Sewing Basics: Gathering

 I’ve had some requests recently for sewing basics.  This is an area that I have considered incorporating into my posts more regularly.  Instructions for basic sewing techniques can be found scattered all over the web, but it would be great to have some of these here on Girl. Inspired. for organization and easy reference in other tutorials.  I would LOVE IT if you would take a few minutes to leave a comment with any sewing basics that you’d like to see here on the blog.  It will obviously take some time to create a good pool of basics, but it will help to know what your interests are!  Today, I’m going to share a basic technique and my best tips for gathering fabric.Clearly, I like a lot of ruffling to accompany “my style.”  And while it may be old hat to many of you, gathering and stitching fabric can be an intimidating process for others – I know it definitely was for me when I started sewing garments!  I’m going to show you the process of gathering a skirt to join it to a bodice that will give you the cleanest results with (hopefully!) the least amount of frustration and/or mess.  The trick is this:  sew two lines of gathering stitches, press and steam your gathers, and pin a lot!!  Incorporate those three things and you’ll be good!  Ready?

How to get Perfectly Gathered fabric EVERY time!

Prepare your skirt pieces so that they’re ready to attach to the bodice.  First, you’ll sew two parallel rows of long (gathering) stitches around the top of the skirt.  (Stitch length long, tension low/loose)
Now, mark the center front and center back on your skirt and your bodice, and pin the two together, right sides facing, with your skirt piece facing out (so you have easy access to those bobbin threads and you can see the gathers while you’re working) Four pins total – front center, back center, side, and side.  Now, start pulling your bobbin threads.  Work on one section at a time.  Press your gathers and shoot them with some steam while you’re working.  You’ll see how this helps you to gather the fabric without it folding down and without the gathers overlapping.
Now, pin the gathered skirt to the bodice.  The more pins that you use, the more even your gathers will stay when you sew the pieces together.  Add more steam as needed to make sure that all the gathers are lined up nicely.  Then, you’re ready to stitch the bodice to the skirt.  Line up your needle so that you can stitch directly in the center of your two rows of gathering stitches.  You’ll see how the two rows of stitches hold everything in place.  Go slow and make sure that your gathers stay even and then your raw edges stay aligned.
When you have stitched all the way around, pull out all the pins, then remove both sets of gathering stitches.
Serge around the raw edge if you wish.
Now, press your dress open (press the seam up toward the bodice) and admire your perfectly gathered skirt!  I like to finish the dress off by top stitching around the base of the bodice (not shown).

Use this gathering technique for perfect ruffles added to anything!  It’s not necessarily limited to attaching a gathered skirt to bodice.  You would use this technique if you’re gathering a skirt to add it to a waistband or to add a ruffle to the bottom of your garment.SO!!  Is this how you gather fabric?? Is this Sewing Basics tutorial helpful?  What other Sewing Basics would you like to see on the Girl. Inspired. blog??

This tutorial (in part) was first posted on the Project Run and Play blog.


  1. Bratling says

    You forgot one thing, hon. You’ve gotta anchor the stitching at the beginning of the gathering or it’ll just pull out. So with normal tension, go forward, back, and forward before turning down the tension. Three lines of gathering are awesome, too, if you’ve got a *really* full skirt. I also tend to do it in panels. So I gather the front, and then the back instead of over the seams.

    • Charity says

      I don’t anchor the stitching at the beginning of my gathers because I like to be able to gather it from both sides… I just temporarily wrap the threads in a figure 8 around a pin so they won’t pull out. Three lines of gathering helps on shifty or thick fabrics too. =)

    • says

      I also don’t anchor the stitching – I just make sure to leave long (inches or so) tails at the beginning and end of my row of stitching so that there’s no chance they’ll pull out before I can get everything gathered up! Thanks for the tip on three lines of gathering – I’ll have to try that!

      • Jeanie says

        Great tutorial ! This post is old but I just ran across it – thanks to Pinteest ! Have you tried the 3 rows for gathering yet? I have done this for years and it works great. I sew the two threads like you do then I go back and follow the bottom row of stitching but move my needle position outside of the 5/8″ seam line. Yes, the thread will show once you have sewn your seam so this wont work on fabrics that leave needle marks but for all other fabrics it will hold the gathers flat while you sew. Once finished simply remove the third row of stitching. I do leave the third row if I need to ‘stitch in the ditch’, then remove it. It just helps me lay in gathers without having any of the fabric kick up and get in my stitching seam.

    • Judy P says

      I don’t anchor mine either, how ever I do leave a long thread at the beginning of my stitches and then take both of the and wrap them in a figure 8 pattern around one of my pins. Makes it stable and yet easy to remove when I’m done.

  2. Rachel Allen says

    Great tips! Thanks! Any good tips or short cuts on cutting patterns? It seems like it always takes so long & I just want to get the show on the road.

    • samanthasmom says

      Pattern weights for the big pieces. I still like to pin the small pieces, but a good set of pattern weights cuts the time down. And a rotary cutter for the long straight pieces.

    • jana giraud says

      Rachel, there is a product called fabric Stick. It’s in a small can I found it at Joanns. It works great and all you do is spray it on your pattern piece and lay it on your fabric. No more pinning and you don’t have to worry about folding it up on its self to put back into the envelope. Comes apart easily. I love the stuff.

  3. treen says

    Ah ha! So that’s what I’ve been doing wrong! I do the double line of stitching to gather in the first place, but I’ve been sewing the main seam on one side of both lines rather than between them and not pulling the gathering threads when I’m done. This should clean up my lines a lot. Thanks!

  4. Charity says

    Thanks for the tips! I also do two lines of stitching and lots of pins, but I don’t think I’ve ever steamed my ruffles. I’m going to try it, I think it’ll make things much easier for me. =)

  5. SpringsAcres says

    Thanks for the tips! I think I’m going to have to go sew my daughter yet another skirt now to make sure I have the technique right. 😉

  6. Vanessa@Designs By Sessa says

    I don’t get to sew little dresses much, but I am very thankful for the steam tip! I did not know that helped! Thanks!

  7. Falafel and the Bee says

    Oh I love this idea! Can you tell me if you have any tips on attaching sleeves to a lined bodice so the seams are covered?

  8. Jessica says

    I’m not sure I understand why to double stitch. I usually only do one (but I’m very new). Do I use both to gather or just one?

    • Clever Blonde -Donna G says

      Hi Jessica, you use both rows of stitching. The theory is that by doing two rows you will get neater and more even gathers. I also think it helps spread the load of the fabric so there is less tension on each strand of gathering thread.

    • Mae says

      so glad I finally learned the reasoning behind the two stitch gather. I at times will do two and others be lazy and just do one. I hadn’t steamed along the way, which is probably why mine were not as clean as I’d liked. Thanks again for pointing out these basics. Even after years of sewing I can better my basics. :)

    • says

      Thanks, Clever Blonde!! Using two stitches isn’t mandatory, but it sure does gather everything much neater. I also agree that the double row of stitches is much more durable when you’re pulling up the threads to gather! Of course, I get lazy sometimes and skip the second row of stitches, but I usually end up kicking myself because it makes more work in the next step.

  9. says

    I absolutely adore ruffles and try to add them to my projects when they suit. This is the best tutorial I’ve read! PS. Your blog is my favourite, I read a lot of blogs but get a thrill when I see your latest post pop up in my inbox, Thankyou!

  10. Clever Blonde -Donna G says

    Thank you for sharing this tutorial. I sometimes just use pins to gather. Marking and matching beginning, end, middle and also 1/4 marks and then go round manually spacing it out as I pin. I do use this method of sewing 2 gathering lines also but I then gather and pin to other piece of fabric. I can see this method of sewing the gathers in place before attaching the other piece of fabric will make it much, much easier to work with. I’m looking forward to the chance to try this method. Thx

    • says

      In this example, I did gather and then pin to the bodice piece before sewing the gathers down. BUT, when I use my ruffling foot to gather a ruffle that doesn’t need precise finished measurements, I definitely gather it separate from attaching it to the other piece of fabric and it does make it SO much easier!

  11. Paula says

    OK I need really basic info…lol, I actually know how to do this gathering…which is quite funny to me that I can do something sort of advanced (in my book anyway ) but, I CANNOT manage to keep a sewing machine running for long because I always mess up the tension somehow…My mom just shakes her head and walks away saying, “I don’t know what you did”… while I exclaim “I never touched the tension thingy!”

    • says

      Thanks for sharing this Paula! It made me giggle. Sometimes it helps to have someone looking over your shoulder when you’re having a hard time with your machine. I wonder if a plate or part is loose in your sewing machine if the tension is changing without you touching it? Maybe carry your machine in to a professional for a glance over?

  12. Chrissy says

    Thank you so much for the basics! I have done many ruffles but it is always great to be reminded of the correct technique from the master!!!

  13. kristin says

    Great tips, Stef! Especially loved the steam recommendation (and used it this weekend!). I usually gather this way too; sometimes using the “cheater” method of increasing tension and stitch length and just sewing one line that gathers on its own, especially for small sections of fabric.

  14. Anonymous says

    Hi! I would love to see a tutorial on how to finish seams/raw edges without a serger by both sewing and finishing with ribbon or bias tape. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  15. Jessica Powers says

    This is great – my friend is making a basic skirt for me this week and it’s gathered, so I texted her to check out your tutorial. Me, I just play with her kids and buy the fabric, but I would be interested in seeing a post on tools from you – I know that sergig. 2014 is going to be my official ‘learn to use a sewing machine’ (rather than have bobbins fly off when I look at one!). It’d be really useful to know what items you have on hand? It always seems that when taking on a new craft one can go overboard and get sold a lot of ‘helpful’ things that actually never get used, and other things that are seemingly good for one thing are also great for other things too.

  16. inkypinkie says

    I would love to see either tips on purchasing a sewing machine OR alternatively on how to hand sew. Particularly rips on heavy-weight wool coats. :)

    • inkypinkie says

      I love your blog! It is very inspirational to me since I am very very very very very new at this sewing stuff.

  17. Charmaine says

    Thank you so much for this tutorial, I have done a lot of sewing and still do as it is my passion. I have never been that happy about my gathers, but I understand your tutorial and can just picture it working out just as it should. So thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience. I would love to follow you blogs.
    Kind Regards

    • girlinspired says

      Hi there! I think it depends on the fabric you’re using and how you want the finished garment to look. If you’re using something like silk or a polyester, you may not want to actually press the iron down on the fabric, but a knit or a cotton, you would. You don’t have to, even the steam helps the fabric lay out smoothly and gather up without curling over on top of itself. If you do put the iron down on top of the gathers, it will press lines into the fabric – test how it looks on some gathered scraps before deciding how to finish your actual garment/project – it’s your own personal preference. Hope that helps!

  18. Karen says

    Thank you! Your way of gathering was how I was taught in school ! So often I
    see what some are referring to as gathering, when it is really pleating. There is a big
    difference!! Maybe you can have a tutorial showing the difference :)
    This is my first time reading your blog, really enjoying it!

  19. Dee says

    All very good tips for gathering ruffles. I have a drapery workroom and used to make custom clothing. Although ruffles aren’t currently requested frequently, I generally zigzag over dental floss (long, wide stitches, standard tension). It’s much easier to work with on heavy fabrics or on large items, such as dust skirts. Then stitch an additional row (straight stitches, long & loose) slightly beyond the stitching line. Gather up both rows. This helps hold the fabric flat while stitching, as described in previous comments. Stitch between this row and the zigzag row, on the seam line, to join pieces together. Remove this row after final stitching is done, and remove the floss, which will pull out easily, and may be reused. The zigzag stitches can be left in the fabric.

    To cut clothing pieces faster, if you are making more than one item from the same pattern, simply stack the fabrics and cut multiples at the same time. If one fabric is a stripe or plaid, place that one on the top, so you can match patterns accurately at the seams. Also, the stitching will go faster if you complete ‘step 1’ on both items, then move on to ‘step 2’, etc. This is great if both fabrics can be stitched using the same thread. It saves time switching from one machine to another (standard to serger or hemmer), or from one foot to another (straight to zipper or cording, etc).

    Although different sizes can’t be cut at the same time, you can still sew multiple items in stages. This is helpful when making clothing for a group (bridesmaids, siblings), and insures uniformity.

  20. Alice says

    Thank you. I have been sewing for a while but never thought to sew between the two gathering rows. A great idea.

  21. says

    I never thought to steam my gathers. Tried it and it worked great, it was almost like the steamed “relaxed” the fabric and thread making it easier to pull and gather. Thanks for the tip!

  22. Dee says

    This is definitely the tried and true method and works great! The reader’s comments are helpful too. I have not tried out the floss method. What I do now is use a ruffler foot. I have sewn many “tiered” skirts and I can’t say enough about it; it works very well. I actually use an old Kenmore (the kind with the pattern discs!) and set it up with the ruffler foot and do a bit of an assembly line with it (I have my Janome set up for the actual sewing)- there are three rows of gathers in my daughter’s favorite skirt! Happy gathering!

  23. marilyn raphael says

    Very Nice. I use a similar divide and pin method, with a wide zig-zag over a thread of knit cro sheen. I can full that stuff to my heart’s content , and the heavy thread never breaks! The slick heavy thread slides out very easily after the gathered fabric is attatched. 😉

  24. BJ says

    Always used one row of stitching to gather if I didn’t want to put my ruffling foot on…can see how this would make nice and neat gathering….SWEET:)

  25. Lela C says

    Put a different color thread in your bobbin. It makes it easy to see when you gather your fabric. The bobbin threads always gather easier for some reason

  26. Mary Murray says

    I usually use a shorter stitch length. My gathers are a bit finer. If the fabric is heavier, I may increase stitch length, but only enough to prevent the threads from breaking. I may add a third row of basting stitches for security. One more thing…. I leave bobbin threads extra long and top threads about one inch so it’s easy to grab the bobbin threads to pull up the gathers.

  27. Heidi says

    I have gathered like this, but never thought to press those gathers down. It might keep them from sliding. Thanks


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