Pattern Play:Pleats

Pattern Play:Pleats

A basic garment pattern is a great starting point for designing unique, customized clothing. With a few easy alterations, you can make garments that stand out and suit your style. Adorn a basic sheath dress with an unusual pleating detail that adds drama and also defines the fit.


  • Basic sheath dress pattern with no center seam (such as McCall's 2401)
  • Fabric & lining (amount according to pattern envelope)
  • All-purpose thread & notions (according to pattern envelope)
  • Tissue or pattern paper
  • Clear tape

Tip: Use a mediumweight fabric that drapes well, such as georgette, satin, silk or wool.

Cut out the pattern pieces.

Before beginning the alterations to create waist darts, pin-fit or make a muslin fitting sample of the selected pattern.

Make any necessary fit adjustments to the pattern, and then trace a copy on paper, transferring all markings (1). 


On a new piece of paper, trace the front pattern piece. Turn over the pattern and align it with the center-front line; trace again, transferring the darts (2). 

On the new front pattern, draw a horizontal line at the waistline. Draw a line along the bust dart lower lines, connecting the apexes, and then draw a line at the hipline (3).

Measure the distance between the bust and waistline; record. This is the pleat panel height. The distance from the waistline to the hipline should be the same as or slightly longer than the pleat panel height.
Cut the front pattern along the marked lines to create four pattern pieces. Label the pieces 1 (upper neckline), 2 (bust), 3 (waist/hips) and 4 (skirt) (4). Set aside pieces 1 and 4.
On pieces 2 and 3, trace over the vertical dart outer line. Exend the piece-2 lines to the upper edge and the piece-3 lines to the lower edge (5).
Cut piece 2 along each marked line, beginning at the lower edge and ending just before the upper edge to create a small hinge. Cut piece 3, beginning at the upper edge and ending just before the lower edge (6).

Close each dart by rotating the outer pattern sections toward the center line. Tape the cut edges in place (7). If desired, trace pieces 2 and 3 onto new paper, transferring the center line.

Determine how many waist pleats are desired. The featured dress has seven pleats each on pieces 2 and 3.

To mark each pleat, draw a diagonal line connecting the pattern upper and lower edges. Position each pleat at even or uneven (as in the featured dress) intervals, making sure that each line matches a corresponding line at the waistline. Draw a notch to denote the pleat length along each line. The pleats on the featured dress are 5" long (8). 

Cut piece 2 along the first pleat line to, but not through, the upper edge.
Spread apart the pattern about 3/4" along the cut edges. Position a piece of paper under the open area, and then tape in place (9). Repeat to spread and tape each remaining pleat (10). Match the pleats along the waistline, and then set aside piece 3.

To connect the bodice pieces, position the piece-1 lower edge slightly over the piece-2 upper edge until the side edges match as closely as possible (11).

Measure the overlap width; record. Use extra paper to add the recorded amount to the piece-2 lower edge. Tape together piece 1 and piece 2, and redraw the bust darts if needed (12).
Repeat to attach piece 3 to piece 4, adding length to the piece 3 lower edge if needed (13).


Trace the bodice and skirt patterns onto new paper. Transfer the pleats to the new pattern, ending each pleat length at the marked notch. Redraw the pattern center line to indicate the fabric grainline (14).


From the fabric, cut out one altered front bodice and altered front skirt. Cut the back pieces following the original pattern instructions.

From the lining, cut out the original front and back pieces.


Stitch the bust darts with right sides together. Press the darts downward.

With wrong sides together, stitch each bodice pleat from the waistline edge to the dart end.  Pull the thread tails through to the wrong side, and then tie them off. The dart excess will appear on the garment right side. Press the pleat excess toward the right side seam.

Repeat to stitch the skirt waistline darts. Press the dart excess toward the right side seam.

With right sides together, align the front bodice and skirt along the waistline, carefully matching each pleat; pin, and then stitch. Press open the waistline seam.

Finish constructing the dress, following to the pattern guidesheet.


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