How to Make a Pleated Paper Dress




About: Hello! My name is Sam, and I am a college student majoring in fashion design who loves to make jewelry and other DIY's! Please contact me if you need any help with my tutorials, or if you are interested in ...

I made these dresses for my AP 3D Art concentration and I love them because they give you so much freedom to explore without the difficulties of fabric.  They also require minimal supplies.  When I made these, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but it is fairly simple to create these garments.  My inspiration came from the effects of light and shadow, and the episode of Project Runway where they made newspaper dresses. 
Any kind of paper you want (I like white because it allows me to see the influence of light and shadow
A ton of packing tape
A model (or dress form)
Doilies (for embellishment)

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Step 1: Beginning

The first thing any designer needs is a sketch.  While the final outcome usually does not end up looking like the sketch, it is important to get your ideas out on paper.  My sketching abilities are very sub-par, but I still need to create a sketch to begin my work.  From the sketch, you need to assemble your supplies, so paper, tape, rulers, scissors, and pencils.  You also need a large work surface to create this, so make sure you have a sturdy table or floor to work on. 

Step 2: Pleating Cardstock

I was lucky enough to have large pieces of paper to work with, and an assortment of shapes and sizes.  The one important thing is to know how to work with each type of paper you have.  For cardstock or thicker paper, you need to use scissors to score the pleats.  This makes the look cleaner and speeds up the process quite a bit. 
Now, to begin pleating. 
First, you need to set the width of your pleats.  We are making box pleats here so the entire width will be fully visible.  I liked creating 2 inch pleats, which meant that I marked every 2 inches on the edge of the paper throughout the entire width of it on both ends. 
I then held the ruler in place from mark to mark and used my scissors to score the paper.  Be careful to not score too hard and rip the paper.  Now from here, I can create my box pleats.  I liked to tape the edge of the pleats closed on one side after making them because if I didn't, the pleats popped up and i lost my work.  These panels that you create can be taped together from behind to form a skirt.  I prefer packing tape because it is nice and wide, and it holds pieces together very well.  It can also be removed (VERY CAREFULLY!)
At this point, if you want to make a simple pleated skirt, you can simply tape as many panels as you need to to fit your waist.  MAke sure you do not tape the back closed, as you will not be able to get into it if you do!

Step 3: Pleating Tissue Paper

This is much harder to work with than cardstock.  I liked to use the tissue paper to make organic looking pleats that were very small.  This process can be really fast once you get the hang of it, but there are no specific measurements.  The main issues of tissue paper come from taping it because it is so delicate.  You cannot really make mistakes.  If you are worried about this, I would suggest making the tissue paper thicker by creating a tape backing to the entire thing.  This won't have the same delicacy, but it will be much easier to work with. 
Once you have your pleated tissue paper, you can create curves, which are almost impossible in cardstock. When doing this, it is best to have your model close by or a dress form to work off of.  The breasts are the most difficult part of the body to work with. 

Step 4: Making a Bodice

While it may seem contradictory, the more pieces you use in making the bodice, the easier it is to fit.  You can also create darts very easily with any type of paper, and those can create beautiful curves.  My experience taught me the value of darts, and the importance of using paper that can be manipulated easily.  I found that using 2 darts on the bust for thicker paper worked best.  Truthfully, the bust is the hardest part of this entire project, and it can only really be accomplished through trial and error, so good luck!

Step 5: Assembling the Dress

As I stated in previous steps, the best method of construction is tape.  You should tape from behind, because you do not want the shiny side to reflect in pictures.  Make sure that you leave either the side or back open so that the model can wear the dress!  Also, you may want to leave room for the model to move, I made that mistake with one of the dresses and my poor model had to jump from place to place for pictures.  In order to put the dress on the model, the best method is to taper her in and cut her out.  If you cut along the tape, you can also tape over it again to rewear it!  There you have it, your first paper dress!!! They're so much fun and so interesting to make.  You can really let your creativity run wild with this so have fun and good luck! If you have any questions, message me and I will try to help!

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    19 Discussions


    3 years ago

    These dresses are just fantastic! Elegant and almost futuristic, you are clearly very talented :)

    The inside was lined with tape, so it wouldn't fall apart, but if someone threw water at you, it definitely wouldn't be pretty!

    Neat. I'd be a little nervous around candles, matches, and rain. Are these intended to wear out in the world, or more along the lines of wearable models?

    1 reply

    I would be nervous around those too! I don't believe that they are wearable on a daily basis, but in the 1960's, paper dresses were a trend and were worn in public! I used them as a sort of wearable sculpture, but I am sure that if you experimented with tyvek or typar, as suggested in another comment, you could create something beautiful and wearable. They are also fun ideas for themes parties such as ABC (anything but clothes) when you create garments out of random materials!

    Thanks! Sorry that there are no pictures of the process, I actually made them a while ago and just got around to posting them here, it was a lot of trial and error, and using my friends as mannequins!


    5 years ago

    Seems like the perfect one time use bridesmaid dress idea. No more closet full of dresses you can't wear anywhere else(ask my youngest about that. Lol)

    3 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Haha that would be really cool and innovative, especially if you had the bridesmaids each make their own out of coordinating paper! The only issue is longevity of the dress for moving around and possibly the weather if its an outdoor ceremony!


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Just thought of something else. The bride chooses her colors. She could hand each gal either colored paper, or colored markers in her colors. That way if it turns out to be an ugly bridesmaid dress it's their fault. Ha ha.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    There are several types of tyveck paper. It's mixed with recycled plastic fibers. It's used in chemical/water resistant coveralls. It would be fairly durable in those areas that need structure. It's also a mosquito netting type of material used as disposable insect netting for emergency hospitals. Both would be tough to obtain in small quantities, but, if you owned a bridal shoppe it would still be a lower cost alternative than cloth. Good luck on your adventure called life.