How to Sew a Ruffle – WITHOUT a Ruffler Foot!

How to Sew a Ruffle Without a Ruffler Foot Chic Creative Life

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I just LOVE ruffles – and always struggled how to sew a ruffle since I didn’t have a ruffler foot for my sewing machine. (Those things are expensive and complicated, man!) Though I eventually made the plunge and bought a ruffler foot sewing machine attachment, I can seriously count the number of times I’ve used it since then on one hand! I simply prefer a quicker, easier way to make picture-perfect ruffles – that is completely adjustable to my garment – and comes out great every time. Plus, ruffles are so IN this Spring & Summer for 2020 – check out the pattern trends for McCall’s Patterns for example – and a lot of my DIY’s use this method, so I figured it was high time to walk you through how to make them! Ruffles look so pretty especially using shirting fabric – and they’re amazingly simple to make using this method.

How To Sew a Ruffle Without a Ruffler Foot

You Need: sewing machine zigzag foot  /  long length of elastic cord (doesn’t matter what color)  /  pins

How To:

1. Switch your sewing machine foot to a zigzag foot, and change the machine settings to as wide and long a zigzag as it will go, with a looser tension.

2. Place the straight edge of a piece of fabric you are wanting to create ruffles in, wrong side facing up, under the machine foot.

3. Knot a long piece of elastic cord at the end, and place it on top of the fabric, about ⅜” from the edge.

4. Lower the zigzag foot down in front of the knot, backstitch a few times over the cord (do not go through the cord), and proceed to stitch in a zigzag over the cord down the length of the straight edge.

5. When you stitch all the way around and are nearing the knot in the elastic cord, go as far as you can without hitting the knot, and backstitch a few times over the cord.

6. Remove the ruffle piece from the machine. Pull on the un-knotted end of the cord, gathering the fabric underneath it.

7. Gather the ruffle piece until it is basically the same length of circumference as what you want to attach to, pin it to the other piece, right sides together.

8. Stitch ruffle below the elastic cord to secure it to the other piece, and remove the elastic cord by pulling it out from under the zigzag stitching from the knotted end.

And that’s all there is to it, friends! I’ve created the graphic below for easy pinning so you can save this post and come back to it.

how to sew a ruffle without a ruffler foot step by step pinterest graphic chic creative life

By the way, elastic cord is hard to come by lately – but I’ve had really good luck with searching for elastic cord sold by Etsy sellers. Try them instead of Amazon or the local craft store!

As long as you can sew in a zigzag – you can create a ruffle. Hopefully this will ease any worries you might have about creating the perfect ruffle – and next time when it comes to it, you will know EXACTLY how to sew a ruffle the easy way!


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How to Make a Ruffled Top from a Men’s Shirt

Get This Tutorial As a PDF

7 DIY Men's Shirt Makeovers ebook

This tutorial has been updated, and is now available as a full step-by-step with photos in my new book 7 DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers, part of the DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers System.

Tomorrow being Administrative Professionals’ Day I wanted to create something that’s fashionable yet doesn’t scream “look at me!” (and is totally appropos for the office!).  openingimg
With Earth Day just around the corner as well, what could be more eco than upcycling?  Steal a button-down from your guy’s closet and give it a feminine makeover…that will make it a mainstay in yours.

You Need:

before1 man’s button-down shirt (sized larger than you are; doesn’t matter what size)  /  thread matching topstitching in shirt

fabric scissors  /  seam ripper  /  pins  /  marking chalk  /  sewing machine  /  needle for wovens  /  iron and ironing board  / hand-sewing needle (optional)

How To:
Prep Time:

1. Put shirt on.  Button 3rd and fourth buttons on shirt.  Place one hand underneath your armpit; mark where armscye depth should be on the front of your shirt, as close to the side seam as possible. (I used a pin.)  Take off the shirt and also mark the armscye depth for the other arm.

2. Lay your shirt on  a flat surface and cut off the sleeves.  Cut off the cuffs and discard; slit the sleeves down their side seams (as close to the seams as possible without going through any lapped seam detail).  Remove the pocket with a seam ripper and discard.

3. Cut off the center button placard and buttonhole placard, below the fourth button, leaving enough allowance at the sides of each placard to fold under about 1/4″.  (If your placard is finished and bound, you won’t need the folding allowance, but mine wasn’t, so I have the extra step of finishing it below.)  Cut the collar from the front of the shirt (as close to the collar band as possible without going through it), and cut about 1″ along the bottom line of collar band into the back of the shirt.  (You won’t remove the collar entirely from the back of the shirt; you’ll just be freeing it from the front of the shirt.  We want that sucker still attached at the back!!)

4. Turn shirt inside out and button remaining buttons on the shirt.

Sew Front Center Seam 

5. Sew front together, down buttoned placard that’s still attached to the shirt, so you only have a single center front seam.

6. Trim seam and buttoned placard off on the inside.

Adjust Fit

7. Take shirt off and lay it flat.  Pin down sides, straight down from the pins you added at the armscye depth.

8. Turn shirt right-side-out and try it on.  Adjust pins as necessary for a more tapered fit at the waist, and a freer fit at the hip.  Make sure the armscye depth is still correct, and that you can get the shirt over your head.

9. Take shirt off, turn inside out, and trace a “best-fit” line between your pins at the sides.  Remove pins.  Add 1″ to the outside of the lines, and retrace the shape of the sides.

10. Cut shirt front from shirt back at the sides, cutting along the outside lines you drew in the previous step.

11. Trace shirt front onto shirt back.Draw lines on back about 3/8″ to the inside of the lines you just draw.  Cut shirt back on these lines.

12. Pin shirt front to shirt back.  (Your shirt front should now be about 3/4″ larger than the back.)

Sew the Sides

13. Sew shirt sides together.

14. Iron shirt and sleeves flat, paying special attention to the button placard still attached to the collar.

If your button placard is not finished on one side, now is the time to fold the unfinished side under, and topstitch so that both sides are finished.

Make the Ruffles 

15. Lay your sleeves flat and cut two pieces from the sleeves, next to the angled sleeve seams. (These pieces will be your Angled Ruffles.) Cut on the grain, cutting a piece about 1.5″ wide at its smaller end and 5.5″ wide at the widest end.  Trim any raw edges near the bound edge off.

16. Cut 2 long rectangles from each sleeve about 3″ wide by  the length of your sleeve.  Square off the ends.  These pieces will be your Long Ruffles.

17. Sew 2 long rectangles together, short end to short end.  Repeat for the other 2 pieces.

18. Fold over the long edge of one of the pieces from the previous step about 1/4″; sew a scant 1/16″ from the edge. Trim the raw edge next to your line of stitching.  Fold over the stitched edges about 1/4″ again; topstitch close to the edge to create a bound seam.  Do the same for the other connected long rectangle piece.

19. Using either a hand-sewing needle or a long basting stitch on your machine (or a gathering foot if you have it!), stitch long, basting stitches along the long raw edge of each long rectangle, and along the unbound raw edges of the angled ruffles.  Pull the thread to gather the pieces into ruffles.

Finish the Collar

20. Pin one long ruffled rectangle under the button placket of your collar piece, matching the length by pulling on the basting thread. Pin the angled ruffled piece underneath the long ruffled piece – the piece will only go down about 3/4 of the way of the placket.  Fold the bottom of the placket under the long rectangle ruffle end about 1/4″.21. Topstitch the edge of the placket, through all layers to secure.  (I chose to connect the top of the rectangle ruffle under my collar band piece, but leave the top of the angled ruffle free, like “wings.”)

21. Repeat for the other side and the buttonhole placket.

23. We need to re-connect the collar to the shirt now – so start with the button placket side, and pin down overlapping the open hole in the front of the shirt.  (Make sure the buttons are centered over the center front seam!)  Pin the placket to the shirt, going straight upwards all the way to the collar area.

Pin the collar to the back of the shirt, overlapping the back of the shirt as much as you can by angling the collar downward.  Between the top of the placket and the shoulder seam of the shirt, you’re going to have excess fabric, so gather it and pin the collar over it.24. Topstitch the button placket to the shirt.  (I had to zigzag over the collar band connection at the back of the shirt – there was a small gap that no amount of angling that collar piece was going to fix.)

25. Place buttonhole placket end over end of button placket, and do up the bottom button.

Topstitch end down, through all layers, and reinforce stitching.

26. Un-button bottom button, and pin buttonhole placket to front of shirt in the same manner as you did the button placket.  Topstitch through all layers.

Finish the Armscyes

 27. Try on the shirt and draw the shape of the shoulder how you want it.

28. Take off the shirt, and cut the armscye shape about 1/2″ on the outside of your markings.  Trace the shape onto the other shoulder, and cut it out too.

29. Turn under 1/2″ of an inch, and stitch about 3/8″ from the edge to finish, notching as you go.  (If you want a more finished look, cut the armscye 3/4″ outside of your markings, turn once and topstitch; turn again and topstitch to create a bound seam.  I find this very difficult along a curve, as often the armscye becomes tighter and smaller the more times you turn the edge, and notching the inside on such a small seam allowance is quite difficult.  If anyone has any tips, I’d love to hear them!)

Hem and You’re Done!

30. Try on the shirt and mark where you want the hem to be.

Cut about 1/2″ below this line, fold under, and stitch at a 3/8″ hem on your machine.


Voila!  A super-ruffly, super-feminine piece for the office.

DONE1 (As you can see, I also added 2 bust darts to make the feminine fit even better; you might need to do the same depending on the size of your bust and how you “fill out” the bust area of the top.  I do also need to press the armscye seams and remove the yellow chalk lines…I was just so excited to be done and couldn’t wait to take the photo…;-)

Thank goodness there’s someone around to redo all these stuffy men’s shirts and breathe some girly life into them!

done2Happy DIY’ing!


as posted on in 2010 (no longer hosted there since they changed networks)

Get This Tutorial As a PDF

7 DIY Men's Shirt Makeovers ebook

This tutorial has been updated, and is now available as a full step-by-step with photos in my new book 7 DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers, part of the DIY Men’s Shirt Makeovers System.

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Alexander Wang Ruffled Skirt…Found in Forever21???

(from…Buy a metal-coil non-separating black zipper from a sewing supply store…

for a whole lot less.

I’m onto you, Forever21!  You thought if you waited a year and a half, no one would notice you’ve knocked off Alexander Wang’s skirt (shown above, from the Lucky Magazine August 2008 issue – taped into my “inspiration files”)

Well – haha!  The ruse is up.

I’ve now snapped up the Tiered Skirt from one of your stores, and will be adding a zipper and black waistband shortly – to make my very own Alexander Wang Ruffled Skirt lookalike!

$495 vs. $29.79 (the zipper is $4.99)….who is the wiser now, hmmmmm?


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