using a pleating machine


how to pleat fabric using a machine pleater

I’ve seen more than one request on the internet for ways to learn how to use a pleater, so I’ve written my own directions.  If you have any questions, or something isn’t clear, please contact me (on the About Me page) and I will revise as necessary.  I’d like this to be as clear as possible.

  1. 1.Cut your fabric on grain.  This is time consuming, but it really does make a difference.  If it’s a woven plaid, just cut across a line.  Otherwise, pull a thread out of the fabric and cut on that line.  The thread will probably break, so cut as far as the break and then keep pulling.

  2. 2.Draw a line using something removable along the grain line, about 2” in from the top.

  3. 3.Take a dowel (it doesn’t really matter what the thickness is) and begin to roll the fabric.  Keep the line you drew about even, but you don’t have to be crazy about it: how the fabric feeds through the machine doesn’t have much to do with how the fabric is wrapped.  The dowel just keeps the fabric from getting all messed up.

  1. 4.Put your needles in your pleater.  You’ll only want as many needles as you want rows.  While it’s unlikely to mess up your fabric to have the other needles in there, it will blunt the needles to run fabric through them so you want to minimize how often you do that.

  2. 5.Run a strip of waxed paper through the pleater.  This will help sharpen the needles and will help the fabric glide right on through.

  3. 6.Thread the pleater.  Use a thread which contrasts nicely with your fabric.  Thread length is more or less up to you.  Some sources say to cut it 10” longer than your fabric, but since it’s unlikely that you’re going to need to straighten the fabric after it’s pleated, that’s a lot of extra thread.  You want it to be about the finished width of your smocked product, plus 5” on each end.  It’s better to have too much than too little.

  1. 7.Rest the dowel on the pleater’s supports.  It’s a matter of personal preference whether the fabric runs off the top of the dowel, or from underneath.  Like toilet paper.  Pull the fabric up to the feeder rod carefully, making sure that it’s nice and even.  The line you drew in step 2 should be exactly at the first needle you have threaded on the right.  The excess unpleated fabric (the skirt of the pleated dress, for example), is on the left.

  2. 8.Slowly start to turn the crank.  It’s very tempting to just turn blithely away, ignoring the fabric, but this is a bad idea.  Go as slow as you can.  Keep the line matched up with the first needle.  Make sure the fabric is feeding in evenly, without any little folds getting in there.

  1. 9.Keep rolling.  Eventually, the needles will fill up with fabric.  When this happens, carefully slide off as many pleats as you can.  Keeping the needles free of pleats will reduce strain on the needles and help prevent them from snapping.

  2. 10.Watch the pleats as they come onto the needle.  If there are any extra tucks or wrinkles, start rolling the pleater backwards and try to straighten out the fabric.  If you’ve cut the fabric on the grain, and are rolling it on the grain, this is much less likely to happen.

  1. 11.When you have reached the end of the pleater, gently pull the fabric off the needles.

  2. 12.Spread out the pleats so that the fabric is the desired width.  Check your pattern for this number.  Tie firm knots right up against the edge of the fabric, cutting off any excess thread.  Block the pleated bit by pinning it to your ironing board, holding the iron about an inch above the fabric, and using the steam function.  Let the fabric dry overnight.