Drawing Machines: Pushing Pleats

For my conference project, I conceptualized and designed the construction of a dress.

I have been inspired by the more abstract concepts of folding. While I have the utmost respect for the more traditional approach to folding paper, I find the more mathematically symmetrical and “perfectionist” folding to be constraining. I perceived the drawing machines class as a sculpture class using folds to build our artistic visions. I opted for fabric to accommodate my sought after “organic” approach which I aimed to achieve while also incorporating rigidity in the spotlighting of pleats. I originally envisioned fashioning organic patterns by employing a pinching technique alongside the incorporation of pleats. Specifically, I envisioned a bodice adorned with delicate pleats, reminiscent of those depicted in the image below. Additionally, I planned to integrate pleats cascading down the back of the dress, originating at the waistline and extending the full length only along the rear. Originally I wanted an open-back design that extends gracefully to the lower back, accentuating the hips.

I drew out many drafts of  the dress, but found it challenging to stick to a final draft as I anticipated that the end result would deviate significantly from my initial draft, as much of my creative process involved adapting the design directly on my body while simultaneously refining my own figure. I eventually settled on the image below as my sketch.

I went to a fabric store near my campus. I picked out a synthetic silky fabric to give the dress a more abstract flow to the shape. As I began the pleating I ran into my first problem, I soon realized the fabric was not sturdy enough to highlight the pleating in the way I was envisioning. I went back to the fabric store where I got three yards of a cotton polyester blend in a gray slightly metallic color with a more rigid build to accentuate the pleating well. 

I was driven by ambition and decided to sew everything by hand despite having no prior sewing experience. I started with the two bodice pieces, mastering the pleating by experimenting directly on my own body. I then mirrored the proportions for the other side, anticipating that adjustments would be necessary for a proper fit once the pieces were assembled. However, what I didn’t anticipate was the minimal coverage the final garment would provide.

I began the design process by integrating the slanted lines from the feather pattern displayed in the preceding image into my sketch. However, due to the fabric’s resistance to these slanted lines and triangular shapes, I had no choice but to maintain vertical pleats. As I was creating these pleats I realized I was not making the stitches the same length, in fact I began increasing the pleats each time. When I draped this pattern around myself I realized when connected with the bodice pieces the longer pleating in the back created a flattering silhouette. This would mean forgetting  the lower back shape I originally envisioned but, but it would result in a very satisfying enhancement of the pleats and the silhouette.

I then ran into the problem of how I would get in and out of the dress. I decided on adding a zipper in between two pleats. Originally I wanted to attach the zipper traditionally in the back but I was advised against it as it would take away from the clean aesthetic of the pleating around the back. In the end I decided to highlight the zipper front and center in the dress as it was a decorative addition.

Finally, I made two strapped added them to my original two bodice pieces, and attached them to my pleated skirt. Then I put the dress on and made all the proper adjustments for the dress to fit my body perfectly. At the open studio, I had a friend model the dress for me. This made showcasing my piece easier, as I didn’t have to wear and display my artwork myself.

If I were to redo this project, I would opt not to use myself as a model again. The process proved excessively time-consuming, making it challenging to achieve precise measurements and ensure a proper fit. Additionally, I would choose an intermediate-level fabric, one that is less rigid yet capable of holding folds elegantly. Furthermore, I would complete the entire project using a sewing machine for a cleaner, less handmade appearance.

This project was significant to me as it served as a personal testament to my capability in adapting to previously unexplored mediums.

Author: Azucena Raider Hernandez