
    I have been smocking for several years now and I have always been pretty successful with my pleating. I am about to smock several dresses for a granddaughter who is a size 7. I intend to do some special things on these dresses such as Italian Smocking, honeycomb stitching and other techniques which will cover the entire bodice. In the past I have always pleated outfits that required no more than 12 rows. Two of the dresses I have planned require 24 rows. I purchased a Read 32 row pleater in anticipation of smocking more outfits for my two growing GDs. I have discovered that there is a learning curve for pleating more than 12 rows. What I found out is that the wider the fabric must be, the more difficult it is to initially feed the fabric into the pleater. In other words, when I get the fabric straight to enter the rollers, I have to let go of one end to turn the crank handle and the other end of the fabric (or more often the middle of the fabric edge) falls out of the roller. It seems I need an extra hand-2 to hold the fabric straight and 1 to turn the crank. Once the fabric is caught between the rollers, of course, pleating is crooked. Its getting the fabric straight as it enters the rollers at the beginning that is causing me grief. My fabric is perfectly straight-I can pull a single thread all the way from one edge to the other and I have trimmed the edge to cut away any fuzzy fringe. I'm thinking I need the leading edge of the fabric to be slightly more stiff, but I don't want to introduce any adhesives to my needles. And a selvage edge is usually too wavy anyway-I always cut it off. Does anyone out there have any suggestions?

  31. Hola mi nombre es AnaDilia me gustaría comprar una maquina de fruncido pero se me a hecho muy difícil si puedes orientarme se lo voy agradecer


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