A tutorial and guide for 4 different methods for gathering fabric!
Thank you to Kaitlin Waples for creating this tutorial for our Below The Kowhai sewing community.
To see more of Kaitlin’s beautiful sewing visit @life_in_double on Instagram.
Whether you are a beginner or advanced sewist you have no doubt come across a pattern that requires gathering.
Gathering fabric is an essential technique for any sewist. There are multiple methods for gathering, you can gather by hand, on a sewing machine, an overlocker, or with a specialized gathering/ruffle foot.
Here we will be focusing on four different methods of gathering, using a basting stitch, cord, overlocker and elastic.
No one method of gathering is superior to another. In fact, I find the gathering method I use depends on what fabrics I am using and what project I am working on.
Give them a go in your future projects to discover which you prefer!
Gathering With A Basting Stitch
GREAT TO USE: This method is probably the most common, and the method we use in Below the Kōwhai pattern tutorials. Very useful for medium weight fabrics.
Using your machine’s longest stitch length with fabric right side up, sew your first row of stitches 5mm (¼”) from the edge, do not back stitch, leave long thread tails. Repeat this process another one to two times leaving 5mm (¼”) between each basting line.
Pull the bobbin thread (underside thread) tails to gather the fabric. Slide the fabric along the thread until you have nice even gathers and have gathered to your desired width.
Once your fabric has been gathered and pinned you can return the stitch length of your sewing machine back to normal, then stitch your seam by sewing over the gathers.
Make sure to sew gathered side up so you can see what you are doing and adjust as needed.
When sewing with one line of basting stitches I sew my seam just underneath the basting stitch line. With two basting lines I sew in between the two lines and with three basting lines I sew along the center line.
Once the seam is complete unpick any stitches that are outside the seam line and visible from the right side of your project.
As you can see in the side by side comparison of using one, two or three basting stitches, you will create the neatest gathers by using three lines of stitches.
The downside to this is that three lines of stitches can be time consuming and use a lot of thread, so I tend to save it for special projects and use two lines of stitches for every day sewing.
Gathering With Cord
GREAT TO USE: I find this method particularly useful when gathering heavy weight fabrics.
Gathering with a cord involves using a strong thin cord with a zig zag stitch over the top. I like to use dental floss since I almost always have some handy and it is extremely hard to break.
Cut your cord about 50mm (2″) longer than the fabric you need to gather. Set your sewing machine to its zig zag stitch.
2. Lay your cord 5mm (¼”) from the edge of your fabric (inside your seam allowance) and sew a zig zag stitch overtop making sure the cord is centred inside your zig zag stitch.
Take care not to catch the cord in any of the stitches otherwise you will not be able to pull your gather later.
Hold the ends of the cord, slide the fabric along the cord until you have neat even gathers at your desired width.
Now the fabric has been gathered you can pin in place and return your machine back to a straight stitch to finish your seam.
There is no need to pull out the cord after you are done as it should all be hidden in your seam allowance. Yay!
Gathering Using An Overlocker
GREAT TO USE: I prefer to use this method of gathering for small projects like dolly clothes, tiny baby clothes or small flutter sleeves.
There are a few different ways to gather with an overlocker. If you look in your manual you will most likely find instructions on one method of gathering. This usually involves changing your needle tension, differential feed and stitch length. However, I have found this method of gathering can be a bit frustrating and I never seem to be able to gather my fabric to the right length. The way I gather with an overlocker I feel is slightly easier. All you need to do is adjust your differential feed and stitch length, overlock as normal and then pull the needle threads to gather the fabric.
Change the differential feed to 2.5 and stitch length to 2.
Overlock the edge of your fabric as normal.
Separate your needle threads from your looper threads at both ends of the fabric.
Pull on the needle threads to gather your fabric, taking care not to break the thread otherwise you will have to start all over again.
Gathering With Elastic
GREAT TO USE: This technique works best with knit fabrics, and it also helps to provide some structure to garments made from knit fabrics.
The final gathering technique is using clear elastic and a zig zag stitch to gather.
Cut your elastic to the length you need your fabric gathered to when finished, adding about 25mm (1″) at either end to hold onto while gathering.
Prepare the elastic by dividing it into quarters and use a pen to mark each section quarter. Do the same for the section of fabric you need to gather.
Line up the marks on your elastic to the marks on your fabric and clip or pin in place.
Set your machine to its zig zag stitch.
Centre the elastic over your seam line and lower the needle into the centre of the elastic with fabric wrong side up. Make a few stitches before stretching your elastic out, making sure the first set of quarter marks you made earlier stay lined up. While sewing be careful to stretch the elastic from both sides, aligning as you sew.
Happy Gathering all, Kaitlin 🙂
Thanks for sharing this gathering guide with us Kaitlin! *moves the dental floss from the bathroom to sewing supplies*
Love and happy sewing,