How to create beautiful ruffles

How to create beautiful ruffles with a serger

Ruffles are an essential part of many cosplays. They are also super girly and fun to make, and today I’m going to talk about how you can make full, luxurious-looking ruffles for your projects. There are a few ways to do this with a standard sewing machine, which I’ll go over, but I’m most excited to share with you my method for creating beautiful, pain-free ruffles with a serger.

Preparing your fabric:

To get a nice, full ruffle you will need to use about three times the length of fabric as the desired finished ruffle length. Of course, you can use less fabric for a looser ruffle or when sewing with thick fabrics, or more for an even fuller ruffle when using thin fabrics like chiffon or organza. I usually find that three is a good multiplier for most types of ruffles and fabric. To find the needed width, measure out your desired finished width then add enough for seam allowance on one side plus enough to turn up for a hem. I usually make very small hems on my ruffles and add ¾” to ½” to allow for turning the hem twice.

Three 3" ruffles created with 6", 9" and 12" of fabric.

Three 3″ long ruffles created with 6″, 9″, and 12″ of fabric.

Ruffle Math:

Desired Finished length x 3 = Total Needed Length

Desired Finished width + Seam Allowance + Hem = Total Needed Width

Sewing on a Machine:

On a conventional home sewing machine create two long lines of gathering stitches on your pre-hemmed fabric lengths. I typically set my machine on a straight stitch with a length of 4.0 or 5.0. The first gathering line should go just inside of the seam allowance line. The second gathering line should be placed ¼” away from the first line. Using two gathering stitches is beneficial in two ways. First, it helps gather the fabric more evenly. Second, the two threads serve as insurance in case one of them breaks while you gathering the fabric! Use a mercerized thread when gathering, as the mercerizing process makes the thread more durable and less prone to breaking.

two rows of gathering stitches

Gathering stitches for a basic ruffle

A second option for creating ruffles with a sewing machine involves using a zig zag stitch and a second type of strong thread, such as embroidery floss, yarn, or fishing wire. This method requires a bit more coordination, but may be a better option if you are trying to gather very thick fabrics or quite long lengths of fabric at a time.

Use a satin stitch foot for gathering with a cord so that the thread travels under the presser foot easily.

Use a satin stitch foot so that the gathering thread travels under the presser foot easily.

Set your machine to a wide zig zag stitch. You may find it beneficial to use a satin stitch foot with this method to better allow the cord to pass under the foot, although this isn’t absolutely necessary. Place your embroidery floss or cord so that it is in the center of the presser foot. Feed the thread under the foot while the zig zag stitch is stitched over it, being careful not to stitch into the gathering thread. Once you are done, you will be able to gather the fabric along the central thread, stitch the ruffle in place with a straight stitch, and remove the extra thread.

gathering using a zig zag stitch with embroidery thread.

Zig zag stitch with embroidery thread.

Finished ruffle using the zig zag stitch method.

Finished ruffle using the zig zag stitch method.

Ruffling with a serger:

Now for my preferred method of gathering fabric: using a serger! This is the most efficient way of gathering fabric and really makes creating yards and yards of ruffles quite easy and quick, which made it perfect for my Sakizou cosplay, or for any costume that needs huge amounts of frills. It’s also handy if you want to gather lots of tulle to make a custom petticoat!

Ruffling made easy with a serger

Ruffling made easy

To create ruffles with a serger you’ll need to change your settings a bit. These are the settings that I used on my serger to achieve the look I wanted; however, play around with your serger settings to achieve your desired fullness. Different fabric types may need different settings. I set the Upper Looper to 4, the Lower Looper to 4, the Right needle to 9, and the Left needle to 9. The stitch length was 4.0, and I increased the differential feed.

Serger settings for ruffles

Serger settings for ruffles

Lastly, you’ll want to loosen the presser foot just a bit. This allows for more fabric to be gathered under the foot at one time, creating fuller ruffles. To loosen the presser foot, look for a small screw on top of the machine directly above where the presser foot sits. Turn it just a bit to loosen it.

Turn this screw slightly to loosen the presser foot and create more gathered ruffles

Turn this screw slightly to loosen the presser foot and create more gathered ruffles.

Once your settings are configured, you can happily sew away and marvel at how quickly and effortlessly your serger makes beautiful ruffles!

A ruffle gathered with the serger

Ta-da! A ruffle gathered with the serger.

You can adjust the settings too to gather more or less fabric at a time, following these easy rules:

  1. Increasing the differential feed creates fuller ruffles.
  2. Increasing the stitch length creates fuller ruffles.
  3. Tightening needle tension creates more ruffles.
  4. Loosening the presser foot creates more ruffles.

Isn’t your serger your new best friend?

How to sew ruffles for your cosplay with a sewing machine or serger

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