Sewing Tips: How To Work With Ruched Material

A few easy tips, techniques and ideas for making accessories, clothing or embellishments with ruched fabric or material.

Ruched fabric seems to be turning up everywhere these days, from bathing suits and pajamas to designer skirts. The slightly puckered folds of ruched fabric are almost like a cross between pleats and darts. The extra bits of fabric are great for hiding flaws, which may be why they are becoming very popular in all sorts of form-fitting attire.

But how do you make ruched fabric to incorporate into your own craft and clothing designs? Ruching is simply a way of gathering fabric, but instead of sewing in a straight line you often sew in scallops or zigzags to make the proper pattern. The technique has been in use for centuries in clothing and accessories made from fabric. It is a term popularly used in home furnishings to refer to the gathered fabric trim on pillows.

A simple way to practice ruching is by sewing on a piece of wide ribbon. This technique will make a ribbon flower when you gather it. There are ruching templates available for small projects like this, which will allow you to make a perfect angle every time. Or you can simply use a ruler and draw a zigzag on the ribbon with chalk or washable ink. You can experiment with different widths of zigzag and even different shapes (U's, squares, etc.) to get different effects, which look like different kinds of flowers.

Whichever method you use, hand or machine sew along the line using about 1/8-inch stitches. When finished, pull the thread tight as you would with any other kind of gather. This makes a basic ruched flower. You can do this with lace, ribbon or almost any kind of fabric (very fragile fabrics may not hold the form very well).

Templates are available to show you how to make fabric mums, roses, pansies and other flowers. This can be a fun, quick project to get your kids involved in sewing, with or without the machine. These flowers can be used as embellishments for gift boxes, as decorator accents or made into pins to wear on you clothes. You can add them to quilts or other craft projects for an interesting, three-dimensional, mixed-media affect.

Adding ruching to your clothing designs is a little more complicated because, like darts, the fabric needs to fit your body, so it's difficult to know exactly how much extra fabric or how many ruching scallops you should add for best effect. You may need as much as twice the amount of fabric for the section of the garment you are working on if you want to add many gathers.



You can experiment with a large piece of fabric and fold gathers by hand, then pin and make a loose slip-on garment to test the placement of the folds. You can make this test garment out of muslin and experiment with ruching along the front side seams. A shirt with a separate bodice can also be ruched around the bodice line. Skirts can also be ruched on the front side seam. If you like the look of ruching but don't have a lot of experience with experimenting and drawing your own patterns, try it out on a purchased pattern first before you try to design your own.

You can also use a purchased garment as your guide if you have something that looks good on you and fits well or see something you like in a store. Figure out how many folds the fabric has and where they are placed, and design your handmade garment accordingly.

Ruching is also very popular in period costumes that use a lot of fabric for poofy sleeves or gathered skirts. A simple method for "ruching" a poofy sleeve is to use some kind of lining in the sleeve and then tack the outer layer to the inner layer in a random way that allows for sort of flowing, natural puffiness rather than trying to sew all over in a pattern to make puffs.

You could also vertically ruche a finished piece of clothing by sewing three rows of wide stitching an equal distance apart and pulling the thread as tight as you want before fastening it firmly into the finished hem. This can give plain old T-shirts a funky look and is simple to do. You could do the same thing to a skirt. If you want to try this technique on a piece of clothing you are making, be sure to make the front piece longer than the back piece, or you will have to ruche everything to make it even.

Some fabric these days is made to look sort of like it is ruched all over, like it was designed with wrinkles or texture sewn in. Using this kind of fabric is an easy ruching fake-out. It gives you some of the elegance and figure-friendly aspects of ruching without the effort of properly placing the folds. This fabric is available at most craft stores in lots of basic colors, but it is usually cotton or a cotton blend so it could be dyed to whatever color you want. These fabrics often have Lyrca or some other kind of stretchy material, so they can be a little trickier than plain cotton to work with, but they are not difficult to manage.

The main thing to keep in mind when working with this type of fabric is the way the crinkles will fall when the garment is completed. If you think of the crinkles like darts, you will see that it makes a difference if they are running horizontally or vertically. Either can make a nice looking garment, but you'll want to make sure, for instance, that the front and back run the same direction, and the sleeves match as well. It's easy to forget that when laying out pattern pieces and trying to conserve fabric. This fabric is great for shirts and dresses, adding a bit of femininity to even the simplest designs.

If you're looking to add a little more whimsy to your crafts or your clothes, consider working with ruching or "ruched" fabric. It's an easy way to add a distinctive, playful look to your projects.

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