Turning Gathers into Pleats

Image of a skirt in a black rayon with scattered flamingos going up and down the fabric. There are inverted pleats shaping the waistband of the skirt.
Pleats, Not Gathers

Do you like flowy dresses but hate gathering? Are you tired of spending so much time trying to get the gathers to look even? Do you want to save fabric and thread? The solution to all of these problems can be summarized in one word: Pleats.

Turning a line of gathering into pleats is a relatively simple process. The hardest part of the process in figuring out how much fabric you will have to turn into pleats and what kind of pleats you would like to use. Once these decisions are made, it is easy peasy.

Turning Gathers into Pleats

Pleats serve the same purpose as gathers—they help shape fabric to conform to our round bodies. Unlike gathering, pleats offer a flatter silhouette, which might be preferable if the gathering section accentuates a curve or fuller body part. 

1. Measure the bottom of your front and back bodice pattern pieces. Your front and back skirts panels will have to fit this width.
2. Measure the top of your skirt panels. 
3. Subtract the width of the skirt panels from their respective bodice pieces.
4. The result is the amount you will have to turn into pleats.

Your formula: Width of the top of the skirt panel – Width of the bottom of the bodice piece = Amount you will reduce with the help of pleats

5. Decide on what kind of pleat you want to work with. 
6. The number and width of the pleats and how far apart they will be from each other will depend on what kind of pleat you decide to use.

NOTE: If you are working with very wide skirt panels, you may choose to reduce the width so that you don’t end up with too many pleats. This is personal preference.

Pleats and Fabric Requirements

Inverted (simple) pleats: You will need twice as much fabric as the depth of your pleat. For example, a one-inch pleat will take up two inches of fabric.

Knife pleats: You will need three times as much fabric as the depth of your pleat. For example, a one-inch knife pleat will take up three of fabric.

Box pleats: Much like knife pleats, you will need three times as much fabric for each box pleat.

My Pleats

Image of a woman standing in front of a white garage door. She wears a dress with a neckline finished with a tie, giving it a bunched up look.
The volume on the Wilder Gown skirt was reduced by narrowing the panels and adding pleats

I favor inverted pleats because they are the simplest and least mathematically challenging. I place the first pleat on each side 1 1/2” to 2” from the center front. I don’t make my pleats too deep. Usually, I keep them to 1” to 1 1/2” when folded.


If you need more help in calculating your pleats, the calculators below can make life much easier. But you don’t need to get all scientist here. If you realize that your skirt is wider than your bodice, just take a bit off of the side seam (wink wink).

Omni Calculator: Pleated Skirt Calculator

Thread Magazine‘s Pleat to Measure

WHMD‘s The Pleated Skirt Calculator


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