How To Make Ruffles On A Sewing Machine

Basic Technique

Ruffles can be an easy and fun way to add decorative touches to clothing and fabric projects. Though it may seem daunting, ruffles can be made with a sewing machine to simplify the process. The first step for making ruffles on a sewing machine is to gather the materials needed: fabric, scissors, a ruler, and, of course, the sewing machine.
The fabric chosen for ruffles should be lightweight, preferably a fabric with some drape, like chiffon or voile. Cotton muslin also works well for ruffles, while stiffer fabrics like denim or canvas may not produce nice enough results. Whatever fabric is chosen, it is important to pre-wash it to avoid shrinkage when the project is finished.
The second step is to determine the width of the ruffle and cut the fabric to size. Whether it’s for a trimming or for the entire piece of clothing, the width of the ruffle should be two or three times the desired length. Once the fabric is cut to size, it should be given a quick pressing to flatten out any unintentional wrinkles.

Making the Gathers

To make the ruffles, a gathering stitch should be used. This should be done using a long stitch length (often between 4 and 6 millimeters) and non-stretch thread in the upper thread spool. When choosing thread, it is important to match the thread to the fabric. This will ensure the gather stitch won’t be too heavy and that the remainder of the project is neat and tidy.
The gathering stitch is created by loosening the stitch length on the sewing machine, which tells the machine to make more stitches per inch. The fabric should be held in a single layer under the presser foot, with the long thread tails hanging off to the side.
While slowly and carefully guiding the fabric, the foot should be held in place and the hand wheel turned several times. Make sure the thread tails remain pulled to the side of the presser foot as the wheel is turned; otherwise, the machine may “eat” the fabric. After several turns of the wheel, the fabric should be released from the presser foot.
Now, grasp the thread tails on both sides of the fabric with two hands and gently pull them in the opposite directions. As the threads are pulled, the fabric should gather. Care must be taken not to pull too tightly or else the finished product may be too tight.

Attaching the Gathers

Once the gathers are made, they must be attached to the item they will be embellishing. An unpicked seam or a wide fold makes a good place to attach the gathers. The gathering stitches should be removed from the ruffle fabric and, using the same non-stretch thread, the ruffle should be basted to the seam or fold.
Measuring between the basted edges will help to ensure that the ruffle is straight and even once attached. If necessary, the fabric can be re-gathered until it matches the unit for which it was made. Once everything is straight and even, a seam should be sewn along one side of the ruffle, making sure that the thread tails from the basting stitch remain on the exterior of the garment. Ironing along the seam is an optional step that can help define it.

Adding a Bit of Whimsy: Ruffles as Lace Trim

Creating a ruffle of lace trim is a common way to add a bit of whimsy to a garment. To do this, lace should be gathered the same way normal fabric is. The difference is that each pass with the gathering stitch should be made slightly shorter, to ensure the lace is fully gathered and does not slip or sag.
The ruffle of lace should be stitched with a matching thread, no heavier than the lace itself, and pinned to the garment. It should also be sewn on with a straight stitch; any decorative stitching may be added afterwards.

Adding a Touch of Frill

For an additional touch of frill, several pieces of gathered fabric can be stitched together. This is done by gathering multiple strips of fabric the same way and then stitching them together in an offset fashion. This creates an accordion look, which can be sewn onto a garment or used as trim.
This method of ruffle-making may require extra fabric, but it is a fun way to add plenty of frill to a garment. To help keep the frill in place, a few stitches can be taken a few inches apart and can then be secured with pins.

Using Alternatives to Gathers

An alternative to gathered ruffles is to use pleats. This method requires more fabric and a bit more precision is required when measuring; however, it creates a softer, fuller, and more elegant look.
To make pleats, draw a reference line at the desired edge and then cut short V-notches into the fabric. After this is done, fold the fabric following the same pattern as the V-notches and press the pleat down. This creates a series of pleats, which should be basted down and then sewn onto the desired garment.

Alternative Methods

Besides sewing and pleating, ruffles can also be added using ribbons, bias tape and decorative trim. Ribbons and bias tape, which are easier and faster to work with, can be used to add a decorative touch to a garment. They can be applied either as an edge or around a plain seam. A few stitches, pins, and multiple pieces of ribbon or bias tape are all that are needed for this method.
Ruffles can also be made with decorative trim. This requires more precision, as trim has a tendency to slip or fray. Once it is pinned, the trim should be basted and then sewn onto the desired garment, using a zigzag stitch. If zigzag stitch is not available, a straight stitch will work as well.

Making Your Own Ruffles

For those looking to make more unique ruffles, tools like the ruffler presser foot are a great option. This presser foot works similar to a standard foot, but it has the added benefit of gathering fabric as it sews. Once the desired length is reached, the ruffle should be pinned and zigzagged onto the fabric for extra stability and strength.
Making ruffles can be a lot of fun. With a few simple tools and a bit of practice, any sewist can make beautiful ruffles to add to any project. Whether it’s pleats or gathering stitches, there are plenty of delightful ways to add some frill and whimsy to any fabric creation.


While creating ruffles, it is important to remember that fabrics shrink, so it is important to pre-wash. Also, it is important to measure the circumference of the ruffle and the item it is being applied to. This can help avoid gathering too much fabric or not enough fabric. Too much fabric will make the ruffle too bulky and reduce the finished effect, while not enough fabric will result in a misshapen ruffle.
Using a non-stretch thread is critical when creating ruffles, as stretch threads can cause the ruffles to pull in at specific places. It is also important to use a small stitch length when basting, as using too large of a stitch could cause the ruffle to be too bulky and the stitch may be visible on the face of the ruffle.
Finally, ironing is an important step for creating smooth and even gathers. Pressing down the ruffle as it is being created can help press the folds out and avoid any rippling. Without ironing, the fabric may appear wrinkled or uneven.

Attaching the Ruffles

Ruffles should be secured in two different ways – the first being a basting stitch and the second being a seam. A basting stitch should be used to hold the ruffle in place before it is permanently sewn down with a finished seam. This can help keep the ruffle in place and make it easier to create a finished look.
When sewing the ruffle onto a garment, the machine should be set to a small stitch length – this will make the stitch less visible. For added security, zigzag stitches may also be used. Additionally, topstitching can be sewn on top of the seam completed the ruffle, again with a small stitch length.
After all of the ruffle’s seams are completed, press the ruffle lightly on the wrong side of the fabric to flatten the folds and help press the stitching into the fabric. This will help ensure that the ruffle looks neat and tidy when completed.

Accessorize with Ruffles

Ruffles are a great way to add some flair to any garment or fabric project. Whether one is just starting out with sewing or is a highly experienced seamstress, creating ruffles can be easy, fun, and a great way to add texture and detail. With a few basic supplies, and some guidance and practice, creating ruffles for any project can be a snap!

Geoffrey Kirby is an experienced author and sewist who has been creating sewn projects for over 20 years. He has a passion for teaching beginners and inspiring more advanced sewists both online and through his writings. Outside of writing about sewing, Geoffrey loves to explore new techniques and styles of sewing that incorporate upcycling fabric remnants into sweet items with personality.

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