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How Ruffles Are Gathered & Formed

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A photo of gathering done with basting stitches.

Gathering done with basting stitches.

Debbie Colgrove, Licensed to About.com

Your Goal in Sewing a Ruffle:

Ruffles and gathers have many different applications when you are sewing. Whether your making a ruffled pillow, adding ruffles to a straight curtain or adding a ruffle to the hem of a child's dress, having an even, full gather is essential.

A ruffle that does not have enough fullness will end up looking skimpy and as if it has tucks rather then even gathers.

Gathers do not have folds of fabric mixed with flat fabric. The gathering should be evenly distributed.

Choosing the Width of a Ruffle:

Choosing the width of the ruffle is your first decision.

The fabric you will be using will play a part in your decision. Is it sturdy enough to stay semi rigid with one layer or will it need two layers and possibly need interfacing?

Will the back side be seen so that you would want the back side of the ruffle to be as appealing as the front of the ruffle?

The size of the item you are adding a ruffle to will aid your decision. A size 12 month dress may only want a 1" wide ruffle, while a size 6, may want an 8" wide ruffle. A 14" pillow may look fine with a 2" ruffle but that same ruffle may look lost on a 24" pillow.

The Width of a Single Layer Ruffle:

A Single Layer Ruffle Once you have decided on the width of the finished ruffle, you will need to add seam and hem allowances.

  • For example:
    • If you want to add a 4" wide ruffle to your daughters dress.
    • You plan on adding the ruffle using a 1/2" seam.
    • You plan a 1/4" rolled hem. You will need a 1/2" to achieve this.
    • The formula for this example would be, 4" plus 1/2" plus 1/2" for a total need of a 5" wide strip of fabric.
    Always finish the hemmed edge before you gather the other edge.

The Width of a Double Layer Ruffle & Preperation:

In some cases you may want the correct side of the fabric to show on both edges of your ruffle, as on the edge of a pillow. You will need to allow fabric that is double the finished width of the ruffle and the seam allowances.

For example:

  • You want to add a 3" double sided ruffle.
  • You plan on using a 1/2" seam.
  • You will need 3" plus 1/2" for each side of the ruffle.
  • Being double sided: you will need 3 1/2" times two or a 7" wide strip.

Preperation of a Double Layer Ruffle :

After you have joined strips to the desired length, fold the strip in half lengthwise and press the fold. In most cases it is best to baste the edges and apply a zigzag or serged edge to prevent the raw edge from fraying as you work with the strip and gather it.

You will gather a doubled ruffle as if were one piece, working both layers of the gather together.

Deciding The Length of the Ruffle Fabric:

The more fullness a ruffle has, the richer your finished item will appear. Allow 2 to 3 times the the area you are attaching the ruffle to.

Allowing 2.5 times will usually give you a desirable ruffle. A very heavy fabric may require less length. A very thin fabric may require more length.

  • Measure the distance around the edge of what you are attaching the ruffle to.
  • Multiply that measurement to allow the desired fullness. For example; if the distance around the hem of a little girl dress is 40 inches, you will need 100 inches (40" times 2.5) or 120" (40" times 3) of fabric to ruffle.

Marking and Attaching Gathered Fabric:

To achieve an evenly placed gather, divide your gather and the area you will be attaching it to in at least four even sections.

For example: If the area you will be attaching the ruffle to is 100 inches around, make a mark or insert a straight pin every 25". The easiest way to mark the ruffle is to fold it in half and then in half again. Make a mark or insert a straight pin at the folds.

Sew using the gathering method of your choice.

Pin the ruffle and the area you are attaching it to at these marks. Tug your threads and smooth the ruffle to evenly fill the area.

Gathering Using Basting Stitches:

A smooth even ruffle can be achieved with rows of basting stitch on the seam allowance of your ruffle. Increase your stitch length to a basting stitch.
  • Make the first row of stitching, as close as possible to the seam line of your ruffle, but in the seam allowance.
  • Make a second row close to the first row in the seam allowance.
  • If at all possible, make a third row of stitching.
  • Always leave a thread tail on your rows of stitching.
  • Choose the upper thread or the bobbin thread, gently tugging the threads to gather the fabric.

Gathering Using A Zig Zag Stitch Over String Or Heavy Thread:

This method works exceptionally well on heavy fabric and home dec fabrics.
  • Use a wide setting on your sewing machine for your zig zag stitch. Lay a string or heavy thread on your fabric, centered under your presser foot, just inside the seam allowance from the seam line.
  • Zig zag over the centered string, being careful not to catch the string in the stitches.
  • Tug on the string to achieve your gathers. Make sure you don't pull the opposite end through in to your zig zag stitches.

Gathering Using a Ruffler Presser Foot:

A Ruffler Attachment is a special presser foot. It will ruffle the fabric as you sew it, keeping the ruffle perfectly even. This type of foot is available at your sewing machine dealer. The sealer will need the make and model of your machine to provide you with the correct ruffler foot.

I know that both of the ruffler attachment, that I have purchased came with very vague instructions. There are many different ways to achieve the results you want.

Most ruffler's have two different parts on them that are adjustable, and should be pointed to in the directions. By adjusting the stitch length you are able to control the adjustments further.

Always test the setting on a scrap of fabric that is the same as what you will be gathering. If you have allowed 2.5 times the fabric for a ruffle, cut a 12.5" scrap and make adjustments for the scrap to gather up to a 5" piece.

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