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Sewing Basics: How to Gather Fabric 6 Ways

Once you learn the sewing basics of gathering fabric techniques, you'll be able to sew everything from twirly skirts to elegant curtains and beyond!

Updated October 01, 2018
Sewing Basics How to Gather Fabric 6 Ways

When you sit down to learn to sew, eventually you are going to come across a store-bought or free sewing pattern that's going to tell you to gather the fabric on a hem or pocket. Many sewists know exactly how to do this, but if you are learning to sew, however, little things like this can really confuse you. Never fear! It's actually a cinch to learn how to sew a gathered piece, especially when you have this handy guide at your disposal!

First of all, what is gathering? Gathering fabric is when you use thread or cords to gather your fabric along a seam. This is often used to add an element texture to projects. You will often need to know how to gather fabric when you are adding pockets to wearables and purses. 

Since knowing how to gather fabric is a very popular technique and something you are going to come across when you sew, we have decided to ask one of our favorite bloggers, Emily from Life Sew Savory, to give us the basics on how to gather fabric. If you are looking to make some ruffle fabric or need a gathered fabric tutorial for a project, you will find that information here.


Table of Contents:

Six Ways to Gather Fabric

Serger Gathering with Tight Tension

Gathering with a Cord

Machine Gathering with Tight Tension

Single Thread Quick Gather

Double Thread Traditional Gather Method

How to Gather Fabric by Hand

Projects that Use Gathered Fabric

 

Six Ways to Gather Fabric

I'm so excited to be sharing this post today! I've been thinking about putting something like this together for a while now because I often get asked about this particular technique. Many of my sewing tutorials have a "gather fabric" in the instructions. Today I've put together instructions with six ways to gather fabric to teach you all you need to know about gathering and when to use each various kind.

Tip: When a project requires you to gather fabric, make sure that it is a fabric that will gather easily. Some fabrics like leather or faux fur are going to be much harder to gather, so keep this in mind when choosing your fabric for a project.

Serger Gathering with Tight Tension

Gathering on a serger sewing machine is great when you don't need an exact gather. This gathering is done by adjusting the settings on your machine and then feeding the fabric though. The machine automatically gathers the fabric. You can have some control by adjusting the settings, but if you need certain measurements, this is not the best option.

  1. Set the differential feed on your serger at the biggest number (mine was 2).

  2. Set the length on your serger to the biggest number (mine was 4).

  3. Feed fabric through the serger, and it will automatically gather the fabric. With these settings, my fabric started at 36" and gathered to 19".

Gathering with a Cord

This method is great for thick or heavy fabric. Oftentimes your threads will keep breaking when using single or double thread gathering methods (#4 and #5) if the fabric is too heavy. This is one way to still get gathers regardless of fabric weight.

  1. With a wide zig-zag, set your sewing machine to Width 6 and Length 5.

  2. Place a cord or string about 1/3'' from the top of your fabric and sew the zig-zag over the top of the cord. Be careful to NOT sew into the actual cord. You will want this to be able to slip through the stitches and if the needle sticks it, it will be stuck.

  3. When you get to the end hold the stitches in one hand and pull the cord (blue here) with the other hand. This will cause the fabric under the first hand to gather.

  4. Continuing pulling until the fabric is the desired length. Smooth out the gathers and then use a basting stitch to hold the gathers in place. Remove the cord and continue with pattern.

Machine Gathering with Tight Tension

This method is very much like gathering with a serger (#1), only it's done on a normal sewing machine. It works best with light fabrics. I also use it when gathering streamers or party paper.

Again this works great if you don't need your fabric to end up an exact length and just want loads and loads of easy gathers! My fabric went from 36" to 8" in seconds with this method. I also love it because the gathers are so even!

  1. Adjust your sewing machine settings to Length 5 and Tension 8/9. More tension will make the fabric gather more tightly, and less tension will make the fabric gather less tightly. 

  2. Pass your fabric underneath your sewing machine.

Single Thread Quick Gather

This method is a take on the traditional gathering method, but it's just a bit quicker!

  1. Set your stitch length to the longest it will go; mine was 5.

  2. Stitch this long basting stitch about 1/3" from the top of your fabric.

  3. Find the bobbin thread (the bottom one), and pull only that thread. Use the other hand to hold the fabric.

  4. Pull the gathers until the fabric is the correct length. Tie your threads at both ends so the gathering will stay. Using this method is tricky because the single thread is more likely to break, so be careful when pulling the gathers.

Double Thread Traditional Gather Method

This method the most traditional of all the gathering options. A double thread gather method is the same as a single thread quick gather, only you add a second basting line before you pull the strings.

  1. Set your stitch length to the longest it will go.

  2. Stitch this long basting stitch about 1/3" from the top of your fabric.

  3. Sew a second line of basting stitches about 1/8'' below your first line. Make sure when you add the second line of stitches that you DO NOT cross the thread. They won't pull properly if crosses. The two lines of stitches must be parallel.

  4. Once you have your two lines, find the bottom bobbin thread and grab only those two threads. Pull the threads, while holding the fabric.

  5. The gathers will bunch right at the edge. Use your fingers to smooth out the gathers until they are even. Tie the threads at each end to hold the gathering.

How to Gather Fabric by Hand

You don't need expensive equipment to make designer-grade gathers in your sewing projects. With just a needle and thread, you can learn how to gather fabric by hand using a simple basting stitch.

  1. Thread the needle and tie knot at the end.

  2. Push the needle from the back of the fabric to the front. This puncture will determine the position of the beginning of your basting seam. Pull the needle until the knot you tied in Step 1 hits the fabric.

  3. About 5 mm away from your last puncture, push the needle from the front of the fabric to the back. Pull the thread taut.

  4. Repeat Step 3, alternating the direction of your needle but keeping the same stitch length each time. This is a simple running stitch with an increased stitch length.

  5. Once you have reached the end of your seam, hold the end of the thread and push your fabric towards the knotted end. The fabric will gather along the stitched line. When you have gathered your fabric to the desired tightness, tie a knot at the other end of the thread so that it touches the end of your fabric.

Projects that Use Gathered Fabric

Now that you're a gathering stitch aficionado, here are a few projects that will put your skills to the test! Use each of the above fabric gathering techniques, and you'll love the fun frills you create.

Lazy Day Free Skirt Pattern

Subtly gathered, feminine, and playful, this Lazy Day Free Skirt Pattern is just what any comfort-seeker needs in her closet. With gorgeous Bohemian lace appliques, this skirt can be dressed up with a frilly blouse or down with a pair of sneakers, and it'll still turn heads.

Honestly Lovely Onesie Dress

Your little one has never looked so precious than in this floral and fun Honestly Lovely Onesie Dress. A baby doll design and a lightly gathered skirt will have your baby girl looking like a princess from playdates to naptime.

Enchanting Tulle Skirt

You won't be able to resist twirling around in this Enchanting Tulle Skirt! This timeless design is girlish and fun, and its tulle overlay is light enough to give any ensemble an airy vibe. Look like a fashion-forward fairy in this to-die-for skirt pattern.

Date Night Circle Skirt

Give any date night ensemble a flirty feel with this couture tulle circle skirt. Not only is the frilly gathering of this design positively stunning, but it's also flattering. Get an hourglass figure without ever stepping inside a gym with this clever design!

Riveting Ruffles Maxi Skirt Pattern

Why have one layer of ruffled fabric on a skirt when you can have four or more? This Riveting Ruffles Maxi Skirt Pattern, with customizable layers and a comfy elastic waistband, will have you looking like a Grecian goddess all summer long.

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