This is the third post on pleating, smocking and sewing with knit fabrics. You can find the previous posts here: Sewing with Knits: Just the Essentials, Smocking Knits: Testing the Fabric. Today I will walk you through pleating cotton knit jersey or interlock fabrics. Medium weight cotton knits pleat beautifully. In the Smocking Knits post, I discussed the different types of knit fabrics and tested pleating a few different types of knits. Knit jersey fabrics from Pink Hollybush pleated beautifully. However, one of the characteristics of jersey knits is that the cut edges roll to the right side of the fabric. This post will explain how to prepare the fabric and pleat the knits. There is also a full video at the bottom of the post showing how I pleat the knit.
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Prepare the Fabric
I do not recommend pre-washing the knit fabric before pleating it. Pre-washing increases the curl and softens the knit. Knits do shrink but mostly in length. Cut the pleated piece with a little extra length, pleat the fabric and construct the garment. Wash and dry the garment before hemming. After cutting the piece of fabric to be pleated, the first step is to iron the fabric, using an iron on a knit or synthetic setting (the spandex doesn't like a hot iron!), iron the fabric on the wrong side, making sure to flatten the cut edge. Using a spray bottle of water or Best Press (affiliate link) and lightly spraying before ironing the fabric helps. I haven't found that spray starch is that helpful. Let the fabric dry in place before moving it and this will help reduce the curl. Once the edge is flattened, I use a blue wash-away marker and mark a line parallel to, and 2 - 3 inches away from the cut edge. (The distance depends on the pleater used - see video).
Mark the Fabric
I will use this line and the cut edge to guide my fabric through the pleater. I also draw 3 or 4 lines perpendicular to the cut edge along the fabric. As I am guiding the fabric through the pleater and I approach one of the perpendicular lines, the goal is for the perpendicular line to enter the pleater at the same time. This ensures I am staying on grain as I pleat. Staying on grain is very important to make sure the garment hangs correctly when finished.
Feed the Fabric into the Pleater
Roll the fabric up on a dowel to help control it as it is fed through the pleater and feed the fabric through the pleater WRONG side up. Even if your pleater instructions recommend feeding the fabric through right side up (this is what is recommended for my Sally Stanley pleater), ignore the instructions and feed the fabric through wrong side up! The fabric edge that wants to roll is now against the pleater bar and is prevented from curling in on itself.
You will notice that I have a book under the dowel to help raise it up level with the pleater. This helps minimize drag. Slowly feed the fabric through the pleater lining up the cut edge and the blue line each with a grove of the pleater. As you feed the fabric through, the knit will pucker. There is no need for concern.
Even out the Pleats
The knit pushes and pulls. Once it is through the pleater, just give it a slight tug with one hand on the cut edge and the other on the opposite side so you are pulling the pleats in the direction of the arrows.
The puckers will straighten right out and you will have beautiful pleated fabric.
Block the Fabric
Turn the fabric right side up, pull up the pleats and block to the size given in the pattern just as you normally would with woven fabric. I hope you will give smocking knits a try!
Here is the video showing how I pleat knit fabric.