Pop Quiz: Tucks vs Pleats pt.2

tucked_vintage_dressI have the idea people aren’t going to like the answer to the quiz very much; like I said, wars have been started under flimsier pretexts.

Let’s focus on what we can agree upon. Judging from comments, no one would disagree that

  • a full length stitched fold is a tuck.
  • a full length unsewn fold (released) is a pleat.

The grey area is when it comes to partial stitching and partial releasing.

At this point I had intended to write:
“You can’t pick up a pattern book that does not describe partially sewn folds as tucks”

But no! I picked up Armstrong -the most popular book these days (note I said popular, not best)- and a quick look resulted in much sighing on my part because I see she is the likely culprit for today’s ambiguity because she only shows fully sewn tucks. Worse, she hedges by describing them as “pleat tucks”. The result? I have an idea from whence this rampant confusion has come.

So now I have to revise my intended statement to:
Pick up any professional drafting book published since the dawn of time -other than Armstrong- and you will see partially stitched and fullness released folds being described as “tucks”. Connie Crawford goes into much more tuck detail and instruction.

So the difference is, if there is stitching however limited to hold a fold into place and whether that stitching is from the wrong side or is top stitched, it is technically a tuck. Unsewn folds (their fold held in place by a cuff, yoke, waistband, heat or chemistry) are pleats.

This could mean that the pleat/tuck on the end of men’s dress shirt sleeves could technically be both tucks or pleats depending.  The fold would be a tuck if the fold were partially sewn into shape before the cuff was added. The fold would be a pleat if the fabric was not sewn, merely folded as it was joined to the cuff.

Note: the photo at right is of tucks. Photo courtesy of Vintage Detail.

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  1. Reader says:

    “…wars have been started under flimsier pretexts.”

    Aux armes! :-)

    Actually, that makes sense to me. As a bit of anecdotal support, I remember that a sewing teacher (a tailor) once told me to deal with the excess fabric on a sleeve about to be inserted into a cuff by making a small “pleat.”

  2. clf says:

    Bunka Fashion College “Blouses & Dresses” textbook (Bunka Publishing, 2009) devotes a page to tucks.

    “Tucking is a decorative technique for creating a beautiful three-dimensional shape from a flat piece of fabric where the fabric is folded either along the length-wise, cross-wise or diagonal grain and sewn parallel to the edge of the fold… Light-weight fabrics that are easily pleated are most appropriate for making tucks. Tucks are classified as shown below according to the way they are folded.

    (goes on to define)

    spaced tucks
    blind tucks
    pin tucks
    cluster tucks (my favorite term!)
    crossed tucks
    graduated tucks
    fullness tucks (defined as “tucks sewn to a midway point”)
    sunburst tucks (formed in a radial pattern)


    “The Art of Dressmaking” (Butterick Publishing Co., 1927) devotes a chapter to “Tucks and Plaits.”

    Covered are: nun’s tucks (term for wide tucks more than 2 inches wide), curved tucks (tucks that follow a curved line, such as the hem of a skirt), cross tucks.

    The tucks section instructs:

    “There are gages obtainable, of various materials such as metal, wood or celluloid, with the the inches plainly marked in some cases notched on one side; or a gage can be cut from stiff cardboard with the notches placed just where desired.” (Offers instructions to make a cardboard gage.)

    The plaits section features an illustration for “Plaits stitched part way through with the threads pulled through to the wrong side and tucked.”


    Connie Amaden Crawford’s “A Guide to Fashion Sewing,” Fourth Edition (Fairchild, 2006) gives these definitions:

    “A pleat is a folded excess fabric at the edge of a garment.”

    “A tuck is the take-up of excess fabric of a dtermined amount, at the edge of the garment and converging toward a point or points of release.

    “Dart tucks are used to control and release fullness as well as to create design details.”

    “Release tucks are used to control fullness and then release it at a desired point, such as at the bust or hips. Sometimes, fullness can be released at both ends of the release tucks.


    Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers (Fairchild, 2009)

    From a section on “dart transformation”:

    “Pleats are an unstitched, folded dart held securely along the joining seam line.”

    “Tucks are narrow folds in the fabric and are used to control fullness and shape the garment… Tucks are usually formed on the outside of a garment but can be stitched on the inside as well. The most frequently used tucks are blind tucks, spaced tucks, dart tucks/release tucks, and pin tucks.”

    “Blind tucks are tucks that meet. The foldline of one tuck touches the stitching line of the adjacent tuck so no spaces show between the tucks.”

    “A dart tuck is a partially stitched, inverted dart. ”

    “Dart tucks or release tucks can be open at one end, or both ends, or the free end of the tuck may be stitched down to the garment across the bottom.

    Professional Sewing Techniques for Designers also devotes a chapter (19 pages) to darts and pleats. According to the book’s definition, the above photo illustrates a “release tuck.”

  3. JustGail says:

    So those skirts and trousers with pleats that are sewn down for a few inches are tucks, not pleats? wow, I always see them described as pleats. I suspect this is like other terms that once they are into mass use, even if incorrect, there’s no going back? I wonder, might this be something done by an editor? I read a knitting blog, and she’s described the back and forth with the editor over wording. Sometimes she wins, sometimes not.

  4. Liana says:

    Oh joy! It’s what I thought it was.

    I have to just put in a little aside. We still laugh at my mother’s all-purpose ‘fix’ for any fitting problem. She always said, “Can’t you just take a tuck in it?” Thus engendering a whole new problem usually, but a fond memory nonetheless.

  5. David S says:

    Pleated front trousers are referred to as pleated fronts in 19th century tailoring texts; so are kilts, for that matter. Both “pleat” and “tuck” are ancient English words (The oed provides a citation of pleats — with stitching — in 1529. Tuck is in Chaucer.) I suspect the difference has variation from time to time to time and place to place.

  6. David S,
    I’m not sure that C16 counts as ancient, but thanks for those points. “Pleat” is presumably from French, or possibly Italian. “Tuck” would be the original English word.

    Still, once two words exist for the same thing they become more useful if they can be assigned niche meanings. (The classic example here is animal names post Norman conquest. The ruling French only had cause to talk about livestock when they were eating them, so today we use the French “beef” and “pork” to talk about meat. The working English cared for the livestock, so today we use the English about “cow,” “cattle,” “pigs” and “swine” to talk about living animals. The French “art” is still more high-falutin’ today than the English “craft” and “skill.” All three words meant the same thing in their original languages but have taken on different meanings in modern English.)

    There are also differences between casual language and technical jargon. You are never going to sell the general public on “tucked pants” because in casual language “tuck” has so many different meanings (do they tuck your tummy in? do they help you keep your shirt tucked in? is there a narrow tuck the length of the crease line?) but “pleated pants” are clear. If you’re a pattermaker though, the potential meanings are much more restricted so it makes sense to assign each word a specific technical meaning.

    Kathleen’s technical definitions for “tuck” and “pleat” are specific to pattern-making and are helpful for designers to know.

  7. Masturah says:

    Thanks, I’ve always been confused on that. Never knew if I could call that a pleat. Now I know better

  8. I believe a tuck is either fully stitched the length of the fabric and pressed, or released at a point and the fullness is not pressed.
    A pleat is sharply pressed down the entire length o the fabric, whether is it partly stitched or not.

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