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So much of a costume's individuality is in the trims - it's hard to find anything that looks truly authentic. Hecklinger's Ladies Garments (1886) has a wonderful section on trimmings, but there's very little instruction on how to make them. Gina Barrett, our trimmings and passementerie expert, has stepped in to help!


The trimmings shown in the book use various methods of gathering and pleating. Today, we'll look at some of the simple gathered trims.

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).



Basic Gathering

An authentic home made trim doesn't have to be fancy. Believe it or not, basic gathering works!

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.


Shows a gather with the running stitch at the center of the strip
A gather with one row running stitch at the center of the strip.


Shows running stitches in two lines.
Two rows of running stitches


Shows the resulting double gathers drawn up.
The resulting double gathers drawn up.



Attaching Gathered Strips

The book shows how to ensure that the gather stays full both top and bottom. Stitches are usually placed only on the gathered strip, which becomes pressed into the background, while the upper gathers remain free. In order to get the placement of these upper gathers quite even, I suggest that you pin the gathers as you draw up the running stitch thread. This gives you a little bit more control.


From Hecklinger, Arranging the gathers for sewing

Step 1
Place some sneaky stitches among those upper gathers to keep them even and puffy.

Step 2


A GOOD IDEA:  When creating any long strips of decorative trim, it is often easier to stitch the trim onto a length of tape, or smaller supporting fabric strip. This allows you to manipulate the decoration without trying to manage large areas of your garment such as hemlines. Cut your supporting tape to the length you require for the final trims, plus a bit extra for joining, hemming, etc, and work directly onto this. Then your decorative trimming can be attached to your garment far more easily, with the added benefit that it can later be removed, re-used, or changed.



Puffed Trimming


Step 1
Place a running stitch along the top edge of your strip. At the place where you wish the 'puff' to be, fold the fabric, wrong sides together, and place a running stitch to hold.

Step 2
Draw up both running stitches to create the puffed area.



Gather, with Bottom turned up


For this trim, you'll need to place a running stitch along the top edge of your strip, but you don't need to hem the bottom edge of your strip. Draw the gathers up, but not too tightly.

Pin the bottom of your strip to your garment, right sides together, a little higher than the line at which you want your bottom edge to be. 

Hand stitch in place. Do not try to stitch all of the folds flat - just hold it in place at intervals, allowing the strip to retain some puffiness.

Turn the strip upwards, and stitch the top edge of the trim into place.


As you can see, a wide variety of different looks can be achieved using the same basic techniques. Experiment with changing the spacing and placement of your stitches, and do not be afraid to further manipulate the fabric when you are securing it to your garment!


Gina Barrett


Gina Barrett has provided reconstructions of narrow wares, passementerie and costume accessories for theatre, film, museums, costumiers and private individuals since 1999. She enjoys working on the recreation and reconstruction of the passementerie techniques of the past, which has included most periods, from Anglo-Saxon brocade tablet weaving to Victorian dress trimmings. Always up for a challenge, she enjoys collecting images of extant buttons and trimmings and trying to work out how they may have been made.

She has been involved in textile research projects with groups around the world. Previous clients include Dombey Street Productions (Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd), The Globe Theatre, The Victoria & Albert Museum, The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, The Royal Armoury, The Royal Mews, and numerous professional costumiers and private individuals.

Gina's craft kits, books, DVDs, and many other items designed to promote lost textile arts, can be found at http://ginab.ginabsilkworks.co.uk/

Very informative article on trims--thank you!!

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