Ruching: 6 ways to ruche fabric and its many uses in sewing

Definition of the word ruching and the different ways to do ruching with fabric, to decorate clothes, accessories and home decor accessories.

What is Ruching?

Ruche in French refers to a strip of folded or gathered cloth. Ruching involves gathering, pleating or repeatedly folding a fabric as an embellishment.

The ruching (or rouching as it is sometimes colloquially called) is then incorporated into a pattern, when making clothes, on sleeves, bodices, waistline seams, on accents like collars, belts, on accessories like sashes, hats etc. It creates a flexible panel of fabric that is very versatile in dressmaking.

a ruched bodice with frill in the middle

Ruching is an oft-used technique in dressmaking – it lends a 3-dimensional look to the fabric and emphasizes the contours of the form wearing it.

Difference between gathering and ruching?

All ruching is gathering but not all gathering maynot be ruching. In gathering the fullness may be contained (gathering stitches ) only on one side. But in ruching the gathering stitches are usually made on either side of the fabric, creating fullness in the middle. 

Most of the time, it is applied against a plain seam and the contrast between the gathered/ ruched side and the plain seam side can be striking when applied appropriately. In the hands of a designer who knows his craft, this process can turn a garment into quite a masterpiece, as it was done in the elaborate gowns in Victorian England.

a gown with lots of runched pannels

In mind, I can picture a lady of the court wearing a diaphanous Grecian gown which is ruched on one shoulder or an elaborate gown which is ruched in all the places. The ruching can change the silhouette of a dress to a more voluminious one. 

frilled gown
In modern fashion, you will find this done all the time on wedding gowns & party gowns. 

ruching on wedding gown

Uses of ruching in sewing clothes

Ruching creates wonderful texture, for one. It is usually used with sheer fabrics.

You can use a ruched fabric in your everyday clothes in a subtle way 

Bodice fullness ruched

ruched bodice gathered into a sequin patch

This is perhaps the most common practise – the fullness at the bodice is ruched into a straight smaller piece of fabric – like the sequin patch in the picture above. 

In sleeve patterns

frill sleeves

The fullness of the sleeve is ruched to look more fitting but with a lot of texture and a frilled look here.

How to incorporate ruching into sleeves

If you want your sleeves to have ruching done in selected places, you will have to alter the pattern of the normal sleeve and add extra fabric where you want to ruche.

Cut out the normal sleeve pattern and make long slashes along the edge of the area where you want the this done. 

ruching fabric - marking pattern for making a ruched sleeve

Cut out the slashes and spread them as much as you want – depending on the fullness you want.

cut out the marks made on the sleeve pattern

You can pleat the extra fullness or gather with basting stitches.

cut out sleeve according to the new pattern
The new pattern with the ruching allowance added

ruched sleeve -gather the extra with gathering stitches

Another ruched sleeve which has drapey folds.

To make this sleeve you will have to add 6 inches extra to the length of a normal sleeve. The sides and bottom edge will be the same as that of a normal sleeve.

ruching sleeves - add extra 6 inches at the top of an ordinary

Cut out the fabric pattern.

ruched sleeve diy - the raised pattern

Fold and stitch the top edge into neat folds.

gather or pleat the edge to fit the armhole

sleeve drapes on the arm

On a waistband

waist band

Ruching used on bodices and on accents on bodices

the fabric on either side is gathered to fit a central fabric

On ribbons and ruched fabric used as trims

different typesof ribbon for embroidery

4 ways of Ruching fabric

1. Gathering with basting stitches

This is the easiest method. Basting stitches are long stitches you make with a hand needle or your sewing machine which is then pulled to gather the fabric to contain fullness. This gathering creates automatic folds in the fabric, which is what it is all about. You will have to adjust the gathers and then stitch along the gathers with the regular stitch to keep the gathers in place

If you do not want to ruche the whole fabric of the garment, there is a way of selectively adding ruched fabric strips which is prevalent in heirloom sewing.

To make a ruched strip , you should preferably choose a thin fabric like cotton batiste. Cut a 45 inch wide strip of fabric about 3.5 inches wide
Press to remove any wrinkles
Fold the long sides 1/2 inches from both sides to the inside. Press to keep this fold in place
Make long stitches for gathering along the long edges (stitch both edges in the same direction)
Pull the thread tails to gather the strip
Gather till you see that you have the puffiness you wanted. You can now add this to wherever you want – like the face of a bag/purse, bodice of a little girl’s frock.

2. Stitching with elastic thread

frill sleeves

This method of stitching with elastic thread is called shirring. Checkout the post on sewing with elastic thread (shirring) here for more details. You get the same effect as gathering this way, with minimum effort.

Elastic thread is used in the bobbin and regular thread is used as the top thread. On the surface of the fabric, you  cannot see the elastic thread. The elastic thread is wound loosely on the bobbin. A regular thread is used as top thread.

Related posts : How to use a gathering foot ; How to sew ruffles (6 main types of ruffles. 

3. Pleating the fabric

Ruching is not simply gathering – it involves pleating, folding and other fabric manipulations as well . 

In simply gathering with elastic thread or gathering with basting stitches, you do not have any control of how the fabric will look finally. But with ruching you have full control.

You arrange the fabric the way you want, fix the pleats/ arrangements or gathers with basting stitches or pin , then stitch in place with regular stitches and then stitch the ruched edge to another fabric edge ( mostly not ruched)

You can skillfully pleat the fabric to get the ruched effect. You will have to use about 3 times the length of the pattern piece to be able to pleated this way.

fabric is cut 3 times bigger

Pleat and stitch along one edge

pleat one edge and stitch in place

Complete pleating on the other side

pleat the other edge and stitch

Related post : How to sew pleated ribbon trims.

4. Hand stitching a ruche with smocking stitches

This is done by tying knots in the back of the fabric in a pattern. This is also termed as lattice smocking. You can create a variety of such fabric folding by using this method.

star burst pattern on fabric

A simple way of doing this – You will have to mark the back side of the fabric to be ruched . Here I have marked lines 1″ apart. Then made markings 2 inch apart on the lines. On alternating lines the markings are made so that it lies between the markings on the above and below lines.(as in the picture below).

make marks 2 inches apart ; rows are marked one inches apart

Then Hand sewing needle and thread is used to gather the markings (on the back of the fabric). I have made small knots on the markings 1/4 inch deep. A twist with the thread after one or two stitches would do the thing.

twist and knot the fabric on these marks with thread

When it is done on all the markings it will look like this.

make knots on all the marks

On the front of the fabric an automatic ruched pattern is made.

on the surface fabric the fabric looks ruched

I have seen this type of ruching done on beautiful bedspreads in high end bed linen showrooms – so easy but looks so beautiful.


ruching fabric with stitching on specially made lines

pass the needle and thread through the stitching lines

5. Simple wrinkling and interfacing method

Choose a lightweight fabric for this easy method. Dampen the fabric and then twist and scrunch it into a mess of a ball and then tie it inside a towel. Leave there for sometime till it dries. Keep a piece of interfacing under your wrinkled fabric and then iron it there keeping your wrinkles suitably arranged. You can then embroider over this or add embellishments.

Thin cotton or silk is ruched into thin gathers by twisting it and tying it into coils for a long time.

the fabric is pleated and coiled and tied in place for a long time

After the tying is removed, do not iron it (ofcourse).

remove the ties slowly  so as to preserve the pleats

This effect do not last. After the first wash most of the pleats will disappear.

If you have to wash the garment you can again do the tying in the same way and keep it in your cupboard till the time you are using it.

6. Buy pre-pleated fabric

You can buy prepleated fabric and use it to maximum effect. Learn more about pre-pleated fabric here.

Ref : French word meaning ruche

Best fabrics for Ruching

Soft lightweight fabrics are the most suitable for ruching. Medium weight fabrics like Rayon, nylon, cotton batiste, voile, spandex can also be ruched. Party wear dresses made of satin usually have the ruching element added as an embellishment. It is a feminine detailing that looks good on silky, soft materials. 

Some more questions

Can adding of ruched fabric make a garment flattering?

Yes, It can be flattering as ruching adds contours to a garment – it can make the garment look shapely if it is incorporated correctly. It can also be used to hide figure defects or enhance features – say you want to make your bust line look bigger than it is, add a ruched fabric along this area in your pattern. Say you want to hide a big belly, a ruched fabric can be your saviour.

What are the names for similar effects in sewing?

Similar texture and effects can be incorporated with techniques like smocking, shirring, bubbling.

How is shirring different from ruching?

Shirring is gathering fabric with elastic thread- the elastic thread is used in the bobbin to gather the fabric with small gathers.

Related posts :How to do smocking on clothes; 10 different names for pleats; How to pleat and make ribbon trims ; How to sew box pleats ; How to sew inverted pleats; How to sew kick pleats; 50+ different ways to add patterns and texture to fabric; How to sew a wedding gown – tips.

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

16 thoughts on “Ruching: 6 ways to ruche fabric and its many uses in sewing”

  1. I am trying to replicate the sleeves on Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Veronica Veronese, and may use some of these techniques; do you have any suggestions as to which method to try?

  2. I want to shorten the length of a prom dress (lacy one with satin fabric under) using ruching with pulled elastic. any comments on how to do this successfully. Thank you.

    • You can cut the lace lining 2 inches shorter than the lace outer and then sew the outer to the lining; cut elastic to the measure of the hem circumference you need and stitch it to the satin lining inside.

    • You can run shirring stitches along the hem edge or a little above the hem or several vertically for different effects. For Ruching to be effective there should be extra fabric – the shirt sleeves should be bigger, atleast slightly.

  3. Can I fix ruching on a dress I wore to my sons wedding? The ruching on the top of my dress came out a little when someone stepped on my gown.

    • Hi Bea
      Do you have the photo of the dress of how it looked earlier – you can carefully replicate the look by hand sewing – I hope. You can fix anything on the dress : )

  4. Hi there,

    Is it possible for a seamstress to remove ruching? There’s ruching on the breast (just one side) of my wedding dress I’d like “smoothed” like the rest of my dress.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Amanda
      Yes a seamstress can remove ruching but she will have to replace the ruched fabric with the plain one which involves a lot of work. There is usually a lot of fullness ( extra fabric) where the ruching is done.

  5. Thank you so much! Been looking everywhere for help on ruching as I’m making a ball gown and want a fitted yet shapely bodice. This has helped so much!!!

  6. Making simplicity pattern #2463. Using cotton fabric. Skirt of dress has ruffles formed by folding fabric,pulling it up and tacking. Should I line these folds with something so it holds shape and does not hang flat?

  7. Hello, I need help. I have an evening dress that I want to add a satin neckline. The shape of the neckline is a boat shape and I want to bring it a little closer to the neck all the way to the back. Can you help me with some instructions, will be appreciated.

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