Gathering for Sewing: The Easy Way

Gathering is a relatively easy sewing technique that can be accomplished in a variety of ways. The method most patterns and books advocate is to sew two rows of long, basting stitches, also referred to as gathering stitches. The tails of each row are then pulled, which gathers the fabric. Once the desired amount of gathering, or fullness, is achieved, a final row of stitching is done in between the two gathering rows to seal the gathers and finish the job. Not a difficult technique, but when doing so for an especially long piece of fabric, gathering in sewing is not always that simple.

Gathered Seam on a Skirt

When gathering long stretches of material, like when creating single or multiple tiers in a skirt, there is always the risk the thread (or threads) being pulled can break. Ouch — instant do-over!

Ball of Pink Yarn

Not to mention, the task of gathering such long stretches, depending on the fabric, can be a tedious task. One way to alleviate the risk of any thread breakage is to gather in sections. That works well, but all the loose tails can be a bit difficult to keep under control. Plus, making certain only the correct tails are pulled is a must or the process comes to abrupt halt. Lastly, making those connections between sections can sometimes go wonky.

So, when I have to gather very long pieces, I take a more hardy approach. It works every time and makes the actual gathering step super fast, clean, even and easy. The trick is to use regular household string — nothing too thick. It’s strong so it can withstand the gathering task, so regardless of length it can all be done in one section. Also, if sewn in properly, it can be removed in a jiffy.

A simple technique for gathering in sewing to try today:

Zigzag Sewing Over the Yarn

Step 1:

Like the standard technique, sew in two rows of gathering stitches, but this time instead of long basting stitches, the string is sewn into each row using zigzag stitches that, literally, straddle the string. Set the stitch length and width to the longest your machine will go.

For a project using standard 5/8-inch seam allowances, the first row is done at 1/4 inch from the fabric edge and the second at 7/8 inch from the edge, which leaves an approximate 3/8-inch sewing alley for the final stitching.

While sewing be sure to keep the string centered within the presser foot and be sure the stitches completely straddle the string, because if the needle penetrates the string it is probably too thick and essentially renders the technique ineffective.

Gathering the Fabric with the Yarn

Step 2:

When both rows (with string) are sewn in place, loosely tie the two string tails at one end to anchor the gathering. Then, pull the tails, simultaneously, at the opposite end and gather to the desired fullness. If you’ve stitched the string in correctly, you won’t believe how fast and easy this step is.

Finesse the gathering to ensure it is evenly distributed throughout.

Gathered Fabric for Skirt

Step 3:

Once the gathering is done and evenly distributed, it is ready for the final stitching.

Reset the machine to a straight stitch to whatever length the project dictates and stitch between the two gathering rows to seal them in. Now stitched in place, untie the strings and simply pull them out from both rows. Remove the bottom row of zigzag stitches with a seam ripper. If you pull the threads derived from the bobbin, they should pull out relatively easily.

That’s all there is to it!

[box type=”shadow”]Learn more essential sewing tips and tricks in the Bluprint class 40 Techniques Every Sewer Should Know, taught by designer Gail Yellen. She demystifies pressing, sewing, using interfacing, applying binding, setting in sleeves, clean closures and so much more![/box]

What gathering technique do you use most often?

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