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What Is Ruching?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 16, 2024
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Ruching is a French term which means "to gather, ruffle, or pleat." It is a sewing technique in which fabric or ribbon is gathered in a repeating pattern to form ruffles, scallops, or petals.

Ruching has traditionally been used to decorate clothing, accessories, and quilts. More recently, modern technology has allowed seamstresses to create precise, evenly-spaced ruching that has kept the technique current.

Many items can be ruched for added visual detail, including wedding dresses, flower appliqués, pillows, and blinds. Ruching involves evenly folding, stitching, and gathering a length of material in order to achieve the desired result.

The History of Ruching

Ruching is a labor-intensive, time-consuming technique that, like many other art forms, is experiencing a resurgence in current fashion trends. In the late 19th century, ruching was a popular way to decorate women's clothing, such as hats and petticoats. However, some argue that ruching has existed for much longer, possibly as far back as the Middle Ages.

The uniformity found in historical ruched pieces has led historians to believe that medieval seamstresses used some sort of tool to evenly space the ruching. Around the 1850s, quilters began using ruching in order to create three-dimensional flower appliqués for quilts.

Modern Uses for Ruching

  • One popular modern-day use for ruching is to gather the fabric at certain points in the design of a dress, thus adding visual interest to the piece.

  • Ruching can be applied to dress sleeves, bodices, waistbands, and collars.

  • Many contemporary wedding dresses feature fabric that has been gathered or ruffled using this technique.

  • Just as it was in the 19th century, ruching is still used in evening wear, such as ball gowns and prom dresses, and in some cases it can even decorate a necktie.

  • Ruching is also used in home design products, such as pillows or on the bottom edge of an Austrian blind.

Essentially, any type of fabric can be ruched, including metallics, ribbons, and even lace. It's important to note that the material must be significantly longer than the desired finished length, as the process of gathering will shorten it significantly.

Modern-day seamstresses and tailors often use a plastic guide to mark the zig-zag pattern that will later be stitched. Another gadget, a fabric sack filled with chalk, can be used to make the markings. Small running stitches are then sewn by hand or with a sewing machine. The thread must be sturdy to allow the fabric or ribbon to be gathered.

Free tutorials and instructional videos are available on the Internet to teach people how to ruche, and books are also available on the subject.

How to Ruche a Flower

Using the following technique, a seamstress can create attractive flowers for appliqué purposes.

  1. Fold the sides of a strip of fabric to the backside until they meet.

  2. Next, lines are marked at a 90° angle on the front side, spaced evenly.

  3. The lines are stitched with a matching thread; stitchers should be sure to loop the thread back to the front when they reach an edge.

  4. After sewing a few inches, the stitcher should then gather the fabric or ribbon into petals.

  5. Using another needle and thread, the petals are then curled into a circular pattern.

  6. At the end of the petals, the tail is tucked under and tacked.

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Discussion Comments
By anon336347 — On May 28, 2013

Where is gathering used in clothing/furnishings?

By anon275169 — On Jun 16, 2012

@anon211118: I spoke to Rowley Company who said they have a video to watch on this exact thing.

By anon211118 — On Sep 01, 2011

Would anyone know how to finish the top edge of drapery panels with ruching?

By anon110551 — On Sep 12, 2010

I'm making an evening ball gown and the front is ruched! I want to know must I make the back ruched as well or leave it plain. I'm not sure if the back ruching will make me look fat? Please help! Thank you.

By dudla — On Jul 13, 2010

@pixiedust - You're so right about ruching on a wedding dress -- it really does slim the look of the bride. But, lots of wedding dresses have ruching along the skirt part of the dress and are actually rather fitted around the midsection part of the dress. These are really beautiful dresses too, but all ruching doesn't hide the extra pounds.

By pixiedust — On Jul 13, 2010

I know we all try to lose lots of weight for our weddings, but sometimes despite our best efforts, we fail. I know I did. Buying a wedding dress with ruching was a savior for me! It really is a slimming fashion trick!

By KittenHerder — On Jul 13, 2010

@arunil - You're so right! And when that ruching is on a top or dress that has an empire waist, then I think it hides a larger mid section even better!

By arunil — On Jun 23, 2009

Ruching can be a great way to hide a little extra weight at the waistline. When you wear a blouse or dress with ruching around the middle, it's hard to tell what's fabric and what's you.

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