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Kyriacos Hadjikyriacou, Pleater

September 11, 2018
by the gentle author

Kyri demonstrates a pattern for a circular pleat

In a remote corner of Tottenham, in the midst of an industrial estate, sandwiched between a kosher butcher and a panel beater, Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I found Rosamanda Pleaters. We dipped our heads and stepped through a low door to enter a crowded factory. As our eyes accustomed to the gloom, we peered into the depths where lines of machines filled the space, appearing to recede into the infinite distance. We expected a horde of ghostly workers shrouded in cobwebs, but on closer examination the machines were all idle.

Yet, in a pool of bright light, one man worked alone, wrestling cloth, cardboard, sticks and string, subjecting them to his will with expert control. This was the legendary pleater Kyriacos Hadjikyriacou, universally known as Kyri. He removed a piece of silk from between a pair of cardboard patterns that were folded into an intricate design which they imparted to the cloth, as delicate as a butterfly wing and as richly coloured as the plumage of an exotic bird. We were entranced.

The magic of pleating is to take diaphanous fabric and give it volume and structure through a geometric series of creases. These pleats move, amplifying the gesture and motion of the wearer in unexpected and sensuous ways. This is the spell that pleating can impart to clothes. Kyri is the grand master of it.

He has contrived hundreds of unique designs for pleats, spending months conjuring his intricate notions. Pleating is his imaginative world. ‘This one is stars on one side and squares on the other,’ he explained unrolling an elaborately folded piece of cardboard that quivered as if it had a life of its own. ‘I call it ‘Crown Pleat,” he confided to me in a proud conspiratorial whisper. ‘I have never used it yet.’ Kyri finds inspiration for new designs in pantiles, scallop shells and hieroglyphics.

All day the phone rings and breathless fashion assistants arrive from London’s top designers – Christopher Kane, Alexander McQueen, Jasper Conran, among others so fancy we are not permitted to mention – bringing lengths of cloth for Kyri to work his transformative wizardry upon.

A tall slim man with pale grey hair and straggling white moustache set off by his mediterranean colouring, Kyri cuts a handsome figure. Of philosophical nature, he is untroubled by the endless to and fro, delighting in the attention and maintaining a confident equanimity throughout. He may serve the capricious world of fashion, but his is the realm of geometry and chemistry. Cardboard, sticks and string are his tools, and steam is the alchemical essence that enables him to work his sorcery upon the cloth, subjecting it to his desire.

“As a pleater, you are always learning. Even after forty-three years of pleating, I am learning. It is not just a question of mastering three or five styles, you have to use your imagination. You have know engineering and about how machines work, you have to know geometry to understand how the patterns function, you have to know chemistry to predict how the material will react.

There’s a lot of things you have to know to be a pleater. It’s a talent. I create new things everyday. I design my own patterns. If I see something I like, I work how it is done and I design my own version. At the beginning, I used to come in every Saturday just to experiment with styles. I tried different ways to use the machines to find new styles. I have two hundred different designs of my own.

Hand pleating is done by placing the cloth between two paper patterns, known as ‘pleating crafts.’ They are made of a special paper that is water resistant and does not get wet. You open the craft, stretch the two papers and lay down the material, sandwiched between the two papers. Then you tie them tight and put them in the steam.

The easiest fabric for pleating is polyester. It holds the pleats well, you can even put it in a washing machine. In hand-pleating, you use only steam but in machine-pleating you use the heat of the machine and steam too, so it is more powerful and will resist washing. I have all these machines. One can do fifteen hundred different styles, another is a fancy one that do a couple of thousand different styles.

I don’t need to advertise, people come and find me, and they keep coming back. I tell them,’If you need me, you find me!’ If I make something, it has to be of the standard that I would like to buy – which means it is good to give to a customer.

My work is perfect pleating. It is rare. There are some patterns, I am the only person in England who can do them. Other pleaters do standard pleats and they think that’s everything but it is not. It can take six months to design a pattern. I might start work on it at Christmas and finish in June. I did not  know how to do it, but slowly I work it out. I enjoy pleating because I am always creating things. When I started, I didn’t know anything about this.

I have an Msc in Agriculture. I finished my studies in Athens in 1975 and, because of the war in which Turkey invaded Cyprus, I came to England as a refugee. I married my wife Eleni and in the beginning I worked in a knitting factory, Sharon Fabrics in Holloway. After they closed down, I worked at a water plant, analysing water in  Crews Hill in Enfield for bacteria. But somebody told me to push a wheelbarrow and I didn’t like it so I left.

After that, I was asked to work for a pleater in Hackney and that was how I started. In 1980, me and two other people, we opened a knitting factory in Clerkenwell near Smithfield Market. My wife worked in Holborn as a bookkeeper then. She asked me, ‘How much does it cost to set up a pleating factory? I told her, ‘Maybe two or three thousand pounds.’ So that’s what we did, we started in business together and we employed two boys. Eighteen months later, we had a fire and all the others left but I carried on.

I have been here in this workshop in Tottenham for twenty-six years. I had a pleater who passed away before my wife eighteen months ago, so I am on my own. There’s just me now but in the past I used to have seven pleaters working for me. All these machines I have are from factories that closed and nobody else wants them There is no business any more for volume. All the High St shops manufacture in the Far East, my business is just with designers now.

I used to work on Sundays, I arrived at eight o’clock every morning and worked until seven. Now I arrive at nine o’clock and work until five, just weekdays. I will carry on as long as I can. I said to my children, ‘I am not going to retire because – for me – if somebody retires they are waiting for death.’ It’s true! If you put your car outside for six months and don’t use it, the tyres and battery go flat. The human being is like that I think.”

Kyri lays a pattern on the table

Kyri has over two hundred patterns for pleating that he has designed

Kyri shows off a favourite pleating pattern

‘I call this ‘Crown Pleat”

‘Craft pleats’ ready for use

Kyri places weights upon the patterns to make sure the fabric is tightly sandwiched

Kyri removes the weights once the pattern is compressed

Kyri rolls the patterns to squeeze the fabric into the form of the patterns

Kyri places the patterns between two splints

Kyri ties the splints together

Kyri concertinas the patterns as tight as possible between the splints

The completed ‘pleating craft’ is ready for the steam oven

Kyri’s steam ovens where the pleats are baked

Kyri shows off his pleating machine

Last minute maintenance to the steamer

A pleated silk shirt ready to be steamed flat

Kyri the pleater

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

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24 Responses leave one →
  1. Virginia Heaven permalink
    September 11, 2018

    Wonderful! Thank you!

  2. Yvonne Kolessides permalink
    September 11, 2018

    Amazing workmanship, you can see and even feel how much he enjoys it! Thank you..

  3. Tan permalink
    September 11, 2018

    This is A beautiful craft – a true artist

  4. Jill wilson permalink
    September 11, 2018

    Compleatly amazing!

  5. Manja-Freyja Gustafsson permalink
    September 11, 2018

    Totally, overwhelmingly, fascinating. Wow. I didn’t realise there was so much to pleating, and so many patterns, or the work that goes into them. Brilliant story!

  6. September 11, 2018

    This is just wonderful, I’m so happy that you’re shining a light in the little people of London.
    They’re ones who have character, depth and soul.
    Your work is truly amazing & inspirational.

  7. September 11, 2018

    those pleat designs are incredible – I would love to see ‘the crown’ made up. Thank you

  8. Hilary permalink
    September 11, 2018

    Kyri – long may you continue. Such an interesting article.

  9. September 11, 2018

    When we were at college in the Mile End Road in the sixties, there were lots of fascinating signs – but we were especially caught by one that advertised ‘All Night Pleaters.’

  10. September 11, 2018

    Wonderful article, wonderful craftsman, or should I say artist? Thanks a million.

  11. September 11, 2018

    What a fascinating post – and such superb photos. Had no idea of the intricate processes involved in pleating. I do hope that someone will feel inspired to learn from Kyri and will want to carry on these traditional and valuable skills.

  12. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    September 11, 2018

    How extraordinary! I’m sure that I will never be sufficiently wealthy to own a garment so intricately pleated, but I feel privileged to now have some idea of how it is done. I wonder if it is too much to hope that someone will preserve all of Kyri’s exquisite patterns one day? Thank you for sharing this!

  13. Annie permalink
    September 11, 2018

    Wow, that’s amazing! A real craftsmanship, long may he continue!
    It would be nice if he could find a young apprentice to pass his expertise on to for the future.

  14. Jane lewis permalink
    September 11, 2018

    I loved reading about this incredibly skilled gentleman. Long may he continue producing such beautiful items. Thank you for all your fabulous posts.

  15. Cristina permalink
    September 12, 2018

    I am so proud of my Dad. He is an absolute legend in the Industry and a master of his craft. I have never known anyone to have so much passion and love for his work. I thank you for writing such a wonderful piece about him so everyone else can see how fantastic and amazing he is. The best pleater in the world!!

  16. Christopher Glen permalink
    September 12, 2018

    Fascinating man – and a great piece.

  17. Emily Johnson permalink
    September 12, 2018

    I had no idea that such a profession existed or that there was so much variety of design! Thank you for once again introducing me to the wonderful and unexpected.

  18. Richard permalink
    September 12, 2018

    Very interesting. Great story. All the best to you.

  19. Kristine permalink
    September 12, 2018

    What a treat it is to be able to see what is involved in the art of pleating fabric. The patterns are even works of art. Kyri is indeed a master craftsman. I really enjoyed this story, thank you.

  20. Saba permalink
    September 13, 2018

    Kyri, you got it — work is the fountain of youth, some complain that they still have to work but they are always the youngest looking people around. The rest of us just love our work! Your fine craftsmanship is a gift, thank you. Saba

  21. Gregoris Kousouros permalink
    September 13, 2018

    Hi Kiri,,This man is the MASTER of pleating,whatever i gave him to do,he never said i cant or i dont know,on new designs he would say this will take a bit longer.I am glad to see your still working Kiri keep it up mate.Greg.(o Roys)

  22. Harry permalink
    September 18, 2018

    I have known Kyri for over 30 years and he is by all accounts the best Pleater there is. His patterns are perfect, he is a perfectionist and also a very proud man of great integrity. He is the last of a dying breed and when he finally retires, there will be no one to replace this great artist..

  23. mlaiuppa permalink
    September 29, 2018

    That was fascinating.

    It is sad to think this unique and wondrous craft will be lost when Kyri eventually retires or can no longer work. All of those lovely patterns will be lost. Who will the designers turn to?

    If I were a high end designer, I would find an apprentice willing to learn the craft and have them apprentice with Kyri so at least one person could carry on.

  24. Laura permalink
    October 8, 2018

    I have had the pleasure of working with Kyri for a few years now and this is a beautiful article to sum him up! I have learnt so much from Kyri, Rosamanda is my favourite place to visit. Kyri is a an excellent craftsman and l have so much respect for him and his work.

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