Ruffles: Gathering foot vs. Overlocker

I love petticoats. Absolutely adore them. The frillier, the better: nothing makes you feel more girlishly feminine than a big poofy skirt, held aloft by layers or ruffles. Every woman and girl-child should have at least one.

I could go on.

Anyway, my point to this is that I'm forever on the quest to find the fastest and easiest way to get ruffles.

I've already written about using a gathering foot to create ruffles on a sewing machine, and I thought that was fantastic and the end of my quest.

But then...

Along came my new overlocker and of course I had to try the techniques I'd seen online and longed to do for so long.

To summarise all the advice I've seen:

  1. loosen the pressure on the presser foot,
  2. tighten the tension in the top threads,
  3. keep your looper thread tension normal/slightly looser,
  4. set your differential feed to ruffle/biggest number, and
  5. set your stitch length to the longest available.

Fabric in + pedal down = high-speed gathering.

Verdict: great for light-weight, densely woven fabrics, such as chiffon, cotton voile, cotton poplin, even quilting-weight cotton (shown, second sample from top).

Surprisingly, I also managed to get some decent gathers going in the cotton towel I used for my niece's hooded towel. The fabric was too dense to justify calling them ruffles, but they were definitely effective gathers.

While not strictly woven, tulle, with its ultra-fine netting, ruffled into fluffy, uncontrollable waves, producing the best results for a petticoat (shown, bottom sample), but requires a lot of tulle for a short amount of ruffle. In my sample, I've folded a strip in half and overlocked both raw edges together, as I was hoping to use this on the bottom of a skirt lining, but ran out of tulle before I had enough ruffles.

Standard netting, on the other hand, produced exceedingly inconsistent and disappointing results. Not only did it not ruffle up as densely as the other fabrics, the large holes in the netting meant that the overlock stitching wouldn't hold, even when back-stitched (flipped backwards and over-overlocked), causing the ends to un-ruffle when the netting was pulled out. This was mainly disappointing because this netting produced the best results with my gathering foot.

I also found that if you cut the strips so that the little netting diamonds were pointing up at the stitching (red netting, top sample), the ruffles were better than if you cut the strips the other way (black netting, third sample from top). The lighter the netting, the better the ruffling, with the trade-off of a softer, more crushable ruffle.

Overall, I'm really impressed with the ruffles produced on the overlocker, but for heavy-weight netting and other fabrics requiring ultra-secure ruffles, I'll stick to my gathering foot.

The gathering foot is also better for big/long ruffles that are more like tiny pleats. The overlocker produces narrow little gathers, which is usually the desired effect, but sometimes the pleated effect produced by the deep settings on the gathering foot is more appropriate (e.g. edging on upholstery/curtains/tablecloths, or clothes where you want the seam to lay quite flat and minimise bulk).

I should also note that you can get a gathering foot for most overlockers, but it seems to mainly be used for separating the top and bottom layers of fabric so that you can ruffle and attach in one pass through the overlocker. It does not appear to add extra ruffliness like the gathering foot for a sewing machine, which also allows you to ruffle and attach in one step (although I don't think I demonstrated that in my post on the gathering foot).

Does anyone else share my obsession with petticoats and ruffles? What are your tips for achieving the fastest and fullest ruffles?