nina ricci spring 2011 pleats

A look from the Nina Ricci Spring 2011 runway. Photo: Getty Images

The recently wrapped spring 2011collections included a new fullness in clothing, using pleats, tucks and gathers, especially in Paris. These intricate details give a garment comfort and ease of movement, and sewing them well can be a little tricky, but if you're a skilled seamstress then star quality is easy to obtain. Here's how:
  • Gather your resources: The Rochas collection was all about the gathering, from tiny flirty frocks to full, sweeping, Cinderella-worthy gear. Gathers like these aren't not achieved by pulling fabric up along a single (and very breakable) thread. To get evenly spaced gathers, you will want to sew three parallel stitch lines about 1/8-inch apart, using a sturdy thread and the longest stitch your sewing machine has to offer. Pull the three bobbin, or bottom, threads and gently gather the fabric in even ripples. Tie off your bobbin thread before sewing in place, to keep gathers from getting loose.
  • Just pleat it: Take a cue from Nina Ricci's Spring 2011 line for perfect pleating. You can achieve all sorts of ladylike effects with this pretty detail, whether you are going for the softer, unpressed pleat like on a Nina Ricci peg skirt or the crisp look of knife pleats on a Haider Ackermann gown. Designers often get their fabrics professionally pleated, but you can get quality results on a smaller scale with careful pressing and stitching. Just remember that you need extra fabric and must add pleats before cutting. Beginners can start by adding pleats to a boxy blouse pulled from the closet. For an atelier twist on a technique normally reserved for girls' dresses, try some smocking, a kind of pleat that is secured at both ends and repeated as a pattern.
  • Tiny Tucks: Often used in heirloom and vintage sewing, tucks, basically an artful fold in the fabric, are also taking over the runway and are an easy way to add a couture touch to any garment. For inspiration, the Issey Miyake spring line took tucks (and pleats) to a new level as a design detail. In fact, tucks are really just another form of pleating, of which the narrow pintuck is one of the most delightful. You will want to make a few practice pintuck samples before you incorporate it into your garments. You can even get a pintuck foot as a sewing machine attachment to make the going easier.
  • An educated guess: If you want to get more information on techniques like pleating and gathering, check out Tucks, Textures and Pleats for an astounding array of designs, and insider's favorite The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff. Fine Machine Sewing by Carol Ahles is the primer for excellent machine techniques, including the twin-needle pintuck. Sewing author Claire Schaeffer has written a whole chapter just on tucks in her book, High Fashion Sewing Secrets from the World's Best Designers.
For more DIY Design columns, click here. Next week, using darts to add design details.