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No-Sew DIY: How to Make a Pleated Fabric Lampshade

Traditional living room with blue block print pleated fabric lampshade fabric

Pleated lampshades are really having their moment in the spotlight (first and only lamp pun in this post, I swear) and we're very here for it. These shades were once all the rage in the Victorian era, and have since had varying levels of popularity. There's rouched pleats, paper pleats (hello 1970s), and box pleats. We're going to be talking through a variation of the box pleat, which in my opinion, looks the most "professional." Here are some examples of a box pleat:

Pleated lampshades are pretty pricey ($150+) and for good reason. I would've happily paid an Etsy artisan if I had been able to find one in a print I wanted. I was looking for something navy (or rust) with a block print and a subtle stripe. Tall order it turns out, but then I found this fabric from Amazon. $31 to jazz up two large lampshades? Count me in.

If you're not sold on making your own - there are a TON of good options on the market right now. Check out these retailers for really bespoke and lovely pleated lampshades:

Well, once again, my neuroses are your gain! Here's a fairly easy (but admittedly tedious) no-sew tutorial for making a pleated fabric lampshade.

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Normally I would say "use what you have", but if you don't have a fabric rotary cutter, you'll want one to make sure you use one instead of scissors. You'll need your fabric strips (future pleats!) to be fairly precise.

All ya need is :

  1. an Iron

  2. a Hot Glue Gun and Glue Sticks - I like this glue gun that miraculously doesn't drip

  3. a Rotary Cutter & Mat

  4. Fabric

  5. Any old lampshade!

Here's what I'll be tackling for the class today. You can see this lampshade is a bit more complex, so do as I say and not as I do - for your first try, I'd pick something in a more simple cone shape.

Picking a Fabric

Picking a fabric, for me was actually the hardest bit of all this. After truly weeks of deliberating and some trial and error, here's what I recommend looking for:

Pattern: A pattern that repeats every 1 - 1.5 inches - or a "1 inch Repeat." Because your pleats will be about this size, you'll want the pattern of the fabric to repeat on about the same cadence. A sweet gingham is also really nice with this method!

Color: For your first go, a darker fabric may be more forgiving and hide any rogue hot glue marks more easily. I know it's hard to believe but my lamps recovered in 60 dark navy pleats still emit a nice glow!

However, something with a white base will provide the most light to pass through your shade.

Here's some fabrics that would be lovely. All ~$20 for 5 yards, which is typically enough for two shades!

Fabric Type: A lightweight cotton is going to be your best bet. Anything else, like a linen, will be too heavy for the lampshade once you start adding glue and won't let a ton of light through.

How much fabric will you need? Great q. These are the components you'll need to account for:

  1. Fabric strips to create your pleats

  2. New fabric trim pieces for the top rim and base (p.s. how fun would it be for the trim to be a different fabric? That's next up on my list)

With these two components in mind, plug-in the dimensions of your lampshade and the width of the fabric you're eyeing (every yard of fabric has a width, usually between 42" - 60") and our calculator will tell you how many yards of fabric you'll need for this "box" pleated shade tutorial.

Step 1: Strip your lampshade

Remove the existing fabric from your lamp shade **being very careful to maintain the inner lining of your shade. If it tears or pulls back a bit, you can always clean it up with some glue. I'd recommend only doing this tutorial on a lamp that has a inner lining.

Lamphade DIY: removing the lining

Step 2: Cut your fabric strips

The calculator above will give you the recommended length and width for your fabric strips. I wanted a 1" pleat so I my strips were 2.5" inches wide. Take your desired pleat size and multiply it x 2.5, as your strips will be folded in on themselves next.

First, cut the fabric along the width in the length you'll need. The length, from your calculator ^^ , is the height of your lampshade + a 0.5" margin on each side.

Once you have a wide piece, cut your strips. Proceed with this process until you have enough strips. And you guessed it, the recommended number of strips is in your calculator. But may vary based on how precise you are with your cuts.

Step 3: Pleat your fabric strips with an iron

Take you fabric strips and fold them in on themselves so the outer edges meet in the middle.

Then, take your iron and gently press the back of the fabric strip on the folded edges until you have a nice crispyyy strip

Step 4: Glue your pleated strips to your lampshade

Now the fun part - hot gluing your now pleated fabric strips to the lampshade. Start with two dabs on the top of the strip, wrap it over the top rim of the lamp by ~ 0.5", pull tautly, then dab-dab-glue and secure to the base.

You'll want the pleats on the top rim to overlap about 50%, or said differently - glue the next pleat halfway on the one prior to it. Then ever so slightly fan the bottom of the pleat out so that it's covering about 20% of it's neighbor.

This is not an exact science (again, there are real artisans for this), so measure with your heart! I promise it'll still be fun.

One last tip on gluing - I like to try to orient my pattern vertically and horizontally so that there's some consistency in the pattern between pleats. It creates a nice stripe affect, but it's not necessary! I wasn't able to maintain the stripe all the way around the lampshade on my mine, so, yolo.

Step 5: Cut and glue trim pieces

This is the point where coffee came into play. Starting to loose steam but persevere - this part is quick! Grab the trim pieces you timidly ripped off in Step 1 and use them to determine the length of a pieces of fabric you'll need for new trim.

To determine the width will really be based on personal preference. I think, again, 0.5" margin's are nice. I did 4" fabric strips, pleated (folded + ironed) to 2". I did 0.5" on the exterior rim and 1.5" on the interior (since I wasn't super clean tbh on my clueing I wanted to hide it with some extra fabric).

Reap the fruits of your labor

I can't tell you how happy I am that I stuck to my guns on the color and pattern I was looking for and decided to tackle this myself. It adds the perfect amount of depth and contrast with my white linen curtains and is just the right amount of whimsy.

I would love love love to hear if this was helpful! If you this tutorial, my one requirement is that you share you beautiful creations we me!!

Halie Porter
Founder of Swann Street Interiors
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