Pleating Polyester

The project "A study of pleating polyester" has been developed during the course Material Narrative at the Master program PLANET at the Design School Kolding.

A study in working with design for sustainability

Article by Charlotte Hansen – Design School Kolding, Denmark
All photos are taken by Charlotte Hansen

The project “A study of pleating polyester” has been developed during the course Material Narrative at the Master program PLANET at the Design School Kolding. The course embraces different approaches to exploring and creating new ways of understanding the work of design for sustainability. The project is my interpretation on how to work experimentally and exploratively with a material by resuming an old craft. I have always been very drawn to the design of the pleat molds, as well as the skills it takes to be able to make beautiful and durable pleats. In this project, I immerse myself in the craft of pleating and use design theory as a tool to create a relevant product with sustainability as a touch.

Before I tell you more about pleats, I just want to ask you a few questions based on the project’s framework Material Narrative: What is a material? And when does something become a material?

Through the study, I became aware that materials can be many more things than I have previously reflected on. It can be a written text, sounds, films, textiles, metal, knowledge, tools, steam, colors, etc. It has made me aware that all the tools in the form of tools and machines I use during pleating which consist of a material. Everything has an influence on the final expression of the textile. So, I considered going in depth to research materials to develop new tools for pleating, by incorporating new technology or diving into the influence of colors in pleating.

In the project here, I have instead focused on the textile, as well as how I, as a designer, can find a standpoint by applying design theory and material-driven design.

My motivation in working on the project has been to become familiar with the pleating process and view pleating from a designer’s angle into a contemporary context. The choices we make in the production of textiles mean an enormous amount to the imprint we make on the world. Therefore, I have chosen to work with polyester, which is a material that can be recycled and has a high abrasion resistance and with the right choice of material, can keep the pleat shape when washing, which from my point of view, provides more applications.


Pleats are folds in fabric. They can either be made by machine in running meters or made by hand by making molds out of cardboard. The fabric is placed between the cardboard molds and steamed while it is fixed in the mold. Through the shapes one can give the fabric different structures and expressions. Pleats can be used for clothing, interiors and accessories, among other things.

5 years ago, I met Karen Grigorian, who was a teacher on a course in pleating at course in Emilielunden on the island Møn, in Denmark. It was the start of a friendship and a shared passion to create beautiful pleats. Karen has her studio Maison Du Pli in Paris, where he primarily works with Haute-Couture. He has a very artistic approach to pleats and his precision and craftsmanship are amazing. Karen is a huge inspiration for how to start your own company and make a living from being a skilled craftsman and designer.

With a background as a tailor, I was brought up to visualize the finished result in advance and be able to make choices about cutting that compliments the body. But in the work with pleats, there are an incredible number of factors that come into play and therefore make it difficult to predict how the material will react and slip. As a textile designer, I work opposite to create structures and expressions in the material and then look at what properties and technical functions the materials have and what they can be used for. In this way, the design is driven by the material.

In the project I have experimented from the comparative method. This means that I have set up a number of criteria / parameters to compare the pleats. It acts as a framework in order to create new knowledge about the pleated fabrics.

My criteria / parameters are:
5 x pleat molds with structures inspired by nature
5 x types of textiles (four in 100% polyester and one in 50% cotton / 50% polyester)

Same format on all samples, so it is possible to compare the weight of the material and the effect of the pleat.


During my experimentation in pleats making, I learned that the composition of the properties of the fabric, tools and craftsmanship is crucial to the final expression. Take for example B4.02: When the material takes up more space, it is difficult to squeeze the mold together and the density of the pattern is very open. Whereas a thin material as used in B5.02 is much easier to squeeze. It also became clear to me that the properties of the cardboard and the density of the pattern also played an important role in how much it was possible to compress the shape.

By working in a structured way based on the comparative method, I gained an incredible amount of insight into the craft, the properties of the textiles and not least the properties of the cardboard mold. What fascinates me most is how different all the samples have become and thus also how different application possibilities there are. It became very clear to me in my photo documentation of the pleats. Here, again, I work structured by taking pictures of all samples from the same angles to be able to compare them.

I have put pictures of the samples on a map and analyzed them based on character traits, technical characteristics and associations, which I have observed on a scale from 1-5. Next, I have provided a sample overview based on the pleat shape and later on the material, so it is easy to compare the samples.

It has been enormously inspiring to work with new design methods in a textile and design context. The project culminates in a dialogue tool in the form of a Material Abstraction book, where I describe my work and a set of material maps, which I see used to create a common understanding framework in a collaboration. In addition, it has become very clear to me that the craft cannot stand without design and vice versa. They complement each other where it is possible to create functional, aesthetic and sustainable products. My biggest finding is that across the materials is what I call optical illusion.


As I photographed the experiments, I quickly discovered that both the angle of the light and my own angle as a viewer of the pleats evoked surprising illusions for me. In the encounter with materials, light swallows some of the details, while others appear as new patterns in the transparent. In the pictures you see Bircks and Accordion pleats in different materials, which in their own light highlight the pattern. The picture on the far right shows an I hovering over the fabric. It brings back memories of my childhood, where I borrowed books from the library and where I happily looked for motifs with optical illusion.

The project has set in motion a lot of reflections about the emotional connection we humans consciously and unconsciously have. As well as aesthetic sustainability and the possibilities that lie in examining and uncovering people’s relationships to textiles through sensing. Therefore, I look forward to testing the dialogue tool with different professional groups and individuals, so I can become wiser about what can help to create a greater understanding of creating products that create added value for the end user. If you want to see more about my project, click on my website and see my Material Abstraction Book.