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The 20 Minute Ruff

This one won’t win you any points for historical accuracy or art. It’s more for those times when you need to put something decidedly ruff-like around a neck, and you need to do it in a big bad hurry. Say you’ve got a kid who needs a halloween costume, or, I dunno, a designer who needs 10 clown ruffs to put on a pack of galloping ballerinas doing a piece inspired by Pierrot and Columbine…. Ahem. Yes. Well. If you’ve hit the “Done is Beautiful” point, this is the ruff for you. If you’re looking to make a ruff The Right Way(tm), you maybe oughta take a pass…. ;)

You will need the following measurements:
  1. Neck

In a perfect world, you will know the neck measurement of the ruff-ee. (I wasn’t in a perfect world when I did this. I was in a costume shop, where the phrase “Just make it to fit you. That should work….” is not uncommon. This is where costume shops are a little like old-school tailor’s shops. We don’t have dress forms for all of our “clients”, nor (much to our chagrin) do we always even have a measurement sheet (that we can find), so there’s a lot of looking around for anyone or anything that looks to be about the right size and shape. If you get close enough, you can always tweak the fit later. This was utterly-horrifically-mind-bogglingly-SO-FREAKIN’-WRONG to my little just-got-me-a-fashion-degree brain when I started. It’s gotten more ok over the years. The mind adapts…)

So… My neck is 14.5″ at the base. To make something that looks convincingly like a ruff, you’ll need a strip of fabric 7″ wide and 45″ long, a yard or so of 1/2″ wide tape or ribbon (I’m using twill tape), and a sewing machine. I’ve serged off the edges of my fabric strip. You could roll them if you weren’t in a hurry. Then again, if you weren’t in a hurry, you probably wouldn’t be doing it this way…

supplies for the ruff
Supplies: a 7"x45" stip of fabric, 1/2" twill tape, and a sewing machine.
gathering stitches
Run two lines of gathering stitches down the length of the strip. The lines should be at about 3 3/8" and 3 5/8".

We’re using two lines of stitch because it’s going to make the ruffle much easier to control. In the end, it’s faster to put the second line in than to work with the fabric when it only has one line of gathering stitches. Crazy, right?

gathered ruffle
Mark the center of the ruff, then gather it down as tightly as you can. Line up a ruler with the center mark at 1/2 the final ruff measurement. (7 1/4" for my 14 1/2" ruff.)
expanding the ruffle
Now pull the ends of the ruffle out until it reaches the desired length. Since your ruler is centered, one edge goes to the 0-edge of the ruler, and the other goes to the actual measurement.
square knot
Tie the gathering threads off with a square knot.
spreading out the gathers
Spread the gathers out evenly along the length of the ruff.

Ok, the last couple steps probably look a little bass-ackwards. Here’s the thing: normally gathering things down is really fussy, and you either have to check the length a million times or you’re gathering to something, which is actually worse because you’re working gathers around pins and junk. We used the ruler once, and we haven’t had to pin a gosh-darned thing. It’s just faster that way.

Mark the center of your piece of tape/ribbon/whatever, then mark out half the ruff measurement to either side of the center. Place the tape over the gathering stitches, with one end-mark lined up with the end.

sewing ruff to tape
Now chuck the whole thing through the sewing machine with the widest zig-zag stitch you have. Make sure the tape stays on top of the gathering stitches, and check to make sure the ruff and tape meet at their midpoint and end mark.
finished ruffle
This isn't really a ruff yet, because it doesn't want to flop over. Bother.
carefully steaming the ruff
CAREFULLY use a steam iron to relax the ruff WITHOUT CRUSHING IT.

Do not set the iron on the ruff. I mean, not unless you’re actually trying to make ye olde pancake-ruff, which never really caught on as a fashion trend….

controlling loft with steam
You can control the amount of loft in the ruff with the amount of steam you use. More steam, less loft.
finished ruff
Tee hee hee! I'm such a dork. But that's basically what they end up looking like.
10 ruffs
Festive, ain't they? ;) Ten of them took me three hours.
wider ruff
The wider you make the ruff, the longer your piece of fabric needs to be. This one was make from a 14" wide strip, approximately 90" long.

And there you have it…. Sometimes, you just need the look.


  1. Laura
    Laura April 10, 2011

    I love the idea of using the ruler. What a great thought. And stacking several of those on top of each other and then stitching down the ribbon on the middle will make it bigger and fuller. Not accurate, but BIG. Which is always fun. ;)

  2. Erin
    Erin April 10, 2011

    Missa, I think you should help me encourage Laura to make matching ruffs for her dogs. Because HOW CUTE WOULD THAT BE????

    So cute.

  3. missa
    missa April 11, 2011

    I have pictures of my cat in one of my ruffs, and that’s pretty cute in spite of her obvious disdain for the enormous thing eating her head. I can only assume that happy puppies in ruffs that actually *fit* would be even more adorable. Because I know Laura isn’t sewing anything else at all right now… ;)

  4. Laura
    Laura April 11, 2011

    You are both big meanies. Really. ;)

  5. Daniela
    Daniela October 3, 2013

    Is there any way I could see the pictures for post? I would like to make a ruff collar for a Halloween costume. Thank you

    • missa
      missa October 3, 2013

      Hi, Daniela,
      I sent a pdf of the post to the email address you listed with your comment. I’m not sure why some people are having trouble with images right now. I’m looking into it. Sorry!

  6. Rebecca Kelley
    Rebecca Kelley December 1, 2014

    Thanks big bunches, this is just what I need for a school play coming up SOON!

    • missa
      missa December 2, 2014

      Hi, Rebecca – De nada! Glad it helped!

  7. Pinecone Jones
    Pinecone Jones July 10, 2019

    Freakin beautiful ,
    U are a one ☝
    Cool cat chic!!!
    I like your writing style,
    Your work,
    Your bubble and
    Theatrical Snap.
    good 4 U
    great piece
    Gonna copy this design for the
    Howlywood Review
    cast members the
    Howlers … Wm. Buddy Burros , Unicorn Forest

    • missa
      missa July 12, 2019

      Aw, shucks… I don’t feel cool enough to reply to that, but I am very glad you enjoyed this and found it useful. :)

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