No fancy equipment needed!
Ruffled fabric or ribbon trim is a hallmark of 18th century fashion. It was often made of the same fabric as the rest of the dress or in a contrasting color. The ruffles could be wide or thin, and were really popular from about 1770-1790.
Robe à la Polonaise with Self-Fabric Trim, circa 1775-80
What I love about self-trim is that it is perfect for using up scraps, and it’s really REALLY easy to do.
I had the toughest time finding a simple tutorial online to make a very basic ruffle trim. There are plenty of fancy folds and pleats you can do to dress up your trim, but I wanted something casual and quick. I found a tutorial by Gail on “Art, Beauty, and Well-Ordered Chaos” which was exceptionally simple and required no sewing machines, so I ran with it!
This is a modern pinking punch for leather. 18th century fabric pinking punches were similar. The Bluestocking costumer used one on her 18th century gown.
First, I cut strips of fabric using my pinking shears. Pinking in the 18th century was done with fancy punches that were hammered along the edge of the fabric, but modern pinking shears work just fine. Pinking makes a zig-zag edge that helps stop fraying, so you don’t have to finish the edges of your strips by sewing. As you work with it, the edges may fuzz a bit and get softer. Ribbons are also good for ruching because the edges are already finished. Polyester ribbon will give you lots of loft and natural ribbons will perform more like the 18th century originals.
The amount of fabric you’ll need will depend on the amount of trim you want to do and how deeply ruffled you make your trim. I ended up cutting strips 3-5 times longer than I wanted the finished trim to be.
I had two projects requiring ruffled trim, so I will be switching between picture of the white and purple fabrics. However, the method stays the same. The white fabric I cut about 2 inches wide while the purple dress trim I cut 1 inch wide.
The next step is to use a loose running stitch to pleat the trim. I recommend making the gathering stitches about 1/8 – 1/2 inch long depending on how tightly pleated you want your ruffle. Experiment until you find a ruffle you like! To better mimic box pleats, a looser gather is more appropriate. Do a row of five to seven stitches then gather and backstitch once to help hold your gathers in place. That little backstitch is the key to easy-peasy ruffled trim! If you just blast through in one straight running stitch without making the little backstitch every so often, it’s difficult to control the gathers. Thinner fabrics will gather much more tightly than thicker ones.
Repeat the process for the length of the trim.
If you like super-fluffy ruffles, you can just apply your trim right after you finish ruching it. However, most extant garments have pleated trim that isn’t so fluffy. Setting the folds by ironing your ruffle really makes your trim look much more polished and period!
Ironed trim on the left, un-ironed trim on the right.
Notice how the un-ironed trim is curled and doesn’t lay flat. Ironing the trim makes it lie much more elegantly.
The last step is to sew the trim onto whatever dress or hat needs it. As you sew down the center over your gathering stitches, the trim will fluff up a little and hide your stitches, especially if you hand-tack it down in the folds.
Added bonus, it hides any little gaps around my hooks and eyes!
Here’s a neat trick! Ruffle a piece of pinked fabric about 24 inches long and 1.5 inches wide. You’ll end up with a ruched section about 6 inches long. Sew the two loose ends together into a wreath.
Voilà! You’ve just made a carnation!
The top flower has been left “au natural” while the flower on the bottom has been ironed. These make great accents for hats or shoes.
Here’s the handy “cheat sheet” I made myself:
I mislabeled the stitch length. It should say 1/8″ to 1/2″.
The backstitch step was the piece of the puzzle I had been missing in all my other attempts. I found that if I do a small, sloppy little backstitch, it will hold the gathers but it won’t completely stop movement. With a little tugging, I can readjust my gathers as I go along if I need to.
This is my “Faux Chapeau” decorated with some very tightly gathered trim.