Alexander McQueen, AW13, Paris.
Cartridge pleats are a detail that you may associate with historical and period costume as they are often used to create Elizabethan ruffs and provide fullness on skirts. The labour intensive detail does however have the sort of beautiful structure that is often used in contemporary garments, and can easily be appropriated into collections today as both a structural or decorative detail.
Cartridge pleats are formed when the fabric folds back and forth in a similar formation to an accordion pleat, except that cartridge pleats are typically more rounded, creating a signature “figure 8” style structure.
Basic Cartridge Pleat Construction
The first step is to mark the pleat intervals that you need onto fabric to ensure that your finished pleats will be perfectly consistent in size and shape. These marks will be used to create evenly spaced stitches to draw the pleats into place, so you will need to vary your measurements based on the style of pleats that you need.
Cartridge pleats are then typically created by hand using a thick thread, or rows of thick thread to sew rows of running stitch. Once sewn you will knot the thread at one side and draw on the threads in the same way that you would if you were gathering fabric, except that you will need to ensure that the pleats form correctly as the fabric condenses. You will need to ensure that the pleats are spaced to the desired measurement and that the threads have been secured correctly to hold the pleats in position.
You should experiment with test fabric before attempting to use the technique on a finished garment. This will give you a chance to work out all your measurements, including how much fabric is needed. You will also need to consider how the fabric edge should be finished before you begin pleating, or if any additional structure is needed to create the pleat shape that you need. For example, you should consider whether fusing or a band of crinoline would help to support the rolls of the pleats.
Uses for Cartridge Pleats
Once sewn the cartridge pleats then appear to mainly be used in two different ways:
- Decorative, to take advantage of the “figure 8” structure.
- Functional, to use the structure to create fullness.
As a decorative feature, the pleats are positioned so that you can see how the pleats are formed such as when used on Elizabethan ruffs or neck collars. In this case the fabric may be shorter and then attached onto a neck band, so that the ends of the fabric face outwards towards the viewer.
They can also be positioned so that the pleats are caught with hand sewing on one edge of a sturdy waistband, so that the pleats hinge from the waistband, and the structure of the pleats remains visible.
Alternatively, the cartridge pleats can also be butted straight onto a waistband for long skirts, so that the structure of the pleats forces the fabric out and away from the body, creating a similar effect to a bustle or hip padding. The same effect could be created if the pleats were to hinge downwards, so that the tops of the pleats will face towards the body.
Examples of Cartridge Pleats
It is easier to collect images of how cartridge pleats are used in a more decorative way, since they are always more visible in this scenario. In the examples below you can see how the pleats have been used in the Givenchy and Alexander McQueen collections.
In the images below from the Alexander McQueen collection from Autumn-Winter 2013, cartridge pleats have sometimes been used as a double layer to create neck ruffs. It appears that the fabric edges have also been specially shaped and finished to create a more ragged effect. Possibly, these ruffs have been created using pre-made bands of lace rather than strips of fabric. One of the tutorials listed at the end of this post, also shows an example of a ruff made with wide ribbon, though they suggest grosgrain may be a better alternative.
Alexander McQueen, AW13, Paris from Vogue.co.uk» Additional image of Queen Elizabeth I from Magnolia Box»
In the example below from Givenchy’s Couture collection of Spring-Summer 2008, cartridge pleats are used in different scales to radiate out from the arms and across the shoulder line.
Givenchy, Haute Couture, Spring-Summer 2008, Paris from Vogue.co.uk»
Resources and Tutorials
The examples and directions here are only a very brief overview of how these techniques can be used. For further reading and more tips for creating your own cartridge pleats here are some tutorials that we have found using cartridge pleats:
Cartridge Pleating a Skirt via Elizabethan Costume»
Cartridge Pleats via Reconstructing History»
Cartridge Pleating 101 via Extreme Costuming»
How To Sew Cartridge Pleats via Historical Sewing»
How To Make An Elizabethan Ruff (Using Ribbon) via Mrs Bertin’s Jewelry Box»
All construction images of cartridge pleats from The Cutting Class»