A lettuce edge is a type of garment trim that creates a ruffle at the neckline, hem, or cuffs. The name is derived from the trim's similarity to the ruffled, crinkled edge of a lettuce leaf. The similarity is most apparent in the irregularity of the edge. These edges can be single or double layered, thick or thin, and made of various fabrics. Although they can be hand-stitched, most find it more efficient to stitch a lettuce edge using a sewing machine or serger. Garments that commonly feature these trims include baby clothing, wedding gowns, or girls' fashion designs, though they can also be found on items like doilies, socks, and handkerchiefs.
This finishing technique is especially useful for creating a quick, simple, and decorative garment border without using additional fabrics, which can fray at the seams, be difficult to attach, or create problems with washing. The lettuce edge was first made simple by the advent of the overlock sewing machine in the 1800s, which enabled automated overlock stitching and serging. This type of stitching involves sewing over the edge of the garment to finish it, while serging occurs when the sewing machine cuts the fabric as it is fed and sewn.
To create a ruffle without adding lace or some other decorative fabric, the lettuce edge hemming technique uses stitching to not only finish the rough fabric edge, but to force the hemmed edge to fold, gather, and crinkle. This employs a tight zig-zag and complex overlock stitching to create a uniform fabric border. The fabric must be stretched and fed in a precise fashion to ensure proper, uniform ruffles without distorting the main garment.
Stretchy, pliant fabrics are generally best to create lettuce edges, especially fabrics that snap back and easily retain their original shape, rather than stretching permanently. The technique also works well on woven fabrics with a bias edge. Both normal and fine threads can create a ruffled hem. Many sewing enthusiasts use thread in one or two colors that either complement or contrast with the fabric. Varying stitch lengths can also create unique designs.
A double lettuce edge features an underlayer of fabric, usually a quarter of an inch (.63 cm) to an inch (2.54 cm) longer than the primary garment. When both layers are hemmed using the lettuce edging technique, this creates a double ruffle. One popular design is to choose different colored fabrics with matching thread, and then stitch the lettuce edge on each layer with the contrasting thread color for a distinctive pattern.