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Ruching Fabric

The term “ruching” seems to be fraught with controversy. Oh, the drama we have in the sewing world!

Dress with green ruched stripPhoto via Craftsy member brynnberlee

What is ruching fabric? These days, it’s frequently used to describe gathering or pleating of any kind on a garment.

Now, I am no textile terminology expert, but from what I have been able to glean there seems to be at least two main ruching camps. Some sewists consider a strip of fabric that is gathered or pleated down both sides and inserted into a garment to be ruching, like the green strip Craftsy member brynnberlee used in the child’s dress shown above. But heirloom sewing folks, like Martha Pullen, refer to this technique “puffing,” and define ruching as a strip of ribbon that is gathered or pleated down the center. Hmm…

Ruched or gathered swimsuitPhoto via Craftsy member thecuriouskiwi

This pretty and feminine swimsuit made by Craftsy member thecuriouskiwi has lovely gathers across the entire front that are stitched down the center and attached at the side seams. Sometimes this technique is used to help camouflage areas of the body we want to de-emphasize, and other times it is used for texture and visual interest. Ruching or gathering? No matter what you call it the technique, this Craftsy member definitely made a darling swimsuit!

Ruched purple ribbon on black dressPhoto via Craftsy member Lani77

In the heirloom definition of the term, Craftsy member Lani77 “ruched” a purple ribbon and stitched it to this cute black and white polka dot flower girl’s dress. It really adds a pretty accent to this dress, don’t you think?

Ruched orange knit dressPhoto via Craftsy member Cissie

Whether you call them ruched or gathered insets, this orange knit dress by Craftsy member Cissie looks great. The side panels add visual interest to an otherwise simple dress. Smashing!

I can’t presume to have located the definitive meaning of the term “ruching.” According to The Sewing Dictionary, ruching is “gathering the fabric, usually along a seam, to provide decoration (many times people use ruching to make flowers), accent, or fullness (as in the side seams of a maternity top), or to provide ‘camouflage’ for a bathing suit.”

As mentioned earlier, Martha Pullen would disagree with this definition, and apply ruching exclusively to describe gathering down the center of ribbons. I certainly didn’t solve the conundrum of exactly what IS ruching, but the current trend of pleating, gathering and ruching fabric to add surface interest to garments is definitely a good one in my book!

You may also enjoy our tutorial on how to sew ruching. Learn more ways to add texture to your garments in the class Sewing Texture with Vanessa Christenson.

What’s your definition of ruching?



I had heard “ruching” used to mean gathered or pleated trim until about the 1980’s when Vicky Tiel made the “ruching” of bodices popular…if “ruche” means “resembling tree bark” from the French roots of the word, I don’t see anything wrong with either use of the word and beside, ribbon IS fabric (in most cases). If you keep looking you’ll find plenty of instances of terms for fabrics being misappropriated, especially in segments of the market like bridal. For myself I like to be accurate but I also like to be understood, so it’s probably a matter of knowing the audience for your terminology. I don’t cross paths with the French Handsewing crowd (and is it really French, after all???)

Maris Olsen

Thanks B – I agree that being understood is the main point of language. And definitions change over time – our language is constantly evolving. Sometimes I just need to get my nerdy head to stop focusing on a detail. Happy sewing, and thanks for the comment!


A lot of handbag patterns incorporate ruching as well, such as Aggie Ray Designs “Becca Handbag”. Ruching is compared to gathering, pleating, and a “ruffled” texture. I think that regardless of how the sewing technique is conveyed that the results are lovely. I once cut a piece out of a tank top and replaced it with ruching and it turned out so well. I wore it to tatters!

Maris Olsen

What an awesome story, Patternpile! I love those garments that we just can’t stop wearing. Keep on ruching! 🙂

Dolly Ruggiero

The term ‘ruching’ is used by Isaac Asimov in his 1957 book THE NAKED SUN on p,147……”Even her neck was covered by a kind of unobtrusive ruching.” I was not familiar with the term and looked it up.


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