Gathering Fabric For Garment and Home Decor Sewing

Gathering Fabric

There are many different ways of gathering fabric before you sew a gathered seam. Let’s explore the easiest way to gather fabric with your sewing machine.

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Prepare Your Fabric

Essentially when we gather fabric for any project, we are creating a shape that is smaller at one end than it is at the other. If you are sewing a garment, typically the gathers are at the waistline, sleeve caps, neckline, wrists, or ankles. Ruffles are simply gathered — and you can add ruffles to any project. The method is the same regardless of the application.

For home decor that you don’t plan on washing, you can use the fabric straight from the store. However, you should always pre-treat your fabric before you cut it out in the same manner you expect to treat it after your project is completed. For example, if you are making cushions, you will probably want to wash and air dry the fabric before cutting them out. It is disheartening to put a lot of time, effort, and money into making a sewing project only to have it shrink after the first wash. Same for garments, wash and dry the pre-cut fabric the same way you will after the garment construction is complete.

Gathering Fabric Using Rows of Basting Stitches

In the video, you can see I am constructing a skirt to be attached to a bodice for a cute dress. You can visit my review and sew along the dress, Butterick pattern 5456, to see the finished project. ***comming soon***

Begin your gathering by sewing two rows of basting stitches outside the seam allowance stitching line. For example, if your seam allowance is 5/8″, then sew one line of basting stitches at 3/8″ and one at 7/8″. This way you won’t sew over the basting stitches, which makes them difficult to remove after you have finished your seams.

Leave long thread tails at the beginning and end of your rows of basting stitches. If you have a large seam allowance to gather, you can break the basting stitches into segments, each with their own start and stop long thread tails.

Pro Tip: Basting stitches are the longest stitch length on your sewing machine. It could be a 4, 5, or 6 on your stitch length dial. Alternatively, you can make hand sewn running stitches with a needle and thread to gather the fabric.

Pulling The Thread Tails

gathering fabric

Once you have your parallel lines of basting stitches sewn and your quadrants marked, it’s time to start pulling your thread tails. The bobbin stitch is the easiest to pull, so if you can, grab those long tails. You want to hold on to the top and bottom thread tail from the bobbin side (if possible) and tug as you slide your fingers across the fabric edge. Keep pulling and sliding until your gathered fabric section is the same length as the piece you want to attach.

Pro Tip: Make sure you don’t pull your stitches all the way out – you’ll have one long piece of thread in your hands and none in your fabric! If you are worried about pulling out your thread tail, knot the ends together of either the bobbin thread tail thread tail.

Attaching The Gathered Fabric

Gathering Fabric

You want your gathers to be evenly spaced across your construction. Use set points like seam allowance to match up segments of your project. For instance, if you are sewing a dirndl skirt, the set points would be the zipper, side seam, center back seam, and/or center front seam as long as they are equi-distant. When you quadrant off your pieces, find the endpoints and center points before you begin to pull your thread tails. It is easier to balance the gathers in smaller segments than across the entire piece.

Pro Tip: You will get perfect gathers by working across a small amount of construction space. Matching the edge of the fabric from both pieces is key to a good gather stitch.

Sewing Your Gathers

I prefer to baste my gathered seam allowance first. You can carefully baste over your pins, which can be helpful with all the fabric you are wrangling. After basting, remove the pins, and check your seam. If you are happy and have no glitches, then go ahead and stitch the finish seam allowance. Finally you can simply remove the basting thread that is below and parallel to the seam line.

Special Sewing Machine Feet

Doesn’t using this Ruffler Foot look like a nightmare? I certainly don’t have the time or desire to figure this presser foot monster out! If you sew a lot of heirloom pieces or fancy dresses, a gathering foot or ruffler may be a great time saver. However, unless you are making pintucks or ruffles regularly, your general purpose foot is really all you need.

Pro Tip: If you are going to purchase a special foot, make sure it is one that fits your sewing machine make and shank.

Gathering Fabric

Gathering fabric is simple with these easy steps. Don’t shy away from sewing projects with gathers – go ahead and tackle them confidently. You can create beautiful garments with strategic gathering. I can’t wait to see what you create.

Happy Sewing,



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4 thoughts on “Gathering Fabric For Garment and Home Decor Sewing

  1. This will be very helpful for my daughter to help her gather fabric. Very easy to follow directions.

  2. Good tips on washing the fabric before you start. I would hate to have put so much work into something just to have it ruined!

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