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An iconic piece of any clown costume is the fluffy collar and cuffs. It's a relatively easy sewing project that can transform a simple sweat suit or pajamas into a temporary costume, whether you need it for Halloween or a special party. Since the ruffle is not attached, it leaves the clothing usable when you're done with it, which is a great way to save money.
This method can be adapted for both adults and kids.
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- 1-inch wide ribbon (See step 2 to calculate how much ribbon you will need.)
- 1 to 2 yards of bleached muslin, depending on the size of the clown
- Colorful double fold bias tape or a sewing machine with a dense decorative stitch or a serger (For color on the edge of the collar and cuff.)
- Quality thread or string and thread (recommended), depending on your method of gathering
- Tape measure
- Sewing machine
- Optional: Rotary cutting tools
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Calculate the Ruffle Size
Clowns come in different sizes. The length and width for a toddler and for an adult will not be the same, so you will need to do some measuring and calculations before you begin.
Collar Ribbon Length
To figure out the length of the ribbon needed for the collar:
- Use a tape measure to measure around the neck. Leave a comfortable amount of space around the neck and plenty of "tail" to tie the collar in place. For a small child, rather than leaving ribbon to tie, leave just enough ribbon to turn under and sew a snap to each end. It is a much safer option.
- Cut your ribbon to the desired measurement.
- Mark the center of the ribbon and the ends of the ruffle where the tie area begins.
Cuff Ribbon Length
For a complete clown costume, you will want at least two cuffs—one for each arm and two more for the ankles, if you like. Use this method to figure out how much ribbon you need:
- Using a tape measure, measure around the wrist (and ankles, if desired) leaving enough space for comfort as well as the sweat suit cuffs, which can be tucked under the cuff ruffle.
- Add 1 inch to each end to allow for the amount that will be turned under.
- Cut the ribbon to the desired length and mark 1 inch from each end.
Now you will want to determine how wide you want the ruffle. In most cases, the ruffle will be 2 to 4 inches wide. A 2-inch ruffle will be ideal for a small child, while a 4-inch ruffle will be ideal for an adult clown. Experiment with your tape measures to find the desired width.
- The width of the ruffle should be two times the desired finished ruffle.
- If you will be turning under the edges rather than encasing them with bias or a serged edge, add an inch to allow for a 1/4-inch baby hem on each edge.
You should already have the ribbon length and this will help guide you as to how much muslin fabric you need. Keep in mind that your fabric will be longer than the ribbon because that is how the ruffle is created once it's all bunched up.
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- For the ruffle made with bleached muslin weight fabric, measure the ruffled area on your ribbon and multiply that measurement times three. Three times the finished length will give you a nice amount of fullness.
- Cut 2 to 4 lengths of ruffle depending on the desired amount of fullness. The more layers you have, the fuller the ruffle will be.
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Prepare the Muslin Strips
If your muslin fabric is long enough for the length needed, you can skip the first step in preparing the strips of fabric.
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- Join strips of muslin to achieve the desired length by sewing them together if needed. Use a 1/4-inch seam and zig-zag stitch the seam allowance.
- Turn under the ends of the strips 1/4-inch and press in place.
- Turn under again to enclose the raw edge.
- Sew the end hems in place.
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Ruffle Edges With Bias Tape
A fun and easy way to add a pop of color to the clown ruffles is to use a double fold bias tape. This is a good option if your sewing machine doesn't have decorative stitches or when you want a solid strip of bold color, as seen in traditional clown costumes.
To sew the double fold bias tape onto the muslin:
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- Find the narrower edge of the bias tape.
- Set the edge of the ruffle into the center of the bias tape, lining up the edge of the ruffle with the centerfold of the bias tape.
- Turn under the ends of the bias tape to enclose the raw fabric edge.
- Baste the bias tape in place.
- With the narrower edge up, stitch the bias tape to the ruffle, sewing close to the edge of the tape.
- Continue to enclose all edges on all layers of the ruffle.
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Ruffle Edges With Decorative Stitches
As an alternative to bias tape, use this method to apply one of your sewing machine's decorative stitches along each ruffle edge.
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- Turn under the edges 1/4-inch and press.
- Turn under again to enclose the raw edges and press in place.
- Using white thread, sew the hem in place, sewing close to the inside edge.
- Using a bright color or a color thread that matches the sweat suit or pajama (in the bobbin, too), choose a dense decorative stitch and sew it on the hems of the ruffle.
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Ruffle Edges With a Serger
A serger is the fastest way to give the edges of the ruffle a decorative, colorful edge.
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- Set up your machine for a 3- or 4-thread overlock stitch.
- Shorten the stitch length so the stitching is dense.
- Serge the long edges of all the strips.
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Find the Center
With the edges decorated, it is time to begin assembling your ruffles.
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- Stack the lengths of the ruffle pieces, aligning all the edges.
- Fold the length of the strips in half to find the center.
- Gently press the center fold to mark the center.
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Gather the Ruffle
Gathering a length of fabric, thick fabric, or multiple layers of fabric requires very strong thread or the use of a string to achieve a uniform gather. It's very frustrating to have a gathering thread break just as you are almost done, only to have to start over again. Since this project involves multiple layers of fabric, it's recommended to use a string to gather the ruffle.
Note: If you want to apply snaps rather than tie the ruffles on, skip to the next step.
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- Using a piece of string that is longer than the un-gathered ruffle, lay the string in the centerfold of the ruffle.
- Using white thread in your sewing machine, with the unfolded layers of fabric strips laid flat on the sewing machine bed, zig-zag over the string. Do not stitch on the string so it remains free to move.
- Knot or tie off one end of the string so it doesn't get pulled through as you gather. It may be easier to temporarily tie this end to a door handle or chair.
- Tug on the string to gather the fabric.
- Continue to gather the fabric until it is gathered up to the desired length that is on your ribbon.
- Evenly distribute the gathers.
- Pin the center of the ruffle to the center of the ribbon.
- Pin the ends of the ruffle to the ends of the ruffled area of the ribbon.
- Using a straight stitch, sew the ruffle to the ribbon. Sew in the center of the ruffle and the center of the ribbon.
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Optional Snap Ends
A snap rather than a tie is a safer way to secure the ruffle on a child. It also eliminates ribbons that could get caught or tripped over on the cuff ruffles.
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- On the end of the ribbon, fold the end under twice to enclose the raw edges.
- Sew the end hem in place.
- Hand sew a part of a snap on each end or use pronged snaps.
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Fabric Pom-Poms and Spots
Your ruffles should now be complete, though you can add more elements to your clown costume if you like. Two or three pom-poms down the front of the costume are a fun option. These can be done with fabric that is left over from your ruffles.
- Cut a length of the fabric strip, half the width of what you cut for your ruffle.
- Finish one edge of the strip the same way you finished the edge of the ruffle.
- Use a gathering method on the unfinished edge of the strip.
- Gather the strip of fabric.
- Turn in the raw end of the strip.
- Roll the gathered strip to form a flower or pom-pom.
- Use a hand sewing needle to sew through the rolled up fabric at the gathered edge. Sew and secure the rolled up layers.
- Hand baste the pom-pom to the belly of the sweat suit or pajamas, remembering to start spacing them below the neck ruffle.
Clown Costume Spots
A solid color sweat suit or pajamas can be transformed even more by either hand basting or using fusible web to attach round spots randomly on the clothing. Using fusible web will be pretty permanent and will probably make the pajamas a favorite pair. However, this may stop the use of a sweat suit, so use your discretion for attaching spots.