How To Make a Lettuce Edge Tulle Ruffle With Your Sewing Machine
Recently I needed to use my meager sewing skills to modify my daughter's dress for the homecoming dance. It was gorgeous - strapless with a fuchsia bodice and a black satin skirt covered by layers of tulle ruffles. It was just a little short, so I decided that I could sew a little extra satin on the skirt with no problem - it was that mass of layered tulle ruffles that made the sweat break out on my forehead! How was I going to add another layer to these wavy-edge tulle ruffles?
A little research helped...these ruffles had a name - "lettuce edge" tulle ruffles. Several web sites had information on making them, but they all suggested using a serger. Being sergerless (did I mention that I am a meager seamstress?), I had to figure out another way. And after some brainstorming, I came up with a nice solution that involved my trusty old Bernina 1130 sewing machine, a length of fuchsia tulle, and some thick fishing line. Here's how to do it!
Get a Straight Edge on Your Fabric
I find that this type of material is notoriously ragged along the cut edge, so the first thing you'll need to do is to get a straight edge on your fabric. Here's an easy way to do this - first, with the selvage edges together, fold your material in half lengthwise, and then fold it again, so that you have 4 thicknesses of fabric. Pin the edges along the top and bottom to keep your tulle from sliding around as you work with it.
Using a straightedge, mark the fabric. A quilting ruler works great, since it's transparent and has horizontal lines to help mark a square edge. To make my line, I used a Sharpie since I was marking on mesh and there was barely a trace of the marks left after cutting. However, the proper way to do it would be to use a fabric marker that eventually fades and disappears.
Cut along your mark to make a nice, straight edge.
Cut Fabric Strip(s) For Ruffle
The next step is to cut a fabric strip the desired width of the ruffle. Determine this width by deciding how wide you want the finished ruffle to be, plus add 7/8" to that (5/8" for the gathering stitches and 1/4" for the hem). Also, figure out the finished ruffle length you need for your project. Multiply that length by 1-1/2 to 2 times to allow for gathering. You will probably need to cut two or more fabric strips to piece together to get the total length you need.
Mark the fabric in the same manner that you marked it to cut a straight edge.
Cut the desired number of strips. If you have multiple strips, sew the end of one strip to the next to make one long rectangular piece.
Hem Edge of Ruffle
Now the fun starts - here's what makes the lettuce edge on the ruffle. You're going to encase a length of thick fishing line into the hem of the ruffle. I don't bother pinning the hem, because this isn't rocket science - it just needs to be close.
Position the fabric under your presser foot so that the needle will be about 1/4" from the edge of your fabric. Lay the fishing line 1/4" in from the edge of your fabric. Let it extend a couple of inches beyond the edge - you can tie it off or trim it later. Also, feed it directly off the spool - you won't cut it until you're done with the hem. You want to line it up exactly with the center of the presser foot.
Now fold the hem up over the fishing line, keeping the fishing line snug against the fold line, and also keeping the fishing line lined up with the center of the presser foot.
Begin sewing OVER the fishing line with a small width zigzag stitch, backstitching at the beginning to lock the stitch. The idea is that when you zig, the needle will be just to the right of the fishing line. When you zag, the needle will be just to the left. On my Bernina 1130, where the stitch width setting goes from 0 to 5, I set it at about 1-1/2.
Continue in this manner, folding over 1/4" of fabric as you go, and making sure that the fishing line feeds exactly in the center of your presser foot. It won't take long to see the "lettuce edge" start to develop!
Gathering the Ruffle
Once you've hemmed the entire length of fabric, it's time to sew the gathering stitches. Set your stitch length on the longest setting or a basting stitch if your machine has it. Along the unhemmed edge, sew a row of stitching 5/8" from the edge, locking the stitches at the beginning, and leaving at least 3" of thread when you cut it at the end. Sew another row of stitching 1/4" away from the first stitching (or 3/8" inch from the edge), again locking the beginning stitches and leaving at least 3" of thread at the end.
With one hand, grasp the top thread from each line of stitches, and with the other hand, slide the fabric along the threads, which will create the gathers in your ruffle.
Continue to do this until the gathered ruffle reaches the desired length.
Attach Ruffle to Project
Your gathered ruffle is now ready to attach to your project. If you're sewing it to the bottom of a skirt, go ahead and sew the ends of the ruffle together to make a continuous loop. Pin your ruffle to your project and adjust the gathers evenly. Baste the ruffle to your project, and check to make sure you like how the ruffle is distributed. Then sew the ruffle on permanently - since tulle is so stretchy, I use a small zigzag stitch for this step.
Now you can say that you've made a lettuce edge tulle ruffle!
Things I Learned
The thickness of the fishing line has everything to do with the size of the wave on your ruffle. I used 50 lb. test line, and if I had to do it again, I would use a thinner line...the thinner your line, the wavier the ruffle.
Tulle is really stretchy, so zigzag stitching is the way to go when sewing this fabric.
When you're trying to cut several layers of tulle at once, pinning it together first is essential. Tulle is really slippery!