Ruffles will always be popular in dancewear, however more recently they have made an new appearance in swimwear. The concept is really quite simple … to create a ruffle you need more length on the free edge than you do on the attached edge … that’s it. The question come’s when you ask how much. The answer depends on two things, the weight of the fabric or it’s capacity to carry ruffles, and the width of the ruffled band. Taken to the extreme, a ruffle around the waist band of a bikini bottom could go from a little half inch wide decorative strip to essentially what might better be described as a flared skirt. It’s really a matter of perspective.
OK let’s start this discussion by running through an easy example. Say we want to apply a simple ruffle to the waist band of a bikini brief. First we measure the length of the waist band on the pattern. Let’s say it comes to 61.6cm (waistband on my sample one piece block). Let’s assume we’re using a single layer of the same swimwear lycra as the rest of the garment. Let’s assume we want a fairly simple 2.5cm (one inch) wide ruffle strip that’s nice and full.
First however there is a catch to all this. Swim and dancewear have negative ease. This means that the attached edge has to first stretch out to the required body size. If you were to add fullness before considering this then you’d find your ruffles would end up flatter than expected. Take a look at the image below.
The first bar represents the measurement of the waistband on the pattern where there may be as much as 12% negative ease. The second bar is the real measurement of the waistband when it fits the body. The attatched edge of our ruffle must still be 60cm, but it has to stretch out to 70.6cm before any extra length added to the free edge can contribute to the fullness of the ruffle. So if we want to calculate a ruffle with 3:1 fullness we do so by multiplying the second bar by 3, not the first bar, hence we get a free edge of 212cm (third bar). Had we simply multiplied the first bar by 3 then the free edge would only be 180cm (or 32cm short), for a fullness of 2.6:1 … significantly less. It is important not to forget this as the error can get larger as desired fullness increases.
But how much fullness do you need? That’s completely up to you … it’s style dependant. Most narrow ruffles on swimwear (say 1.5-3cm wide strip) fall somewhere between 2:1 for very light ruffles and 5:1 for very full ruffles. I’ve seen them as high as 10:1 but you really need to know what you’re doing as there are other implications to this that are outside the scope of this discussion. I like 3:1 for small swimwear ruffles where the ruffle fabric is the same as the garment fabric. Generally speaking you can increase the ratio as the fabric gets lighter, but you don’t want to decrease the ratio by using fabric heavier than the garment or it’ll tend to distort the garment on the shelf (don’t lose sight of the objective!).
The next consideration to fullness is the width of the ruffle strip. Generally as you get wider you need a higher ratio to maintain the same visual fullness, however you end up with more fabric bulk, which equates to looking bulky (fatter), being heavier when wet and costing an enormous amount to produce! Ruffles aren’t generally commercially manufactured over 5-7.5cm (2-3inches) for this reason … although exception may be for short runs of dancewear with lower ratios.
OK but what about ruffle strips that vary in width? Again this comes down to choice. You might maintain the same ratio all the way along if the width doesn’t vary too much, realising that you may lose some fullness in the wider sections. This is a visual loss relative to the narrower sections. I like to add extra fullness as my strips get wider so as to maintain a consistent visual fullness across the entire ruffle … but that’s just a style preference on my behalf.
Now there’s bound to be some really clever people out there who realise that as you curve around the body, the negative ease along the strip will vary. You would be absolutely correct and yes it’s important to know where this is and how to cope with it. If it’s a complex piece I might just trace it off the original pattern and cut and slash the piece to the desired fulness taking the ease into account with each slash … complicated, long winded, but accurate … and probably a little beyond this exercise. I’ve done this a few times for custom clients, but my commercial RTW ruffle experience is somewhat miminal.
Generally I base my average ruffle on 3:1 for up to 3cm, then up it to 4:1 for 3 to 4cm, then 5:1 for 4 to 5cm (etc). You will get a feel for what you like visually over time and as your machining skills improve to handle fuller ruffles. If you look at my ratios mathematically you may notice my preferences actually get fuller proprtionally much faster as the ruffle gets wider. My reason is simple … if I’m going to use a really wide ruffle for some bizzare reason then it’s usually because I want it to be noticed … and that applies to the swimsuit when it’s both dry AND wet … yes more fabric is heavier when wet, but lycra does carry the weight of water in these thickness without drooping too much … and ruffles tend to be self-supporting.
OK, all that and we still haven’t shown how to make a pattern. In our example we’re talking about a ruffle strip that’s 2.5cm wide all the way along and subject to the same negative ease all the way along. The pattern is essentially just a donut shape, or at least a series of donuts that need to be attatched to each other. Take a look a the illustration below. In Step 1 we create a rectangle the height of the ruffle (2.5cm). Make your rectangle 1cm wide (don’t change the unit of measurement unless you really understand the system). Now if you remember the pattern is asking for an increase from 61.6cm out to 212cm giving us a true ratio of 3.44:1 so that it will look 3:1 when stretched over the body. Therefore in Step 2 we add 2.44 more rectangles. Add them to the left hand side. In Step 3 we draw a straight line from the top left corner to the bottom right of second last rectangle demonstrating 3.44 down to 1. In step 4 you draw down a line along the right edge of the right hand side rectangle and then extend the diagonal line until they intersect. The right hand line is then the diameter of the outer circle!
Don’t believe it could be that simple? The outside circle in the illustration below has a circumference of 22.2cm and the inner circle has a circumference of 6.4cm … a ratio of 3.46 (which considering is rounded and hand measured, is very close to the 3.44 its supposed to be – if you do it with maths alone it’s exact).
But that’s not right you say? The circle has an outside circumference of 22.2cm and we need an outside length of 212cm!! Surely you’ve miscalculated?? Nope … it means that to create a ruffle 2.5cm wide with a final “stretched on the body” fullness of 3:1 we’re going to need lots of those donuts! 9.5 of them to be exact! and that’s the theory folks!
Too many circles to cut out and sew? Then try using a narrower ruffle requiring only 2.5:1 or even less. Or maybe use the same width but still cut it down to 2.5:1 and be happy with it sitting flatter. But if you want flounce and bounce then you better be prepared to cut a whole stack of circles.
The circle method is the technique most people use for ruffles that are either purely vertical (along V necklines) or purely horizontal (around waistbands). Of course many people just use a standard circle for everything, stitch a whole stack together on a massive chain of hundreds and simply apply them to whatever edge they feel like, cutting off the extra when they get to the end of the seam … this is common for small run manufacturers … and it does work, only they have no consistency in fullness from one panel to the next. The main reason they do this is because they don’t want to think about different RTW sizes and they get a lot less waste overall. There are even some people that create a snail shell type spiral where the inside end is about 5:1 and the outside end is about 1.8:1 and they think this still looks ok because they realise that the average person doesn’t know what they’re looking at. As much as I loathe this kind of thinking, it does save on fabric costs and there are much fewer seams when chaining the spirals together. I think it looks cheap and nasty, but in very narrow ruffles they do seem to get away with it.
Alternatives to ruffles are the narrow ribbons of stretchy fabric (about 10mm wide maximum) that are sewn down the centre lengthwise using a special gathering foot and chain stitch. Because the chain stitch and ribbon are applied directly to the garment, the ribbon is gathered onto the garment but can still stretch with the garment. What you get is essentially a double edged ruffle that’s got a ratio of around 2.5:1. Technically this is a gather and not a ruffle because there is excess fabric along the seam line. It’s very popular on the back of bikini bottom panels in retro look swimwear and lingerie. It looks adorably cute but if you sit the wrong way on a rock or concrete slab then you’ll look very tatty.
Unfortunately I don’t have any photographs of finished ruffles on my own garments. If I get a chance I’ll try to put some examples together to show what you can achieve with a little creativity.