The Holy Grail of Pleating

This is the actual iron my Grandmother Rosa used to hand pleat fabric.  For the past year I have been digging around for family heirlooms and found out that this pressing iron was under lock and key with my Uncle Jack.  When I showed the picture to my Father (Leon) he lit up like a Christmas tree and started spilling the beans.

antique iron for pressing clothes and hand pleating



As the story goes, in 1945-ish when my father was approximately 7 years old, his responsibility was to burn wood until it was amber like coal and keep the iron hot.  Since pleating was a secret back then my Grandmother would work in a locked room and no one was permitted to see how she did her work, not even my Father.  She had two of these irons, one was kept inside the room with her and the other was kept outside the door on a small table.  She would alternate between these two irons and my Fathers job was to keep the iron hot.  My father did this everyday after school for approximately two years.  When he was around 9 years old my Grandmother finally let him inside the room to watch her work.  That was the first day of my fathers pleating career 🙂

My Grandmother Rosa started pleating way before she got married.  By the time she had my Father she had mastered her craft and kept it SUPER SECRET just like Mario Fortuny did.  Apparently, my Grandfather Tomas was not too keen on my Grandmother working because back in those days it did not reflect too highly on the husband.  However, there is no stopping my Grandmother.  Not only was she not the type to sit still but since the technique of pleating was so secretive back then she was making a small fortune.  My Father says she was earning in one day what the average person would make in one week.

Even when I was growing up there were many secrets kept from me.  Somethings I would not even  know were a secret until I was older.  I would be working in my Fathers factory, but for me it was just another step in the process.  It was not until I was older I was told specific things that where unknown to others.  For example, as a child my Father and I would walk past store windows that would display exquisite gowns and he would say, do you see that seam son?  The reason why that is, is because blah.  This went on for years and my Father would explain things and he went so far back in the process of making clothing that he would start explaining how the yarn was twisted like this and like that when the fabric was woven….blah blah blah.  What can I say…I was a kid back then and I honestly only cared about Star Wars and light sabers.  Now, I wish I paid attention 🙂

In any event…lets get back to my Grandmother.  I will tell you a secret of hers that made a major difference in her pleating.  Back then I would have been shot for saying this but now its not so pertinent.  Now, I want you to realize that this was during a time  when there was NO electric steam iron.  You basically had a hot piece of metal and fabric.  The common misconception was to wet the fabric and apply the iron until it dries.  I hope you are listening because this was a BIG BIG secret back then.  Now, if you are reading this and you are an old timer and you have worked with silks you know wetting silks is a NO NO.  The fabric either gets stained or stiff….remember the chemical finishing processes we have today are not the same as 60 years ago.  Today, silks are more resilient then they were back then.  So what my Grandmother would do is put a dry piece of fabric on top of the pleating, then put a WET rag on top of that.  When she would put the hot iron on top of the rag it would push the steam down through the fabric yet the fabric would never get wet.  This made a MAJOR difference in the quality of the pleating.  Thats about all I am allowed to say about what went on in that room!


Below is a picture of my late Grandmother Rosa.  She was an incredible woman and is greatly missed. my grandmother rosa, hand pleating master






, , ,

4 Responses to The Holy Grail of Pleating

  1. Karen December 26, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    Its great to read about all this and very well written too – really brings things to life. I bet your father would have something to say looking in shop windows these days, and I doubt it would be good. Real old fashioned quality cuttind/sewing/tailoring is really going out the window – along with the fabrics. Looking forward to more posts!
    PS – I had figured out the overlap on bias skirts myself – short of fabric! – nice to see it confirmed by a professional!

    • George January 1, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

      lol…glad I could confirm your intuition!

  2. pixie December 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    What a lovely post, I enjoyed reading it 🙂

Leave a Reply