Introduction: Make a Ruffle Gauge

About: A maker with a penchant for sewing, laser cutting, cooking and more!
I trim lots of my costumes with ruffles, but if I'm making it up as I go rather than using a pattern I need some way of figuring out how many feet of fabric I need to gather up to get a pretty result.  Fabrics of differing weights and types gather up very differently, so I can't just rely on what worked the last time.  Creating a ruffle gauge lets me get it right the first time!

You'll need the following:
  • Spare piece of your fabric (about 30" by 6")
  • Square scrap of any fabric to mount your ruffles to (about 12" by 12")
  • Ruler
  • Pen
  • Sewing stuff (duh)
I made this gauge out of scrap fabrics and used the sewing machines at TechShop Menlo Park

Step 1: Mark and Cut

We're going to gather various lengths of fabric into the same amount of space so that we can compare them.  To start, mark three 10 inch lines on your square piece of fabric.

I'm going to test out the following ruffle ratios:
  • 1.5 to 1  (15 inches of ruffle fabric gathered into 10 inches)
  • 2 to 1  (20 inches of ruffle fabric gathered into 10 inches)
  • 3 to 1  (30 inches of ruffle fabric gathered into 10 inches)
Use whatever ratios you like, but mark the ratio next to each line so you can keep track.  Cut your strips of fabric to be ruffled following the ratios you've decided to test.  As mentioned above, I have strips that are 15", 20" and 30" long.

Step 2: Stitch and Gather

To gather the strips, set your machine to sew the longest straight stitch it can handle.  Sew the first line of gathering stitches about 1/4 inch from the top of the strip.  Sew a second line of gathering stitches about 1/2 an inch down from the first line.  Do not backstitch at the start or finish of each row of stitches.   Leave a tail of at least 3 inches of thread at either end of each row. 

Pick one end of the fabric to start from.  Pull on one tail of thread from each of your two rows of stitches to begin gathering fabric.  Be gentle!  You don't want to snap one of the threads or you'll have to start over.  Continue gathering each strip until it has shrunk to 10 inches long.  Evenly distribute the gathers by gently pulling bunched fabric from tightly packed areas to less dense ones. 

(One of the photos above shows a much larger ruffle I was working on for a different project.  I used three rows of gathering stitches to help me control the fabric better and to provide a fail safe in case one thread broke.  It's the only photo I had of the gathering step, so I included it.   It's not generally necessary to go all out with three rows of stitching on a test gauge).

Step 3: Attach and Admire

Now that you've gathered up your strips, stitch each one down at the top edge along its corresponding line.  I've chosen to also sew down the ends of each strip to get a better idea of the true fullness of each ruffle. 

Admire your pretty ruffle gauge and use it to select the best ruffle ratio for your project!  Remember that different types of fabric will give you different results, so if you've made your gauge out of a lightweight chiffon don't expect to be able to use it to judge how a heavy twill will act.  Likewise, two fabrics of a similar weight but opposite hands will act completely different (think of a super soft drapey chiffon vs a light but stiff organza).

In the photos above I've used a medium weight tie silk, a very lightweight chiffon, and a heavy twill.  I'd probably select the second row for the tie silk, as the first row is too anemic and the third is a bit overly puffy.  I'd go with the third row of the chiffon example, or I'd possibly even test a 4:1 version of that fabric.  I'd choose the first or second row of the twill, as the third is just out of control!  (That third row was also a pain in the butt to sew down.)