I have received three emails in the past couple weeks asking questions about TUTU.COM's signature pleating method, what we call “Double-Hand-Pleating.” This pleat is what is called a “rolled pleat,” and, with a little practice, is not difficult to do. It is similar to an accordion pleat but has a little twist of its’ own. If you pay attention to the details, you can learn to do it well. View "Classical Tutu Double-Hand (Rolled) Pleating" on Tutu.com's YouTube Channel for a demonstration.
How do we make the pleats so even?
Why don’t we force the pleat all the way to the outer edge of the net? Why don’t we use a fork or one of those plastic “pleating forks?” I thought I would do a blog post to answer these questions. How Do We Make The Pleats So Even? First things first – as with all sewing projects, you must use measurements correctly and consistently. If you do this, you simply cannot be unsuccessful. You can choose how big or small to make your pleats, but whatever you choose, you need to use those measurements consistently and accurately so that each piece of net, and each pleat on each piece of net is the same. Do not try to “eyeball” the measurements. Many people do this for various reasons – they are in a hurry, or they are sure they know what 3/8- inch looks like, or they simply do not believe it makes that much of a difference if the pleats are exactly the same size or not.
As you can see in our video, we pleat using a rotary cutting board marked with one-inch squares. Between each one inch mark, there are marks for eighths, quarters, and half an inch. Use the marks! Pay attention to exactly how big you are making each pleat and take the time to make them all the same size. Perfection is as simple as that. Another reason that people have trouble making the pleats neat is that they either “Railroad-cut” their net, OR they sew their pieces of net together into one long piece. Do not “railroad-cut” your net. “Railroading” is when you cut the net for each layer in one, long piece down the length of the net, rather than in pieces across the width of the net. It is always best to cut the net for your tutu layers across the width of the net. That way, the grainline (yes, even net has a grain!) will be sitting from the body outwards, rather than around the body like it would if “railroad-cut.” Cutting the net properly and not trying to “save time” by railroading, will make a stronger tutu that stands up better for longer because the grain will not be weakened as it is when made to go around the body rather than straight out.
Once you have your pieces cut, do not sew the net pieces together. It is very difficult to make consistently equal-sized pleats when trying to pleat a long continuous piece of net. It becomes more and more messy/sloppy looking the farther you go.
Each piece of 54” long net needs to pleat down to between approximately six and eight inches. Seven-inches is perfect. Measure each piece. If you find that some pieces are much bigger or smaller than others, take them apart and start over. It takes practice to become consistent.
The fastest way to get good at pleating is to practice repeatedly. Make a $30 investment in yourself by buying twenty yards of white net. Cut it into thirty, 15-inch pieces. Use the timer on your cell phone, or use a kitchen timer, to time how long it takes you to pleat each piece. Be sure to make the pleats even, using your rotary cutting board to measure as you go to make sure you are doing a consistently neat job.
At first, you will be very slow, but with patience and repetition, by the time you get to the thirtieth piece of net, you will not only be making perfect pleats that are exactly the same size, but you will be doing it very quickly. Some professional costumers get to the point that they can completely pleat a 54-inch piece of net in 4 1/2 minutes. It takes approximately six or seven pieces for a row on a small to medium-sized adult tutu. This can be done in just over thirty minutes if you take the time to properly train yourself. If you pleat these 30 pieces, you will not only become proficient, but you will now have completed enough pleated pieces to make the top rows on four or five tutus.
Take a close look at the placement of the pins in the picture above. It is important that the pins be set at the very edge of each pleat, not haphazardly placed just anywhere.
When placed at the edge of each pleat, you can see right away if your pleats are not even. It is also much easier to stitch the pleats in place if the pins are all placed at the edge. You will also be able to easily pull the pins out as you sew.
Another reason to be neat is that if the pleated edge is precisely even, and you have been precise in your cutting of the net pieces, then the outer edge of the tutu has a better chance of looking even and clean. Of course, if the seam allowance is not paid attention to, and the pleated pieces are sewn on ignoring the proper placement of the seam, then the outer edge will be lopsided and sloppy.
Keep in mind that the seam allowance on our panty patterns at the hip is 3/4-inch. The seam allowance on the tutu layer pieces is 1/2- inch. Once we have the double-hand-pleated piece pinned, we straight-stitch it between the seamline and the edge of the net – INSIDE the half-inch seam allowance, right next to the seamline. This is important, because then, when you go to sew the doble-hand-pleated net pieces on to the panty, you can line up the stitching line on the net pieces right next to the seamline on the panty. This will ensure that the net piece sits in the perfect place on the panty – 1/4-inch BELOW the actual hipline edge of the panty. It will be much easier to encase the seam between the hipline of the panty and the hipline of the basque to keep the tutu from being itchy and uncomfortable for the dancer.
One of the biggest mistakes people make, is thinking that it is important to over-pin each pleat and press them to keep the pleat looking the same from one end to the other. If you do this, your pleated pieces will separate at the out edge of the tutu because the outer edge is wider than the inner edge. For the classics, tutus should have a softness that reflects the femininity of the role.
It is best to cross each piece over one to one and a half inches, when sewing them to the panty. Be sure to place the second piece UNDER the previous piece. This way, the tutu will look like the pieces are one continuous piece (you can easily tack them together when you tack the tutu), and the outer edge will not end up looking too thin and separating.
The reason to place the next piece UNDER the previous piece is because you do not want the first “pleat” that you did differently on each piece of net to show on top of the tutu. That first pleat is done differently in order to encase and hide the raw edge of the net.
If you place that first pleat on top of the previous piece, you will end up with what looks like lines evenly spaced around the top of your tutu. It just does not look as nice as it looks when that first pleat is hidden under the end of the last pleated piece.
Here is a trick to make placing the pleated pieces on top of your panty perfectly: Don’t Pin. When you pin the pleated pieces in place, often you catch a piece of the panty that you don’t want to catch. You also cannot see whether or not your stitching line on the panty is lining up right inside the seamline on the panty. If you don’t pin, you can place the pleated net perfectly over your seamline and adjust as you go.
Why Not Use a Fork or a Special Fork-Pleater to Pleat the Net and Sew it all at Once?
We do not recommend the use of a fork or a plastic fork pleater for several reasons. First, it is not a true rolled pleat. It is missing a step, so the pleats look thin and cheap. Second, it is not possible to get the pleats overlapped properly to make them look professional.
The pleats, when attached to the tutu, look very thin at the outer edge, more like a “catalog-style” classical tutu than a professional-style classical tutu, as in the picture to the right. The outer edge of the tutu tends to look almost flat because there is not enough net in the pleats.
The picture of the blue tutu shows the denseness of the top layer that is possible when double-hand-pleating is done properly. The outer edges of this tutu ad others done with this method will stay sturdy and beautiful for years to come. Part of becoming good at this technique is training your eye to notice the differences between professional-quality tutus and tutus made by taking short-cuts. There is a huge difference. In the long run, you will do much better work of which you can be proud if you take the time to learn proper technique in the beginning instead of looking for short-cuts.
To see some our signature Double Hand Pleating method onstage, watch PBS American Master's S36|E8 Ballerina Boys. My favorite project created for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (The Trocks) was the Paquita tutus - purple, fuchsia and red tutus. That project was the first time we used It was particularly difficult to get the outer edges right because the design called for a couple rows of velvet ribbon at that edge. We had to hand sew the pleats at the outer edge to keep them from flattening out due to the weight of the ribbon. We loved designer, Christopher Vergara’s amazing sense of color and shading!