Gathers give a garment soft fullness around a seam, or they can be used to create basic ruffles. In this tutorial, you’ll learn our favorite technique for creating even gathers, by using three rows of basting stitches, rather than the usual two rows.
If you are looking to create gathers for easing—to install a sleeve, for example—you will use the same technique to create the gathers, but then follow steps to ease. [See how to ease a set-in sleeve here](link to easing tutorial).
Three Rows of Stitches
Gathering is usually done with a basting stitch sewn on your machine. A basting stitch is a stitch with the longest stitch length. If you are using a slippery fabric, you can easily sew basting stitches by hand.
By using three rows of basting stitches rather than two, the gathers will be more even and controlled. With three rows of basting, the stitching line goes between the second and third stitches. This shouldn’t be done on delicate fabrics or loose weave fabrics because the holes from the basting may be permanent. When sewing gathers, be sure that they are face up and at a right angle to the sewing foot, not angling off toward you. This will keep the gathers straight.
How to Create Gathers
Using the longest stitch length on your machine and with right side up, sew three rows of basting stitches 1⁄8” (.30cm) apart. Sew one just on the inside of the seamline, one on the seamline, and the other on the outside of the seamline. Leave long thread tails.
On the wrong side, pull the bobbin thread tails to gather the fabric. Slide the fabric along the thread to distribute the gathers evenly.
Stitch your seam, sewing over the gathers. Stitch with the gathered side up, so you can see what you’re doing, and adjust the fabric if necessary.
Remove the basting threads and lightly press, being careful not to press too hard on the gathers.
Tip: When you are gathering large pieces of fabric or using thicker fabric, it can be difficult to get even gathers. Use a piece of silk cording and a wide zigzag stitch to quickly create even gathers. Zigzag over the silk cording and pull the cording to gather your fabric, then remove the cording.