How to Sew Perfect Ruffles and Gather Fabric

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 you're 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?

Does the back side of the ruffle have 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 1.5" ruffle but that same ruffle may look lost on a 24" pillow. The width of the ruffle needs to compliment the item it is attached to.

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 allowance and hem allowances.

For example:

  • If you want to add a 4" wide ruffle to your daughter's dress.
  • You plan on adding the ruffle using a 1/2" seam allowance.
  • You plan a 1/4" baby 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 & Preparation

    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.

    Preparation 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 of the fabric 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 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.  Sewing Techniques for Gathering Fabric

    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.