Rickrack Trims

Ric rac, rick rack, or rickrack -- by any spelling, it refers to the flat-woven trim that has zigzagged its way across antique aprons and linens too numerous to count.


Rickrack was a favorite trim of late-19th and early-20th-century seamstresses, who used it to embellish their garments. It is mentioned in books printed as early as 1882. Sometimes it was inserted in a seam with only the points visible; at other times rickrack was applied as a topstitched edging or served as the framework for Battenberg-type laces. Rickrack was prized for its durability and the fact that, unlike lace, it could survive repeated washings with no damage. The harsh laundry methods of the time involved boiling-hot water, grated lye soap, and large wooden laundry paddles, so this attribute alone assured the braid's great popularity.

Search through an old sewing basket, and you're likely to come upon remnants of rickrack, perhaps still in the original packets or carefully wound around folded cardboard and held with a rusted straight pin. Rickrack, a machine-woven braid, has changed very little in the intervening years. It's still available in several sizes, ranging from tiny to jumbo -- and the flat bias weave allows it to turn in any direction.

That old sewing-basket rickrack was probably woven of heavy-duty mercerized cotton, although some rickrack was made of wool. Today, it's made from sturdy polyester fibers that resist fading and curling, but it still looks like old-time cotton rickrack. The colors of old rickrack may not be available today. Manufacturers update the shades every year or two to reflect current trends, and the braid also comes in novelty colors, variegated tints, and metallics that are suited to a multitude of uses.

We've collected some rickrack linen-trim ideas to get your imagination started. Use vintage rickrack if you're lucky enough to find some. Follow these guidelines for working with old or new rickrack.

  • Preshrink old cotton rickrack before applying it to other fabrics.
  • Iron old or new rickrack to eliminate creases before you begin.
  • Don't stretch the braid too much when you sew it, and try to keep it flat.
  • Pin corners with the points arranged symmetrically, and then work in any slight extra fullness between the corners as you sew.

Add these rickrack trims to freshen bed or bath linens.

Chicken Scratch

Do you remember when the "chicken-scratch" technique of cross-stitch on gingham was all the rage? Gingham's precise checks also make it easy to align medium and baby rickrack in neat rows and secure it with backstitches. Add cross-stitches with French-knot centers.

Daisy Chain

Laze the days away making a chain of lazy-daisy stitches on jumbo-size rickrack. French-knot centers coordinate with lazy-daisy flower petals to gently echo the color of the pillow.

Perfect Posies

Daffodil-yellow rickrack flowers are a cheery substitute for the real thing, and they survive repeated washings no worse for the wear. For each flower, allow at least 12" of rickrack. (You may wish to start sewing at the cut end, making sure the flower is the size you want before cutting the other end.) Knot a doubled strand of thread in an embroidery needle. Sew running stitches in and out through each point on one edge of the rickrack. Then, gather the points at the center by pulling the thread. Tack the cut ends together on the underside to secure them. Tack on loops of green baby rickrack for leaves, and add French knots stitched in pearl cotton to the center of each flower.

Braided Bands

For the easiest rickrack trim of all, wrap two colors of rickrack together and machine-sew down the center of the band. Or baste the rickrack in place and tack alternate points by hand, and then remove the basting.

Take braided rickrack a step further with simple crochet stitches.

What You Need:
  • Size 14 steel crochet hook
  • 2 packages of medium rickrack in contrasting colors
  • DMC Cebelia size 20 thread to match or contrast with rickrack
Crochet Abbreviations:

ch = chain dc = double crochet rep = repeat RS = right side sc = single crochet sl st = slip stitch sp = space picot = ch 4, sl st in previous dc

Instructions:

Note: If you are trimming a towel, measure the width. Use this measurement plus 1 inch as the length of the edging for one row of trim.

1. Wrap contrasting colors of rickrack around each other with the pieces flat; cut them to the desired length.

2. Use triple strands of thread throughout to crochet a thicker edging like the yellow edging in the picture, or use a single strand for a thinner edging like the blue edging. Starting on the third rickrack tip from one end, join the thread by jabbing the hook through the fabric near the outer tip, sliding the hook in deeply to enlarge the hole, and then pulling the thread through.

3. Crochet:

  • Row 1: Ch 4, dc in same hole as joining, (ch 2, 2 dc in next rickrack tip) to desired length, leaving two tips free at end of work. Fasten off.
  • Row 2: Return to beginning of work, with the RS facing, join in 3rd ch of beginning ch-4, ch 4, (2 dc in next ch-2 sp, ch 2) across, ending last rep with 2 dc in next ch-2 sp, ch 1, dc in last dc. Fasten off.
  • Row 3: Turn work so RS is facing and work along opposite edge of rickrack, join in 3rd rickrack tip, ch 3; * in next rickrack tip (dc, ch 4, sl st in last dc = picot made) twice **, ch 2, sc in next rickrack tip, ch 2; rep from * across, leaving last 2 rickrack tips free and ending last rep at **. Fasten off.

4. Block the edging. Using a needle and thread, tack the edging to the towel, folding cut ends to the back.

Like comfort food, these rickrack-trimmed bed linens evoke memories of a simpler time.

What You Need:
  • Flat top sheet and matching pillowcases
  • Two packages of jumbo rickrack in each of three colors
  • Two packages of medium rickrack in each of two colors
  • Embroidery floss: two skeins each of five colors to match or contrast with rickrack
  • Thread: any color (for basting)
Instructions:

1. Press the finished edges of the sheet and each pillowcase; press the rickrack.

2. Cut a length of each color of rickrack to the width of the sheet plus 1 inch. Cut two lengths of each color of rickrack long enough to go around the pillowcase.

3. Spacing the rickrack as desired, pin and baste the center of each length of rickrack to the sheet, folding each cut end under 1/2 inch. Repeat the pattern on each pillowcase.

4. Choose embroidery stitches to embellish each row of rickrack, and work in the colors of your choice.

5. When the stitching is complete, remove the basting.

What You Need:
  • 15-inch-square purchased pillow with ruffle
  • 1/2 yard of 45-inch-wide sheer cotton batiste fabric
  • 1 yard each of turquoise, yellow, magenta, and green medium rickrack
  • Turquoise, yellow, magenta, green, and white sewing thread
Instructions:

1. Cut five 3-1/4x18-inch strips of batiste fabric.

2. On two strips, prepare a narrow hem along one long edge by folding under 1/8 inch and pressing; turn under 1/8 inch again and press. On the remaining three strips, prepare a narrow hem along both long edges.

3. Cut two 18-inch lengths from each color of rickrack. Use white thread to machine-sew a length of rickrack to each folded edge of the batiste fabric, catching only the tips of the points.

4. Referring to the photograph, lay out the strips, matching rickrack colors. Beginning with a piece of batiste with only a single edge of rickrack, match the colors and align the points. Tack the adjoining points together with matching thread. Repeat to join the other colors.

5. Press the completed design and trim it into a 15-1/2 inch square (or 1/2 inch larger than the pillow you're using). Fold under and press 1/4 inch on each outside edge.

6. Center the pieced batiste on the pillow top, pinning it in place. Hand-stitch around the edges.


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