How to Sew Ruffles for a Garment

How to Sew Ruffles

Ruffles are one of the key trends this season adding a hint of feminine detail to any garment. Here are our top tips for sewing them, using a gathering foot, attaching them to a garment and some of our favourite ruffle riddled sewing patterns. Whether you want to customise an existing garment or create something new ruffles will up the prettiness stakes and bring it bang up to date.

Methods for Sewing Ruffles

Gathering Stitches

Sewing ruffles using gathering stitches is quick, easy and doesn't require any special equipment.

Simply set your stitch length to 5 and sew a row of stitches 1/4" from the raw edge of the fabric leaving a good length of thread at either end.

Sew a second row of stitches 1/4" away from the first row.

Two Rows of Parallel Stitches

Gently pull the two bottom threads on one side to start gathering the fabric. Take care not to pull the threads out of the other end. You can tie a knot or back stitch at one end to avoid this. However, if it is a long length of fabric you will get better results if you can gather from both ends.

Gently Pulling Gathering Stitches

This method will give you nice, even ruffles.

It is possible to create ruffles with a single row of stitches. This is slightly quicker, but the gathers won't be as uniform and evenly distributed.

If you do decide to use the single row of stitches you will need to pull the top thread on both sides or the bottom thread on both sides. If you pull the top on one side and the bottom on the other the fabric will get stuck and you won't be able to create the gathers. We would argue it is worth the extra minute or two it takes to sew another row of stitches.

Using a Gathering Foot

As always there is a sewing machine foot you can use that does all the hard work for you. Using a gathering foot* is super easy.

Simply place your fabric under the gathering foot as normal and adjust the stitch length to vary the fullness of the gathers. The longer the stitch length the more full the gathers.

The only draw back with this method is you don't have as much control over the finished ruffle length. Once you have sewn it you can't really manipulate it as you can in the previous method.

If you are prepared to have a practice with some scraps of fabric this problem is easily overcome. Measure the fabric pre gathers and post gathers to see how much it reduces in length.

You can also gather one piece of fabric whilst attaching it to another piece that remains flat by using a gathering foot.

Place the fabric you wish to be gathered under the presser foot and slide the fabric you wish to remain flat between the two plates on the presser foot. As you stitch the bottom fabric will gather and be attached to the fabric on the top, which remains flat.

(*We have a range of sewing machine accessories on our site for many makes and model of machine. Always remember to check the compatibility charts for your specific machine).

Other Methods

It is also possible to create gathers by adjusting the tension and stitch length on your sewing machine. However, we never advise adjusting the tension on your machine unless absolutely necessary so would suggest one of our preferred methods above.

For experienced, confident sewers pushing the fabric under the foot as it goes will create gathers, a technique Angela used to use when making wedding dresses. However, you have less control with this method than the options listed above which are also easier.

Creating Ruffles on an Overlocker

You can buy gathering feet for certain makes and model of overlocker. They work in the same way as the sewing machine foot I demonstrated in the video above.

If you don't have a gathering foot for your overlocker the easiest way to create ruffles is to sew a four thread overlock along the edge of the fabric.

Find the right needle thread (this runs down the middle of the overlocking stitches).

Gently pull the right needle thread to create the gathers.

Pulling Overlocker Needle Thread to Create Gathers

Creating a Ruffled Edge Finish on an Overlocker

You can also create a ruffled edge finish on your overlocker. This method is particularly useful when working with stretch fabrics, although can be used for other fabric types too. Here is a neckline where Angela used this finish and it can also be added at the hem and sleeves.

Ruffled Edge Finish on an Overlocker

Set your overlocker up for a three thread rolled hem, move the differential feed down and sew in the direction with the most stretch.

The fabric should be wavy as it comes out of the overlocker. Exaggerate the effect by gently stretching along the fluted edge.

I shared a video of this method in an earlier blog post, which you can see here. It is the last video in the post.

Always test on scraps of fabric first.

Tips on Ruffles for Garments

Length and Width of Fabric

When creating a ruffle for a specific garment you will need to carefully consider the length and width you would like it to be.

Choosing the width simply depends on how deep you would like the ruffle to be. If you want a small delicate ruffle 1" wide cut your fabric 1" wide plus your seam allowance and any hem allowance. If you sew the gathering stitches within the seam allowance when attaching the ruffle you can remove them once attached.

Choosing the length is slightly more difficult, but a good general rule of thumb is to cut your fabric 2-3 times the finished length you want the ruffle to be. If you want a very full, gathered ruffle go more towards three times the finished length. If you want less fullness lean more towards two times the finished length. As always the best way to ensure the right results is to have a practice with a scrap of fabric first.

Cut on the Straight or on the Bias

If you cut your fabric strips with the length on the straight of grain the ruffles will be less flouncy than if you cut the strips on the bias.

Some sewing patterns also create a ruffled effect by cutting a spiral of fabric such as this Kwik Sew pattern. When you straighten the fabric out it forms ruffles. You could attempt to self draft this effect, but it can be very difficult to get it right.

Finishing the Exposed Edge

If adding ruffles by sewing them into the seam allowance the opposite edge of the ruffle will need finishing (unless using the overlocker method listed above where the ruffle is created with a three thread rolled hem).

The edge finish needs to be delicate in keeping with the feminine ruffle effect. The quickest and easiest methods are to three thread overlock the edge of the fabric, press up and stitch in place...

Narrow Hem Finish on an Overlocker

Or to create a narrow hem by pressing the raw edge up 1/4" and again by 1/4".

Attaching Ruffles to a Garment

There is oodles on inspiration on the high street right now for where to add those ruffles. Round necklines, on cuffs, down sleeves, along princess seams, yokes, along hems, either side of a placket on a shirt or blouse - anything goes! Just think about the width and length tips above and get creative.

When attaching the ruffles it is a good idea to make sure they are evenly distributed.

To do this mark the centre point of your ruffle fabric (pre gathering) and the centre point of the fabric you will be attaching it to.

Place the fabrics on top of one another aligning the centre points.

Aligning the Centre Points of Ruffle and Fabric

Match up the ends of the fabric and pin them together.

Create your gathers between the pins and they will be evenly distributed.

Distributing Ruffles or Gathers Evenly on a Garment

If the seam is very long quarter the fabric and sew separate parallel rows of gathering stitches in each quarter then apply the same principles.

When attaching the ruffles sew from the side with the gathers so you can make sure they don't get caught.

Our Favourite Ruffle Sewing Patterns

Here are just a few of our favourite ruffle inspired patterns available on our site. There are plenty more too, especially in the 'new season' sections of the website.

Ruffled Sewing Patterns

Vogue 9243

New Look 6490

McCalls 7542

Simplicity 8335

Have fun sewing!


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