Everything started with a murder mystery dinner set in the 20s. I didn’t have much time, so I took my Taschen edition of Fashion (Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute) and started leafing through it. The flapper dresses with thousands of pearls were beautiful, but nothing I could pull of on such short notice. And then there was this simple, elegant dress: the Fortuny Delphos Dress. No complicated pattern, no complex decoration, just organic, flowing pleats and little pearls along the seams.

I can do this easily, I thought. I can get a pleated fabric in the fabric store and the expensive Murano Glass Beads can be replaced with semi-precious stones. But as you can imagine, I was wrong. Far and wide there was no pleated fabric to buy, just black pleated chiffon. But I wanted it to be gold. It wasn’t a burial after all (well actually it was, we had a murder…). My mind was already set on the Fortuny Delphos Dress. So I asked the internet how I could do the pleats myself. Fortuny kept the secret of pleating silk very well, but pleating modern polyester fabrics is actually quite easy.

Pleating by Hand

Plissieren mit Fäden

Pleating with threads

“Easy” in quotes. Because you have to create the folds by hand. In my case I used Fortuny’s method of pleating with threads. That technique creates beautiful organic wavy pleats.

I put a ruler on my fabric and set a stitch every centimeter. The thread was doubled up, so it wouldn’t break when pulling the pleats together. Every five centimeters I started a new row. So with 140cm fabric width and ca. 150cm fabric length it was 4200 stitches. I had time for some podcasts…

By the way I also doubled up the fabric. Otherwise I would have to do the same amount of work for the back of the dress.

Setting the Pleats

Now setting the pleats is truly simple. You pull the threads together so you get even pleats. Maybe you have to pluck some of them into place. Then I put everything in a baking dish, added a small bowl of water and baked it for 45 minutes on 120°C. With that the fabric is heated and changes its structure permanently. In this case plastic fabric is useful for once. Fixed like this, it can even be washed.

All this information I found in a few wonderful blog posts. Around 2016 there was a challenge between the German sewing bloggers to do pleating by hand and they documented everything wonderfully. I found information here (Nahtzugabe Blog) and here (Made with Blümchen). The blogs are in German, but I’m sure you can also find English instructions.

The Result

After baking the fabric had these beautiful slightly wavy organic pleats. The golden fabric had a small stretch so the pleats are falling especially soft.

Dark Fortuny – A second Delphos Dress

While planning the photo session for the golden dress I grew more an more certain that it needed to be done with two dresses. So I made a second Fortuny Delphos Dress. This time I chose a dark purple satin. It is a bit more stiff (no stretch), so the pleats are a bit more sharp. But since the second model would be the evil twin that was a very fitting effect.

This time the process was more optimized. I pleated both fabric length at once and I fit everything into one baking dish.

Putting together the Dress & adding Pearls

The pattern of the Delphos dress is quite simple. Both lengths of fabric are sewn together along the sides and on the shoulders. That’s it. I also added a measured piece of cord to the shoulders, so they don’t move around too much. And in the original there were silk cords with the Murano Glass Beads threaded on. But I just sewed over the fabric while sewing on my semi-precious stone pearls. It almost looks like a cord as well.

The Fortuny dresses were stored curled up in hat boxes. And even in scroll form they look great.