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How to Gather Fabric

Struggling to make the perfect gather on your current project. Believe me I feel your pain. My method is what I consider the perfect method for gathering fabric using any sewing machine.

What has worked for you? Parallel lines, zig zag, or other.

Has this happened to you.

You begin to pull and . . . the basting stitches are working great until “wham, bam” the thread breaks. You have nothing else to do but pull out all the threads and starting again.

What is Gathering?

I have been sewing for quite a few years and I have never really thought about the term gathering and what it does.

HISTORY: In the Wikipedia it states that gather(sewing) is a “technique for shortening the length of a strip of fabric.”

It is literally a way of sewing a piece of fabric so that it can be shortened.

These are six different ways of referring to gathering. Maybe you have heard of a few of them or all of them.

  • Simple – Running one or two rows of basting stitches parallel so they can be pulled to create the gather.
  • Pleating – doubling up the fabric to make the folds usually larger than 1/2″
  • Plaiting – same as pleating, but can look like a braid
  • Shirring – using some sort of elasticized threads sewn to a piece of fabric in parallel rows.
  • Gauging – taking a large amount of fabric and making it smaller
  • Ruche – using a gathered or pleated piece of fabric for embellishment on a garment.

I have done it over and over again multiple times, making doll clothes, little girl dresses, adult clothing and home decor.

No-Break Thread Method

While sewing doll clothes the seams are usually 1/4″ wide and small gathers become extremely important. By using my sewing machine to make gathering stitches it made it easier to gather for the 1/4″ seams.

My favorite way to gather is the simply making two parallel lines of stitching.


Note: Before you start you must use a sewing foot that allows a zigzag stitch.

Start by pulling both your top and bottom threads out and additional 4″ to 6″ in length before putting your material (fabric) in the sewing machine.

Turn your fabric to the wrong side. Yes the right side of the fabric will be face down on our sewing table.

Put your fabric under the presser foot aligning up your needle to be about 1/4″ inside of the fabric. Lower your presser foot.

TIP: Did you know that the thread from the top of your sewing machine is usually looser than the thread from the bottom.

The beginning of the stitch will be 1/4″ in from the edge of your fabric. It makes it easier to find the threads after you are done gathering and leaves some room for you to grab the fabric before pulling the basing stitches.

Note: Some people use two different colors of threads. One on the top and one in the bobbin. I personally don’t like to do this because the chances of you pulling the threads through your fabric and leaving a mark will ruin a garment.

Make use of the Features on your Sewing Machine

Using the needle position on your sewing machine. Move the needle as far to the “right” as your machine will allow.

Next select your stitch length to the longest stitch. Usually 4 or 5.

Lowering your needle into the fabric and holding the threads you are ready to sew. The first row of gathering stitches will be about an eighth inch from the edge of your fabric.

TIP: Your machine will usually have a slight gather from the first row of gathers. This is perfectly normal. The second row of stitches will accommodate the previous gathers. Your feed dogs will draw the fabric through making the stitches match.

Change the position of your needle on your sewing machine to as far “left” as your machine will allow. Sew the 2nd line of basting.

The second row of gathering stitches will be 3/8″ from the edge of your fabric.

Start at the same place you began with the first row of gathering stitches. Lining up the fabric up again with the right edge of the presser foot about 1/4″ in from the end and lowering the presser foot.

Sorry this picture is on the right side of the fabric, but looks the same on the wrong side.

Ending with two parallel rows of stitching that you will use to gather your fabric.

Pulling the threads

Now that you have your two parallel rows of stitching it is time to pull the threads.

Remember: By placing the wrong side of the fabric up on your sewing table and sewing the basing stitches. The threads will glide through the fabric.

Pick up the two top threads (those that are on the wrong side of the fabric) and wind them around your fingers and start to pull. These are considered the basing stitches that allow you to gather the fabric.

As you use my method for gathering you will notice immediately that the thread slides easily and you are not fighting the threads while pulling them.

Now you have a nicely piece of gathered fabric you attach it to whatever you are sewing at the time. A bodice or waistband, pillow sham, curtain, etc.

If you use this fail-proof method to gather fabric you will have no broken stitches or tangled threads.

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