Monday, July 2, 2012

Tutorial: Super Simple Serger Ruffles

This is a tutorial on how to make ruffles using your serger and a gathering foot. So you can make dresses like this one in a flash!

Using the gathering foot, the serger gathers, seams and finishes the seam in one step. Once you get it down, it will literally take less time to make the skirt than read this post.

If you don't have a serger-- that's ok! You can make this skirt by gathering on your sewing machine and then stitching the tiers together, or doing it in one step with a gathering foot or a ruffling foot.

First, let's learn about how your serger ruffles:

Nearly all sergers have differential feed-- meaning that they can feed two fabrics through the machine at different rates. When you increase your differential feed, your bottom fabric will feed faster than the top-- that makes gathers or ruffles!

This is what the differential feed dial looks like on my machine. 1.0 signifies neutral-- where the top and bottom feed at the same rate; like on your regular sewing machine.

Some machines also come with a gathering/ruffling foot which will also speed up the rate that the bottom fabric runs through the machine. This is what mine looks like.

The foot will have a metal guide. You can see it clearly in this next photo.

Anything that goes over the metal guide will not be ruffled, anything underneath the guide will be ruffled.

If you don't have a ruffler foot-- don't worry! Your differential feed will do the work for you! You might have to make more adjustments in the next step. Just remember to place the fabric you want to be ruffled on the bottom, and the piece that you are attaching (non ruffled) on the top.

Test Ruffle:
This step seems tedious, but once you get it right once, you'll be able to use the same settings for all fabric of a similar weight. If you have one, attach the gathering foot to your machine or increase your differential feed to 2.0.

Take a scrap of fabric and measure it. Run it through the machine and measure it again.

Now check your ruffling factor. Adjust until you are happy with the amount of ruffling.  For making the skirt using measurements below, make sure that your un-ruffled piece is measuring about 1.5 as long as your ruffled piece. If you're not, there are 3 places to make adjustments on your serger:

1. Tightening your needle tensions will make more ruffles.
2. Loosening your presser foot will make more ruffles (This is a small screw on the top of some machines)
3. Increasing your differential feed and stitch length will make more ruffles.

Doing the opposite for all of the above will make less ruffles.

Now you are ready to work on your project!  

The Skirt

Now it's time to use your new serger powers for good (not evil). The instructions below will help you make a tiered skirt, but you can use the same idea for attaching ruffles to anything!

If you are attaching this to a bodice, like the dress above, make the bodice and measure the waist. If this is going to be a stand alone skirt, measure the person's waist.

You will need 2 widths of bias strips-- one 8 inches wide, and one 4 inches wide:

8 inch strip: roughly 1.5x waist measurement (first tier)
4 inch strip: roughly 6 times as long as the 8 inch strip.  (second and third tier)

You will need to piece the second strip. If you want to have finished inside edges, here is a link to a tutorial on how to piece strips using your serger.

Now you should have your bodice, one short fat strip and one long, long skinny strip.

Pedal to the Metal:
Once everything is cut out, and your ruffling ratio is where you want it, let the fun begin! Take your long skiny strip and put it under the metal guide, right side up. Take your short fat strip and place it over the metal guide.

The bottom fabric will feed much faster than the top-- that's good! Just try and keep both strips even with the metal guide.

From the top it won't look like much.

But if you lift up the top strip you'll see beautiful little ruffles peeking through.

Once you get to the end of the short fat strip, trim off the remainder of the skinny strip, and start again.  No need to press in between tiers-- we'll do it all at the end.

This time, put the just pieced skirt above the metal guide, and what's left of your long, skinny strip on the bottom with right sides together. When you come to the end of the skirt, trim your skinny strip again.

And you are done! 
No basting stitches, thread pulling or fiddling with uneven gathers. If this is meant to be a skirt, you can fold down the top of the skirt to create a casing, and run elastic through.

Since this was a Fourth of July dress, and was only going to be worn a couple times, I serged the raw edges of the bodice, straps, and skirt hem.

I also did a ribbon closure instead of a zipper to make it a bit quicker. 

I was able to finish the dress in a single nap. Sometimes you just need a quick project! I hope this tutorial helps you get a bit more utility out of your serger!


  1. i have no idea how to follow any of this, but congrats on your first tutorial!!!

  2. oh my gosh! I'm so happy to see this tutorial! I love my serger and your tutorial will help so much! thank you!

  3. tconian, you are welcome! I'm so glad that this will help!

  4. I'm not clear on when you sewed the skirt pieces into a complete circle - after you sewed the tiers together?

    1. Belinda, you are right, I seemed to have skipped that step! Yes, after sewing the tiers together, press all the seams. Then pin and sew the skirt together. I will edit the post as soon as I can!

      Thanks for pointing it out!

  5. Oh I Just got an over locker and am so excited to do this - wasnt sure if i would use the gathering foot but now after seeing this i dont think i could live without it haha. Thanks so much!

  6. Just got a serger and I can't wait to try this!!! I love the gathering foot!

  7. Thank-you, this is exactly what I needed. I have a new serger and ordered the gathering foot. The instructions that came with it were seriously lacking. I can't wait to play with the adjustments you itemized.


  8. www.wonderfuldaycare.comDecember 29, 2013 at 10:46 PM

    your website looks awesome and I am looking forward to trying these tutorials. I just got a serger like many of the other commenters and I'm excited to try some things. Thank you.


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