Perfect Pleats

Midweek Masterclass: Perfect Pleats and Tucks part one

Pleats and tucks can add textural interest and shaping to knitted garments. In part one Jen Arnall-Culliford shows how to work pleats neatly; next week in part two we'll cover adding tucks.

20th July 2016

Pleats and tucks are a familiar feature of sewn projects and garments, but are less common in knitting. This is partly due to the inherent stretchiness of knitted fabric. The extra fullness that pleats can provide isn’t as essential, since knitted fabric will stretch enough to naturally accommodate movement. In a woven fabric you you can achieve similar fullness through the use of increases (or decreases) worked right across the row. This option is not always easily possible when sewing. 

What are pleats & tucks?

Pleats are created by folding the fabric. They are secured at one end and add fullness. Pleats are most often arranged vertically, as in a pleated skirt. The pleats are secured at the waistband, and open at the hem where the fabric is wider.

Tucks can be vertical or horizontal, and are created by folding the fabric, but this time, the fabric is joined along the length of the fold. Thus a tuck does not add any width or length to the fabric, but rather a surface texture or shape. Sewn darts are tucks worked on an angle.

A pleat (or tuck) consists of at least three layers of fabric, so unless your yarn is reasonably fine, a knitted pleat may prove bulky and less attractive than its sewn counterpart.

Having said all that, when used sensibly, knitted pleats and tucks can be beautiful and add great surface interest and texture.

Veera Välimäki’s ‘Turmeric’ topThe pretty top-down ‘Turmeric’ sweater by Veera Välimäki uses a large pleat at the hem to create body shaping and to showcase a statement button. Kate Davies’ ‘Manu’ cardigan uses pleats at the neckline to sharply decrease the circumference of the fabric, as well as to give visual interest.

Tucks can provide strong vertical texture, as in Connie Chang Chinchio’s stunning ‘Geodesic Cardigan’, while a series of tucks worked on one side of the fabric is used to cleverly shape Ysolda Teague’s ‘Ripley’ hat like a cloche. 

Pleats

In knitting, pleats are usually worked from the widest part of the fabric, up or down to the fold section, where stitches are joined to create the permanently closed end of the pleat. Pleats can have added structure if the fold lines are emphasised by the use of stitch patterns that naturally help the fabric to hang as desired. The simplest way of achieving this in stocking stitch is to slip a stitch at each fold.

To help to describe pleats, we use three terms: overlay, turnback and underlay. 

Knitted Pleat

Pleat definitions

Instructions for making simple left and right pleats are described opposite. You can then combine pleats in a number of ways – some of which have their own names. 

Knife pleats are a series of narrow pleats worked one after the other, all pointing in the same direction. A kilt uses knife pleats.

Box pleats consist of a pair of wide pleats (one right and one left) that meet in the centre. They are often used on a jacket yoke.

Inverted pleats are a pair of wide pleats (one right and one left) that are arranged so that the folds are apart from each other (the opposite of a box pleat).

Instructions for a pleat folded to the right

Cast on sufficient stitches for the widest part of the fabric. Make a note of how many stitches will be worked in the pleat. In our sample, 8 stitches are used for each section of the pleat, with 2 stitches at each end.

Place two markers to show the division between overlay, turnback and underlay. There should be the same number of stitches between the markers (this is the turnback section) as you identified for the pleat. Our sample has 10 stitches for the overlay section, 8 stitches for the turnback, and 10 stitches for the underlay. 

Work in your desired stitch pattern. If you want extra structure in your pleat, on RS rows, slip a stitch with yarn in back adjacent to the marker between overlay and turnback; and slip a stitch with yarn in front adjacent to the marker between turnback and underlay.

Instructions for our sample would be:

RS rows: K10, slm, Sl 1 wyif, knit to marker, slm, Sl 1 wyib, knit to end.

WS rows: Purl, slipping markers.

For extra definition at the rear fold, on WS rows, knit the slipped stitch between the underlay and turnback sections.

1 Continue in pattern until pleat is the desired length. Work until you are the pleat-number of stitches before the first marker. Slip the following pleat stitches onto a double-pointed needle (DPN), remove the marker and slip the turnback stitches onto another DPN and remove
the second marker.
2 Your underlay stitches will now be ready to work on your left needle tip.

Knitted pleats step by step
3 Fold the DPNs to give the correct arrangement of underlay, turnback and overlay. 

4 Use your right needle to knit together the first stitches from the left needle tip and both of the DPNs (K3tog). Repeat this a further 7 times (or as many as needed to use up all of the pleat stitches).

Knitted pleats steps

5 Work to the end of the row. Admire your pleat!

6 The pleat will lay flatter after working a few more rows.

Knitted pleats masterclass

Instructions for a pleat folded to the left

Cast on and set up stitches as for a right pleat. If you want extra structure in your pleat, on RS rows, slip a stitch with yarn in back adjacent to the marker between overlay and turnback; and slip a stitch with yarn in front adjacent to the marker between turnback and underlay.

Instructions for our sample would be:

RS rows: K10, slm, Sl 1 wyib, knit to marker, slm, Sl 1 wyif, knit to end.

WS rows: Purl, slipping markers.

For extra definition at the rear fold, on WS rows, knit the slipped stitch between the underlay and turnback sections.

7 Continue in pattern until pleat is the desired length. Work until you are the pleat-number of stitches before the first marker. Slip the following pleat stitches onto a DPN, remove the marker and slip the turnback stitches onto another DPN and remove the second marker. 

8 Your overlay stitches will now be ready to work on your left needle tip.

Pleats steps left

9 Fold the DPNs to give the correct arrangement of underlay, turnback and overlay.

10 Use your right needle to knit together the first stitches from the left needle tip and both of the DPNs (K3tog). Repeat this a further 7 times (or as many as needed to use up all of the pleat stitches).

Pleats steps 9 & 10

11 Work to the end of the row.

Finished pleat

Check back next week when we'll cover how to knit tucks into your stitches, to create a strong visual line in a garment.

And for more of our Masterclass guides, click here.

Celtic Leaves shawl

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