I’m in the process of sewing flower girl dresses. Admittedly, it’s been awhile since I gathered lots of fabric into little spaces! I’m on my second set of dresses; the first option looked old-fashioned. So, I’ve had gathering practice! While sewing these dresses for the cutest little girls I know, I couldn’t help but make notes on some of the gathering techniques I tested and used. One gathering technique does not fit all. So, my weekend of sewing for fun also turned into a blog posting. Here are my favorite tips for sewing gathers.
Tip #1—Use a different color thread in the needle and the bobbin
You’ll soon see that there are several ways to gather, and having contrasting thread colors is helpful when trying to distinguish between the needle and bobbin thread. It’s not necessary to use a high contrast as you’ll see in the photos, but I am sure that you figured that out already! (I used red thread in the needle and black thread in the bobbin in the below samples.)
Tip #2—The bobbin thread is easier to pull—sew from the right side
When choosing to gather with two rows of gathering threads, sew from the right side. The bobbin thread is always easier to pull. That feature has to do with how the stitches are formed. The right side of a gathered fabric is aligned to the right side of corresponding fabric. Having the gathering threads on the wrong side, will give you the flexibility to easily adjust the gathers during the pinning process.
Tip #3—Lock the threads at the beginning of the seam
This tip is not widely suggested, yet it saves me lots of time. Generally, it is recommended to wrap the beginning threads figure-eight style around a vertically placed pin to prevent the threads from pulling out during the gathering process. Stitching 2–3 stitches and then back stitching, does the same thing, but faster!
Tip #4—Test the stitch length
With medium to heavier weight fabrics, stitch two parallel rows of basting stitches within the seam allowance, using a relatively long stitch length, 4.0–5.0. The longest stitch is not always the best since there is too much “play” of the fabric in the long stitch, causing uneven gathers.
Use a much shorter stitch length with lightweight fabrics. The length used in this sample was a 3.5 stitch length.
Tip #5—Add three rows of stitching to sheer fabrics
This is an optional tip, yet I find sheer fabrics lie flatter if three rows of stitches are sewn within the seam. It takes a little extra time, but worth it! Compare the smoothness of the gathers in the photo below compared to the photo above.
Tip 6# —Don’t use the machine thread cutter when gathering by pulling the bobbin threads
If you have the thread-cutting feature on your machine, it’s tricky to remember to pull the threads at the end of the seam and cut manually. The automatic thread cutter cuts the threads very close to the fabric—too close to easily find and then pull the threads.
Tip #7—Use a serger for gathering when 1/4″ seams are allowed
Ah, I really like this way of gathering! It’s almost impossible to stitch two rows of basting stitches within a 1/4″ seam allowance. If you have a serger, simply serge from the wrong side of the fabric with a 4-thread overlock stitch and a long stitch length. Separate the needle threads from the looper threads. This time, pull the needle threads. Presto, perfect gathers.
Tip #8—Zigzag over the bobbin thread for a secure gathering technique
This is my go-to gathering technique:
- Stitch from the wrong side of the fabric.
- Take one stitch, hold on to the thread tail of the needle thread and gently pull upward—the bobbin thread (black thread) will loop up.
- Pull up the bobbin thread, pulling the thread as long as the area to be gathered. Lay the thread on top of the fabric.
- Set the machine for a zigzag stitch. Test the stitch width and length. I prefer a 4.0–5.0 width and a 2.5 length. (The narrower zigzag width provides control of the gathers.)
- Pull the long thread to gather the fabric!
Tip #9—Zigzag over a cord when gathering heavier fabrics
- Stitch from the wrong side of the fabric.
- Set the machine for a zigzag stitch. Test out the stitch width and length. I prefer to 4.0–5.0 width and a 2.5 length. The narrower zigzag width provides more control of the gathers.
- Rather than zigzagging over the pulled-up bobbin thread, place a heavy cord on top of the fabric. Zigzag over the cord.
- After stitching, anchor the beginning and ending of the cord by wrapping figure-eight style around a vertically placed pin.
- Pull the free end of the cord and gather.
Tip #10—Gather using the no-stitching technique
Talk about easy! I use this technique when stitching doll clothes, lightweight fabrics, and other small projects.
- Press Fuse ‘n Gather (a fusible gathering tape) to the wrong side of a strip of fabric along the top of the fabric. (Follow the iron setting as detailed on the package.) The stitches are tinted blue on the side of the tape that must face upward.
- Pull the blue gathering threads at both ends, creating a 2″–3″ thread tail.
- At one end secure the threads by wrapping them in figure-eight style around a pin.
- On the other end, pull the blue gathering threads to create the gathers.
- Ta da!
I’ve written and demonstrated each of these gathering techniques. This is the first time that I’ve put then all in the same place. Enjoy!
You can watch Tip #8 demonstrated on Sewing With Nancy.
For a chance to win a copy of Sewing A to Z, please share your favorite gathering technique.
Updated to add: Nancy Zieman’s Sewing from A to Z is now out of print. Please see the updated new version, The Absolute Easiest Way to Sew by Nancy Zieman, for a comparable replacement.
Bye for now,
Nancy Zieman—author, pattern designer, businesswomen, producer, and national sewing authority—is the host of the popular show Sewing With Nancy®, which appears exclusively on public television stations across the United States and Canada. Follow Nancy’s Blog at NancyZieman.com/Blog and sign up to receive Nancy’s E-News for the latest news in Sewing, Quilting, & Creating.
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