Part 1, Stages 2&3, Project 1, Exercise 3 – Knife and box pleats

12 September 2016

Project 1, Exercise 3 – Knife and box pleats

Throughout this exercise, I referred to “Folding techniques for designers” (Jackson, 2011:64-79) and “The art of manipulating fabrics”(Wolff, 1996:89-97). Full citations are given in the reference list at the end of this blog entry. 

I was also interested to find several examples in current magazine which reflect the use of pleating and folding in contemporary interior design. An article entitled “Visa Hotels” in this months issue of Marie Claire Maison, featured the reception area of Hotel Le MEII Dulcamara a Milan (Marie Claire Maison, 2016:180). The wall was clad in material (possibly wood, because it was bown in colour), arranged so as to have the appearance of box-pleats. The panelling was fixed from floor to ceiling with a gentle curve which led the eye towards the reception desk. 

I was also interested to see an advertising feature in Elle Decoration which showed pleated lampshades by textile weaver Mayumi (Elle Decoration, 2016:201). Made from Japapanese paper and yarn, these are examples of the application of folding techniques to interior design. 

SAMPLE 1 – Simple knife pleat in ratio 2:1, rectangular paper

This was my first sample, made using a sheet of A4 sized 75gsm printer paper. After making basic linear folds to get division into eighths, I then had to measure and mark the position of the mountain and valley folds, before making them (in a ratio of 2:1).

I examined the sample in different configurations and under multiple spotlights to cast interesting shadows.

Laid on a board and viewed from the side (see above), it is possible to see the slanting “toothed” shape of the edge of the paper made by the wide mountain fold over a narrower valley fold. 

Next, I examined the effect of pulling the folds apart (see below). 

The diagram below (not to scale) illustrates the different shapes of the triangles which result from pushing the pleats close together verses pulling them wide apart, and the different position of each mountain fold apex relative to the valley fold.


Next, I viewed the sample from behind (see below). Because the leading edges of the mountain folds slant forwards, they cast no visible shadows, and each apex was poorly defined.

However, viewing the exact same sample from the front, strong shadows became visible and each apex appeared very well defined (see below)

Having viewed the sample from different angles and in different configurations, I decided to arrange it to make simple shapes/structures.

Firstly, I made a “fan” shape by anchoring the pleats closed across one edge with my hand whilst allowing the opposite edge to fall open (see below)

There are interesting variations of tone and shape in the shadows. I also like the irregularity of toothed/zig-zag shape along the open edge.

Next, I folded my sample in half along the length, perpendicular to the pleats (see below)

I then fixed two of the short edges together with a paperclip, and the other short edge was fixed to the board with Blu-tack.


I was amazed that such an interesting 3D structure could be made from my first sample, using the most basic of folds! I also photographed it from behind:

And from the side:

This was my favourite view. I can see a lovely angles and curves, and four tones of shadow.

And finally, I photographed it from an oblique angle between side/front from above:

I can imagine future exploration might involve joining several of these 3D shapes into a more complex form.

SAMPLE 2: Simple knife pleat, triangular paper 

Using the same A4 printer paper as for sample 1, I started by drawing a diagonal line in pencil from corner to corner of the paper (which would be my cutting line, once the folding was complete). I then proceeded to pleat the paper in exactly the same way as sample 1.

Once folding was complete, I opened up the paper and cut along the diagonal line to give me two right-angled triangles. I re-instated the folds. Below is a photo of one of the triangles. Stood on it’s end you can see that it has the tendency to curve around. 

The pleats fold the opposite way on the other triangle, so together they form a symmetrical pair (see below). I feel that there is a certain energy and tension created by the two small sharp points getting close together and nearly (but not quite) touching. This is an interesting result.

Instead of placing the triangles next to each other, I then looked at them opposing and overlapping (below)

On first sight this doesn’t seem a particularly interesting or stimulating arrangement, but viewed from above it becomes more engaging, with interesting negative space and varying amounts of pleat edge becoming visible, dependent on the viewing angle:

I thought this view would be interesting to draw. However, because I made the drawing at a later date, I had to rearrange the pieces of the sample, so the placement of the pieces was different (see below).

My line of sight was also in a different position to the camera lens on the photo. The perspective was very tricky. It didn’t help that I had to stand above the sample when drawing. It was also difficult not to get in the way of the light and obliterate the shadows, and because I kept moving my head the perspective kept changing.


SAMPLE 3: Rotational knife pleat, circular paper

Using the same A4 printer paper as for samples 1 and 2, I used a compass to draw a circle, making a cut along the radius.

I then folded the circle into eighths, before pleating each segment radially in the ratio 2:1.

This photo shows the resultant knife pleated circle viewed from above.

I then joined the two straight edges with masking tape to make a closed cone which is shown laid on it’s side in the photo above. 

Much more impressive is when the cone is placed pointing upwards and photographed from above (see photo below)

The pleats cause an interesting “saw-shape” around the circumference. Had time permitted, it would be interesting to make a larger cone with more smaller pleats.

SAMPLE 4: Simple knife pleats cut on a zig-zag

Using the same A4 printer paper as for samples 1-3, I marked diagonal strips on an A4 piece of paper before making knife pleats in an identical way to sample 1. When the folding was complete, I opened up the paper and cut the strips before reinstating the pleats and photographing the sample.

These results were really exciting – I found that by laying the strips parallel and slightly offsetting the folds I could make an interesting disrupted surface (see below)

Below is the same configuration viewed from the side. There are interesting negative spaces formed the gaps between the paper strips, the folds in the paper, and the shadows they produce. It reminded me of the quality of waves; the displacement giving a sense of movement and transience to the surface.

Secondly, I changed the arrangement of the pleats to form chevrons. The first photo is viewed from above, the second from the side.

I love both these surfaces. The chevron arrangement feels more dynamic, although the linear arrangement is more wave-like. The choice of which to use would require further investigation and a study of different materials and colours.


SAMPLE 5: Knife pleats cut on a zig-zag, large sample (abandoned)

After the success of sample 4, I thought I would increase the scale and use a A1 piece of paper. My intention was to use similar size strips and pleats and make a dramatic surface. Unfortunately, the thinnest paper I had in A1 size was 180gsm. It was more like card and difficult to fold accurately. Unlike the 75gsm printer paper, it did not form sharp crisp folds. 

I decided not to complete the sample.


SAMPLE 6: Knife-pleated circle using a gardening magazine

After the difficulties with sample 5, I decided to use some thin material again for my sixth sample and to investigate the effect of pattern. I took four pages of a rose catalogue and glued them together to make a large square paper sheet. Using a compass, I marked a circle. 

I then pleated the sheet in exactly the same way as for sample 1. After pleating, I unfolded the paper and cut out the circle shape before re-instating the folds. The photo below shows the result:

The effect of the pleats has been to condense the circle into an oval. Thinking about this, it is similar to the effect of painted speed signs on a road surface. The effect of perspective is to alter the perceived shape, so in order to appear as a circle when viewed by drivers, the speed sign is painted as an oval, and the number elongated.

Although the catalogue gave clean crisp folds, I felt that the patterning detracted from the beauty of the shadows, and that the pleating confused the images rather than enhancing them.

I tried adding a second row of knife pleats perpendicular to the first. This made matters worse, adding to the confusion and incoherence.

Maybe simpler patterning might produce interesting results? The rose catalogue did not.


SAMPLE 7: Knife pleat, small scale

I made a simple knife pleat as in sample 1, but using a tiny cigarette paper (medium thickness).


The thin, delicate paper made an unassuming and unremarkable sample. I thought about the properties of the paper, in particular it’s thin, semi-transparency. This gave me the idea of holding the sample up with the light behind it. The results were much more interesting (see below)

I like the fact that I was able to make this sample using a found object – an old packet of cigarette paper (my husband gave up smoking 2 years ago).

Thinking about how this sample could be used, I am imagining maybe stitching pieces together, of combining the incorporation of holes or tears in the paper to make it more interesting. 


SAMPLE 8: Basic box pleat in ratio 2:1

Using an A4 piece of 75gsm printer paper, I made a simple box pleat sample (see below).

As with the other samples which used this paper, it gave excellent definition of folds and shadow. I like this view because of the “tram-line” effect of perspective, making the “mountains” feel like iron bars. It has an almost industrial feel and a solidity and regularity which was not apparent with the knife pleat sample (sample 1).


SAMPLE 9: 3-box pleat cylinder

Using a strip of printer paper, pleated as for sample 8, I joined glued the edges to make a 3-box pleat cylinder (although “cylinder” implies roundness, and the tube was triangular in profile).

The photos below show the tube viewed from the side and above:

I am strongly attracted to the geometry of this sample. Even as a stand-alone piece there are appealing negative shapes. I can image even more interest by duplicating the sample and joining the shapes.


I made a drawing of the sample in Crayola crayon (above). It help me to appreciate the variety of different shapes, formed both by the object and it shadows. For simplicity of reading, I have depicted the paper object as a different colour to it’s shadows.


SAMPLE 10: 4-box pleat cylinder

This sample is an extension of sample 9, using an additional pleat to make a square cylinder (tube). By comparison with sample 9, the same views are shown below:

Again, it is a really appealing sample. Similarly, consideration could be given to making multiple samples and joining them together to make a surface.


In my freehand charcoal pencil drawing (above), I have reflected the irregular nature of this sample, which although supposedly symmetrical, is actually not.


SAMPLE 11:Rotational box pleat, circular paper

Using the same paper and preparation methods as sample 3, I folded a conical box pleated circle. The first photo is the sample laid flat and photographed from above.


Shown below is a side-on view:

Similarly to sample 3, I taped the straight edges together to make a cone. The photos below shows it viewed from above:

Whereas in the photo below, the cone laid on it’s side and viewed from inside, looking up into the point.

I like the shapes generated by this sample, although I think samples 9 and 10 are more appealing to me at this time.


SAMPLE 12: Box pleats, folded down

For this sample I used thick (250gsm), patterned, double-sided paper. Remembering a variation from my curtain-making days where box pleats were folded open to reveal a lining fabric, I tried to recreate the effect in this sample. Bearing in mind the difficulties with sample 5, I made sure the pleats were large (7cm across).

Having made the box pleats, they were folded down to reveal the backing colour/pattern (see below).

And on the reverse side:

My first reaction to this sample was one of disappointment. Firstly, that despite joining two pieces of paper, I had only sufficient material to make 2 box pleats. Also, I found the patterns distracting, and the very thick paper clumsy. However, looking again at the reverse side, I noticed that there was an interesting structure emerging – one which reminded me of the pillars of a concrete building, solid and uniform.

Viewed from the side (see below), the structure appears to rest on “feet” (a fact that I would probably not have been so obvious if I had made the sample with more than two pleats). I wondered whether it could be adapted to a design for a piece of furniture (table or chair?), imagining that it may be possible to make it out of plastic.


SAMPLE 13: Box pleats, small scale

I wanted to make a small box-pleat sample using cigarette paper (as sample 7), but decided that I would need a piece of paper bigger than a single sheet. I joined eight sheets together using the line of gum on each long edge. I then folded some simple box pleats, using the same method as sample 8, but closer pleat spacing (see below).

Initially I was disappointed with the results. The pleat folds were not very crisp, and because the paper is pre-folded in the packet, there were existing sharp creases in places where I did not want them. There was also a stiffening effect of double thickness paper and glue where the sheets were joined, which influenced the handle and crease behaviour, and made the sample less uniform.

The sample only really came to life when I held it up with light shining behind it (see below):


I love this effect; the way in which I am grasping the paper has resulted in a sinuous wave shape which adds to the interest of the pleats. With maybe 10’s or hundreds of samples, the correct lighting, and securing of samples in interesting shapes, this idea could be turned into a really interesting piece.



Elle Decoration (2016) Stylish interiors. [Adversiting feature] In: Elle Decoration. May-June 2016. p.201.

Marie Claire Maison (2016) Visa Hotels. In: Marie Claire Maison. No. 485. May-June 2016. p176-180

Jackson, P. (2011) Folding techniques for designers: from sheet to form. London. Lawrence King.

Wolff, C. (1996) The art of manipulating fabric. Iola, Wisconsin. Krause publications. 



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