How to use a Ruffler Foot to Gather a Skirt for a Doll Dress

When it comes to doll dresses, I say, can there ever be enough ruffle? Whether it’s a full, twirly doll skirt, or a cute ruffle at the hem of pants or a skirt, you can make your ruffles in mere seconds with this fancy accessory for your sewing machine!! Use this quick method when you sew the Boardwalk Boutique, Party Time Peasant Dress, Playtime Peasant Skirt, and the Sugar n Spice dress patterns from Oh Sew Kat! See the full pattern collection HERE.

Make bitty baby doll clothes with easy pdf sewing patterns from Oh Sew Kat! Great for beginners, also fits Bitty Twins.
Bitty Baby doll in pink flowered dress

Learn to Use Your Ruffler Attachment for Your Sewing Machine

The first thing is to ensure you have the exact correct ruffler for your specific machine.  My machine is a Bernina 560 and the ruffler foot is #86.  I have a ruffler foot for my babylock machine as well, and even though it looks almost identical, it’s not compatible with my Bernina.  A ruffler for your machine is not a cheap accessory, but if you use it often, it can be a huge time saver!!! Be sure to watch a few quick videos on you tube to get familiar with how to use it. Generally, a ruffler will look like the photo below. It’s quite the contraption! But once I tried it, I fell in love!

Sewing Doll Skirts: Ruffler Tips

  1. There can be a lot of math involved when using a ruffler.  It has a few options and if you change the number and the stitch length, you get even more!  That all gives me a headache, to be honest. I’m an English teacher not a math teacher, remember? If you want a great tutorial on how to figure all of this out, I highly recommend searching you tube.  Me, I just want to put a piece of fabric in and gather my doll skirts in about 15 seconds!  So this is what I did and maybe it can benefit you too.
  2. The ruffler foot seems intimidating at first, but it really attaches just like any of your other sewing feet. You need to make sure the top “hook” (looks like a backwards “c”- see Fig 1) is over the needle bar (see Fig 3), which will move the entire mechanism. This is similar to some buttonhole feet. Once the foot is secure, and the “c” hook is over the bar, lower the foot and check that your needle moves in and out freely and doesn’t hit any of the metal.
  3. In Fig 2, you can see the front notch which shows the number of stitches between “tucks” or gathers. For tight gathers, set this to 1, so it will “tuck” every stitch. You can also set it to every 6th stitch or every 12th stitch. The smaller the number, the tighter the gathers. You will need less fabric the higher the number.
  4. The fabric will move front to back, just like your regular sewing. The center, middle of the foot has a darker, flat piece of metal. The back end of this piece has a zig zag type edge, which will grab the fabric. As the fabric is tucked, the needle stitches it in place. Your fabric is fed in between the two bars at the front, then under this little metal piece and out the back.
  5. In Fig 1, you can see that the foot has a two layer bottom. The fabric will feed in between these two layer bars at the front, then under the metal piece and needle etc. (Fig 4). Start slowly, and ensure the fabric and the little claw are moving correctly. You will hold/feed the fabric, watching the front guide. If you start to sew, and your fabric doesn’t start to move in under the needle, pull it out and try again.
  6. I sat down with a pile of cotton strips (I used the ugly parts of a quilter’s jelly roll, but you can use anything that is similar to the fabric you will gather the most. You can even ruffle a strip, measure it, pull the stitches out, and ruffle it again using the same strip more than once.)  The jelly roll strips were all 42 inches long (and 2.5 inches wide), which is more or less the width of fabric when you buy it off the bolt.  I sat down and set my ruffler to ruffle every stitch, (the little holes front and center) and my stitch length to 2.5.  I ruffled the strip.  The next one I ruffled with the stitch length set at 3.0 and kept moving up to 5.0 which is as long as my machine will let me set.  (No idea what a jelly roll is? Click AD: to see at the Fat Quarter Shop HERE. Jelly rolls (also called Bali Pops, Rolie Polies etc) are a type of precut cotton fabric, designed for quilters, but also great for doll clothes!)
  7. Once I ruffled each strip, I measured it and started making a chart. I entered the original length of fabric, the stitch length (2.5-5.0), the ruffler stitch count setting (every stitch, every sixth stitch, etc), and the finished, ruffled length. My goal was to see what stitch length would give me the closest measurements to the skirts in my doll clothes patterns. I add them to a white board or wall chart for quick reference. Look up the skirt measurements of your favorite doll clothes patterns with ruffles or gathered skirts. Cut strips to match, and start with the lowest stitch length setting, to see where you end up. It’s not hard to get right to certain measurements, and as I said, I’m an English teacher, and I didn’t want to do the math.  I needed the strips to be 1 or 2 inches LONGER than what I would use on the doll garment. I can trim off the end.  😉  If a measurement is too short, leaving an inch unruffled at either end can work as well.  This also makes it a little easier to add the hook and loop tape to a back closing garment.
  8. I found that a strip that measured 42 inches, ruffled at 5.0 stitch length gave me 14-15 inches.  This is what I use most of the time for 18 inch dolls.  I leave one inch at the beginning, and ruffle all the way to the end.  Once it’s pinned to the skirt, I can remove the part I don’t need (perfect for an apron like in Sugar n Spice pattern), remove a few stitches to flatten out the back edge, and attach it to my waistband. Time saver!!!

It’s possible to ruffle and attach your skirt to your waistband at the same time. As long as you know you can trim off the excess at the end, you can do it in one step.  Having your handy chart of which stitch length will give you what approximate measurement will really help!  I encourage you to ruffle a few strips of fabric and make your own chart.  At first I used a notebook, but I’ve since put it into my google drive so it is now sorted by fabric length.  I add to it every time I ruffle a skirt or piece of fabric, and I reference it when I sit down to sew a pattern to speed up my doll clothes constructions.

How to Use a Ruffler to Gather Doll Skirts when Sewing

A ruffler foot can also be used to make your own gathered trim (think eyelet lace) and ruffles for any and every project. Have fun with this new tool!!

Use the ruffler foot to make the quick to sew Party Time Peasant Dress even quicker!! Find the pattern here.

Make a Party Time Peasant Dress for your 18 inch American Girl doll for St Patrick's Day. Find the easy PDF print at home sewing pattern at #irish #dolldress #18inch #sewingpattern #irishcraft
Sewing patterns to make doll clothes by Oh Sew Kat!