How to Add Texture to Dress Fabric

Add pleats to make your dress look smart.

Photo: Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images

Texture can help make a dress or fabric go from drab to fab. Adding texture can come in the form of adding or subtracting color or creating visual depth, like an artist coating a blank canvas with paint. When adding texture to fabric, remember that moderation is key -- too much body or depth can make a dress look tacky.

Dyeing

This grownup version of tie-dyeing uses rubber drawer mats -- like the kind your mom has in her kitchen -- and only one color to create a visually striking textured look on dress fabric. Prepare permanent fabric dye and the dress fabric according to the instructions on the dye packet. Sandwich the fabric between the rubber mats -- the bigger the mats, the better. Roll each end of the sandwiched fabric toward the center, like a scroll, and use rubber bands to hold the roll together. Ease the roll into the dye bath and stir gently -- no splashing allowed. Rinse the fabric until the water runs clear and allow it to drip dry. If you want to create a fashion-forward ombre look, re-dye the fabric with a lighter-colored dye.

Gather and Pleat

Add texture to your dress fabric by gathering or pleating it. Although these sewing terms may seem old-fashioned, they can give a dress a totally different look. When you gather fabric, you make it bunch up along the thread. To do this, make a straight line of stitches by hand or with a sewing machine. You'll need to secure the thread at one end of the stitches to the fabric, but leave the thread on the other end loose. Then gently pull on the loose end of the string and bunch your fabric until you have the desired effect. Gathering fabric can make short dress sleeves look extra cute, while pleats are awesome for dress skirts. To make pleats, fold pieces of fabric back and forth, making sure the folds are the same width. (This is like the technique you used to make paper fans in elementary school.) Use all-metal or heat-safe pins to hold the folds in place and iron the fabric to define the creases. Sew the fabric along the tops of the pleats to hold them in place.

Embroidery

Paint a picture on a boring dress with embroidery floss. First, draw or trace a simple line drawing of an image that you like onto the dress fabric. If you are new to embroidery, try a simple yet chic heart or flower. At craft and fabric stores, you can find iron-on embroidery patterns with letters or words, flowers, animals, vintage images, or even skulls to show your rebellious side. To start embroidering, remove two threads from a length of floss, which has six threads, and thread an embroidery needle. Then trace over the outline on the fabric with the thread, using simple connected stitches. When you finish, you'll have a piece of textured art that's worthy of showing off to your grandma. Go wild and use multiple colors to add extra texture to the fabric. Idea alert: Use brightly colored threads to liven up a plain black dress.

Shadowfolds

Shadowfolds are pleats you place on a piece of fabric to form intricate geometric patterns. Don't worry, "intricate" doesn't necessarily mean hard to do. By manipulating the width and direction of a pleat, you can form different shapes. To make a pentagon, use toothpicks to create a five-sided shape on the right side of the fabric. Now move the toothpick at the bottom of the pentagon 1/4 inch down. Move the top-right toothpick 1/4 inch up and slightly to the right. Then move the top-left toothpick 1/4 inch up and slightly to the left. You're pentagon shape won't look quite right anymore, but that's OK. Use a fabric marker to make a line along the inside edges of the toothpicks. Move the toothpicks out of the way and thread a sewing needle with a length of thread that matches the fabric. Bring the needle up through the bottom of the fabric at one end of a toothpick line. Push the needle back through the fabric at the opposite end of the toothpick line. It's as if you're tracing the toothpick line with your thread. Then, without cutting the thread, trace over the next toothpick line in the same manner. Easy peasy, right? Repeat this process with all of the toothpick lines. After outlining the last toothpick line, flip the fabric over. Gently pull on the ends of the threads so the fabric gathers -- a puff will form on the opposite side. Tie the threads tightly together, snip off the excess, flip the material over and smooth out the bunched fabric so the pentagonal shape is noticeable. Make multiple pentagons and iron them in place so you can create a fabulous, unique dress.

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