Back before the CPSA legislation went into effect, I used to make all kinds of ruffly, twirly, girly dresses, pants, jumpers, pinafores, tops, and even ruffled and appliqued jeans. That was great fun, especially since I had been doing that kind of sewing for many years, and I was also sewing for our two girls anyway. I discovered that there were lots of other moms and grandmas who liked to buy all that feminine stuff for their own little girls. Eventually I decided to write up my ideas and designs into eBook patterns so that instead of ME doing all the sewing, I could help other moms do the sewing themselves. That has been great fun and quite successful, with several of my eBook patterns available for purchase at YouCanMakeThis.com
Now that there are all of the legal hurdles and obstacles to overcome if one wants to continue to design / create / sew items for children under 12 years old, I just can't be bothered with all of that bureaucracy . . . . so, since I love to write my eBooks and apparently there are a few moms out here who want to learn how to make some of my designs, that will be the best way for me to pursue my love of designing and sewing - and of course, I LOVE to write and chat with anyone who wants to learn how to sew for their children! One of the questions that I have gotten fairly frequently is on the topic of making those yards and yards of ruffles that everyone seems to want to put on everything.
I have put together a simple ruffle tutorial, but of course, it will depend completely upon the type of sewing machine you have. If you have been a seamstress for very long, you probably either have a machine that has a specially fitted ruffler foot, or you have purchased a generic ruffler foot for your machine. Or, perhaps you have learned how to do ruffles without a ruffler foot . . . . so this tutorial is really for anyone who is a beginner at making ruffles and just doesn't quite know where to start.
The old-fashioned way that I have always made ruffles is to run a long, running stitch down the length of the fabric that I want to make into a ruffle. The easiest way to do this, I have found, is to cut a length of fabric TWICE as wide as you want the finished ruffle to be, plus 1/2" for seam allowances, and the length should be approximately 1 /2 - 2 times the length of the finished ruffle you want to create.
Now, for simplicity, I typically just cut a strip of fabric off of one end of my fabric . . . . . unless I need a REALLY long ruffle (which you will need if you are putting a ruffle all around the hemline of a dress or skirt, for instance) in which case I will cut two or three strips of fabric off of the end of my piece of fabric, DOUBLE the width I want for my finished ruffle, plus the seam allowance of 1/2". So, that would look like this: One strip of fabric, approximately 5" wide and 42" long (typically the distance ACROSS the end of a piece of fabric), would make a finished ruffle approximately 2" wide by 21" - 30" long (with 1/2" seam allowance taken from each side of the strip when folded in half lengthwise). OR, two or three strips of fabric, each 5" wide and 42" long, stitched together end-to-end to make one, long strip, approximately 4" wide and 84" - 126" long.
Then, fold the strip of fabric in half, lengthwise, so your strip is now 2 1/2" wide, and press. Of course, if you want a wider ruffle, just make your strip wider by the measurement you want added, just be sure to keep the 1/2" seam allowance for each side of the folded strip. Now, it depends on whether you want a finished edge ruffle or a raw edge ruffle when you decide where to begin your stitching!
If you want a finished edge ruffle, you will stitch along the RAW edges (folded together) of your strip, with a running, straight stitch (often called a "gathering" stitch), with the setting on your machine for the longest stitch available. On my machine, that is a length setting of 5.0 on a scale of 0.0 - 5.0, and "normal" being 2.5 - 3.0. Run this row of stitching all along the length of your strip of fabric, approximately 1/4" from the RAW edge, from beginning to the end of the strip.
It is helpful in the beginning if you run TWO rows of stitching along the edge of the strip of fabric, very close to each other but not touching, so that when you pull the gathering stitches up to create the ruffle, you will have a "back-up" thread to pull in case one of the threads breaks. Eventually, however, you should be able to do this technique with just one row of stitching . . . . when you get a feel for how firmly you can pull on the threads without breaking them! If you are doing a VERY long strip of fabric into a ruffle, you might want to start and stop the gathering stitch at the end of each section of your strip. That way, you are more likely to be able to pull the stitches into a ruffle without breaking them.
Or, if you want a raw edge ruffle, simply reverse the placement of the rows of the long, running, gathering stitch, and place the stitching 1/4" from the FOLDED edge of the strip of fabric. Then, once you have your row(s) of gathering stitches running all along one edge of your folded strip of fabric, be sure to leave a few inches of thread on either end for pulling to create the ruffled effect you are looking for. You can create ruffles that are just slightly gathered, to ruffles that are generously full, or you can create ruffles that are tight and almost "curly" simply by adjusting how closely and tightly you pull the threads.
It is helpful to tie the threads together on one end, then pull the threads from the other end until you get the look you want, and then adjust the fullness to accommodate the garment to which you will be stitching the ruffle. That is one major advantage to doing ruffles the "old-fashioned" way. You can adjust the length of the ruffle to fit whatever you are working with when you create ruffles this way.
Using a ruffler foot is so much easier and quicker, but you will get a uniform "gathering" on your ruffle (which is a good thing!) but the finished ruffle might not be exactly the length that you need for your garment, and then you will just need to finish the ends differently than you will when you gather your ruffles using this "old-fashioned" technique. Of course, this really isn't the OLD "old-fashioned" way to make ruffles . . . . you can also make them by running a long, gathering stitch all along the edge of your strip of fabric by hand-stitching, but using the machine for your gathering stitch really does work great!
You can also do a double-edge ruffle by using the same technique, but stitching your long, running, gathering stitch down the MIDDLE of a strip of fabric. You could even layer two or three strips of fabric, run the stitching down the middle of the layered strips for a really full double-edge ruffle. It really just depends on what you are making and the look you want to achieve. The finished edge, folded fabric ruffle is perfect for trimming the hemline of a skirt, jumper, or dress, or even the hemline of a t-top or blouse, and the hemlines of the legs of jeans.
The raw edge, folded fabric ruffle is cute for embellishing items along a seamline or down the front of a blouse, or perhaps even down the outer leg seam of a pair of jeans. Another way that I want to try the double-edge ruffle is on a hemline. I think it would be a fun addition to a skirt, instead of the more traditiional, finished edge ruffles. In this picture, I have used the double-edge ruffle along the neckline of a top and then brought it down the front. I then used the folded, raw edge ruffle (made from a lightweight polyester fabric so it will not ravel or fray) to make a double-rosette that I attached just below the double-edged ruffle at the neckline.
Now, if you want to use a ruffler foot, it is important to get one that is made for YOUR machine. My first ruffler foot was a generic make that was made to work on most any machine, and it did a great job. But I wore it out! The generic type is not very expensive, and can be purchased at a fabric store or online sewing store. When I got my Bernina machine, I purchased the ruffler foot that was made specifically for that particular machine and it was much sturdier and easier to attach than my first one. . . . . . but I have now worn that one out, too! So, I'm in the market for a new ruffler foot!
The ruffler foot is a little gadget that attaches in place of the regular presser foot on your sewing machine. The simple version (because I'm not a sewing machine expert or a mechanical genius) is that you run the your folded strip of fabric through the ruffler foot and a little lever pushes another little doo-dad at various intervals, causing a small fold of fabric to slide under the needle when it comes down, thus creating a tiny tuck in the fabric. This can be set to "tuck" every 12 stitches, every 6 stitches, every single stitch, and so on, depending on the type of ruffler foot you have.
The tucks, or little gathers, are very uniform and this process is very quick and easy . . . . until your ruffler foot breaks, and then you have to revert to the "old-fashioned" method, like I have been doing for the past two weeks since mine just kind of went on strike. Here are some links to places you can purchase a ruffler foot, but you might want to give the "old-fashioned" technique a try, just in case you ever have to use it!
So, there is a quick look at some ways to create all those ruffles. Later this week, I will post the tutorial for finishing off the ends of your ruffles, both for the ruffles you make with the ruffler foot as well as for the ruffles you create using the "old-fashioned" technique. Just remember, there are a million and one different ways that seamstresses have been doing these kinds of things over the centuries, and this is just what has worked for me. I'm sure the professional designers and those who create the couture designs for "Project Runway" might frown on my down-home, "I figured it out myself" techniques, but if you are wanting to sew for your family and don't have the time or the opportunity to go to college to learn how to make a dress for your 4 year old . . . . the simple little tricks that this Mama has been using for a long time really do work quite well!
Please email me if you have any questions, and I'll do my best to answer and help you figure out whatever it is that you are working on. I'm off to finish up the eBook on making those fun little aprons, so come on back later this week so you can make an apron for yourself and maybe one for the little one at your house. Chat soon, N