I've made a lot of ruffles lately.  80-odd at least.  So I thought I'd share some of the benefits of my experience with you, in case you ever found yourself needing to sew 80 ruffles.

Sewaholic has written a recent post on the usual method of gathering fabric, as often descibed in pattern sheets.  This is not my favourite method, because I have trouble gathering the fabric evenly.  Also, I used to get unwanted tucks, but this is because I didn't realise that you were supposed to sew between the 2 rows of basting stitches and not below them.  All those wasted years of frustrating gathering because I never learnt the technique properly. 

I was given ruffle-y ballet costumes to sew because the person who designed them decided that she did not have enough time to sew them!  When I started the gathering, I tried using the zig-zag over dental floss method, as posted here.  Only I used cheap cotton instead of dental floss because I had so many ruffles to do.  This was not working so well,  because the "dental floss" was not staying anchored, and I was pulling the gathering thread out too far and losing gathers.

So then I moved onto a modified zig-zag technique.  This was not the final method I used, but it is so interesting that I thought I would document the process here.

In the following photos, the upper thread is light blue and the bobbin thread is red. (A big thanks to my photographer.  This method takes 2 hands, so I had to enlist the services of my photographer, who interrupted his rugby viewing to take photos).

Hold the end of the upper thread and take a single stitch.  I use the hand wheel to take this stitch.

 Then use your other hand to grab the upper thread where it comes out of the needle.
 Pull both sides of the upper thread to bring the bobbin thread to the surface.
 With your left hand, hold the end of the bobbin thread and don't let it go.  Use your right hand to grab hold of the loop of bobbin thread that was brought to the surface.
 Pull this loop of bobbin thread out (don't let go of the end in your left hand).
 Keep pulling until the length of bobbin thread is at least as long as the final length of your ruffle, and then some.
 I push the upper thread back to the foot, just to keep it all tidy.
 Zig-zag over the loop of bobbin thread.
 Here you can see the blue threads zig-zagged over the red bobbin thread, behind the foot.

 You can either apply tension to the loop of bobbin thread, to gather as you go, or pull it tight afterwards to gather the fabric.

 Pretty tricky, hey?  But as I said, not the final method I went with.  The ruffles were taking me way too long.  I recently bought "industry clothing construction methods" by mary ruth shields.  I have only had it a few days, so it is too soon for me to review it, but I have read the chapter on skirts where it says only to use the basting / gathering method if you have a lot of time on your hands, as this method is too time consuming to be used anywhere but in a custum or couture setting.   Well, these ballet costumes are custom, but they are not couture, so I investigated the gathering feet described by Mary.

First I looked up my Elna manual.  Elna does make a gathering foot, so I went to see my local Elna man.  He could not help me out, so then I went to Spotlight (all the time wondering if I would be better off staying hojme and just getting on with the ruffles).  No gathering foot for Elna and none listed in their catalogue.  I was just about to leave when the ANGEL behind the counter pointed me in the direction of the generic sewing feet.  I have not tried generic feet on my machine before, but the Sewparts low-shank gathering foot only cost $3.99, so I thought it was worth a try. 

Check out my beautiful gathering.  The amount of gathering can be adjusted by altering the tension of the upper thread, the stitch length and the foot pressure.  My foot pressure is usually set at its maximum of 3.  I used my maximum stitch length of 4.  My upper thread tension varies from 0 - 9 and I set it about 6.5 to get the gathers below.  The fabric is a sheer nylon.  Apparently more gathering can be achieved by holding your fingers behine the foot so that the fabric does not pass through so quickly.  I did this, but I am not sure how much difference it made.  It took me a few goes, changing the settings,  to get the gathered strips to the length I wanted.  From then on, it was just a single row of stitching to produce beautiful, even ruffles.
I was so excited, I finished off the ballet ruffles and then began gathering everything in sight.  Some samples are shown below.  The fabric for these samples were harvested from the floor around my sewing machine, so you can just imagine what my sewing room looks like (and after a week of focussing on ballet costumes, the rest of the house does not look too much different to my sewing room)! The gathering foot seems to work best on lightweight fabrics.  From the left, there is a synthetic georgette, a lightweight cotton, a quilting cotton, a bias strip of Liberty fabric, a synthetic organza and a lightweight stretch denim.
A heavy-weight twill cotton did not gather very well.  I could not get any knit fabrics to gather at all.  The knits just would not progress under the foot.  Initially I was disappointed by this, but then Suzannah did a post on gathering knit trims.  The following sample was made using the regular sewing foot, a stitch length of 4 and an upper thread tension of 9.

After all the ruffles, I used the gathering foot to gather the tops of 14 pairs of green organza harem pants, that were then attached to a lycra waistband.  For a one-off garment, the basting / gathering method would most likely still be my method of choice, as it takes a bit of fiddling to get the right amount of gather with the gathering foot, but when sewing multiples, I am definitely a fan of the gathering foot.  I forgot to picture of harem pants before I gave them all to the studio.

I hope that ruffly, gathered things stay in fashion for a while longer, now that I am so proficient at gathering.

Here is a photo of the leggings for the ballet costume.  For my records, I used Jalie 2920, shortening the legs to below the knee.  The lycra had only 50% stretch, so I went up 2 sizes.  I didn't use the waist elastic measurements recommended by Jalie; instead, I measured the girls' waists and cut the elastic 3 cm shorter than this.


  1. Wow! Nobody will miss those kids on stage! Fantastic ruffles. I'm glad you did all the groundwork. I've been dreaming about ruffles so will have to checkout the feet on offer.

  2. All those ruffles! I've never had much luck with the double row of basting stitches. I can never seem to gather evenly. I need to look in to a gathering foot, too.

  3. Wow, what a useful tutorial...buy the right foot and make the adjustments. You put so much work into these adorable costumes. Thanks for sharing what yo learned along the way. I'd like to do some ruffles in the future and it will be much easier now.

  4. Oh I love those leggings, beyond cute! I just spent way too much time gathering a skirt lining for DD. Custom but definitely not couture. Maybe I need one of those feet.

  5. If there are rewards is heaven to be earned, it looks like you've stockpiled youreself a few for all those outfits. I'm glad that you are learning things to make it interesting for yourself and useful for us !

    BTW - holly hobby dress got worn once. Hence lesson learned with the importance of muslining if you are going to use a fabric you love - when I saw this fabric I thought it was a chance to remake holly hobby dress (which was also a shirt dress variant) but with lessons learned (single cut front and back - no matching issues please) and no ruffles. Too old for ruffles. There's a reason you are doing so much ruffle work on CHILDREN'S costumes...

  6. Wow this is a really useful post all round! I totally did not realise that you should be sewing gathers between the 2 lots of basting stitches! It probably doesn't help that I tend to be lazy and just do 1 line of basting but this makes perfect sense.

    I'm off to Spotlight to get one of those feet today - I've been avoiding ruffles like the plague even though I love them as it gets too time intensive so this looks like it's going to make a world of difference. Thanks muchly!

  7. Now, that ruffle foot is exciting find! I wonder if I have one of those sitting around in my jumble of feet.

    And I suspect my sewing floor resembles yours! Maximum efficiency means letting the scraps go where they will. Vacuum later.

  8. wow great ruffles and costumes.

    Thanks for passing on the info on the ruffling foot. I have an (ancient) Elna too and have been longingly looking at Berninas, partly because of their extensive foot collection. Now I know I should try out Sewparts low-shank feet. Thanks for that great tip!

  9. Fantastic news....I have to get down to my Bernina man to see if he has a gathering foot...or get myself one of those generic ones.

    It's that time of year again....I'm up to my ears in fairyland costumes for the end of year concert. I'm taking the night off and surfing the net instead!!!

  10. Wow! The ruffle foot does a tidy and even job! Now I'm curious and want to try it out myself.. Thanks for the link to my post, even though you're not a fan of the method I used!

  11. I just love the gathering foot! Have you ever tried sewing with a ruffler attachment? That's just about my favorite ever.

    Speaking of great tips - have you found www.WeAllSew.com yet to find all the great sewing links? I think you'd like it!

  12. Wow, I love your post, clear directions and pictures- then I love the proof at the end that this process really works! yahhoo...
    I'll be back to visit again soon!
    I didn't know that I was supposed to sew between the two rows of stitching either!