Sewing Blog

How to Gather Fabric

gather fabric

Gathering fabric is used all the time in garment construction to add and create fullness. Gathering is often found at the waist of a skirt or on the skirt of a dress, under the bust to allow room for your bust without the use of darts, and at the shoulders or neck for a little extra ease in the yoke of a blouse or dress.

Gathering is made by reducing one piece of fabric to fit a smaller piece of fabric. It is a very simple technique, but can be easy to mess up if you do not know all the steps along the way. Follow this super easy tutorial to learn how to gather fabric for your next project!

Step 1: On the larger piece of fabric, the one that is to be gathered, sew two baste stitches on either side of the stitching line. A baste stitch is at least 4.0 in length and is not backstitched on either side. If your stitching line is 5/8″ then your basting stitches should be at 4/8″ and 6/8″ (or 3/4″). Make sure to leave long thread tails at the start and end of each baste stitch.

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Step 2: With right sides together, pin the larger piece to the smaller piece, lining up the sides and the centers so that the gathers will be evenly distributed. Pin with the larger piece up.

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Step 3: separate the baste stitches on the top layer and hold on to them with one hand. With the other hand, scoot the fabric along the threads, reducing the fabric to fit the space between the pins. Once the two distances are the same, secure the threads on the end by wrapping them around the pin with a figure eight.

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Step 4: Once the fabric widths match, distribute the gathers to be evenly distributed from pin to pin. When there are nice even gathers, pin them in place.

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Step 5: Once you have started the stitch, remove the end-pin and separate the baste stitches to be out of the way of the needle.

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Step 6: Sew along the stitch line, keeping your needle in the middle of the basting stitches. Gently sew over each and every small bump, forming gathers on the right side.

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Step 7: At the end of the gathering, do as was done at the beginning and separate the baste stitches as to not sew over them.

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Step 8: Remove the basting stitches by gently pulling out one thread, then the opposite side’s thread. Repeat with the other set of basting stitches.

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Step 9: Turn the garment right side out and press, being careful not to flatten any of the folds in the fabric created by the gathering.

sewing gathering

That is it! Follow the directions for finishing the garment!

You might also enjoy learning how to ruffle fabric. Plus, for more helpful fabric techniques, enroll in the online Craftsy class Sewing Texture with Vanessa Christenson.



Nice job – thank you for sharing this, Christine. And you are right – something so simple can get so easily messed up.


This is the traditional way of gathering, but you can also wide zigzag over a heavier thread, for example pearl cotton, being careful not to catch the pearl cotton. I have used this much easier and less frustrating technique as you don’t have to worry about the threads breaking which I found was the problem even using polyester thread. I wish I had this newer technique in my repertoire when I was teaching sewing. Unfortunately I learned it much later.


To make this easier, loosen the top thread tension by one or two settings, so that the needle thread makes ‘loops’ on the underside. It’s a breeze to pull the bobbin threads then.(Stick a post-it flag or something on your tension dial so you remember to reset it for normal stitching.)

Bonnie Spielman

Three great how tos. I had never heard of the zig zag method or the loosing of the top thread tension. So helpful. I just recently learned I could grather on my serger. It makes it so easy and so will these suggestions. Thank you!

Karina Koenig-Johnson

I did not know that you could baste like this with a sewing machine, if you loosened the tension. Thanks for this tutorial.

Ruthie Harrell Sheppard

I feel like such a doofus! I’ve known how to gather but to pin it to the garment that it needs to match is something new. Hopefully trying that technique will be a HUGE time saver when I gather again. Nothing more frustrating that pulling the threads and pinning it to the piece and finding out it’s too tight or too loose!


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