Am I done yet? Ugh! The never ending strip of fabric kept coming over the ironing board edge where I was hunched over pressing and pressing up one long edge for a hem.
Have you made a petticoat and just gone crazy with getting the thing decorated with ruffles? Or do you shy away from even attempting a ruffled petticoat because the ruffles get the better of you?
Use these tips the next time you sew a petticoat for smooth sailing through the waves of gathers & pleats.
Ruffles are really simple. Really. Think about it –
1. You cut strips of fabric and piece them together (basic seam, no problem).
2. Then you hem one long edge (lots of variations here but still not too hard).
3. Next you gather up the other long edge (ok, this might launch some people into orbit).
4. Finally you pin and attach the ruffle to your petticoat or skirt or bodice or whatever and stitch down. (And here’s where we lose people.)
I’ve been sewing ruffles since I was about 12. I LOVE ruffles! There’s just something romantic and girl-y about them… and Victorian.
It was that overly challenging project I just HAD to sew – a dropped-waist bodice with long sleeves and a skirt comprised of three tiers of VERY full gathered ruffles (think square dance skirt).
Yep. That was me and my grandmother on step 3 and 4 stretched across her back room – all 17 feet of it – with each tier in a loop we were trying to gather up to fit the hem of the one above it. We laughed ourselves silly it was so long.
But I loved it. Too bad the dress has been lost to time for I dearly cherished it. I made that dress before I could even hand tack the bias hemmed edges at the wrists, neck, and yes, the bottom ruffle hem.
I’ve learned quite a bit since that ruffle wrestling. Ruffles, despite their incessant length, go together quite effortlessly.
Let’s take, for example, a plain, mid-19th Century ruffled petticoat with one deep ruffle (or flounce – which is just a deep ruffle). The tips here can be applied to most ruffles but we’ll discuss a simple garment to learn the essence of Royal Ruffles.
Step 1: Cutting the Strips
Measure the line on your petticoat skirt where you’ll sew the ruffle on. Depending on the silhouette you want, multiply the line measurement by 1 ½ to 3 times. I usually go with double (x2). This figure is how many inches you’ll need to cut, or how long your ruffle needs to be before gathering.
The ruffle strip width is from the stitch line down to the hem (maybe a ½” below but not more than that) plus allowance for a hem and top fold-down.
Use a long ruler to draw cutting lines straight across your fabric or use a rotary cutter & ruler to cut the strips. Keep the lines perpendicular to the selvedge/grainline.
Keep the selvedges intact and piece your strips together to equal your measurement.
Step 2: Hem One Edge
For a period correct petticoat hem, turn up the raw edge, press and turn up again. Sew down. This is called a double hem.
This is where it can take FOREVER to finish. I usually press that first edge up along the whole length of ruffle then go back and press the second fold.
This regular, consistent motion will get it done faster than making both folds and pressing only an ironing board’s width at one time.
Step 2B: Hem Other Edge, if desired
On some of my petticoat ruffles, since they won’t be seen, I serge both long raw edges then turn under the hem ½” and stitch down. The top is left as is. You can double hem the top too if you’ll be sewing the ruffle down flat on the petticoat or it’ll be seen on a dress.
If you want to cheat a little, serge the edges or even pink them with shears or a shaped rotary blade.
Step 3: Gather
MOST IMPORTANT: quarter mark your ruffle and petticoat. Break your gathering stitches at these marks. If your ruffle is really long, further mark into eighths and break stitching here for eight sections.
A. Run 2 rows of the longest machine basting stitch, one on each side of the stitch line. Match quarter marks to petticoat. When pulling up the threads, wrap them around pins at the quarter marks to hold.
B. Fold top edge over a string, yard or cord and sew (regular stitch length) near the cord as you would when making piping. Your stitching should be on the seamline. But DON’T sew the cord in tightly. Push the fabric along the cording to gather up.
C. Set your machine at the widest and longest zigzag stitch. Very carefully sew OVER buttonhole thread or dental floss with the thread/floss on the seamline. Pull up the thread to gather up. Pin and top stitch to petticoat.
D. Use a ruffler foot on your machine to pleat up the ruffle.
Step 4: Sew On Petticoat
Match the seamline on the ruffle to the stitch line on the petticoat, pin and topstitch down.
Another trick I like to do is to place the ruffle right sides together with the petticoat, stitch then flip the ruffle down. I do this for two reasons.
One, if I DID serge the top edge or even left the edges raw and don’t want that showing, this hides them under the ruffle. Two, this seaming method gives a little “kick” to the ruffle at the stitch line.
I adore ruffles. They’re so much fun and give your costume “bounce.” And once you know how to zip through the construction process you’ll start controlling the ruffles instead of them controlling you.
Do you find yourself wrestling with ruffles? What issues do you come across? What have you found to help you get them done and still have your sanity?