Tutorial: How to Ruche a Sleeve

A really fun (and cute!) way to shorten a sleeve or pant leg without re-hemming is to add a bit of ruching. You can do this to RTW clothes as easily as clothing you have made for yourself, and best of all—it is fast and easy!

Ruched Sleeve Tutorial by Sew MAris

The only slightly tricky part is deciding what length you want to be gathered. This is definitely a case where less is more, because the finished ruching section will be approximately half the length you initially measure. For my sweater sleeve example, I put the sweater on and marked with a pin approximately where I wanted the upper end of the ruching. Keep in mind the bottom edge of the ruching will obviously be lower—how much depends on the length you gather—but about half is in the ballpark! The good news is if you don’t ruche enough, you can just add a bit more elastic on top of the area you already completed. No need to rip anything out, just add a new section right on top of the first one.


These supplies will be needed for this project:

  1. Garment to be ruched (knit sweater or top, or leggings are good choices)
  2. Thread
  3. Fabric marker(chalk, Frixion pen, etc)
  4. Narrow elastic (I used 1/4” clear elastic)
  5. Basic sewing supplies
  6. Sewing machine with a zig-zag stitch

OK, let’s get started with the specifics. Here’s how you ruche a sleeve:

Sleeve ruching tutorial by Sew Maris

1. Turn the garment inside-out, and fold in half. Measure the length you want to ruche on the fold (opposite the seam) and mark with a pin. In my example I put a pin 7 inches from the hem edge, which will result in approximately 3-4 inches of ruching when I am done.

Sleeve ruching tutorial by Sew Maris

2. Draw a chalk line along the fold from the hem edge to the pin. You can use any marker appropriate for your fabric; I just used chalk because it showed up the best on my cheetah print sweater knit. Not great, but better than anything else I tried!

3. Set your sewing machine to a medium-ish zig-zag stitch. I used L=3 and W=4.

Sleeve ruching tutorial by Sew Maris

4. Lay your elastic on the hem edge of the chalk line, extending it beyond the hem by an inch or more. DO NOT CUT ANY ELASTIC.

5. Secure the elastic in place by backstitching over the elastic to the hem edge, and then take 5-6 stitches forward and stop.

Sleeve ruching tutorial by Sew Maris

6. With your sewing machine needle down securing the fabric + elastic in place, pull hard on the long end of the elastic and lay it directly over the chalk line. At the same time, from the back of your machine pull on the hem edge of your garment (hem pulling not shown above since I needed one hand to shoot!).

7. Zig-zag directly on top of your super-stretched-out elastic. Go slowly, and make sure you are not catching anything but the one layer of your sleeve while stitching—things are definitely bunchy so it is easy to catch another part of the sleeve. You will only be able to stitch a few inches at a time.

Sleeve ruching tutorial by Sew Maris
8. When you get to the end of your chalk mark, backstitch or lockstitch to secure the zig-zag stitching.

Sleeve ruching tutorial by Sew Maris

9. Now you can cut the elastic. Trim threads and cut off the excess elastic at both ends, and you are done and done!

Ruched Sleeve Tutorial by Sew Maris

I hope you have fun with this technique. I have used it as a quick fix for droopy sleeves and also when I just want this detail on my garment. Try it and let me know what you think!

Happy sewing!


4 Responses to Tutorial: How to Ruche a Sleeve

  1. sally says:

    What about ruching a side seam on a knit top that is too long?
    Should I try to zig zag right on the seam?

    • SewMaris says:

      Sally, it doesn’t really matter if you do it alongside the seam or on top of it. Once the ruching is in place it will look the same regardless of which way you do it. I would TRY to get it on the seam, but if it rolls around too much and is difficult just go right next to it. Good luck!

  2. LYNDA BOOSE says:

    I would like to use this technique to shorten sleeves that are too long. I am 5’1/2″ and (logically enough) have short arms, as well. But almost everything I buy was made for much longer arms, and with any number of long sleeve tees and sweaters, turning up the cuff up or cutting off part of the sleeve would ruin the garment. So ruching looks like a very viable way to get my sleeves shortened enough so I won’t be constantly pulling & pushing them up at the wrist.
    I have two questions that I would like to resolve before I launch into my many sleeve alterations: (
    1) Should the ruche stitches always begin at the sleeve hem? One of the tees I plan to take up has a 3″ wide pattern at the end of the sleeve, so I would ideally like for my gathers to occur right at the elbow. Would it work, therefore, to set up a 7″ pattern in which approx. 4″ occur before the point where my elbow touches the sleeve and 3″ afterwards?

    (2) Is it correct to say that on your blouse, where you used a zig zag pattern of L=3″ and W=4,” you ruched for 7″ and reduced the sleeve length by 3-4″ ? If so, then ruching would reduce your sleeve by approximately 1/2 of the length (7″) of fabric you subjected to ruching. So if I want my sleeves shortened by approximately 3+ inches, is it correct to assume that I would achieve this if I followed your 7″ guideline? Is this correct?

    Thanks for posting this and thanks for any response you can give me. I was glad to find your website!
    Best regards,
    Lynda Boose

    • SewMaris says:

      Thanks Lynda! You can definitely start/end the ruching wherever you want on your sleeve. As for the amount of “take-up” – it really depends on how stretchy your fabric is and how hard you pull the elastic while zig-zagging it to the sleeve. It really is a bit of an experiment. What I generally do is plan on the take-up being approximately 1/2 the total length, and then try it on to see if that effect is what I want. If you do not cut your elastic until after you try it on – you can just add more ruching from the original length of elastic. Otherwise, I have been known to just take on another piece of erlastic and ruche a bit more of the sleeve! Good luck!.

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