Shaped Puffing: A Step-by-Step Tutorial

shaped puffing

Do you want to add a “wow” factor to your next heirloom sewing project? Try using shaped puffing as the focal point. This technique is ideal for adding a wonderful, visual texture to christening gowns, girl’s dresses, fancy pillows and more. In this article from our March/April 2006 issue (#105) of Sew Beautiful magazine, designer Sue Stewart walks you step-by-step through the process of making and shaping your puffing for perfect results. Sue says that she likes using batiste for the puffing, but other lightweight fabrics such as cotton lawn, silk organza and silk dupioni are also beautiful.

1. Starch and press base fabric. With a wash-out marker, draw placement lines for innermost and outermost lace edges.

2. Cut or tear fabric strips for puffing about 1/4-inch narrower than space between the outermost lines, so that raw edges of puffing strip do not extend beyond lace. Seam strips together, if necessary, to allow for about 2-to-1 fullness. (Hint: Cut puffing strips from silk dupioni along lengthwise grain. They will gather much more easily and will not ravel as much as crossgrain strips.)

Make Puffing

Method One – For short or narrow strips

I think it is easiest to use two rows of straight stitches along each edge. Stitch on wrong side of strip with a loosened needle tension, L = 2.5 – 3.0, and polyester or cotton-covered polyester thread in bobbin. Stitch rows so that stitching along inner heading of lace will be between the two rows of stitching. Pull up all four bobbin threads at once to gather (Photo 1).

Method Two – For longer strips

This method requires a gathering foot. Stitch length and tension may both need to be adjusted to achieve nice, even, but not-too-tight gathers. Stitch with fabric right side up, so that inner heading of lace will just cover gathering stitch line. Gather one side of strip, then other side (Photo 2). Narrow puffing strips are difficult to maneuver under a gathering foot.

Method Three – Corded Edge

Another way of gathering fabric is to zigzag over a heavy thread or cord. Coats Hand Quilting Thread is a good choice. Use a zigzag (L = 1.5; W = 1.5 – 2.0), being careful not to catch cord in stitching. Stitch with fabric right side up, so that inner heading of lace will cover gathering stitch line by about 1/8-inch. Pull up cords to gather fabric, being careful not to pull cords out (Photo 3).

Shape Puffing

1. Pin gathered puffing strip between marked lines on fabric. Raw edges of strip should be about 1/4-inch within the outermost lines. Adjust gathers so that folds are always perpendicular to drawn lines. If you used the first gathering option, you can pull up bobbin threads (on right side of fabric), much as you would pull header to shape lace. If you used the third option, you can pull up on cord in the same way. If you used a gathering foot, you may or may not be able to slide gathers along threads to adjust them. If gathers are held firmly in place, simply ease fabric in place with your fingers and pin well.

2. For angles, pin puffing at outer point. Unless angle is very sharp, do not miter the puffing as you would miter lace. Just pull up gathers tightly along inner edge of puffing as if you weregoing around a curve; refer to previous step (Photo 4).

3. Press seam allowances of puffing flat.

4. Shape lace along both edges of puffing so that outer headings of lace strips are along outer drawn lines.

5. Zigzag (L = 0.5 – 0.8; W = 2.0 – 2.5) along both headings of both lace strips through all layers of fabric (Photo 5). Pinstitch or entredeux stitches may be used along outer headings of lace strips (those edges not covering puffing), but in most cases, I prefer to zigzag edges of lace along puffing, as gathers can get somewhat bulky for “big needle” stitching.

6. On wrong side, trim away all base fabric layers behind puffing and laces. Also trim puffing seam allowances (Photo 6). A tiny bit of base fabric remains in stitching.

7. Stitch and trim lace miters.


Sue Stewart worked as a primary designer for Martha Pullen Company from 1990 to 2005, during which she had dozens of featured articles in Sew Beautiful magazine. An award-winning designer of heirloom and machine-embroidered quilts, she has designed and sewn for Martha’s Sewing Room and many Martha Pullen publications. Visit her website at susanstewartdesigns.com.


For more sewing tips related to puffing, check out these episodes of Martha’s Sewing Room:

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