I’ve only ever gathered one or two times in my sewing life and both occasions were miserable.  The instructions I used said to sew 2 basting lines and pull the threads.  So that’s what I did.  But my thread kept breaking … and breaking … and breaking… and driving me nuts!  For the chemisette handbag, I remembered a gathering technique I learned when I got my new sewing machine.  It’s much more fun and here’s what you do:

1)  Take your fabric and sew a zig-zag stitch along the edge to be gathered using a 1/4″ seam.  I set the length as long as it can go and keep the width at default.

 2)  Thread an embroidery needle (dull tip, large eye) with thick thread (I’m using crochet thread).  Using the needle, thread the yarn under the stitches…

…all the way to the end of where you want the gathering to stop.  In this example, I’m gathering across the length of the fabric.  Tie a knot in the thread at the beginning.

3) Pull the yarn, gathering the fabric to desired width.  Tie off at the end to keep the gathers from coming out. 

 4)  Distribute the gathers evenly,

then stitch across the gathers with a 1/4″ seam to keep them in place (not shown).  Remove the thick thread if you desire.  If you want to remove the thread, then be careful to not sew through it when stitching across the gathers.  Now this piece of fabric is ready to be sewn into your project!

NOTE:  If you have a couching foot, steps 1 and 2 can be done in one step.  Neat, huh?  There is a hole in the presser foot that the yarn can thread through.  Below is Bernina foot #6. 

You can play around with the stitch length and width to see what suits your project best.  I’ve found that keeping either the stitch width or stitch length small helps the gathers stay in place when trying to evenly distribute the fabric.  Also, it shouldn’t matter if you put the thread through on the right or wrong side of the fabric because it should all be within the seam allowance, and therefore won’t show up after the project is done.

Here’s a peak at an unfinished purse. 

62 thoughts on “Gathering

  1. This technique looks foolproof. I am teaching my daughter to sew and this will be a better way for her – less frustrating. Your gathers look beautifully even and the project glimpse looks very interesting!

  2. Oh, thank you! You have just made my life 100% easier! I was just thinking about doing some gathers on a sewing project, and dreading it so much. This is simple and do-able! I can’t count how many times I’ve wrestled with breaking threads. Thank you for posting this!

  3. Good, even easier is to place the thread you are going to draw up over the top fabric whilst you are stitching the zig zag, this eleminates the need to hand thread it through.

  4. OOoh! How lovely! Usually I zig zag with the twine in place and it always catches in my stitching. Your method is much better — I’m definitely going to use it. Thanks for sharing!

  5. This reminds me on how I used to gather when I made dust ruffles! But I didn’t have a special foot or anything – I used a wide zig-zag with a piece of string (or yarn). Somehow the string stayed right in the middle. I haven’t done this in years!

  6. I use a double needle so when I sew I get two narrow parallel lines. IT makes it much easier to pull the thread and it doesn’t break as easily.

  7. Why couldn’t some one have shown me that tip yearsssss ago? I stopped in the middle of reading and jumped up to check my machine feet. I have a #5 and a #7, no #6. I do have a ruffler that I haven’t figured out how to use yet. Guess I should try it, but your method looks so much easier! Thank you from the bottom of my heart! You are so intelligent and inspiring!

  8. Cool! I have never seen this method before. 🙂 I’ve only ever used the 2 basting stitches method – now I really want one of those feet…quick – think of something I HAVE to gather that can justify it!!!

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  10. The bag is cominly along wonderful–that peek is a teaser! Great tutorial, and super idea on using the zigzag for gathering. Happy sewing…((hugs))

  11. What a great bag! I somehow stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago, and you have given me the inspiration to start sewing again after the loss of our young son almost a year ago.

    He was our only child, and although he was 25, he was our baby boy and of course the center and light of our lives. It has difficult to pick up the pieces and continue life without his presence.

    So….anyway. I want to thank you for that.


  12. Neat, Linda! Seems like I remember that from my mastery classes, too. I always use the two basting lines but so far, no breaks. Maybe it’s the thread? I like the Mettler cotton thread. I use it for almost everything.

    I LOVE the fabrics in the purse peekaboo shot! Great combination.

  13. This is a FANTASTIC tutorial! I’m bookmarking it 🙂

    I’ve been working on putting some things together too – just got a bloomers tutorial up on the blog. 🙂

  14. Thanks for the tip. I just went through the whole thread breaking process on a bag I was making. Now it is time to go see if I have #6 foot for my Bernina.

  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Making gathers has been the most frustrating sewing experience for me, but this method looks simple and effective!

  16. My grandma taught me how to do this a long time ago. It’s so much better than breaking thread (argh!!!)

    I am loving your bags! They are very very pretty!

  17. THANK YOU! I’ve been avoiding some projects just because the basting thread method always breaks or snags for me and I’ve been doing a running stitch by hand to make gathers (and I loathe sewing by hand) – this solves everything!


    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  18. Ooops! As I was saying, I HATE sewing gathers! I avoid them at all cost. I tried this method on a dress I’m making and it WORKED! Thanks for the great tip.

  19. You are a genius! I have never been able to gather fabric. It’s been frustrating. I can’t wait to try your gathering method. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Thanks for the gathering tutorial! I spent way too much time making gathers using the basting stitch method. It definitely isn’t the easiest method. I’m relieved to know there’s an easier way. By the way, I love your work! Great blog, too.

  21. Awesome post! This will make me sew more gathered items, I usually avoid them at all costs. Funny, I just bought a box of spare feet and bits for $4 at a thrift shop and I bet there is a crouching foot in there to use. Thanks a bunch!

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  23. Ah! I was just telling my sister that I thought patterns that use gathering should have warnings in BIG RED LETTERS across the front… this will help tremendously. Thank you!

  24. AH! Thank you THANK YOU for that tip!!!!!!! I have several skirts I’ve been putting off for this VERY reason, now I can go tackle them without stressing! AWESOME!

  25. I’ve used this method of gathering for years. It is wonderful! Bless the inventive soul who thought of this. A thread that works so well for this is dental floss! It does not break and is small and flat. Fairly cheap too! Give it a try. It’s more that just sew, sew.

  26. You can also lay down a piece of dental floss along the edge that needs to be gathered. Put a double knot in the end of the dental floss to keep from pulling it out by accident. Then zigzag over the dental floss with a wide zigzag, being careful to not catch the dental floss with the needle. When you get to the end, knot the OTHER end of the dental floss. Then pull up on both ends of the dental floss and–VOILA–gathers! When you have evened up the gathers and basted it in place where you want it, then you can just clip out the dental floss.

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