Home » Sewing Techniques » Applied gathering

Applied gathering

Cords and curtain tape can be sewn to fabric to create closely controlled gathers, which in most cases can be made so they are adjustable, allowing the finished piece to be interactive. This is very effective for garments where the look can be changed by releasing or tightening the gathers.

Material and Design Notes

  • Curtain tape will show through fine fabrics. Semi-sheer tape designed for net curtains can be used instead. Curtain tape can also be dyed to match the fabric.
  • Rows of corded gathers could be applied to fabric in even or random arrangements and then gathered, some tight and some loose, to create a very deeply textured fabric.
  • Elastic cord can also be used in place of cord for the hem channel gathers.

Applied gathering

Corded gathers

Gathers can be pulled up with piping cord or other thick yarn instead of sewing thread. A channel needs to be created for the cord to pass through, much the same as for drawstring trousers, and this can be done in several ways.

Hem channel

For a gathered edge, the fabric is folded over like a hem to create a small channel through which the piping cord or yarn is threaded. The cord/ yarn is fastened at one end and pulled through from the other to create the gathers. This technique is traditionally used on necklines and more recently on pockets to create shape and depth. A cord channel can also be created by sewing fabric strips, such as bias binding, to the back or front of the fabric, through which the cord can be threaded.

Hem channel

Hem channel: right side of fabric.

Zigzag corded channel

Narrow corded gathers can be created by using zigzag stitch over fine cotton or other strong yarn.

Knot the yarn and place the knotted end at the top end of the line, using pins to hold it in place. Set a wide zigzag stitch and sew along the cord, making sure the stitching is wide enough not to catch the cord in the stitching. Pull the cord to create the gathers, and knot or sew in the end as required.

Zigzag corded channel A

Zigzag corded channel B

Zigzag corded channel.

Double layer channel

Two layers of fabric are sewn together sandwiching the cord between them; this ensures the channel is neat and the gathers are tight. Any size of piping cord can be used for this technique: thicker cord will suit thick fabrics but the effects will vary so experimentation is necessary. You will need a piping or zip foot to get the stitching close to the cord; or stitch by hand.

1). Mark the cord position on the inside (wrong side) of the backing fabric. Place the cord on top, then carefully lay the top fabric over, right side facing up, making sure you have sufficient cord at either end to tie in a knot or sew in. Pin through the fabric layers, without moving the cord, to keep the cord in position.

2). If sewing by hand, work running stitch or backstitch close to the cord along one side, then the other. If sewing by machine, fit the zip or piping foot and adjust the needle so that it is as close to the cord as possible. Sew the right-hand side first, then flip over and sew the other side.

3). Sew in one end or tie a large knot. Pull up the other end, adjust the gathers as required, then knot or sew in the cord to hold the gathers.

Double layer channel A

Double layer channel B

Double layer channel.

Curtain tape gathers

Quick and easy gathering can be achieved using ordinary curtain tape sewn onto the reverse side of the fabric. Curtain tape is available in a range of styles, from basic gathers to smocked and box pleated. The samples shown use the basic, narrow tape (2.5cm/1in) designed for lightweight or net curtains. As with other types of gathering, tapes can be pulled up tight or loose, or both when two pieces are sewn on.

1). Cut the tape to the full length of the fabric to be gathered adding approx 4cm (1½in) for turning under at the ends.

2). Fold the ends under, ensuring the strings are tucked in at one end and left free at the other.

Curtain tape gathers A

3). Pin in place, then sew all round the edge, avoiding catching the strings at the open end. Pivot at the corners making sure you sew through all the layers. The bobbin thread will show on the right side, so make sure it matches your fabric.

Curtain tape gathers B

4). Pull the strings gently to make sure they are fixed at the sewn-in end, and if they are not, sew in firmly by hand. Pull up to create the gathers and adjust as required. Tie the strings and cut off the excess; or leave the excess to allow adjustment of the gathers.

Curtain tape gathers C

Spaced rows of 2.5cm (1in) tape on heavy canvas.

Curtain tape gathers D

Two rows of 2.5cm (1in) tape worked 3cm (11⁄₈in) apart on light cotton voile.

Curtain tape gathers E

One row of 2.5cm (1in) tape sewn in a curving line across medium-weight herringbone linen.

Fabric Manipulation
150 CREATIVE Sewing Techniques

Ruth Singer