How to sew ruffles for your drapes

It doesn't take long to learn how to sew ruffles (drapery frills). They are often thought of as being fussy, and gathered frills can be fussy if overdone, but they give a pretty finish, while pleated frills are more tailored. By selecting different fabrics, a frill can be light and airy, or more formal and restrained.

But before you start, there a few things you should know about ruffles and drapery frills.

  • They take massive amounts of fabric.
  • They take time to make.
  • You'll need lots of patience, especially if this is your first time making them.

But the efforts involved are well worth the final results.

Gathered frills look informal and pretty. Pleated frills look more tailored and elegant.

How much fullness should you have?

Don't be mean with your fullness! I'd try to have a fullness of between 2.5 and 3. (If you're not sure what fullness is, this page has more details.) For a gathered frill use a minimum of 2.5, and 3 for a pleated frill.

How to sew ruffles - how deep should they be?

Make them deep enough so they have an impact. For most drapery purposes I'd suggest a width of between 2 and 3 inches (5-8cms). Ruffles look best on draperies if they are double sided.

Calculating fabric for ruffles and drapery frills

  1. Measure the length of frill you'll need.
  2. Multiply this by the fullness ratio.
  3. Divide by the width of fabric you'll be using, and round up to the nearest whole number. This is the number of widths you'll need.
  4. The cut length for each width will be double the depth of the frill plus 0.75" (2.0cms) for the seams.
  5. Total fabric needed will be the cut length times the number of widths.

Example

  1. You want to have a gathered double sided frill down the inside edge of a pair of drapes. The drapes are 6 feet long (183cms), so you'll need 12 feet of frill (366cms).
  2. 12 feet times 2.5 (fullness ratio) = 30
  3. Fabric is 4'6" wide, 30 divided by 4.5 is 6.66, rounded up to 7 which is the number of widths of fabric needed.
  4. Assuming a 3 inch frill, the cut length will be 3 inches times 2 plus the seam allowances. So we get a total of 6 inches plus 0.75 inches which is 6.75 inches.
  5. The cut length times the number of widths is 6.75 times 7, which is 47.25 inches, say 4 feet.

Gathering ruffles for draperies

When you're learning how to sew ruffles for the first time it's best to try it out with some spare pieces of fabric and lining. 

fold fabric for ruffleFolding the fabric for a ruffle

Fold the fabric as shown, and press the edge flat. A shows the width of the ruffle, and B is the seam allowance (about 0.4 inches, 1.0 cm).

Forming the ruffle

stitching ruffleRuffle pulled up on stitches

You can form ruffles by using a machine or by hand.

Some sewing machines can make your ruffles for you. You just feed in the folded fabric and it gathers it up according to the setting you've chosen.

You can also use a sewing machine to sew large stitches, or you can do it by hand. Once the stitches are in place tie off one end and pull the fabric along the stitch line as shown.

Sewing the ruffle into the drape

sew ruffle into drapeSewing a ruffle into a curtain

Place the lining, ruffle and fabric together and machine sew together.  Some seamstresses prefer to complete this part using hand stitching.

Don't forget to make the lining and fabric a little longer than the ruffle to allow for turnings.

You'll discover as you learn how to sew ruffles that there are many ways of doing it, and you can find lots of suggestions on other websites. Here is just one video you may find interesting.

Patterned fabrics

If you're using a fabric with a large pattern repeat for your drapes, you may find you have enough left over from the main cut lengths to do your gathered frill. Or you may have enough for half of the frill cuts, so just order more fabric to make up the rest.

For small patterns you can cut the frill cuts to the pattern repeat so your seams match up. Larger patterns, however, can be very wasteful. Here it's best to make the frill cuts ignoring the repeat, and match them together so you get the overall look of the pattern colors. This might mean cutting out plain areas of the pattern so you get more of the colors in your frill. Just make sure you hide the joins so they're not visible.

Summary

Ruffles and drapery frills take lots of fabric, time and effort, but when used sparingly and with sensitivity they can be wonderful additions to your drapes.


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