Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Tutorial on Ruching! (Aka: an amazing photolog of elasticized bodice backs!))

This tutorial was requested by my lovely friend, Natascha, who happens to be one the coolest Victorian/steam punk/burlesque fashionistas I know! If you're looking for some awesome leather steam punk corsetry, gorgeous millinery, or to oogle her amazing talent for body art painting, then she is your gal!

So Sensei Annika, what are we learning today? ♥

Today we are going to learn how to ruche a back bodice by creating our own self faced casings, and threading elastic through them! We end up with a nice stretchy back that allows for size varation as well as fit and comfort! Plus... it looks cute.

See, ruching!

♥ How to ruche a back bodice! (Terminology)

Difficulty: **** (This is for the avid sewer that knows their way around patterns/construction!)
*I highly recommend that if you are going to try this for a first time, do it on a jumper skirt, or a sun dress, don't do this with anything that requires armholes or sleeves.* 

"Ruche... is that a word, or are you just making it up?" Why yes, dear sir or madame, it is a word! It is a technical sewing terminology defined as the following: 

Ruche (ruching): A French word that means to gather, to pleat, or to ruffle.

Self faced elastic casing: A tunnel, or channel, created by either folding a fabric over 2 times or sewing 2 rows of parallel stitching next to each other, more than the elastic's width apart.

Bodice: the fitted part of a dress that extends from waist to shoulders; a blouse.

Right Side/Wrong Side (fabric): The right side is the fabric on the outside, the one everyone will see. The wrong side refers to inside the garment, the lining. Or in context, "with the wrong sides of the fabric together," meaning the side where the seams show, with the outer and inner fabric touching.

Princess Seam: A long, curved seam at both front and back bodice that runs from waist to arms, and is used to add shape and fit to a garment.

Bobbin: A cylinder which thread is wrapped around, and put in the bottom part of the sewing machine.

♥ The Pattern (skip if ya got one! Vague, and simple.)

Here is one of the many patterns I've made I like to work with. It is important for you to know about pattern making, because you're going to need to make one of these if you want an elasticized bodice back. Now, I should probably do a separate tutorial for this but basically the steps are as follows.
Note: This pattern is on CB, on the fold

A. Measure the width of your bodice back from the top of your bodice to the middle, down, until you reach the bottom and so on. This should give you a rough pattern of your bodice back WITHOUT gathering. (Write down these measurements, you'll want them later.) Double this size, and re-trace with seam allowance.

B. Now you've got a pattern. Next, decide how many casings (elastic bits) you want. Got a number? Now figure out where they go. This will all depend on the height of your pattern. I narrowed this bodice back down to 5 casings. You can do this by folding the pattern in half, and half again, so on and so forth. Or just use a ruler to find halves. It's up to you, mine are spaced 3 inches apart.

C. Got em drawn out? Keep in mind your casings have to be bigger than your elastic. I use 3/8" so my casings are 1/2" which allows enough room to slide the elastic through, and doesn't twist or roll. You should have resistance, but if you're struggling and the elastic is twisting then your casing isn't wide enough!

D. In the words of Alfredo, from "Ratatouille"... "LET'S DO THIS THING!"

♥ So you want to ruche, eh? (Preliminary steps)

Ah, ah, put that sewing machine away! Don't even turn it on yet! I know you're excited but before we can do our casings, we have a little more to do. This next step should be done after you've cut out the lining of your bodice pattern pieces. (Obviously, I am a bit ahead on this.)

With your new back bodice pattern in hand, still pinned to your fabric I hope, take out a tracing wheel and some dressmaking tracing paper. With the paper underneath your fabric, the colored side of the paper resting against the RIGHT side, you're going to use the tracing wheel and trace off where your casings go. When you lift the fabric, it will make marks like these:

I know it's hard to see... I used white. >.<
Don't be silly like me, and use a white chalk paper on a shiny silver fabric. Don't do that. Use a darker color like a blue or a ...well, anything but white. You see, I only traced one line, because I use that as my guide for both. But you should probably trace both top and bottom, k? (Also, only do this on the inside lining of your garment... you don't want it on the outside fabric everyone sees. What if you were to make a mistake eh?)

♥ Sewing the Casings (The Easy(er) Part)

***PINING. (Because it's important...)
Before you do anything, I want you to make sure that you have properly pinned at the princess seams of your bodice! You want to line up the outside (right side) of the fabric with the seam on the inside (wrong side/lining) so it is matched up all the way down.

Outside pinned, closet to armholes
Loosely pin the bottom with seam allowance at the waist; inside/lining

 Why do this? One: It's going to keep your fabric from slipping and sliding on you while you make casings from both the wrong, and right side of the fabric. Two: It adds stability, so you never have to worry about going over and stitching way past your seam. Three: It keeps the fabric from pulling up, bunching, and otherwise getting messed up. : o

Okay... flip that garment over, with the right side out. Get ready!

Now, be patient. This whole process can take me 1 hour, to an hour and a half, easy. So be patient. Go slow, and take your time.

 1. The 1st Casing (one at the neckline)
 With the neckline of your garment in the sewing machine, you're going to do a stitch seam an 1/8 inch away from the edge. Please make sure to BACK STITCH, a good amount! These areas next to the princess seam get the most stress from the elastic... if it's not back stitched well, the seam will tear out or the thread will snap.

So we're sewing from one edge of the princess seam to the other.

See, ya got your first stitch! Now for the second one to make the "casing"
Now put your garment back in there, still at the neckline and you're going to sew a second row of stitching. This will create our casing. I placed mine to be 1/2 inch away from my first row of stitching. So go forward a bit, back stitch, and keep on going to the other side.

2. The 2nd Casing (follow these steps for all casings except the last one)
 Ah! First one done, feels good right? Hang in there! We got a lot more to go.

For the second casing, we're going to flip the garment inside out again, so our silver lining is facing out. That means, this is the side where you will see the markings/lines you made earlier with the tracing wheel and dressmaking paper. (Or in my case, go blind because it's hard to see!)

You can't see them here, but your tracing lines would be on this side... but if you didn't use WHITE, Annika, you would!
So, it's just like... playing connect the dots, or tracing off a shape or something like that. All your going to do for this second casing (and the others to follow) is follow that dotted line. So where that line is, that's where your needle should be going into and stitching. Keep in mind, whatever color thread you have on your bobbin is what's going to show on the outside of your bodice. (And your spool of thread will show up on the inside.) So if it doesn't match, now would be the time to change it.

This part is tricky, on every casing you do. You're going to want to have two hands, one is holding the fabric in place on the right and guiding, and the one on the left is going to be pulling and stretching the fabric downwards. Essentially, you're trying to keep the lining smooth and flat, and not pulling or catching something you shouldn't.

Parallel stitch two! Almost vanquished your second casing! Alright!
Again, I've set my needle and foot to be a 1/2 away from my first stitch line. And on we go from one end to the other, and bam! you got a second casing out of the way.

Repeat this for all casings EXCEPT the last one!!

3. Final Casing (near the waist, where the bodice and skirt are sewn together)
Ah, now here's a kinda tricky one. First, what we're going to do is pin our lining, with the seam allowance tucked under, to the waistline of our skirt. Make sure the lining covers your stitch line/waist seam since you don't want that showing. It's also a good guide.

Got it pinned? Ok, flip it right side out again!
With your garment RIGHT side out again, it's time to finish that final casing. Insert your garment with the neckline going in, so it's the closest thing to the arm of the sewing machine. (Your skirt will be facing away, towards the right.)

Left: Skirt, Right: Bodice seam/neckline
This time you're going to want to make a top stitch that is an 1/8 away from the seam that joins your bodice to your skirt. Make sure that everything is where it should be. I can not tellllll you how many times I've accidentally caught a front of the bodice or a sleeve or anything in a top stitch because it got caught and I didn't see it. Pull out the skirt, make sure the front of the bodice is tucked under the arm of the machine, etc.

Stitch line 2, go!
Now just like before, it's time for you to make the second row of stitching for the casing. Move your needle/foot a 1/2 inch away from your first line and gooooo.

Casings galore!
After you've trimmed your threads (yes, trim them all, trust me! We're not heathens here!) and clipped your strings, you should be able to stand back and look at all those cute little rows of casings you've just made. Phew! What a work out!

We're done right.... Nooooope. >.<

♥ Cutting Elastic (The Easiest Part, no really)

Oh boy, product placement!
Here is the elastic we'll be using. A 3/8 inch braided elastic in white. I prefer braided to the other kind of elastic you can get because I find this kind tends not to twist and roll as much when inserting.

Did you write down the measurements of your non-gathered back bodice pattern? Or better yet, keep that original pattern? I hope so, cuz you're gonna need it! You should be able to figure out how long your elastic pieces need to be based on these measurements. You can go bigger or smaller depending on how loose or snug you want the garment to fit. I do mine exact, with a half inch seam allowance. (Example: Top casing is 9 1/2. With seam allowance: 10 1/2)

Your strips should get smaller the farther down the back you go since the torso narrows and what not the closer to the waist you get. (10 1/2, 8 1/2, 6 1/2, etc etc)

 Got all your strips cut then? Alllllright. Next, you need a safety pin and your first (longest) elastic strip for your first casing. I suggest you pinch the safety pin closed a little so it's harder for the sharp end to pop out. Make sure your safety pin is small enough to fit through your casing. Too big and you'll have trouble!

Pop that safety pin in that elastic and do pass go, and do collect a hundred dollars from Boardwalk!

♥ Inserting Elastic in Casings (The "Oh Dear" Part)

Okay, not gonna lie to you. This is the hardest part of doing this. It is even harder if you, like I an overeager seamstress, have decided to finish your armholes with a lining and top stitched them down. *cries a little bit* No actually, it wasn't as terrible as all that. I managed. It was just a bit more difficult, but the process is the same.  If you need a break, take one. You're going to need patience for this bit.

[Since my armholes are already finished, I'm going to show you how to do it as such. If your armholes were loose though, not sewn together, than this is a much easier process. You don't have to flip anything inside out, or struggle.]

Casing 1: Part A
*Casing 1: Part A...Insertion, Half Way
With your safety pinned elastic in hand, you're going to have to kind of feel your way around between the lining and the outside fabric of your garment to find the first casing. Because the armholes are finished, I have to do this bit by touch, wiggle my hand into the armhole and stick the safety pin/elastic through the whole from right to left. Got it in? Okay, start pulling. You should feel the elastic easing through the casing, pulling through as you guide the safety pin along. This will cause the fabric to gather. But keep an eye on the "tail" end of your casing, if you pull too hard, too fast, the elastic will go right through and you'll have to start over.

Stop pulling your elastic about half way.
Once you have your elastic about half way through, stop. You've still got your hand on that "tail" of your elastic, yeah?

Casing 1: Part B...Flip n' Stitch

While pinching the "tail" of your elastic on the right side between forefinger and thumb, carefully pull the armhole inside out. This exposes the "tail" of the elastic, as well as the raw edges of your princess seams on both the lining and the outer fabric.

With the "tail" exposed, you're going to want to top stitch the elastic to the SEAM ALLOWANCE exposed, not to any other part of the garment. If you catch anything but the seam allowance, you'll flip the dress and it's caught something... egh, huge mess. The elastic should be sandwiched between the seam allowances of the beige fabric (outer) and the silver fabric (lining) and top stitch from there. Pin it in place. I recommend a lot of straight stitching, or a lot of zig zag. Keep your needle closest to the edge, this will help. Trim excess elastic, and trim those threads!
Ta-da, all secure on one side!
Casing 1: Part C...Insertion, Pull the Elastic Through to Freedom!
Oki, doke, ya still with me? You know how we only pulled our elastic half way through in Part A? Now we're going to pull it through the rest of the way until it pops out the other side to our other princess seam. Continue to thread the elastic, and be mindful to keep it flat and not roll or curl.

Pulled through, check.

Now, it's time to.....Casing 1: Part B...Flip n' Stitch again. Repeat these steps for the rest of your casings to follow EXCEPT the last one. It's always an exception to the rule! Silly casing.

*LAST Casing: Part A...Clip Clip, Snip Snip

This last elastic sewing/inserting thing is tricky! The most tricky of all of them. But it is not as clever as we are, my dears. Before we insert elastic, we're going to make 2 important clips/snips in the seam allowance of our fabric: one horizontal, one vertical. This simply allows us better access to sew without catching any other fabric.

VERTICAL snip, parallel to our side seam, perpendicular to waist seam/skirt
For our first snip, we're going vertical, or up and down to make a small clip into the waist seam of our bodice/skirt. 
HORIZONTAL snip, perpendicular to side seam, parallel to waist seam/skirt
Our second clip, is going horizontal, or side to side next to our waist seam, but clipping into the princess seam.
See just a baby clip, allows us some wiggle room.

*Casing 1: Part A...Insertion, Half Way----Casing 1: Part C...Insertion, Pull the Elastic Through to Freedom! (And your Flip n Stitch for both of em!)
Yeah last one, last one! Sew that guy down, and trimmmm!
Wooo, don't you feel AWESOME?!

♥ You have defeated this tutorial! (Exp. Level Up!)

After this, it's all done! You got some rockin' casings with elastic, and all that's left is to finish those lining seams by hand and you are done, done, done!

I hope I was kinda clear... at least about the sewing bits of things. Hope this helped, Natascha! <3 ^-^


  1. Thank you for this tutorial! for some reason, I never thought of sewing the elastic endings to the seam allowance, it's much prettier this way =)

  2. ^-^ You're welcome, I'm glad it helped!

  3. I do mine a little differently. I sew the casings in the center back BEFORE I sew the garment together. I attach the back lining to just the back piece and make my casings leaving the seam allowance (whatever you used) between the bottom of the last one and the edge. Next, I put the elastic in the casings, being sure to tack it down well, and baste it just inside the seam allowance. Then I assemble the rest of the bodice and lining, leaving it open where the back panel attaches. I flip the lining up so it doesn't get stitched in and sew the already rouched back panel in! Then I can place the lining and hand stitch it over the seam allowance, completely hiding all the raw edges. When it's all done, if any basting stitches show they can come out (although if you can't see them, why bother.) and the skirt can go on. Depending on how fancy you want to be, you can either serge/zigzag the edge, or you can move the bottom casing up just a bit when you mark it, and then sew the skirt to the outer fabric only and fold the lining up to cover the seam allowance.
    Both ways are good, but I thought I toss out an alternate method too!


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