How to Sew a Ruffled Hem the Easy Way

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.


Step 1

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.

Step 1

Step 2

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!

Step 2

Step 3

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.


Step 3

Step 4

Now line up those pins and mark the center front and center back with pins.

Step 4

Step 4 (cont'd)

Step 5

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.

Step 5
Step 5

Step 6

Now repeat the 8 point pinning process on the ruffle fabric.

Step 6

Step 7

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.

Step 7

Step 7 (cont'd)

Step 8

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.

Step 8

Step 8 (cont'd)

Step 9

Here we are, all pinned together. Now we’re ready to sew!

Step 9

Step 10

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.

Step 10

Take up some of the slack of the ruffle fabric, and fold it. Just a small fold, like a 1/4″ or so.


Step 10 (cont'd)

Stick that fold under the sewing machine foot and start sewing!

Step 10 (cont'd)

Step 11

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.)

Step 11

Fold, hold, sew.

Pinch, smush, sew.
Pinch, smush, sew.

Mash and sew.

Let's admire some of that gathering.

Keep going...

Until you get...

Back to where you started.

Pinch and fold one last time.

When you get back to where you started sewing, backstitch or chain off, completing the seam.

Step 12

Well… you’re done!

ruffle from the wrong side

nice and flat on the other side


Closeup of the ruffled hem

I added 3 more rows of ruffles to finish the dress.

You can use the same technique to make layers of ruffles.


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:

Mark like so for 3 more layers of ruffles

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.

Sewing the second layer

dress by SmarmyClothes.com

39 thoughts on “How to Sew a Ruffled Hem the Easy Way

  1. Hi, thanks sooo much for this tutorial!! It explained alot to me, but I have a question about adding more rufffles. To do the bottom hem ruffles w/ the serger is easy w/ the serger but how do you add all the other ruffles layers? Did you do it w/ a regular sewing maching and just straight stitch across? or w/ a serger? if with serger how is that done? I’ve been trying to figure it out butt can’t , b// wouldn’t it cut the fabric etc?
    THanks soo much again!

    1. You’re welcome, Mel!
      The additional ruffles have to be sewn on with a regular sewing machine. You could also use a coverstitch machine if you have one, but I think the sewing machine is easier.

      I usually use a straight stitch, but if you’re sewing the ruffles to a very stretchy fabric like lycra OR if you need the area to stretch significantly (like it fits tightly over the hips), I would use a zig zag.

      Thanks for pointing that out, I will add it to the tutorial! Sometimes I forget to mention stuff like that. πŸ˜€

  2. I love this, I’m going to try it in a little bit. Your site smarmyclothes.com was the inspiration to me sewing. I wasn’t interested in sewing until I saw all the awesome clothes you’ve made. Of course i’m all about making clothes for me =). I wanted to say thank you & you’re so amazing for what you do!!!

  3. ok so are you able to do this without a sewing machine?? i am about to make a dress of that style and i just want to know

  4. LOVE THIS TUTORIAL!!! saves me so much time. still perfecting the “smushing” i’d like to make it look more random than a perfect 1/4 inch pleat. any suggestions??

    1. Try to make the direction of the pleats random. So instead of making all of them lay towards you, or making them alternate towards and then away, make 2 lay towards, 1 away, 1 towards, 3 away, etc.

  5. Thanks for this tutorial. I googled “how to make a ruffled hem,” and voila!!! I’m so glad I found your blog… you explain everything so simply. I’m going to attempt this in a little while. Love the pinch, smush, sew technique!

  6. I’m curious, i’m trying to use this on a doll dress, but when I sew on the ruffles this way, and try to bend them back down into place the point up the direction the were sewen onto because the fabric is a bit stiffer cotton. Are there alternative ways to do this look with a stiffer fabric?

    1. Hi Cassy!
      You can hem both edges of the ruffle fabric, and then sew it on top of the garment. So instead of sewing the ruffle’s RIGHT side to the RIGHT side of the fabric and then flipping it over, you’re sewing the WRONG side of the ruffle to the RIGHT side of the ruffle. And no flipping. I hope that makes sense!

  7. Wow, this is great! It looks like it would be really complicated, but it’s actually pretty easy.

    Keep the tutorials coming!

  8. Thanks so much for this tutorial! I love your site, its been helping me a lot. Im learning how to sew and I your site it very helpful. πŸ™‚

  9. Hi, If you wanted to make the dress longer can I sew an extra piece of fabric to bottom of t-shirt?? I am thinking I need to follow the line of the shirt. Would I make the extra piece the same width of shirt or a little wider? I hope you understand what I am trying to say… Thanks

  10. Wow..So after countless hours, frustration, and ruined fabric, I somehow stumbled upon this tutorial and made figured out how to make ruffles within 20 minutes…Thank you so much <3…

  11. Thanks for the awesome tutorial! For that “hem” on the bottom of each ruffle layer, which setting on the machine does that? I’m guessing it’s a certain stitch?

    1. It’s the standard stitch on an overlocker/serger. You could try to imitate it with a narrow width zig-zag stitch on a regular sewing machine.

  12. Wonderful tute! You explain everything in simple terms a novice seamstress can understand. To many sites are worded for experienced hands.

  13. I found this while trying to work on a costume for a friend, and after searching for hours online for a decent tutorial I finally found this one. This has been a great help to me and my project so thanks a lot for the guide. :3

  14. I loved your tutorial on sewing ruffles on a skirt. Time saving and very clever.

    I want to do the same thing at the bottom of my jeans. I want 3 ruffles but don’t know what size to make the inserts for the ruffles or what sizes to make the ruffles. Then I have to cut off the right amount off the bottom of the leg. Can you tell me how to figure all this our out. I want the bottom ruffle to touch the top of my foot.

    Thanks you,

    1. Hi Sandra-
      When I’m doing a project like this, I find it’s most helpful to sketch it “to scale” on draft paper. That way I can figure out how big the ruffles need to be to account for overlapping the layer underneath, etc.

    1. The standard serger stitch allows stretch- nothing special needed. If you’re using a standard sewing machine AND you’re using stretch fabrics AND this part of the garment needs to stretch, then you’d be best off using a zig-zag stitch (or other stretch stitch, if your machine has other options).

  15. Hiya Lex, your instructions are so clear, thank you, and also the photos all easy to understand. I make doll’s clothes and on a 16″ bjd doll (similar to Barbie)I have to sew my ruffles onto the skirt laid flat and do the back seam later. I don’t like to then catch up all the ruffles within the seam, but have to seam each ruffle separately, time consuming with trying to also sew each piece of seam on the underskirt. I’m never really satisfied with the result. Can you advise please? Thanks.

    1. Hi Sally!
      What part of it is unsatisfactory?
      Off the top of my head, if I were going to sew the ruffles to something flat that and then sew that back seam later, I think I might do something like this (which might be what you’re already doing):

      Sew each ruffle to the skirt, leave about 1/2″ at each end unsewn. You’ll also want to leave extra ruffle fabric on either end for gathering later.
      Sew up the back seam.
      Seam each ruffle, and then gather the remaining fabric, and sew it down to the skirt.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *