How to ruche in sewing

Updated April 17, 2017

Turn a ho-hum piece of clothing purchased off the rack into something runway chic by adding a ruche (or two). Ruching is a sewing technique used to form soft pleats or frills that give visual interest to both garments and soft furnishings, such as pillows. A ruche can be sewn by hand or machine. You can use elastic and a sewing machine to add a ruche to shoulder or sleeve seams or hand sew a ruched ribbon trim or applique to fabric for extra pizazz.

Turn your garment inside out and cut the elastic to the length of the seam(s) you want to work on, plus an additional inch. For example, if adding a ruche to sleeves, cut the elastic to run from the shoulder seam to 1 inch past the hem of the sleeve at the wrist. Place the elastic over the seam, starting at the wrist. Leave an inch of the elastic running past the wrist to use as a grip. Tack the elastic down just above the hem.

Adjust the setting on your sewing machine to a zigzag stitch. For more gathers in your ruche, pick a long stitch length. Sew down the centre of the elastic, gently stretching the elastic as you sew to the end of the seam.

Change the setting on your machine to a straight stitch and tack down the end of the elastic. Trim the excess thread and elastic so no raw edges show.

Turn your garment right side out and you will see the elastic has shrunk, creating a puckering, ruffled effect along the length of the sleeves.

Repeat for the other sleeve.

Cut your ribbon to its desired length. Draw a series of zigzag lines at right angles to each other along the length of the ribbon using either a soft lead pencil or tailor's chalk.

Sew along the lines with your needle and matching thread. Make small, running stitches (even stitches that run in and out through the cloth without overlapping) along the zigzags.

Stitch along the entire length of the ribbon and leave about 3 inches of thread hanging at the end before cutting the thread.

Pull on the end of the thread and gently gather the ribbon. The stitches should appear in the centre of the ribbon as you do this. Sew the finished, ruched ribbon along a neckline or seam.

Wind the ruched ribbon into a spiral to create a flower applique. Coil the ribbon and tack the layers of the spiral together with thread. Tuck in the end of the ruched ribbon and stitch it down. Sew the completed ruche onto your fabric.


Any fabric lends itself to ruching: metallics and knits jerseys work equally well. Strengthen your thread before sewing a ruche by hand. You can purchase beeswax at sewing stores for this purpose. The wax will coat the thread and reduce snagging.


Adding ruching to side seams of a ready-to-wear skirt, dress or shirt with elastic can be tricky, requiring fitting and refitting. Make sure you have twice as much fabric as elastic because the elastic will cause the fabric to ride up and shorten the length of the garment.

Things You'll Need

  • Fabric
  • Thread to match
  • Needle
  • Ribbon, 1 inch in width
  • Elastic, 1/4 inch in width
  • Scissors
  • Soft lead pencil or tailor's chalk
  • Sewing machine
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About the Author

Danette Marie has been writing since 1990. Her work includes promotional materials for both the nonprofit and private sectors in the United States, France and India. She holds a Master of Science degree in communications from the SI Newhouse School of Syracuse University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Marywood University in Scranton, PA. Danette is based in New York City.