Sugimoto Pleats – factory visit

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I had the opportunity to visit Sugimoto Pleats factory the other day. It is located in Hachioji, just 40 km West of the Center of Tokyo. Hachioji used to be a bustling silk town, but the generation after the war didn’t want to follow in their parents footsteps, and a lot of the factories closed down.

There is a sulfur smell in the pleating room. I ask what it is and I get an explanation about the structural make up of natural fibers vs synthetic, and still no answer about the smell. Basically, natural fibers have little nodes on them, little bumps that want to keep the fiber in it’s original, natural shape, so they tend to bounce back out of the pleats after setting. That is why you always need to iron woolen pleats after every washing. Synthetic, essentially plastic fibers are simply long strands that are easily manipulated. I found out later that the sulfur smell was  a catalyst agent they add to the fabric to help it set the pleats. Of course.

The black fabric on the left has been pleated once horizontally, then sent through the machine again to be pleated vertically. It’s a famous method explored by Issey Miyake, and this factory produces copies :D

IMG_0088The leftover paper after machine pleating. Such a waste!IMG_0098
The pleating machine doing it’s thing
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The pleat pattern design and plotting machine. Even if these are done by machine, the paper still needs to be folded by hand.

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The Hand-pleating process:

What are these crazy folded pieces of cardboard?? This is how they make pleats. Each of these resin-laden sheets of paper are designed, printed, then folded BY HAND, which often takes a whole day for one piece. They eventually act as the pattern piece for the folds in the pleat design. The fabric is sandwiched between two identically folded pieces of paper like this, rolled up or laid flay and steamed to set the pleats. Each paper pattern can be used many many many many times.

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