Each fashion city has its own pleating studio: Gérard Lognon in Paris, New York has International Pleating, and in London, we have Ciment Pleating. These pleating studios not only help big fashion houses and individual designers to make show pieces, they also are the living history of pleating craftsmanship.
This blog post introduces Ciment Pleating, located in north London. You can easily get to Potters Bar from King’s Cross and it takes around 10 minutes. Ciment Pleating is 5 minute walk from Potters Bar train station.
Matt Weinert is the Managing Director of the studio. Actually, Ciment Pleating is a family business, started by Matt’s grandfather in 1925. They offer two main services: machine pleating and fancy pleating. Currently, there are two technicians in charge of fancy pleating and Matt takes care of machine pleating.
The workshop is simply divided into two areas; one has three pleating machines and the other has three large working tables, steamers, irons and shelf full of pleating patterns. These are the core elements of Ciment Pleating.
So what is a machine pleat? Each of the three pleating machines produces a different pattern, however the effect from machine pleats is limited straight line pleats, the kind we are used to seeing on a pleated skirt.
When the studio receives the order, they send the fabric inbetween two sheets of thin paper into the pleating machine. The weight of paper varies depending on the machine and the size of pleats. Generally speaking, the tissue paper is between 30 gm to 50 gm. After pleating, the fabric is fixed by a heated felt roller.
Once through this process, the high temperature pleated fabric is sent out together with the two layers of paper. Machine pleated fabric can be delivered to clients immediately after the pleating process. It is really fast to do machine pleating. However, the pattern is limited to straight lines with a width range that is usually between 2mm -12mm.
The studio doesn't carry fabric in stock. Clients who place an order need to send their own fabric, and Matt will evaluate whether it can be pleated or not. If his experience tells him it will not hold a pleat, he will reject the project. However, Matt is really excited to challenge different materials and he has pleated leather, metal and milk fibre. During my visit, there was a client who wanted to experiment with pleating a thin jersey fabric
When you enter the studio, you see three big work tables and a shelf full of paper patterns. As with the services offered by Gérard Lognon in the video, Ciment Pleating offers various patterns to clients.
You can browse the pleating samples on their website. However, if you want to place an order, I recommend you visit in person. After all they have more than 2,000 patterns and the price varies according to the complexity of each pattern.
The staff flatten one of the patterns, which will act as the first mould, and spread the fabric onto it. Then they will flatten the other pattern on top of the fabric, using clip to stabilise it, slightly moving the two moulds if necessary so that they match. This process is very important when it comes to a complicated pattern.
When the three layers (paper mould – fabric – paper mould) are flattened, technicians attach two wood slats with lighter weights to fix the half pleated fabric and moulds.
When the moulds, fabric, weights and wood slats are ready, staff start to gather together the moulds (fabric included). This step usually needs two people and teamwork is essential. If they cannot sync, it may cause the fabric to offset.
Once the technicians have gathered the moulds, there are two possibilities. For a flat pleat, the moulds are rolled up as a cylinder and tightened with a belt. For a semi-3D pleat, the moulds are clipped together in a kind of folding-fan shape before being tightened with a belt.
The tightened moulds are put into a steamer, and steamed for 1 hour with 100ºC (for some pressure, the temperature will rise to 102ºC-105ºC). After steaming, the whole set (with belt attached) needs to be cooled for 24 hours. If the weather permits, it is better to cool it outside because rapid cooldown helps to fix the shape.
Finally, technicians open the moulds and draw out the fabric. At this point, the pleating process is completed and the fabric ready to hand back to customers.
The studio still keeps several moulds that are more than half a century old.
We all know that natural fibre cannot hold pleats after washing. The ancient Egyptians and Chinese needed to repeat the pleating process and baked garments under the sun after each laundry. So far, our technology still cannot allow us to pleat natural fibre permanently.
Ciment Pleating glue a layer of backing on the reverse side of natural fibres after pleating. The backing will fix the pleats but the fabric will lose it flexibility.
During my visit, staff gave me the answer to one of the biggest mysteries in fashion history. There are 2 pleating masters; contemporary designer Issey Miyake (1938-), and Mariano Fortuny(1871-1949). Fortuny is famous for his silk pleated dress ‘Delphos’, and no one knows for sure how he made this dress. Technicians at Ciment Pleating showed me what they think is the secret.
Dampening the fabric is the first step. Then fix two ends of the cloth and start to twist in opposite directions until it cannot go any further. Using an iron, steam the cloth until it is dry and then open it. After repeating the whole twisting, ironing process two or three times, you can acquire a wrinkle-like Fortuny pleat.
I will explain more about these famous Fortuny pleats in the next post!