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On the 24th of November, myself and a dozen others  spent the afternoon with Simon Zdraveski, his interns and 90 years worth of pleating history in a small factory in the industrial inland of Williamstown, Melbourne. It was both magical and a bit sad…

Some of you might be familiar with this article about Specialty Pleaters from Broadsheet – and if not, it’s worth the read. There are approximately 12 pleating businesses left in the world – Australia has two of them – and they’re all struggling to stay alive as industry moves away from labour-intensive processing, moves what little specialty work there is left offshore, or just don’t know of it’s existence.  

Simon Zradevski, in the Specialty Pleaters workshop

Even one of the last volume customers of the pleating world – school uniforms – is moving away from this trade as our kids’ school clothing policy becomes increasingly casualised – track pants and polo shirts, compared to the button up shirts, ties and pleated kilts that I grew up wearing on the daily. 

The factory space itself is filled with pleating mold forms going back goodness how long knows – none of it has ever been catalogued – autoclaves and custom-built steam ovens, and four or five pleating machines – all of which bar one have been decommissioned. A treasure trove of possibility that will soon be lost – Simon currently operates Specialty Pleaters to cover overheads, no wages (not even his), and that even is a challenge. 

Hokum Australia recently did an indiegogo campaign to help raise funds to continue to keep Specialty Pleaters alive – with the option to donate or buy a pleated silk twill print scarf – which I believe were partly inspired by Hermès scarves, but with printed designs more in line with Hokum’s distinctive style. They’re stunning – and I’m really quite sad I didn’t know about it before it ended! Simon mentioned that Hokum will potentially sell the scarves online (albiet at full retail price) in the near future… I was lucky enough to see the first pleated scarves come off the machine for those of your who were lucky enough to secure one – they’re stunning!

TECHNICAL LOWDOWN – Machine Pleating
Machine pleating is obviously used for bulk pleating work – producing far greater volumes with less human contribution. Interestingly, it relies on a combination of heat and pressure and produces pleating instantly, unlike pleating by hand which is a 24 hour process using heat and steam. 

But as with hand-pleating, the fabric is still sandwiched in between two layers of paper for machine pleating – protecting it from direct contact with the machinery.  

The heat and pressure create a totally different result – with machine pleated fabric having much stronger profile, compared to the softer outcome of the hand pleated method. It also appears to impact the hand of the fabric. Below shows the exact same fabric that has been pleated with both techniques as a comparison – machine pleated on the left, hand pleated on the right:

But pleating is one of those things that really cannot be well communicated in a 2D medium – I’ve saved a lot of my short-length videos on Instagram stories – I’ve also spent more time than I care to admit figuring out how to insert videos into this medium, so I hope you enjoy them!

TECHNICAL LOWDOWN – Hand Pleating
These days – pleating is more of an artform than a business – relying on custom skilled hand work to keep it visible – which means these businesses need to be creative to be commercially viable.

Hand pleating is a gentler technique that gives a softer look, using heat and steam to create this. You can pre-hem your fabric before pleating by hand – however this is best for hems on the straight grain. For hems on a curve – like the circle skirt of a sunray pleat – it’s best to hem post pleating, once it’s been hung to let the bias fabric sections ‘drop’. Ideally though this would potentially be left unhemmed, or run through with a baby-lock stitch (which does detract slightly from the sharp end finish, creating a soft wave to the end pleats).

You may recall that back in my very early sewing days – I had a skirt pleated, and by Specialty Pleaters too. But knowing what I now know – I’m embarassed by how little I was charged for the work… and then I went on to talk negatively about the outcome without understanding the reasons why what had occurred, happened. I’m hoping I can somehow atone for it through this write up. I’ll get to that shortly!

Hand Pleating is a 24 hour process, requiring more than one person when the panels being pleated are large. The fabric is placed between two paper forms, then folded up, secured, then placed inside a steam oven (time and temperature dependant on fabric). Once it comes out of the oven, the wrapped up form must then cool overnight to ensure all the moisture has been removed from the paper. These ovens are custom built – costing anywhere between AUD$50k-110k. 

The paper (285gsm, with a wax protective coating which is no longer available in Australia) form molds themselves are a precision work of origami art, with even a simple box pleat pattern taking days to complete.  Simon has a few forms by a colleague in Egypt – Shady Mohammed from Global Pleating – created these two below, and many more – his Instagram page is a delightful trip down the rabbit hole for anyone who loves a bit of mind-boggling 3D origami geometry!

I’m grateful that some of the artisans in this space are willing to share their art form – as I doubt you’d ever be able to go behind the doors of the better known European pleaters like Maison Lognon – which Chanel have just bought out. Regardless, Shady’s pleating form creation is just incredible! Whilst there is definite benefits to keeping IP close to your heart in new and emerging industries, when the art form is losing traction and dying – I do believe the opposite is true – to attract people back and invigorate interest to keep it alive. 

One of the more bonkers mold forms is the ‘Artichoke’ Pleat, which we were able to see. I took the videos in a series of successive bursts (so I could put them on Instagram) – but I’ve also uploaded the videos here if you’ve like to see them. I can easily believe that it would take half a day to get the fabric and second form all into place before popping it in the oven!

This would make an amazing flutter sleeve on a blouse!

ATONEMENT FOR MY PREVIOUS COMMENTS ON PLEATING
Simon, to his credit, has stopped the business from charging rates that are unsustainable, in an effort to operate on commercial terms. Now I am better informed, I am quite ashamed of how much I was charged by the previous owner of the business for my two sunray pleats – something like $40 for the pair. $20 for a single long sunray pleat – when you consider the labour and production time involved – is just wrong. 30 minutes of labour to get the fabric in the form, then the costs of heating up the auto-clave, then time spent packaging it back up to send back to me – is not $40 worth of product. 

Plus, I sent in my fabric in a satchel bag – so the fabric would have been crushed and creased – and needing pressing before putting it in the form – which I also wasn’t charged for.

Simon now requests that fabric sent in is rolled up with tissue paper and put in a mailing tube, which he can then send it back in – pleated fabric can’t just go back in a satchel bag! 

I was also utterly unfair about the un-evenness of the hem – at the time I was green enough about sewing to have no understanding of the impact of bias cut fabric, so I’ve since updated that post to reflect this better. 

My Anniversaire Amour dress (from back in 2012!!!), featuring a sunray pleated circle skirt.

FABRIC
It appears to be common knowledge that you can’t pleat natural fibres – which is incorrect. You can pleat any fabric – including tulle (but excluding net. As soon as you get more ‘gaps’ than fibre, it’s not an option). 

Mariano Fortuny was a pioneer early last century with pleating silk – the highly secretive patented mushroom pleat – allowing a radical amount of movement for those wearing his rather simple but form fitting garments. His techniques were all done by hand (synthetics and pleating machines were not invented until mid-last century) with incredibly accuracy and consistency. International Pleating (New York) have a wonderful article on Fortuny Pleating. What is incredible is that this silk hand pleated fabric still holds its shape today, with several museums around the world showcasing Fortuny’s infamous Delphos gown

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2018 is going down as the year I lost my sew-jo. Perhaps mostly because it got relegated to the back of the queue with everything else that’s been going on this year! We’ve moved out whilst our house gets done over, I started a job mobilising a large operations project, and well – all the usual family stuff like balancing the needs of a rambunctious 2yo, working full time and somehow also managing to talk to my hubby everynow and again.

But, I’ve had a few opportunities to sew uninterrupted lately, resulting in 2 finished things (both knits) and a silk blouse WIP… 

FABRIC
This is the Style Arc Joni Knit Track Pant pattern, made up in some See You At Six Dust Blue French Terry. There is two types here – a solid blue and one with a bizarre white screen print on it, plus matching ribbing. The matching ribbing is like catnip to my matchy matchy heart! All bought from Seamstress Fabrics

I used the screen print fabric for the front panel, and the plan for the back. The pattern has a long section of ribbing at the cuff, which shows off that matching ribbing delightfully. 

The piping is my own concoction, created with some white jersey knit (from Spotlight) with a very fine cord inside. The waistband is elastic inside the matchy-matchy ribbing again, with two button holes sewn to accommodate the thicker cord tie. 

Those buttonholes are interfaced with some knit iron-on interfacing… and some silk organza scraps. You can take the girl outta couture, but you can’t take couture outta the girl. 

The cord tie has been finished off with some of the matching thread twisted round and through the end, then teased out for a bit of fun. The pattern calls for you to stitch two lines around the waistband, which I presume keeps the cord in tact. I was feeling rusty and that felt like it needed to be incredibly precise to still look good, so I skipped it. 

Sewing those slanted pockets in place with the piping down that seam was quite the challenge. The other side of the pants doesn’t look as bangin’ as this side. ah well. 

PATTERN
I made a few changes, but being short on sewing time, didn’t make a muslin. I used a favourite but nearly dead pair of trackies to adjust the pattern based on the proportions of my soon-to-be-replaced track pants. 

This meant – epic leg shortening, shortening the rise height, adjusting the crotch curve with a flat-butt adjustment, and folding out the front pleats. I also omitted the back pockets. 

Ridiculously warm and comfy, and my biggest concern hasn’t yet eventuated after a lot of wear – that the bum would sag out! This french terry is lovely stuff. 

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