At the beginning of 2018, the fashion design course invited the owner of Uk’s number one pleating company to speak to students about their job and contribution to the fashion world. Ciment Pleating, founded in 1925 is also the oldest in Uk, with customers all around the world.
After a few demonstrations of how pleating works and seeing some of the works on their website I got very intrigued about it. I already did a fabric/paper manipulation workshop in my first year and I stayed since, with the desire to explore this techniques more in dept one day. When the opportunity came by with Ciment Pleating I immediately applied for an internship, together with a fashion design student, who is also my mum. We had an amazing experience among three great people: Joe, Gary and Terry!
I started my first day by sharing with them my desire to make the most of my experience there and that whatever work I could be useful for they just had to ask. I also asked them to tell me whenever I would make their lives harder instead of actually being useful. My goal from the start was not only to learn about the art of pleating but also learn about the organisation regarding their services. Being a small family business, I had the opportunity to see more aspects of their daily organisation which for me was equally important. From the moment of the order, through how the fabrics were being recorded and sorted between the pleaters, till the final packaging and delivery, as well as how they advertise themselves and make the business grow. I want to familiarise more and more with the business aspect, not only the artistic one, in view of writing a business plan for my dissertation, and consider a potential business for the future.
The day was starting at 8 am till 4 pm and it was always flying by. I observed, as in other work places I’ve been, that people are often concentrated on their work and besides following up the interns’ true curiosity and will to learn, people don’t have time to loose in also nurture the interns’ interest in learning. It is important, therefore, to show interest from the start, if it is that the case. To observe the rhythm and processes of the workers and take initiative in helping here and there where they most obviously need it. That is exactly what I did from the moment I started and was highly appreciated. I managed to ask infinite questions and the guys were always prompt to help me understand a process or share some tips. There were moments where they were even stopping for a few minutes from their job just to better show me a passage of a process or share some curiosities.
I also took several technical notes because there is a precise order to follow, while pleating, and some precise characteristics to consider. The process of pleating requires cardboard, thick around 190-240 gsm which is then folded following precise patterns of lines that connect initially placed dots all around the edges of the paper. The paper is then pleated by hand one small section at the time. It is like making a big origami, considering that once it is folded with the fabric placed in between the two cardboard layers, the fabric will end up being around three times smaller in size, depending on the design pattern. So for example, if somebody needs to have 1 meter of a pleated fabric, they need three meters of initial fabric. For each design there has to be two card boards that will then be placed one upon another, with the fabric in the middle, then shrinked in the pleating position, eventually rolled, fixed with a stripe of fabric at each end and ready to go into the steamer for half an hour. The steamer has the temperature of boiling water which makes it possible to try it at home. Seeing Terry and Gary, the process of pleating seems quite simple and quick at first glimpse, but it actually requires strength and precision that comes as second nature to them as consequence of years of experience. I realised that while pleating some of my fabrics. This is how I came with the understanding in why there are only man hand pleating. And instead I found out to be wrong when Terry was telling me about a pleating company in France where there are mostly women workers.
I enjoyed working there for many reasons, most importantly because of how they made us a part of their every day work life for the whole time, sharing knowledge and personal life. By the second day everybody knew everybody’s coffee or tea preferences, and I very much appreciate it since I know it doesn’t happen everywhere or to everybody. In fact, a girl I know about, wasn’t that happy in her experience there and didn’t learn much. We were helping pleating from day one, which made me realise that every experience it is only what you make of it, and we took the most we could. I liked the simplicity of the work place, full of rolls from top to bottom.
I really appreciated how Joe was concerned about recycling every little package that couldn’t be reused, taking time to detach the tape from the card and throwing each material in its container. She was responsible for taking orders, their delivery and machine pleating. It is always amazing to see old machines work properly and it was curious how the workers also learned over the years to repair them their-selves because there isn’t actually nobody else that knows how they work and how to fix them when something breaks. The machines only do ‘simple’ plating while everything else is made by hand because surprisingly (or not), even the cutting edge technology of machines still can not beat the the hand made level of craftsmanship.
Hand pleated samples:
Machine pleated samples:
By the last days I was taking the packages that were coming in,nsIt was really exciting to see fabrics coming in from Alexander McQueen, Victoria Beckham, Katrantzou, among others, and be a part, even for a bit, of their prototyping process for a new line of clothes. For privacy reasons I can not share any of these but I did make some of my own samples, both hand and machine pleated:
Some of my hand pleated samples:
Photograph and Video of pleating machines:
I definitely recommend either an internship or a quick stop by their company in Potters Bar. There will be definitely someone there who will take a few minutes to answer some questions while having the fortune to see experts at work in the ancient art of paper manipulation.