February 18, 2021

"Purled" or Ruched Ribbon Trim

Making decorative trim is like frosting on a cake!  A delight for the eyes, frilly, and fun, ribbon trimming can be the perfect finishing touch for any special project - and it only takes a few, simple and quick stitches to whip up a length. 

In today's blog post, I'll be sharing one of my favorite techniques for ruched, "purled," or "shell" trimming.  Ruching is another term for "gathering," and in this application, large running stitches across the length of a ribbon create a distinct and dimensional swirling pattern:

"Purled" or Ruched Ribbon Trimming

While I was familiar previously with a range of ruched trimmings, I was introduced to this particular style during a college "special topics" class in theatrical millinery.  Referred to as "purled ribbon" trimming, the following is an excerpt from the 1922 edition of Ribbon Trimmings: A Course in Six Parts by the Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts & Sciences, Department of Millinery (see the 1992 reprint by Sloane Publications): 

In a later, 1934 edition of Decorative Stitches and Trimmings, also by the Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences, the technique appears as "shell trimming."  (Access the digital copy from Cornell University through HathiTrust.)  Interestingly, notice the use of an almost identical image (Fig. 5 above; Fig. 4 below) in both texts:

Now for directions on how to make "purled" trim for your own projects!

First, gather your supplies.  These include the length of ribbon, a sturdy thread to match (I was using a glazed hand-quilting thread), and a sharp needle.  Consider the scale of your project when selecting the ribbon - a narrow 1"-2" width would make for a delicate edge, while a wider 6"-8" width would make a more dramatic, swooping trim.  The length of ribbon required varies depending on how densely you wish to draw the gathers; I found that 2-3 times the desired finished length was sufficient.  

Cut (or use a continuous) length of thread, and secure it to the edge of the ribbon with a few stitches or a pin.  Using a loose running stitch, work a line of diagonal stitches from the top edge to the bottom edge, and another in the other direction (bottom to top).  Continue stitching across the ribbon in a zig-zag pattern like this:

Running stitches in a zig-zag pattern

If you want to ensure that the gathers are evenly spaced, you can measure and mark the bias (as described in the vintage millinery manuals above), or simply "eyeball" the spacing as the gathers can be adjusted later...speaking of adjusting, I like to begin gathering the trim as I stitch.  

To gather the ribbon, simply pull on the thread gently to form the folds.  Experiment with the tightness of the gathers until pleasing - I preferred the look of denser gathers, which billow into a soft, yet structural scallop; while a looser gather retains more of the curvy zig-zag shape.  

Gently pull on the thread to ruche or gather the ribbon

When you've reached the desired length of trim, secure the threads at both ends of the ribbon to prevent the stitches from coming undone.  Fluff, redistribute, and arrange the gathers as needed.  

Arrange the gathers and secure the threads at both ends

And now your ruched ribbon trim is finished and ready to be added to the project of choice!

Finished sample of "purled" or ruched ribbon trim

Here's what the finished trim looks like added on top of another gathered frill on a cotton cap: doesn't it look like a confection?  The more trimmings, the merrier!

Have you ever made "purled" or another style of ruched ribbon trim?  

If you're looking for more ideas, check out these "10 Easy to Make Ribbon Trims" from Sew Guide, and there's an entire book (which I'm currently eyeing) on Ribbon Trims: An Embellishment Idea Book by Nancy Nehring.  If this tutorial was helpful to your sewing and you make something with ruched ribbon trim - feel free to share in the comments below! 

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