Pleats might not be in vogue now, but for years they were a fashion staple. In the late 19th century, many types of children’s and women’s clothing had pleats. Depending on the number and location of these pleats, however, they could be difficult to achieve.

A pleat is a double or multiple fold in a garment. They are often held in place by stitches at the top or side, but they often need to be re-pressed to create sharp creases. The easiest way to create a basic pleat was using a flat ironing board and iron. This was done by simply pulling fabric over itself to create a double or multiple layer and then pressing this with a standard iron.

This works best for wider pleats that are along the collar of a garment or along the waistband of a skirt or dress. Also referred to as ruching, frills, fluting, crimping or tucking, pleats also were used to create collars, cuffs, and trimmings on garments. Creating and maintaining these finer pleats required more specialized equipment.

This equipment was particularly necessary for the frills and crimped ribbon that often decorated wealthy Victorian women’s clothing. Ruffles and the equipment used to create them have a long history. In the 16th and 17th centuries, a hot poking rod was used to create the very large, ruffled collars of the Elizabethan period.

The goffering machine was invented to improve on this method. It essentially was a metal test tube set horizontally on a stand. A hot poker then was placed inside the tube and the material was curled around it to create the frills and ruffles. For rows of frill, goffering tongs could be used. Both of these methods, especially the latter, involved a great deal of work. By the mid-19th century, crimping or fluting machines, like the one shown here, were created to make creating rows of frills easier. It is about 9 inches high with a base that is 9 inches square. Although relatively small in size, it has a solid weight to it as most of the components are made from cast iron. The rollers are made from brass.

This machine has two corrugated rollers that are positioned one on top of the other. The bottom roller turns by using the machine’s crank. The ribs on the lower roller catch on the ones of the upper, roller forcing it to turn and pressing the fabric that is placed between them. The rollers are hollow. This allows small, heated rods to be placed in them. The heat then sets the pleats in the fabric. The height between the rollers can be adjusted to account for different types of fabric.

This fluting machine was patented on Nov. 20, 1866, by a Mrs. Susan R. Knox and manufactured by H. Sauerbier & Son, Newark, NJ. Her patent improved on earlier designs by re-positioning the crank and roller supports to one side. This would allow for the material to pass through unobstructed. This little machine in currently on display in the Grand Gallery, along with several other hand-cranked machines.

“Out of the Attic” features artifacts from the collection of the Des Moines County Historical Society. For more information, to ask questions or to offer comments or suggestions, call (319) 752-7449 or email