Pleating, Embroidery and Quilting. The Options are Endless.

Before you think these old-fashioned-sounding techniques are not for you, we invite you to open your mind just a little. Fabric treatment technology has come a long way since your grandma’s quilting and vintage skirt box pleats. 

Taking advantage of new (and some not-so-new) fabric treatments can take your collection to a whole new level. Once you start researching these techniques, you might be surprised at how inspiring they can be. So read on; we promise there is a whole world of surprising options you might have never considered!

Pleats, Please (with a nod to Issey Miyake)

Before we begin our discussion on pleating, we must take a moment to honor the contemporary master of the art form, Issey Miyake (born 1938)

Per The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Issey Miyake launched his Pleats Please line in 1993. To create the line, he used a patented process called “garment pleating” that involves pleating clothes rather than textiles. The process entails constructing garments at two or three times their intended size, then precisely folding, ironing, and lacing the sewn ensembles, sandwiched between paper, into a heat press.” 

Think about this. Miyake’s development team had to create sewing patterns that were two to three times the actual size of the garment, in order to accommodate the pleats that became the hallmark of his collection. If you want to take a look at creativity and pattern accuracy at its finest, check out his Pleats Please collection here.

In essence, there are three basic methods used to pleat fabric: hand, pattern and machine. These methods can be used individually or in combination to yield different results and textures.

  • Hand Pleating. This method uses hand folding a piece of fabric, pleat by pleat. There are also other hand pleating methods such as shibori, which employs the use of ropes to bind and compress the fabric .Hand pleating, fold by fold, becomes much easier with tartans, plaids or striped fabrics since the repeat in the fabric is used as a guide to assist in the folding.
  • Pattern Pleating. This method of pleating employs the use of a cardboard pattern or a tool referred to as a “pleaters board.”  Pleating boards are still used today. When using a pleating board, the fabric is stuffed into spaces and then pressed with a steam iron.
  • Machine Pleating. There are several different ways these machines can be built to accomplish the task of pleating. Generally speaking, machine pleating is the least expensive method when making simple pleats like side pleats, box pleats or crystal pleats because they require less labor than other pleats. 

There are other couture-type pleats that can be made by machine as well. These pleats are usually a combination of two or more of the techniques described above. Since the possibilities of mixing different pleating options together are virtually infinite, you might consider a bit of experimentation for your own collection.

The Art of Embroidery and Appliqué

Although hand embroidery and appliqué have been around for millennia, computerized machine embroidery is only about 40 years old. Prior to that, all the beautiful embroidery you see on vintage fabric was painstakingly done by hand. 

Today, appliqué and specialty stitches — beyond the satin and fill varieties — can help you break free from basic, flat embroidery. Your garments will have a higher perceived value, and therefore, command a higher price. After all, anyone can digitize a logo and add it to a garment, but there are so many other embroidery techniques to consider:

  • Bean. This stitch type is more common with thin script fonts or creating outlines of chunky fonts or motif designs. Options include a chunkier look with five to six passes to give the appearance of hand-embroidered thread.
  • Chain. This stitch type mainly was sewn by hand until the 1800s when a machine was created to replicate it. You need a special machine to create a true chain stitch, but a normal embroidery machine can create a faux chain stitch. It basically uses triangles layered on top of each other to give the appearance of a chain loop. 
  • Whip. This is basically a satin stitch with multiple passes on the same spot. It resembles a “chunky” ladder and gives a more horizontal bar look compared to the vertical bean-stitch look.
  • Lofty and Loose Satin. This look is achieved by using washaway felt underneath the stitch, but on top of the garment. Cotton-wrapped polyester threads give this stitch type a vintage, hand-sewn look.
  • Cross Hatch. Cross stitching is a popular technique for filling large areas with low stitch counts. Cross stitch is also sometimes combined with appliqué. 

These are just a few of the embroidery techniques available to you. With some research, you’re sure to discover even more. Most embroidery houses are happy to give you a tour of their facility and show off their talents.

Quilting and Speciality Motifs

These days it seems quilting is everywhere! We’d venture to say there hasn’t been this much interest in the art form since the quilting bees of the late 1800’s. Quilting has been used for centuries, and is a time-honored fabric treatment.

As an aside, the word quilt is derived from Latin, but came into the English language from the French word “quite”. Which doesn’t really make sense to us, but is true nonetheless.

If you’re not familiar with the technicalities of quilting, here’s a quick explanation of how it works. A fabric structure – consisting of a layer of cotton, goose down, fiberfill, feather or padding – is sandwiched between two layers of material. These layers are held in place by stitching in a predetermined pattern across and through the entire thickness. Thereby creatively producing a new material that is more than just the sum of its parts.

Classic quilting is typically done in three layers: the top fabric, batting or insulating material, and backing material. But it’s in the types of quilt stitch and motifs where a designer can get really creative. In fact, the only limit is your imagination: so just consider, as a starting point: 

  • Block and Patchwork Quilting. These techniques involve using blocks and patches to create patterns. The blocks can be squares, strips, triangles or any other shape you prefer. The blocks are sewn and pieced together to create the final design. Oftentimes, top stitching is used to add another dimension to the final result.
  • Trapunto Quilting, Trapunto quilting is also often referred to as a “stuffed” quilting technique. Trapunto is Italian for “to quilt” and includes a top quilt layer and a bottom, but the real beauty comes from the padding that is stuffed inside the stitched design, creating its own dimension. 
  • Channel Quilting. is straight-line machine quilting that runs in parallel lines in only one direction, usually vertical. You’ll see this very popular technique on puffer jackets and other outerwear. This type of quilting traps air within the channels and is often used to create warmth for the wearer.

Happily, quilting, pleating and embroidery have enjoyed quite a resurgence in the last decade. Advances in technology, such as computer-aided design, have made what was once a labor-intensive handsewn process now a viable option to you, as an emerging designer. That said, as our earlier discussion of Issey Miyake clearly illuminates, it’s vital to partner with a development house that has experience working with these advanced fabric techniques. 

We hope that this discussion has sparked a moment or two of creativity for you. We look forward to helping make your ideas a reality. Feel free to reach out to us at or give us a call at 800-916-0910.

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