Rick rack or rickrack or ricrac, however you spell it, there’s no denying it’s been at the top of the trim list for near 200 years. Earliest mentions of this wavy wonder date back to the mid-1800s! At its most simplified, rick rack is defined as a flat, narrow woven braid in a zig zag form. It was originally known as “waved crochet braid.” That’s right! Rick rack’s history is not as homespun as you might think. Rick rack was a preferred trim for fancy handwork in the late-19th and early-20th century, a sought-after component of crocheted lace designs. Because the harsh laundry methods of the time involved boiling-hot water, grated lye soap, and large wooden paddles, the durability of rick rack made it a favorite with seamstresses who were tasked with applying or repairing the much more delicate laces. From elegant lace gowns to prairie pinafores, it’s a trim that’s weathered the test of time and we have the best tips for adding it to today’s projects.
Besides its job as a lace embellishment, one of oldest tasks of rick rack was to provide a finished edge to fabric. Before there were sewing machines and sergers, tightly woven rick rack did the trick.
Old school rick rack was formed by tightly braiding cotton or wool thread into the signature zig zag shape, creating a flat bias weave that allowed it to curve in any direction. The basic construction has changed little over the decades. Today, the braiding is done by machine and the fibers are more likely to be polyester since it better resists fading and curling. In addition, the old rick rack you’re likely to find in Grandma’s sewing basket is probably quite skinny. Today you can find rick rack in a wide variety of widths, from teeny tiny to super jumbo, and in a huge range of colors. There are even metallic and variegated options.
One mystery we were unable to solve was how the name rick rack evolved. Waved crochet braid seems like a perfectly dignified name, but toward the end of the 1800s, the name rick rack pops up. If any of our Sew4Home smarty pants sewers know the history of the transition to rick rack, we’d love to hear about it.
We’ve summarized some of the most common techniques that can help you get the perfect waved edge, as well as tips on how to handle corners and curves with ease. We also show you some fun ways to combine rick rack for a unique dimensional look.
Modern rick rack doesn’t normally require pre-washing/pre-shrinking prior to using it in a project (the one exception being red rick rack… always pre-wash red stuff), but if you come across a vintage cotton rick rack, do pre-shrink it before applying it to another fabric.
Press rick rack before you start to eliminate the hard creases that form in the packaging.
When you’re sewing, don’t stretch or pull the rick rack too much. It’s best to try to keep it as flat as possible.
Projects shown at top. Top right clockwise: Fabric Bowl Covers, Fat Quarters Plaid Apron, Patchwork Trivets with Circular Quilting, Seersucker Trimmed Bedsheet & Pillowcases. Projects shown in second photo: Double Tier Half Apron with Rick Rack Details, Pretty Teapot Cozy–a ScrapBusters project, Double Layer Half Apron with Fancy Details.
Application for the proper reveal
- Rick rack is often applied so that half of the waves are revealed from within a seam or along an edge. To confirm where to place the rick rack, first measure the height of a wave. This gives you the exact center of the trim since you have one wave going up and the next going down.
From a folded edge
- If you want the the rick rack to extend from a folded edge, mark that wave height you just measured along the raw edge of the fabric where the fold will happen.
- Pin the rick rack in place so the bottom dip of the waves is flush with the raw edge of the fabric.
- Baste along your marked line across the length of the rick rack. In most cases, we recommend basting the rick rack in place first.
- We’ve done all our sample stitching with contrasting thread for the best visibility of the technique. You would most likely want to use matching thread.
- Fold back along the sewn seam to reveal the perfect line of waves along your edge.
From a seam
- To create this same effect within a seam, you can simply use the project’s seam allowance as your stitching guide. The center line of your rick rack should be placed along the seam allowance to provide the perfect reveal. Because it’s the center of the rick rack that should be placed along the seam line, the exact position of the rick rack in relation to the raw edges of the seam allowance will vary based on the width of the rick rack. If it’s thin rick rack, the trim will sit in from the raw edge of the fabric. Wide rick rack will likely extend flush with or possible even beyond the raw edge.
- Baste the rick rack in place along the seam allowance on one panel of the two fabric panels that will make up your seam.
- Layer the second panel right sides together with the first and pin in place, sandwiching the rick rack between the layers.
- Stitch together, following along on your original rick rack basting seam line.
- Press open the seam allowance to reveal the rick rack. In the photo below, we rotated the direction of the stripes to make the two seamed pieces distinct.
Behind a finished edge
- If your piece to be trimmed is self-contained, such as a pocket, you can also add the rick rack behind the finished edge rather than within the seam. This is a bit easier when you're working with a curve or tight corners and/or if you’ve chosen a thinner trim. This is because you can see the rick rack at all times and can therefore insure your reveal is perfect – something that is a harder to do when the rick rack is hidden between layers.
- Working from the wrong side, pin the rick rack in place along the finished piece. In the photo below, we are using a curved pocket sample. The top straight edge of our pocket features a rick rack reveal from a seam; this edge will be folded down to the front when the pocket is placed. We started and stopped our rick rack at this fold line.
- The trim should extend just a bit, about ¼” is good, beyond the starting and stopping points to give you enough to fold back for a finished end.
- Place the trimmed item right side up on the base fabric and re-pin through all the layers.
- Edgestitch in place to secure. Again, we are using contrasting thread to best show the technique.
- In all the instances above, we have pinned our rick rack in place, which is our preferred method. Many people find pinning a bit fussy and swear by fabric glue sticks or fusible seam tape as an alternate method of holding the trim in place prior to basting and seaming.
Application as flat trim
- Rick rack doesn’t have to be halved! It looks great as flat trim on a base fabric. There are so many fun colors and textures out there, even pre-embellished options!
- One very easy and popular choice is to use rick rack to mask a hem’s seam line.
- Create your hem. It’s seam will act as the guide line for the rick rack.
- Working on the right side, center the trim directly over the hem’s seam.
- It makes a lovely embellishment line along the edge of a skirt or even along the hem of a tablecloth or curtain.
- The most common application is a simple straight stitch in a matching or contrasting color.
- A decorative stitch would certainly add interest to a plain color of rick rack.
- We also played with the wave stitch (#22 on our Janome Skyline S5), adjusting the stitch length to match the rick rack.
- Experiment with scraps of rick rack and base fabric to get the look you like best.
- If you don’t have a seam line or hem line to follow, draw in your own line with a fabric pen or pencil.
- With one line of rick rack stitched in place, it can be used as a base on which to stack multiple rows.
- We stacked three pieces and then removed the center one for perfect spacing between just two rows.
- For double the fun, weave two lengths of rick rack together. Two matching lengths gives you a wider, bolder, more dimensional trim.
- Weaving together two contrasting colors adds even more interest. Simply interlock the two rick racks and press to set prior to stitching in place.
- If you want an invisible application, you can handstitch rick rack in place. Work from the wrong side of the base fabric with a thread that best matches the rick rack. Stitch to catch just the center of the rick rack so no thread shows from the right side. This is nice for heirloom work.
Ends and corners
- Because of how it is woven, rick rack acts like bias trim, allowing it to curve and twist with ease.
- If a single end of the rick rack will show on your finished project, simply turn the end under on itself, hiding the raw end.
- Depending on the reveal, more than one twist might be required to completely conceal the raw edge.
- If your ends are creating a continuous line, an overlap is the cleanest finish. Start your stitching at the exact head of the rick rack, stitch all the way around, then stop about 1-2” from your starting point, with your needle in the down position.
- Place the loose end over the stitched end, aligning the waves and trimming away the excess. Continue the seam to secure the overlap. A dot of seam sealant can help insure the cut end of the rick rack won't fray.
- If you run out of rick rack in the middle of an application, turn under the raw end at the center point of a wave. Open a new package of rick rack and turn under the new starting length at the exact same center point. Butt together the two folded under ends to create a nearly-invisible joint and continue on your merry way.
- If you are starting your trim in the center of a base fabric, turn under the raw end, aligning the folded edge with your starting point. In the photo below, our starting point was the edge of a stripe.
- Start your stitching right at the folded edge and continue forward. This looks best with a very small and neat backstitch or a lockstitch to secure the start of the seam.
- To turn a corner, the inherent “bendiness” of the rick rack is again helpful. It easily wraps around a corner. Plus, most rick rack has no right or wrong side, so a little twist as you turn is rarely visible.
- Pin along each side first, giving yourself a bit extra to work with at the point of the corner.
- Create a small fold at the corner to accommodate the 90˚angle and pin to secure.
- Stitch or baste in place as described above.
Rick rack rose
- One of the quickest way to make a pretty dimensional flower to use as an embellishment is to create a rick rack rose. The size of the rose is determined by the width of the rick rack as well as how many times you wrap it around its center.
- Our friends at The Ribbon Retreat have shared their free Rick Rack Rose tutorial with us. It’s fast and easy, plus TRR has one of the best selections of rick rack online for both color and width variety.