Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Visit to International Pleating

To appreciate the garment district, one must go up into the buildings to find the greatest treasures of the fashion industry.  Tucked away on the 4th Floor of 327 West 36th Street, the world's grand masters of both table/hand and machine pleating celebrate their art as a family passionate about creating a breath taking display in your fabric or theirs.  Ironically, I learned of International Pleating from a post on the San Francisco Bay Area Costume Guild's group site.  The post mentioned the address and fabric for sale on the firm's store website.  With the thought of going to the address directly to see if I could find a bargain yesterday, I stumbled into the small 'sky' factory and was pleasantly greeted by Mr. George Kalajian.  International Pleating is not set up for retail sales; the only way one can buy their goods is to go to their website.  Trust me on this one.

I guess I had a 'deer-in-the-headlights' look when I asked George if they do pleating for ordinary people.  The man was so patient and generous with his time that it's important for me to share what I learned from my visit.

George's family has been pleating since 1931.  His father and mother are still very active in the business with an intimate understanding of how a fabric will take to the pleating process.  Their craft has been honed by decades of experience and a genuine love for what they do.  A love you can see in their work that will astonish those you sew for. For example, George showed me a small piece of fine leather they had pleated.  I just couldn't believe my eyes.

The best way to bring work to the family is to come by foot, by phone, or by email with your fabric sample and design ideas.  One walks in to Room 400 demanding a specific process at one's own peril and that of your fabric!  As the chinese curse goes 'watch out what you wish for, you might just get it.' The family will execute exactly what you tell them to do, so don't.  What George and his family really want is to collaborate with you, giving you the benefit of their knowledge before you cut your fabric. Then you cut and let them create the magic.

There are well over two dozen types of machine pleats.  Creating a pleat might be a single process, or up to 15 steps.  George explained that pleating is done in fundamentally two ways: as a square panel with even repeating folds, or as a round 'sunburst' with folds expanding from a narrow width to a wide width.  During my visit, George's father sandwiched  a skirt's fabric by hand between folded layers of paper.  He bound the layers tightly and placed the bundle in what looked like a steam oven.  The man was quietly creating art as I watched from across the room.

I highly recommend downloading George's eBook "How to Use Machine Pleating" at no cost from the blog page.  George has also written a second eBook called "Pleated Bias Skirts: Cutting & Calculating."  Apparently, so few designers and sewists are familiar with the pleating calculations, George provided the tool to enable you to better express your vision. 

There is a special advantage to buying from George's store.  For as little as $7/yard you can immediately possess properly finished fabric with the purpose of learning how to sew a pleated garment.  You can bring your own fabric for pleating, but the cost of pleating process itself might be more than what George is selling his fabric for.  My guess is that I'd screw it up and feel twice as bad.  Once you have had some experience, then it will make more sense to bring that $150/yard silk you've been saving to the family.  With the family's help, a couple of hundred dollars and your own sewing, you will have a skirt that might cost several thousand if it had a designer label on it.   For myself, I'm going to buy fabric from the store and learn first.  I am really the proverbial deer-in-the-headlights.




  1. Thanks so much for writing about International Pleating. The articles on their blog are very interesting, and the only ones I have ever read that explain sunburst pleating and grain line issues so clearly. I bought some pleated leather from their Etsy shop. It will make a great accent on a leather jacket I plan to make.

    1. I saw the leather piece you bought. You will be thrilled when you touch it. I plan to buy the teal cloth to make a panel on a shirt front, sort of a casual tux shirt.