Chapt 11 - Control of Fullness
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Table of Contents ] Chapt 1 - Fabric ] Chapt 2 - Tools and Equipment ] Chapt 3 - The Sewing Machine ] Chapt 4 - Patterns ] Chapt 5 - Pressing ] Chapt 6 - Marking The Fabric ] Chapt 7 - Preparing to Begin ] Chapt 8 - Seams ] Chapt 9 - Seam Finishes ] Chapt 10 - Stabilization ] [ Chapt 11 - Control of Fullness ] Chapt 12 - Finishing Edges ] Chapt 13 - Hand Sewing ] Chapt 14 - Closures ] Chapt 15 - Body Measurements ] Chapt 16 - Ease In Clothing ] Chapt 17 - Pattern Alterations ] Chapt 18 - Finished Dimensions ] Chapt 19 - Common Terms ] Chapt 20 - Common Costume Fabrics ] Index of Sewing Exercises ]

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Because cloth is primarily two dimensional and bodies are three dimensional it it necessary to shape fabric to make it conform to the curves of the body. Although fabric is not rigid and may be shaped with moisture and heat, this process of molding is somewhat temporary. Any extensive shaping to create three dimensional forms has to be done by other methods. A large group of these methods involve the control of fullness in fabric. There are four methods presented here, listed in order of increasing amounts of fullness controlled:


Ease is a small quantity of fullness, usually no more than 1 1/2" to 2", controlled so that the fullness is not apparent, only the new three dimensional shape created. The most common use of ease in a garment is in the set-in sleeve with a smooth sleeve cap.


Darts are triangular folds of fabric sewn into garments where a smooth fit is required and there is too much fabric to be eased smoothly in, or a seam line is not available.



Gathering controls fullness by pulling the fabric up very closely together so that it may be seamed to a smaller piece of fabric. Gathering controls a minimum of 1 1/2 times the fabric needed in a specific area and a maximum of 3 times the necessary fabric. For example, for a skirt with a 24" waist measure a minimum of 36" is needed to correctly gather into the skirt, but 72" could be gathered into the waistband.

Gathers, button-thread method
Gathers, three-thread method
Attaching gathers to another garment piece


Pleating is folding and pressing fabric at regular intervals to control large amounts of fabric. Pleats control a minimum of double the amount of needed fabric and some times as much as four to five times the amount. Pleats may be pressed down the entire length of the garment, or they may released just inside the seam allowance. This is done by simply not pressing the pleat into the fabric except in the seam allowance. All pleats are made by folding the fabric over on itself or by attaching a separate piece of the underside of the pleat. The second method is used to accommodate small pieces of fabric or when the inside of the pleat is a different fabric, such as cheerleading skirts. All pleats have four parts, and there are several kinds of pleating common to costume shops.

Anatomy of a pleat

bulletKnife or side pleats have all the edges turned to one side. These pleats generally control three times the amount of fullness necessary in a garment area. Knife pleats can be top-stitched on the pleat edge for added crispness.

Knife pleats

bulletBox pleats have two folds turned always from one another. The underfolds meet at the center of each pleat.

Box pleats, chemically set method

bulletInverted box pleats are simply a-box pleat turned inside out. In this case the folds are facing each other.

Inverted box pleat with an underlay

bulletAccordion pleats are small fan shaped pleats. These are always produced commercially since they have to be set permanently into the fabric.
bulletCartridge pleats are really gathers that have a significant depth. They get their name from the regularly repeated loops on belts used to hold bullets. Cartridge pleats can control very large amounts of fabric even in the heaviest of fabrics. For this reason they are used extensively in period costumes.

Cartridge pleats

Attaching pleats

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