Gathering Threads

Tutorial: Pleater Maintenance

Posted by on Feb 22 2012, in Smocking, Tutorial

How’s your pleater treating you?

Is it hard to turn, fighting over every revolution? Does it skew the fabric, even when it’s been cut on grain? Create bubbles in the fabric? Miss pleats? Needles snapping left and right?

You may be casting an evil eye towards your needles and wondering if you have to replace them all (and believe me, a new set isn’t cheap). But before you shell out for new supplies or worse, give up pleating all together, let me ask you, when’s the last time you did any maintenance on your pleater?

If you can’t remember (or only know that the ties were much wider and Pierce Brosnan was on T.V in prime time), it’s time to give your hard working helper a day at the spa.  Now, before you guffaw and say “I’m not mechanical”, I promise it’s easy (seriously, 10-15 minutes), and you should have everything you need right at hand.  Really.

To service your pleater, you need:

  • your pleater (I have a Read 47 row Maxi; your pleater may be slightly different depending on the model and age)
  • a screwdriver that fits the screws on the bottom of your pleater (probably a Phillips or a star, but it may vary in size)
  • masking tape
  • a pencil
  • Q-tips
  • lubricating oil (your sewing machine oil should be fine – read the label.  If not, any good quality lubricating oil designed for metal on metal lubrication is appropriate)
  • wax paper
  • a small, clean rag or soft cloth
  • tweezers
  1. Start by removing the front upper bar.  If there are any needles in the pleater, remove them now.

2.   Next, unscrew the handles from both sides.  Set the handles aside.

3.  Now, turn the pleater so you can see the bottom of the base.  Unscrew one of the support arms from the base.  You only need to loosen one side, not both.

4.  Supporting the loosened support arm so the bars don’t come out yet, turn the pleater right side up.  Holding both the support arm and bars firmly, slide the bars loose from the fixed end.

5.  Rip three pieces of tape approximately 2″ long.   Beginning with the front lower bar, loosely wrap the tape around the first bar.  Label it #1.  Repeat with the upper rear and lower rear bars, removing and labeling them in sequence.  This step is important because you want to make sure the bars are returned to their original positions.

6.  When you have removed the three fixed bars, they should look like this: two bars with short ends and a third with long ends.

7.  Once everything is disassembled, your pleater will look something like this:  4 bars, two handles, two screws and washers, two removable plugs, one unattached support arm and one base and support arm.

8.  Using a clean Q-tip, gently clean the four holes in each support arm.   Change the Q-tip often and continue until the cotton bud is clean.

9.  This is what a dirty Q-tip will look like.

10.  Next, with a clean, dry cloth, clean the ends of each bar.  If there is thread tangled around the ends of the bar, use the tweezers to gently remove it.

11.  Wipe down the base, removing any dust or grime.

12.  Apply the lubricating oil to the supporting arm holes.  I know my picture implies I’m adding the oil directly from the bottle, but my preferred method is actually to put 2-3 drops on a clean Q-tip and and run that through the holes instead.  It’s cleaner and limits the possibility of messy drips.

12.  Put the unattached supporting arm on its side and carefully stand the three fixed bars in placed. Remove the tape as you put them in place.

13.  Hold the bars firmly and slide them back into place.

14.  Align the holes on the bottom of the supporting arm with the holes in the base.  Carefully, tilt the base to expose the holes and reattach the screws.  Don’t forget to put on the washers.  Tighten down the screws until the supporting arm is firm but don’t over tighten.  You don’t want to risk stripping the screws or create problems for the next time you perform a service.

15.  Reattach the handles.  Put the removable bar back in place.  The pleater is reassembled.  There should be no spare parts remaining.

16.  Tear off a small piece of wax paper as wide as your pleater.  Run it through the pleater.  Pay attention to how the bars turn.  Are there any clicking noises?  Does everything move smoothly?   Does everything appear aligned?  If yes, then you are good to go.  If not, go back and repeat steps 3-7 and 12-14.  If you spilled any lubricating oil during the service, or are worried about staining your pleating fabric, run a sacrificial piece of scrap fabric through the pleater before you use any fashion fabrics.

Now your pleater should run like a well-oiled machine, and give you lots of problem-free operation.  I generally service my machine once a year.  Happy pleating!


  • KathyD

    Great tutorial with pictures Claire!

  • Claire

    Thanks, Kathy. Every time I’ve done it in the past, I’ve forgotten to take pictures. Finally remembered the camera 🙂