Pulleys & Mechanisms in a Garment

L ruching 5079

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Pulleys and mechanisms aretraditionally thought of in relation to heavy lifting systems but they are just as relevant to the design ofgarments and textiles products. Techniques such as ruching, as well as ring and loop pulleymechanismsused in Roman and Austrian blinds, are good examples of pulley and mechanisms used in textiles products.

The Bikes & Bloomers Project

The Bikes & Bloomers project led by Dr Kat Jungnickel, Senior Lecturer in sociology at Goldsmiths,Universityof London, is aresearchproject about female inventors in late nineteenth century Britain, exploringthe cycle wear they designed and wore, which at the time was radical and cutting edge. In particular, many of the inventions used concealed pulley and mechanism systems to create transforminggarments.


See this gif and gifs for other converting cycle wear here.
Notice in this gif how both the front and back of the skirt are pulled up from thefront i.e. rather than the skirt having different pulleys at the front and back. This makes the transformation quicker and easier to carry out.

One of the designers in the study, Alice Bygrave, a dressmaker by trade and influenced by her watch and clock maker parents, invented the pulley cycling skirt in 1885, which she patented in 1895.Dr Kat Jungnickel says of Bygrave's invention that it 'brings built-in engineering, deliberately concealed technologies and creativity to the problem of how to wear an ‘ordinary’ skirt and cycle safely’.

Bygrave's A-line skirt had a hidden pulley system in thefront and rear seams of the skirt and the cords, pulleys, and stitched channels enabled the skirt to be gathered up easily to avoid it being caught in the bike when cycling. The skirt also had weights along the hem to enable the wearer to lower the skirt toquicklytransform it fromcyclingwear to day wear.


The pulleysystem is created by a textilestechniquecalledruching although the design of theruching is more complex than the standard technique asthe skirt is pulled up at both the front and the back with two pulls from the front only i.e. rather than the skirt having different pulley systems at the front and back. This makes the transformation quicker and easier to carry out.

As part of the Bikes and Bloomers project Jungnickel and her team recreated Bygrave’sdesign, as well as others that wereregistered as patents at the time. The patents for the garments can be seen on the website, along with patterns developed by the team to enable you to recreatethegarments yourself.

In a period when it was socially unacceptable forwomen to wear shorter skirts these inventions helped women challenge conventional ideas about how a women should look and behave, particularly asBygrave’sinvention was manufactured and distributed byJaeger and was sold in theUK, America and Australia.The patents the women registered for theirinnovativecyclewearalso encouraged other women to do the same, something that wasn’t common for women at the time. In the video aboveJungnickel talks about the social importance of the inventions by women like Bygrave.

Visit the Bikes and Bloomers website

Download the patterns formarking the garments

See the garments being recreated

See gifs for other converting costumes

Read an article in the Guardian about Bygrave’s pulley skirt and some of the other designs from the time


  • Investigate where ruching is used in contemporary garments.
  • InvestigateRoman and Austrian blinds which use a pulley and ring system to open and close the blinds
  • Experiment with your own ruching samples and and pulley and ring systems such as the ones used for Roman and Austrian blinds
  • Create your own designs forgarments or textiles products where ruching or other pulley systems are used to transform a product.
  • Investigatecontemporarycycle wear forwomenand how it deals with this problem e.g. bikeskirts by Forest & Finand Bike Girl Bloomers as well as other solutions such as clip on weights byNomonroe Dress Clip
  • Investigate examples of more traditional use of pulleys and mechanisms e.g. inside machinery

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