Cutting trims and shrinkage

From my mail:

Is it okay to have a trim company cut a roll of fabric in (say 4″ strips) lengthwise (as opposed to cutting across the width of the fabric) for the purpose of ruffling (bottom of dresses and pants.) This would serve to eliminate lots of seams which could end up in unsightly locations as there might be a seam every 15 yds instead of every 44″ (the fabric is 44″ wide, 100% cotton poplin.) The question is, since fabric shrinks most notably on the grain-line, would this be a problem upon washing or does the ruffling cancel this out so as to make it a non-issue?

Rephrased: she wants to know if the roll can be cut jelly roll style for the ruffles and whether the effects of shrinkage will be noticeable considering the ruffle gathers. For purposes of illustration, I had a sample garment handy that has a ruffle sewn to the bottom (shown at right). By the way, that ruffle is not cut on the bias, that is a print.

Below is a cut to the chase explanation on the matter of directional shrinkage (previously mentioned in the entry about my pet peeve on waistband cutting):

In the crud drawing below on the left is a sample cut jelly roll style. Off to the right are the grain lines shown in relationship to how the pieces will be joined.

In other words, the ruffled area will shrink more than the area onto which it will be sewn. This will have the effect of drawing up, creating puckers on the upper portion of the garment where none are intended. Below is a photo that illustrates this. Again, the ruffle below is not cut on the bias, that is a print.

As you can see, the area to which the ruffle has been attached is drawing up and forming puckers. This is only apparent after the garment has been washed because the ruffle, while attached, is shrinking at a greater rate than the piece to which it was sewn. [Note: the manufacturer of this dress added a row of trim; perhaps it was an attempt to hide the puckers?]

As far as what you should do, this is best answered by the quality level dictated by your price points. If you’re making little sundresses that will only be worn by a child for a season, you can probably get away with cutting the ruffle trim jelly roll style. However, if this is an adult’s garment and intended to perform for a longer period of time, you’re better off cutting the ruffle left to right across the width of goods. While more time consuming, piecing it in 44″ sections is technically the best and correct way.

Caveat: as with waistbands, nearly everyone seems to be cutting trims jelly roll style so consensus would likely say I’m too picky.

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  1. dosfashionistas says:

    I’m still learning. A lifetime in the fashion industry and I didn’t know that the lengthwise grain would shrink more than the crosswise grain every time until I read it in your blog. In the thing about waistbands. Lower end companies just do not pay that much attention unless they are companies that are making huge cuts.

    Is the ruffle cut on the lengthwise grain or is it cut on the bias? And how does bias fit in the percentage of shrinking picture?

    I love this continuing education I am getting from you!


  2. Kathleen says:

    The ruffle is printed to look like it’s bias but it’s not. I am not expert enough to know if the ruffle is cut lengthwise or crosswise grain (the grain looks even both ways) but I’m guessing it’s cut like the example not-to-do above. I said “guessing” because it could technically be cut properly and instead, the problem is that the shrinkage of the bias print stripe is higher than the piece it is sewn to.

    I just went and looked at it again, they did something strange. Not bad, not “wrong”, just strange. They actually pieced the ruffle at the side seams. You know, one front ruffle piece and a back ruffle piece. Usually when you sew on a ruffle, it’s one continuous piece that you fit in however. Or, you sew the ruffle on before one side seam is joined and then close the ruffle when you close the body. Speaking of (OT) something that really really annoys me is when people hem a garment (or a ruffle) before they’ve sewn the side seams because then the side seam is all nubby with the seaming right there at the hem’s edge. I just think it’s tacky.

    Re: bias shrinkage sewn to goods cut on the straight of grain. I think if there’s any difference it’s minute, bias is so forgiving. If you look at the larger jpeg of this particular dress, you’ll see the bodice is cut on the bias and it’s not puckering.

  3. Esther says:

    There are times when jelly roll style ruffles make sense. Nylon tricot bouffant slips, for example. There is a labor savings too, though it may be minimal. To be honest, narrow hemming over seam allowances is a pain. But like you said, it depends on the price point, how and to what the ruffles are attached.

  4. Esther says:

    I am wondering if this particular problem is made worse because the ruffle is set on a bias hemline. The addition of the top “ruffle” may have made things worse. I have rarely seen this shrinkage problem when a jelly roll ruffle is set on straight grain.

  5. Marilynn says:

    Last year, I bought a bolt of designer quilt-weight fabric and did the shrink-test because I was making skirts out of it. I was shocked because this particular fabric shrank more in the cross-grain than lengthwise. I had never seen this happen and I was amazed. The dress in this photo is also of a light-weight fabric.

    In regard to the bias cutting of ruffles, I can’t imagine why one would want to, firstly, bother cutting that much fabric on bias or why you would want to fight the stretch while sewing. It doesn’t seem like anything you would want to mess with other than on a one-off.

  6. kathleen says:

    I guess few have noticed my comment above. I mentioned the ruffle is not bias. I have also amended the entry to make it more obvious. That is a printed diagonal stripe, not bias.

  7. Barb Taylorr says:

    I think it is interesting that no one asks if the ruffle is from the same greige goods as the dress body. Even same greige goods can shrink differently depending on the dye color and / or print process. This conversation would be more relevant for styles with self ruffles. Noted that Kathleen was just looking for a sample to illustrate the question but it is an important consideration to keep in mind. If the ruffle is a completely different fabric, there is no garuntee that cuttong it on the cross grain will cause it to shrink the same as the body.

  8. Kathleen says:

    Is the hem of the skirt on the bias?

    No, in the photos above, you can see the plaid runs straight across and up and down.

    I think it is interesting that no one asks if the ruffle is from the same greige goods as the dress body.

    These are separate goods, the plaid is woven, not printed. Even if they were the same goods, dyes and printing processes can change the degree of shrinkage of each.

  9. Barb Taylorr says:

    I thought you were discussing the green striped ruffle.

    “The ruffle is printed to look like it’s bias but it’s not.”

  10. Kathleen says:

    The only thing cut on the bias of this dress is the bodice.

    It is impossible that the plaid and the green printed ruffle are the same goods because this plaid is yarn dyed -before weaving- and the ruffle is a print.

  11. Tom Willmon says:

    I went back and re-read the waistband post, but gave up in confusion from the seeming many terms for the same thing.

    Might Eric write on which way is which on a piece of fabric? I need another engineer’s sense of direction to get oriented here.

    “Maybe the woof is warped.” Pogo


    PS – my solution to the waistband shrinkage problem on my jeans is to vigorously stretch them before hanging on the line: knee in the back middle, pull on the button and buttonhole. (For demonstration of the shrink/give difference in the other direction, try stretching 1 1/2 feet of leg seam.)

  12. Terri says:

    Hello and thank you very much for this post. I am curious about the current trend in knit garments (anthropologie for example) having ruffles down the garment front, skirt – everywhere really. Should knit ruffles be cut on the crossgrain?


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