Making a ruffle (aka gathering) is a basic sewing technique that you can use a million different ways once you know how to do it.
There are a lot of ways to ruffle or gather. In this tutorial, I create the ruffle as I sew, instead of gathering the fabric ahead of time. It takes some practice to be able to create even gathers, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a quick way to do it.
I want to add a ruffled hem to the bottom of a dress. The first thing I need to do is determine how much fabric I need for my ruffle.
How much fabric I need for the ruffle depends on 1. the width of the bottom of the dress and 2. how full I want the ruffle.
Laying flat, the bottom is 20″ wide, which means it’s 40″ wide total.
Now I need to choose and prepare the fabric for my ruffle. I’m using a contrasting fabric, but you can use something that matches the rest of your dress/skirt/etc. if you want.
For a hem like this, you need at least two times the width of the bottom of the dress for the ruffle. I have cut two 4″ long strips of the ruffle fabric. Each strip is 40″ wide, giving me a total of 80″ for the ruffle fabric. Which is… that’s right! Double the measurement of the hem.
40″ (width of the bottom of the dress) x 2 = 80″ (width of ruffle fabric needed)
Doubling the fabric for the ruffle works very well for ruffles like this that aren’t very long. If you were going to make a dress with a 15″ long ruffled hem, I would suggest tripling the bottom measurement instead of doubling.
Obviously, the more width you give the ruffle, the fuller the ruffle will be. It will also be heavier, so keep that in mind.
Now, sew together however many pieces of ruffle fabric required to get the width you need and hem it. Or serge it. Or trim it with lace. Whatever you prefer! I now have one 80″ long loop of ruffle fabric, hemmed and ready to ruffle!
To get even gathering around the whole hem with the least amount of work, we need to divide the bottom into 8 equal sections.
Start at the sides, and mark each side with a pin.
Now line up those pins and mark the center front and center back with pins.
You now have 4 equal quadrants. Complete the octopod by placing 4 more pins at the halfway points between the previously pinned spots.
Why eight, you ask? Because it’s pretty manageable that way. To be honest, I usually only do 4. GASP!
Just find whatever works best for you. If the bottom was much wider, I might divide it into even more sections.
Now repeat the 8 point pinning process on the ruffle fabric.
Now we start lining up the pins!
Pay attention to the seams on your ruffle fabric. I only have 2 seams, so it makes the most sense to line them up with the side seams of the dress. If you have more seams, try to arrange it in a way that doesn’t have a seam right in the front of your ruffle.
Continue matching the pins of the two pieces together, making sure to pin Right Sides Together.
Obviously, there will be more ruffle fabric than dress fabric, so just mush it out of the way as you pin.
Here we are, all pinned together. Now we’re ready to sew!
Time for the fun part!
I’m using a serger, but a regular sewing machine will work just fine.
Make sure the fabric at the bottom edge of the dress is nice and flat.
Take up some of the slack of the ruffle fabric, and fold it. Just a small fold, like a 1/4″ or so.
Stick that fold under the sewing machine foot and start sewing!
The goal is the get all of the extra ruffle fabric between each set of pins gathered evenly into that area. Just keep making little folds with the ruffle fabric until you get to another pin. When you get to a pin, take it out and keep sewing. Remember to make sure that the dress fabric is laying flat under those ruffles and folds!
Keep the folds and tucks small, 1/4″ to 1/2″ and leave some space in between the folds. (If you tripled the ruffle fabric for the hem, you can smush the folds closer together.)
When you get back to where you started sewing, backstitch or chain off, completing the seam.
Well… you’re done!
I’ve received some questions about the layered ruffles, and in hindsight, should have included this in the first place. Duh!
Several people have asked if the layers are all stacked on top of one another. The answer is no.
You can do it that way, and basically sew it as one giant monster layered ruffle. It’s less work, in some ways. It also takes quite a bit more fabric, it’s heavier, and it makes a majorly bulky seam, especially if you’re talking 3 and 4 layers. There are some applications where you would, for various reasons, want to do it this way.
I sew each ruffle separately onto the bottom of the dress in stripes. Each layer overlaps the one underneath it, which gives the illusion of a stacked ruffle.
To do it, I mark the bottom like so:
My guidelines are about 3 inches apart. You’ll want the ruffles to be long enough to hang over the layer below by at least 1/2″ AND long enough to hem AND long enough for some seam allowance at the top. So add 2 inches to be safe and make them 5 inches long.
After that, you pin and sew them the same way you did the bottom layer- just pretend each guide line is the bottom edge of the dress.
Note: The additional ruffles have to be sewn on with a regular sewing machine (or a coverstitch, but NOT an overlock).
If the part of the dress you’re sewing the ruffles to fits fairly loose around your hips, you can use a straight stitch. If it will fit tightly or needs to stretch, use a zig-zag.
Remember Right Sides Together. You’ll pin the ruffle so it’s upside down, with the unfinished edge lined up with your guideline. Sew and ruffle, remembering to keep an even seam allowance. When you’re done, flip it down and you’ve got two layers!
Repeat as many times as you want for as many layers as you want.