Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tutorial: Using a Ruffler Foot--Construction

I mentioned in the last post that there's a difference between learning to gather with a ruffler foot and learning to use it to make a garment.

My current favorite dress style involves LOTS of gathering

The first key to using a ruffler foot in a garment is that you want to gather and attach the ruffle in the flat.*  Instead of sewing strips of fabric to make a loop, which is gathered and then sewn on (say, to the bottom of a skirt), we'll sew the ruffles on to the front and back, then stitch the sides together.

Using a ruffler foot this way saves time, but does take some forethought.

We'll construct two pieces like this, then sew them together

The other key is to leave wiggle room when you cut your ruffle strips.  If you cut them the exact length you need, then you have to ruffle them exactly.  If you cut them a few inches longer, you don't have to spend so much time trying to be precise.  You can gather the strips quickly with your ruffler foot, attach them, and trim off any excess.

1.  Do the math
To start, I measured the pattern pieces used for the tiers.  I came up with the following:
  • bodice - 12 inches
  • middle (contrast) tier - 24 inches
  • bottom tier - 36 inches
A little math breakdown (24:12 = 2:1 and 36:24 = 3:2) shows where those magic numbers came from the other day.  Turns out they are pretty common ratios for ruffles.  If you get something awkward like 28:13 1/4, you can round it to 2:1.

2.  Attach the ruffles
You can choose to either ruffle the contrast strip and then sew it to the bodice, or you can ruffle AND join the two pieces at once.  I chose the latter.

The fabrics should be right sides together, with the fabric to be ruffled on top.  I like to line both fabrics up at the 5/8" guide and then slide them further into the ruffler until they are under the needle.  I have the top fabric folded back a bit so you can see that they are right sides together.

Put the presser foot down and turn the handwheel towards you to bring the needle into the fabric.  Start to sew, remembering you won't be doing a backstitch at the beginning or end of the seam. (You only want the fabric moving front-to-back through the ruffler).

To ruffle & attach at the same time, I like to hold the fabric on the bottom with my right hand resting on it, fingers flat.  Then I hold the fabric on top between the fingers and thumb on my left hand, lining it up with the guide as the fabric moves. 

Gather/sew the middle (striped) tier to the bodice.  You can see the extra "fudge factor" on the striped piece.

Trim some of the excess off--this will get neatened up later.  By trimming now, you avoid some waste with the bottom ruffle.

The bottom tier gets sewn to the dress the same way.

Now trim the extra off neatly.  I got fancy and broke out my rotary cutter and cutting mat for this.  Cut perpendicular to the seam, since your fabric was originally a rectangular strip.

Here's what it looks like after it's trimmed.

Here is the result once both sides are trimmed.  The front should look similar.

Finish the seams between the tiers in whatever method you prefer.  I serged them, but you can zigzag, overcast, bind them with bias tape, leave them be, whatever you want.

3.  Finish the dress

Sew the front to back at the side seams and finish them with your preferred method.

I constructed the rest of the dress by following the instructions for those parts:

Sleeves (I love the free arm on my machine--it makes it easier to sew baby and toddler sleeves)

Hem--instead of doing a narrow hem by folding under twice, I serged the edge and folded under once

Neckline--I also serged/folded under for the neckline casing

I added a size & "brand" label

Whew! It's finally done!

If you have any questions, you are always welcome to email me at:

*I might have made that phrase up.  It basically means to attach the ruffle while the fabric is flat (vs in a loop).  Derived from sewing in the round, a real phrase used to describe sewing sleeves. 
**A skirt would be made in a similar fashion, but leaving off the bodice/sleeves and finishing the waist per the pattern instructions. 


  1. Just saw this post of the making of Nora's dress...I still love it and know you put a lot of hard work into it!!

  2. So did you use elastic for the neckline?


    1. Brandy, I tried to send an email, but you have a no-reply email. I did use elastic for the neckline--I followed the instructions for the dress construction for the remainder of the dress, after I did the ruffling of the tiers.


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