The best way to trim any historic costume is, of course, to look at period examples. Surviving garments are the first choice, and then illustrations and paintings from the period to see what was 'in vogue'.

During the Victorian period, numerous books and magazines were published to give ladies ideas and instruction in various needle arts. From dress making to lace making, these publications are invaluable to those of us looking to achieve an authentic look.

However, not all of these publications are equal. Some are very comprehensive in their instructions, others assume that a certain amount of knowledge is already known. This can be difficult for us today, as even the terminology can be different, or the process changed with time, making following some of these articles less easy to reference.

In the case  Hecklinger's Ladies Garmentsthere is a wonderful section on trimmings. But despite the wealth of engravings of trimmings and trimming ideas, there's very little instruction on how to make them. The following instructions may help to explain some of the fabric and ribbon manipulation techniques illustrated in the original book.plainly folded ruche

The trimmings shown in the book use various methods of gathering and pleating. And at this point, it's important that you forget a little bit of what you already know about pleating in particular – this publication shows quite loose methods, not the precise, well pressed pleats that most modern instruction books teach. This could, of course, simply be the way in which the illustrations were drawn – the folds are rounded instead of sharp – in order to illustrate what is happening more clearly. However, by not pressing, the resultant pleats have a more feminine appearance, very in keeping with the fashion of the time – and it does mean that creating these types of trims are a little less hard work! Of course, you may wish to achieve a particular look that will require pressing (and it should be stressed that many of these methods can be used for trims for other periods), so do not feel that you can't press any of these.

For my samples, I have used a cotton shirt weight fabric, and in most cases done any stitching larger and with a contrasting thread so that it can be seen more clearly in the photographs. Some of these methods will work with lengths of ribbon, though all of the illustrations in the book show lengths of cloth being used (with the occasional addition of ribbon as an extra trim).

How much do I need?

Every method of trimming will depend on numerous factors – the weight of the fabric, the way in which you stitch, your spacing between gathers or pleats. There is no real magic formula that I can give to help you with your purchasing. At the minimum, you should allow three times the length for gathers, but this can increase depending on what you are doing. So, in order to get a better idea of what you'll need to prepare, I suggest the following method.


  • Decide which trimming you would like to recreate.
  • Decide the width, remembering to include seam allowances top and bottom, and cut a strip from your chosen fabric (or one with the same weight and drape) at least 50cm (20") long.
  • Measure and note down the exact length you've started with.
  • Hem the strip top and bottom, and work a sample of your chosen method.
  • Now measure the finished sample and make a note of this too.
  • Measure how much trim you'll need (i.e. for the hem).


To work out the length of fabric you need to make all the trim, type the following into your calculator:

The total amount of finished trim that you need (eg. the length of the hem)
The length that you cut to make the sample (remember, you cut it at least 50cm (20") long)
Length of the finished sample, once you've pleated/gathered it
The answer is the length you'll need to cut. For good measure, add a bit more – as you won't be measuring every pleat or gather the same, you'll want a bit extra.

Preparing your strips

All of the trimmings I have shown use fabric cut on the straight grain. Most require hemming top and bottom. Any hemming should be done before the gathering or pleating.

If you require very long lengths, it is easier in the long run to sew your strips together before doing any of the decorative work, including the hemming. This can become a little unwieldy though, so if you can, try to break up your placement of your trim into manageable sections, where joining them won't be an issue if you work with smaller lengths. If you are using smaller lengths, it's a good idea to hem your side pieces as well so that you are not trying to join raw edges that have been gathered – it will be easier to simply overlap these in most cases. (Consider your sample piece, and how it will best join). Press your hems well to ensure they do not interfere with the overall look.

Basic gathering

Thread your needle with a manageable length, knotting the ends. Do not attempt to use a length of thread as long as your strip if you are working long lengths of trimming - it will only end in frustration. Begin your stitching with a small backstitch to secure. Then sew a running stitch along the line at which you want the fabric to be gathered.

The spacing of your stitches will determine how your final gather looks – experiment on your sample strip. When you can no longer stitch, knot the loose end of the thread (but not by attaching it to the fabric) and cut off your needle, beginning another length at the last stitch.

When working very long lengths, I find that securing the running stitch threads to a safety pin will stop the thread from pulling back through when you are arranging all of the gathers (this also works with pleats). When you have completed the running stitches along the whole length of the strip, you can begin pulling the threads to create the gathers. Begin with the first length of running stitches. Secure the long end of thread by taking to the reverse of the fabric and making a small back stitch and knotting.


A gather with one row running stitch at the center of the strip. Two rows of running stitches The resulting double gathers drawn up. 
A gather with one row running stitch at the center of the strip. Two rows of running stitches The resulting double gathers drawn up.
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Traditional crafts for the modern maker

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