Hand made headings for pleated draperies

Hand made drapery pleats are a great way to head up your drapes. You can use pinch, triple, goblet and box pleats, as well as other more exotic ones.

But how can you get the spacing between the pleats looking right?

How much fabric should you have in the pleats themselves?

How deep should the pleats be?

Here's how it's done.


Work out the heading measurement

We'll take a pole as an example, from which we want to hang a pair of drapes.

Measure the distance between the finials, divide it by 2, and add 3" (7.5cms).

That's your heading measurement for each drape.

(If you're not sure of what allowance to make (the 3") go to the drapery yardage page for more details.)

What we're aiming for

pleats and spacing

Pleats and the spacing between them

The totals of the flat parts of our heading (all the A's and B's) must equal the heading measurement. Here are some approximate values for the flat section and the pleats.

B (the distance between the pleats) should be between 4" and 6" (10 and 15cms). A can vary, but should never be greater than B. Some say it should be the same as B.

My personal preference is to make A about 3" (7.5cms) to begin with. But you can then allow this value to vary between 3" and 6". This gives you room for adjustment when you come to decide on the distance between the pleats.

  • The amount of fabric for the pleats themselves should be between 6" and 8" (15 and 20cms).
  • To begin with, allow 4 pleats per width of fabric, assuming standard fabric width of 54" (137cms).

Working out the pleat and space values

You should have already worked out the number of widths to use for your drapes. You can find the details on the drapery yardage page. For hand made pleats the fullness should be nearer 2.5 than 2.0

First we'll work out how much fabric to use for the pleats. To do this, just subtract the heading value from the total width value.

Fullness for pleats = (usable width × no. of widths) - heading value

Example: If you were using a standard width fabric 54" wide, reducing it by 3" for turnings, needed 2 widths per drape, and the heading value was 40", then

Fullness for pleats = ((54" - 3") × 2) - 40" = (51" × 2) - 40" = 102" - 40" = 62"

Now divide the fullness for pleats by 4 times the number of widths. So in our example we would have:

62" ÷ (4 × 2) = 62" ÷ 8 = 7.75"

This is good, as it is between the target of 6" to 8" per pleat. If the result was outside the 6" to 8", do the following.

  • If the result was less than 6", you should recalculate by dividing the fullness by one less pleat, ie, 7.
  • If the result was greater than 6", then you should divide the fullness by one more pleat, ie 9.

Now all you need to do is to work out the value of the spaces between the pleats. This often involves juggling around with values for spaces.

If you're happy with having the end spaces the same as the spaces between the pleats, then just divide the heading width by the number of the pleats plus 1. So in our example,

40" ÷ 9 = 4.4"

This is good, as it lies comfortably within our range of 4" - 6" for the spaces.

If we decided to go with 3" for the end sections, then we would have,

40" - 6" = 34" which will now be divided by the number of pleats minus 1.

34" ÷ 7 = 4.85", which again is within the limits.

Mark the positions with pins

Once you have worked out the amount for each pleat and the distances between them, mark these on the front of your drape panel using pins. You can then fold the pleats as shown, pin them in position, and check that the total width is equal to the heading measurement.

Once you've checked the total width is correct, remove the pins holding the pleats, but leave the others in to mark the postion of pleats and spaces. You can now begin making the pleats, and you find the details here.

Working with patterned fabrics

If the pattern is an overall one, then you can ignore it.

Where you have to be careful is if the pattern has an obvious repetition, especially if it runs vertically. So you need to be particularly careful of strong vertical stripes, or patterns which suggest a vertical repetition.

The best way is to work out your pleats, and pin the fabric in position to see how it looks. Sometimes by varying the widths of the pleats and spaces you can get the pattern to look good.

But there are some patterns which just won't lend themselves to pleating. In this case the best solution is to accept defeat, and use a gathered heading.

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