Gathering is a cute and useful sewing skill to have in your toolbox but it can be intimidating. There are several different gathering techniques that can be used in sewing, depending on the type of fabric and the desired look. Here are three of our favorite easy-gathering methods:
The traditional sewing machine method:
This technique involves running a long basting stitch (a temporary, loosely stitched line) along the top edge of the fabric that you want to gather, then pulling the bobbin threads (the threads on the bottom side of the fabric) to gather the fabric. This method works well for lightweight fabrics and produces a consistent professional finished gather.
- Start by setting your sewing machine stitch length to between 4-5 mm long.
- Make sure your top thread and bobbin thread has a good amount of length to them.
- Place your fabric under your sewing foot. Where you stitch the lines will depend on your seam allowance; for example, if you have a 1cm seam allowance then sew your gathered stitches just before and after that - 0.8mm (I just used the edge of my sewing foot) and ⅝”.
- Once the 2 lines are sewn make sure to leave a good amount of thread at the end of the stitch as well.
- Remember what side you sewed your bobbin thread and you gently pull on the bobbin thread to create the gathered effect in your fabric.
- This technique works really well for most projects with lightweight and medium-weight fabrics.
- Add a 3rd stitch line for any intricate makes or longer lengths of fabric to gather for added strength.
- Put pins at the central point of your gathering side and the side you’re sewing to, as a handy way to distribute the gathers between the pins.
- Use your finger or a pin whilst sewing to distribute the gathers evenly as you sew.
The cord/Zig Zag stitch method:
This method is great for sewing heavy-weight fabrics and also light fabrics like tulle that are hard to work with on a machine. It gives great results in fabrics that can't be gathered using the traditional machine method using long basting stitches.
What supplies you need for gathering with cord:
- Some sort of cord, thick thread or yarn.
- Sewing Machine set to a ZigZag stitch, it needs to be wide enough to wrap around your cord without sewing into it. I used quite a thick cord for the demo photos, so set the zigzag width to 6!
- Your regular sewing supplies.
- Cut your cord to the length of the project you’re sewing, with at least a few inches excess on each end.
- Set your sewing machine to zigzag stitch and then adjust the width to be at least 5 or 6 (so it covers your cord without sewing into it), and then the stitch length around 2.5-3.5.
- Do a test stitch first if you're unsure it will cover the cord.
- Start stitching over your cord, holding it roughly just below or just before your seam allowance. Make sure to have a few inches of the cord loose at each end.
- Once sewn in place, you can gently pull the cord/fabric and gather it as much as you need.
- Make sure to use a nice strong cord.
- Secure the cord gathers in place with a pin and wrap the cord in a figure of 8 around the pin head to keep in place if you find it unravels before the next sewing step.
- Take your time sewing the zigzag so you don’t accidentally sew into the cord.
The Hand-stitch method:
This technique uses a thread and needle to gather fabric by hand.
- Start by threading a needle and tying a knot at the end of the thread.
- Then, sew a running stitch (a series of small stitches that follow each other in a line) along the top edge of the fabric, pulling the thread tight as you go to gather the fabric. Alternatively, you can leave the thread loose at the end, sew all the way across and then gather the stitch line once the stitch is in place.
- After you've sewn along the entire edge, tie off the thread to secure the gathers in place.
This method is useful when you want to gather a small or precise area or a delicate fabric that is difficult to gather by machine, as gathering by hand allows for more control. This process can take longer but worth the extra time if the project needs a delicate hand.
- Double up your thread for more strength.
- Sew 2 rows of gathering lines, like the machine method if your fabric is heavier or needs more work to make the gathers even.
- Use a needle that is a little longer in length, as this makes it easier to fit on more than one running stitch at a time.
Test the techniques on a scrap piece of fabric that you will be using, so you can check the tension and experiment with the overall finish of the gather. These techniques can be practiced so you will grow in confidence with each sewing project. It’s a beautiful way to add details to a handmade garment and many sewing patterns feature gathering in them.
Here are some Friday Pattern Suggestions that use gathering stitches; Patina Blouse Sleeve, Davenport Dress, Wilder Gown, Hughes Dress Sleeve, and the Sagebrush Top.