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Kyriacos Hadjikyriacou, Pleater

November 9, 2021
by the gentle author

A few places are available for my last-ever course HOW TO WRITE A BLOG THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ on November 20th & 21st. This is your final chance to come to Spitalfields and spend a weekend with me in an eighteenth century weaver’s house in Fournier St, enjoy delicious lunches from Leila’s Cafe, eat cakes baked to historic recipes by Townhouse and learn how to write your own blog. Email to book a place.

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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7 Responses leave one →
  1. Annie S permalink
    November 9, 2021

    What an amazing talent!
    I looked at the photos on his website – beautiful fabrics.

  2. November 9, 2021

    wonderful man..oh the glorious world of textiles ( and serious fashion)…..

  3. November 9, 2021

    What a talent this man has 🙂 I learned folding techniques with paper at ArtSchool and used in my exam-work; the pleats in the blue silk shirt look a lot like the technique I used for one of of my pieces. At the time I was amazed that you could create 3d pieces with paper through folding. I love all the blogs about wonderful craftsman you find in London 🙂

  4. Alex Knisely permalink
    November 10, 2021

    And no apprentices . . .

    From my sister, to whom I forwarded your essay — “Thanks so much for sending. This is the most delightful profile I’ve seen in a long time. I like the tidbit about being told to push a wheelbarrow. And obviously everything about his work and his shop.”

  5. Suzanne Fielding permalink
    November 10, 2021

    I wish I could learn how to do this. What a great man Kyri is!
    Thanks GA for sharing this blog post. Thoroughly enjoyed reading about his life and work. An amazing experience for me, a lover of textiles. To see the lost art of British textiles in the 21 century is wonderful and I agree with Kyri’s philosophy why retire if it’s something you love! All I can say is thanks Kyri you’re keeping fashion alive!

  6. Jill permalink
    November 11, 2021

    Beautiful Pleats.

  7. November 16, 2021

    What a wonderful skill. No mention of passing on those skills though when Kyri is no longer able to carry on, which I find rather sad.

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