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 icon freeThe 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 Garments, there 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. So Gina Barrett, our trimmings expert, has stepped in to help.

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.

Shows a gather with the running stitch at the center of the strip Shows running stitches in two lines. Shows 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.

Attaching gathered strips

The book shows a particular method of attaching strips that have been gathered along the top edge, which ensures that the gather stays full both top and bottom. Stitches are placed only on the gathered strip which is depressed – while the upper gathers remain free. In order to get the placement of these 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 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"

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

 puffed_trimming Step 1 Step 2


gathers_bottoms_turned_up"Gather, with bottom turned up"

  1. For this trim, you'll need to place a running stitch along the top edge of your strip (you do not need to hem the bottom edge of your strip).
  2. Draw this up, but not too tightly.
  3. Pin the bottom of your strip to your garment (or your support), right sides together, a little higher than the line at which you want your bottom edge to be.
  4. Stitch in place. Do not try to stitch all of the folds flat, rather stitch enough to hold into place and allow the strip retain some puffiness.
  5. Turn the strip upwards, and stitch the top edge of the trim into place.
gb17 gb18 gb19


Folded pleats

Plainly folded pleats can be made in the hand – simply fold the strip to create the pleat size that you require and securing with stitches along the centre of the strip.  The book shows an example of this with the strip folded top and bottom (so no need to hem your strip first), which creates a little bit of 'puff' along the top and bottom edge of your pleat.

From Hecklinger, Plainly folded ruche of double folded goods Stitching the pleats Finishing the pleats


From Hecklinger, Holding pleats in the handBox pleats in the hand

The book illustrates how to make box pleats in the hand.

Most of us who learn how to make box pleats using modern instructions are given quite precise ways in which to measure out the pleats. Instead, here you need to use your eye to judge the spacing, but it isn't as difficult as you may think.

First, fold a pleat, secure with stitches.

Fold the next in the opposite direction and secure again. In a true box pleat, the folds should touch, but you can choose to space them farther apart should you wish.

The third pleat is folded in the same direction as the first and so on through the length of fabric.

Altering the width of the folds changes the appearance of the pleats, as you can see in the photographs below.

Although the box pleats pictured below are not pressed, you can achieve quite a precise look by doing so.

gb10 Step 2 Step 3


"Plaited (pleated) trimming with twist in centre"

Along one edge of your fabric strip, create a          series of folded pleats.     Turn the strip upside down.  Take the fold of the pleat in your fingers
gb13     gb14
and fold in the opposite direction.     Continue in this way, securing along the bottom edge.
gb15     gb16


Stitched pleats

This traditional method of pleating fabric can also be used to pleat fabric for smocking.

  • Stitch lines of running stitch along the length of your strip. The closer together your lines, the less 'bulging' you will have when you draw the stitches up.
  • You'll need at the minimum 3 lines of stitching. Try to get the stitches in line – modern instructions tell you to mark out the fabric with evenly spaced dots so that your stitches are exact. This will give you very even pleats, but is obviously more time-consuming.
  • Draw up the threads at the same time, taking care to arrange your pleats as you go. You can further arrange your pleats when the thread is drawn up. 
  • Secure each thread of running stitch when you are happy with the placement. In most cases you will leave the stitches in place to hold the pleats in place, so do match your thread as well as possible. Most of the time they will not be seen, but if you place your pleats further apart they may be visible.
gb20 gb21 Step 3


Combined trimmings

The book has a series of illustrations that combine the different methods to make more elaborate trimmings. In order to give you further ideas, I have made some of these up, and will explain how each was made.

As a general rule when combining different strips, stitch the bottom decoration first, and layer each successive strip over the top to create fullness.

This pretty trim is made of two separate strips.

First, gather a strip for your bottom ruffle. Attach this strip to your garment (or supporting) first.

The top strip is then worked (in my example I have used a wider strip for this piece, though you may prefer your bottom ruffle to be the longer). First, make spaced box pleats along the top edge. About three quarters of the way down, create a plain gather.

Stitch this top edge over the bottom ruffle you secured previously.

Combined trimming 1

For this trim you'll need to create a strip of quite closely gathered pleats.

When you secure this to your garment (or supporting tape), stitch the top of the pleats flat – ensuring that they all fold in the same direction. You may wish to continue this 'flattening' along the width.

The top edge of this trim is simply formed by placing another length along the top edge of your pleats (right side together) stitching to your support.

Turn the strip upwards.

You can simply leave the trim now, or you can continue to add more layers of this strip, by either repeating the step with a new strip, or by folding the existing strip to create a lengthwise pleat and securing with small stitches along the length (you could even top this with ribbons).

Combined trimming 2

A plainly folded pleat, sewn to the support with ribbons added to create a contrasting solid line.

You can also use a gathered strip with this method.

Combined trimming 3

Although this looks quite complicated, this trimming uses very straightforward methods.

At the top edge of your strip, work two lines of matched running stitch, quite closely placed, to create the top pleats.

Below this, work a line of running stitch which does not exactly match the pleat lines (i.e. more closely spaced).

 Leave a gap to create your 'puff' (the wider this is, the more of a puff effect you will achieve), and then work a line of close running stitches for another gather line.

Now, below this work two more lines of pleating running stitch.

Draw up the gathers first, but not too tightly. Draw up and arrange the pleats.

To enhance the puff effect, stitch the trim to the support first along the bottom gathered line, then along the top gathered line, decreasing the distance between the two (the closer together you place these two lines when securing to the support, the more of a puff you'll achieve). Then secure the top edge of the pleats.

Combined trimming 4



This bow effect has been created by working sections of gathering, while leaving spaces inbetween.

Work sections of at least two lines of closely spaced running stitches, ensuring that your thread finished at the wrong side. You'll need to cut the thread at the end of each line, as each bow is worked individually. 

Draw these up tightly, knot the threads together at the reverse, and make a few small stitches to hold the beginning of the gather to the end of the gather, to create a tube like shape.  Continue along the length of the strip to create your 'bows'.

Finished bows Bows, step 1 Bows, step 2


This is a very nice trimming when you don't want too much bulk.

Create a series of plainly folded pleats along the length of your strip.  Turn the top and bottom edge of the pleat to the centre and secure with a few small stitches.

I have secured them on the bottom part of the pleat only, to allow a bit of 'puff', but you could secure both to further flatten. You can also do quite a few variations of this; only folding one edge, or every other edge, or only bringing the folds three quarters down, not to the centre.

Finished trim Folding the pleats


This two part trim is a little more complicated. Along the top edge, stitch small sections of gathers (in my example I have used one line of stitches, you may wish to use more). Secure each gathered section to itself, in the same way as is shown for the 'bows' trim above. 

Now, make a pleated strip. Sew this onto your support either in a straight line, or following a curved edge, to give a scalloped effect along the bottom edge.  Place your top strip into place and arrange the top edge to create a folded and turned box pleat top. You could use a contrasting fabric at the reverse of this trim to further enhance the arrangement.

Finished combination trimming The two layers


To create this you'll need to stitch two strips of fabric together (right sides together) and turn and press the seam. Then, fold the fabric wrong sides together to create your strip (in my example, I have hemmed the lighter piece, but used the selvedge edge of the darker).

Create a series of plainly folded pleats. When sewing this to your support, turn down the top edge of the pleat and secure with a small stitch. This, too, has a variety of different looks that can be achieved – try different widths of contrasting fabric, and different depths of folding.


Combination trimming


As you can see, a wide variety of different looks can be achieved using the same basic techniques. When you look at period illustrations, try to 'break' up the decoration, as it is very likely that each section will have been done as a separate piece. 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.

Feminine Frills - Fabric Trimmings from Hecklinger’s Ladies Garments (1886) by Gina Barrett
Thank you very much for this. 'Plainly folded ruche of double folded goods' it is so true you don't see phrases like that anymore.
Feminine Frills - Fabric Trimmings from Hecklinger’s Ladies Garments (1886) by Gina Barrett
Gina, this is wonderful! So much of a costume's individuality is in the trims, and it's hard to find anything that looks truly authentic - I am excited to get started on this - thanks for the inspiration ...
Feminine Frills - Fabric Trimmings from Hecklinger’s Ladies Garments (1886) by Gina Barrett
What I love most about this tutorial is how the author used the same style ribbon for each example. This makes it so much easier to see and understand the variations! Thanks!
Feminine Frills - Fabric Trimmings from Hecklinger’s Ladies Garments (1886) by Gina Barrett
Those are awesome! I"ve often looked at women's dresses and wondered. And I ogled your fabric too.
Feminine Frills
I love making pleats, and different versions of them. This gave me some more new ideas to try. Thank you!
Thank you for your work . It's beautifull
Thank you for your page!

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