Thursday, July 5, 2012

International Pleating

A while back, I saw a Downy commercial featuring Amy Sedaris in an amazingly cute dress (below).

This dress is a springboard for an idea that I would love to do in polka dots. Actually, her dress looks a lot like this one from Talbots, but more ALIVE, in my opinion, and right for her shape specifically.

I've long been intrigued by what polka dots, stripes, and patterns do when pleated, and the way the pleats just make fabrics dance with the wearer's movement. I can see so many projects in my head, but never knew how to execute them.

I knew that there were some companies in the garment district who would pleat fabric, but I didn't know how to approach them, if there were minimums, how to identify what fabrics would work well for pleating, etc. Frankly, the thought of making anything by hand with an excessive number of pleats terrifies me, and the ironing alone would probably kill me, so I would need pleated fabric before considering ANYTHING elaborate. (Remind me to tell you of my Great Pleating Disaster of 1990 sometime.)

Naively, I thought that one could simply buy pleated fabric and manipulate it to work with a pattern, OR give a length of fabric to a pleating company, and then cut it into the desired pieces and construct a garment. But... waitaminnit... I hadn't actually thought it through. Had I really thought about it, it would have been obvious that more thought has to go into these things. If you have a length of fabric pleated, your cutting is limited to straight lines, unless you interrupt the pleats by sewing them into seams. Awkward. Messy. Will end up an eternally unfinished project or unrealized artistic vision.

And this, my friends, is why you need to know about International Pleating. And to fully understand how enlightening my visit at this company was, you need to meet George Kalajian. I will do my best to introduce him to you here, so that you can live my experience vicariously through this post, and understand why this company is SO amazing.

A few days ago, I was warmly welcomed into this vast, creative, factory-like space on a brutally hot New York City afternoon. When I arrived on the fourth floor, I entered a hallway of several workrooms. It was unclear which one was a pleating company, but I entered the friendliest-looking space, and verified that it was the right one. This patient, intelligent man, who was obviously passionate about his craft, talked with me for the next half-hour or so, explained some important aspects of pleating, his role in the garment industry, and his family history in the pleating business. He showed me a gallery of beautiful pleated garments they had done, and I was just blown away. Oh, the possibilities!

For starters, pleating isn't neatly folding and then just permanently creasing lengths of fabric for you to use in your sewing project. Pleating is engineering. They need to know how you will use your fabric, in order to pleat it properly for your use. Where will your seams be? How does it need to hang? This is mathematical, scientific, artistic... specific!

How do I know that they know what they're doing? They are in this business for FOUR generations now. This family has been in the pleating business since 1931. With a family history that travels from Armenia, to Lebanon, to New York City, they have long been immersed in the business of making things. George's quiet father, who sat nearby while George talked to me, began learning this business when he was a boy of only 8 or 9 years old. And it is a complicated affair. Some of the pleating George showed me requires 14 processes to get the right look and feel. How do they do it? The methods are closely-held family secrets. Gotta love that.

They know the whole business, soup to nuts. George has been a manufacturer of garments when the NYC Garment District was a real manufacturing center, he's been involved in contracting, and he's seen the rise and relative demise of the garment district and has shifted to accommodate its changing face. This is a story of artisans, experts, survivors... and thrivers, frankly, in a time when many businesses have just succumbed to the ever-shrinking opportunities in the garment industry.

So, the next obvious question is, "How much does it cost to have your fabric pleated?" The answer is, "It depends on what you need done... but you can afford it." It is surprisingly affordable, considering what they do. Get this... everyone needs help to get their fabric pleated. You need to consult with them first, so they know how to pleat your fabric for your project. How much extra do you pay for this? Not a penny. It is a value-added service, because you can't do without it! It is VITAL to the process. How cool is that? "Will they pleat my fabric if I am only doing one or a few small projects?" The answer is "Yes!" Do I need to be a manufacturer? "No!" Finally, "How much fabric do I need to buy?" If you are making a skirt (more common than most projects) use the bias skirt pleating calculator on George's blog after consulting, and you will know! There is a lot to know, and a lot to understand, but if you as fascinated as I am, you will be inspired.

I could go on for pages and pages, but this post is only meant to whet your appetite for pleats...

If you are a visual person, like me, think on these things:

In case you don't know, pleating is a "permanent" process, for all practical purposes. Sure, you can ruin it over time, but for normal use... permanent. Now... imagine pleated color-blocked designs. Imagine starburst pleats used for window treatments... or for a bridal train. Sigh... Imagine a wonderful pleated, lightweight skort. Imagine a skirt with pleats of varying width, some of which reach up over the waistband to become belt loops. Sheer genius. These are examples he showed me during our talk. Oh, yeah, you gotta see it to appreciate the magic...

After engaging him in conversation, I was amazed to learn technical facts I never knew anyone had already sorted out, like that there is a 48 pleat industry standard for a pleated skirt. I mentioned that I would love to make a maxi-style dress using an ombre fabric, and he said that ombre makes an arc when pleated. Just think for a minute, and you'll see it. Of course! Unless you cut rectangles, and happen to be shaped like a rectangle, how could you form anything but an arc? You will also need how to properly cut and stitch your pleats. It is likely that you don't already know. If you think it is worth taking a try-and-see approach, consult the International Pleating blog for why this approach is ill-advised.

So, if you want to manufacture pleated garments, just know that when you go out looking for service providers, that there are regular patternmakers, and there are pleating patternmakers. There are pleaters who serve the garment industry, and there are those who make pleating patterns (for the actual pleats, not the garment). Getting your fabric pleated up uses the combined expertise of all of these functions. This is an engineering project.

And... you just HAVE to see the International Pleating blog! Go after reading this, seriously.

And continue to keep your eyes on the blog for future posts, where George will soon be explaining/defining "couture pleating", to help educate us all.

What a wealth of information and history this company/family has. And there you have it, folks - another reason to "go upstairs" in the garment district.

International Pleating
327 West 36th Street
4th Floor
New York, NY 11018

Call ahead for appointments (you'll need one to discuss your project), but they operate during standard business hours.

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