If you want to sew pretty dresses for your daughter or yourself, ruffles are the way to go. Almost all dress patterns you’ll come across will request some ruffles or gathering. You can use ruffles in blouses, tees, jackets, and even coats. Moreover, this technique can add fullness to sleeves, as well as interest to your aprons and pillows.

When you want to create ruffles that can stretch open and close, you need to use an elastic thread. For some home seamstresses, sewing ruffles using an elastic thread is quite easy. But for some, it can be quite intimidating. If you’re the latter, then this tutorial on how to sew ruffles with an elastic thread is for you.

What Exactly Is An Elastic Thread?

In comparison to a regular thread, an elastic thread is stretchier and thicker. Therefore, it is useful if you want to work with fabrics that are stretchy. You often combine an elastic thread with a regular thread in your sewing machine. Doing so can help you create clothing that gives a bit, such as a top with shirring.

When sewing with elastic thread, it will require you to have intermediate sewing skills. If you’ll sew a ruffle dress, you will need a polyester sewing thread to match your fabric and a stretch or ballpoint sewing machine needle in size 75 or 80, aside from a spool of elastic thread.

Elastic threads are often displayed together with other elastic materials and not threads and typically wound on a long, narrow tube. Remember that you want an elastic thread and not an elastic cord since this is a lot heavier.

Also, make sure to use a new elastic thread to get the best possible results when sewing ruffles. An elastic thread that has been sitting in your sewing box for years will usually lose its elasticity over time.

Getting Started And Test Stitching

Step 1

You must thread the elastic thread on the bobbin and not through the needle of your sewing machine. That’s because it is too heavy for it. 

Likewise, you must wound it by hand, which will not take as much time as you may think.

Wind your elastic thread on the bobbin, ensuring that you have just enough tension so that the thread lies smoothly in the bobbin. Usually, you will need more than one bobbin of elastic thread, so you may want to wind several, to begin with.

You may also want to check the owner’s manual of your machine. See if it comes with instructions on how to use elastic thread or other heavy threads in the bobbin.

Step 2

Insert the stretch needle in your sewing machine, and thread the machine with the matching poly thread.  Position the bobbin in the bobbin case of your machine as usual.  Then, pull up the elastic thread, and leave a couple of inches tail.

Step 3

Do some test stitching first on fabric scraps or on samples of the same fabric you will be using for your dress. All sewing machines will be different, so check the settings of your machine.  

Begin with a stitch length of around 4mm.  Straight stitch on the right side of the fabric, so the elastic thread is on the wrong side.  For testing, stitch at least half an inch from the edge of the fabric, in the middle of the fabric under a ruffle, and stitch at least 4 or 5 inches.  The stitched fabric should gather up, yet it still allows your fabric to stretch to its full width when the elastic is stretched. 

Important Things To Keep In Mind 

  1. If the needle thread forms loops on the wrong side of your fabric, increase the needle tension.
  2. Slightly increase the bobbin tension if the elastic thread is loopy on the wrong side.
  3. Increase the bobbin tension or the stitch length slightly if the elastic thread is loopy on the wrong side.
  4. When your elastic is very light with tight gathers are tight that will not stretch out, decrease the bobbin tension.
  • To change the bobbin tension, always check your machine’s manual. Bobbin cases normally have a little screw that turns either too loose or too tight. 
  • Before changing the bobbin tension, use a fine-tip permanent marker to mark the position of the tension screw, so it will be easier for you to return to the regular bobbin tension when you return to regular sewing.  
  • Tighten or loosen the screw in small increments, no more than one-eighth turn at a time. Some people like to purchase a separate bobbin case just for bobbin work, so their main bobbin never gets altered.  
  • Changing the tension on drop-in bobbins will vary by machine. Again, check your manual. Some sewing machines have special bobbins for bobbin work. Meanwhile, it may work best on other machines to completely avoid the bobbin tension mechanism.  
  • Always do a few tests first and use the settings that work best for you and the particular fabric you are using.

Step 4

Leave tails of several inches at the ends of the stitched row.  After stitching the first row to your satisfaction, stitch consecutive rows, stitching in the middle of the fabric under each ruffle.  Stretch out previous rows as you are stitching, so you are always stitching on flat fabric.  Make sure to be careful not to catch the ruffles in the stitching.

If you run out of bobbin elastic (and you probably will since the bobbins don’t hold enough to finish a project), leave tails of both elastic and thread about 2 or 3 inches long.  Pull the thread to the wrong side.  Insert a new, filled bobbin and continue stitching so just a couple of stitches overlap.  

Ensure that the tails don’t get caught in the stitching.  Pull the thread from the new stitching to the wrong side.  Securely tie together the elastic thread ends. Likewise, you need to tie together the thread ends.  Cut off elastic and threads, leaving at least 1/4  inch tails.

Step 5

After the stitching is completed, steam the shirred section. If one or more rows are not pulled up as much as the others, gently pull up the elastic thread, as if it were a regular gathering thread, and distribute the extra gathers, so that all rows are consistently taut.