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Circle gathering

The techniques here use the basic circle shape to create quite contrasting effects – either gathering a circle shape from the middle of the fabric, or cutting a circle shape out of the fabric. Other shapes could be used but the finished effect would not be radically different.

Material and Design Notes

  • Gathering fabrics creates a heavily folded fabric with uneven edges. If the finished work is to be used on a garment, bag or cushion, the gathered piece will need to be stitched to a foundation or base fabric and trimmed to an even size before assembly.
  • In many cases, the reverse side of the finished technique may be just as interesting and effective.
  • As a general rule, the thicker the fabric, the larger the circles and the stitches used.

Centre hole gather

This technique is basically the reverse of a Suffolk puff; a hole is cut in the middle of a piece of fabric, then sewn up again, to create a decorative starburst gather. The sample shown is made using folded hem and running stitch. A similar effect could be achieved using a hem and cord (see Applied Gathering: Hem Channel), which could be adjustable if both ends of the cord are released.

1). Draw and cut a circle from the fabric, either centrally or offset as required. (To cut the circle out, pinch the fabric with your fingers and make a small snip within the circle line and then use small scissors to cut along the marked line.)

2). Working on the reverse side of the main fabric, fold a small hem over to the back and work running stitch around the circle, and continue following Suffolk Puffs: Basic Method, steps 2–5.

Centre hole gather A

Centre hole gather : the size of the finished starburst gather will be determined by the size of the hole cut, the thickness of the fabric, and the size of stitching used.

Circle edge gathers

The Centre Hole Gather technique can be worked on a section of a circle on fabric edges. In the sample shown, two layers of hemmed fabric are used, but you could work on a raw edge too (see Holes, Cut Outs and Negative Shapes: Scalloped Edge). Other shapes could also be used for different effects.

1). Layer two fabrics right sides together. Draw part-circles along the edge of the fabric. Sew along the edge and around the part-circles a 5mm (¼in) seam allowance.

Circle edge gathers A

2). Cut out the part circles, leaving a 5mm (¼in) seam allowance.

Circle edge gathers B

3). Turn the fabric through the right way and turn out the corners; press flat. Work running stitch around the curved edges to create gathers and fasten firmly (see Suffolk Puffs: Basic Method).

Circle edge gathers C

Circle edge gathers D

The cut, turned and pressed cut out circle edge before stitching.

Circle edge gathers E

Circle edge gathers showing neat, deep folds created by careful stitching. This technique could be used on a long scarf or on a hem, as well as in layers for decorative work.

Inset puff

This variation on a Suffolk puff is inset into a piece of fabric to create a fabric bulge. It is based on an early 19th century dress made from fine white cotton with puffs in rows around the hem.

1). Cut a circle of fabric and sew running stitches around the edge (see Suffolk Puffs: Basic Method, step 2). A hem can be used if desired but is not necessary. Pull up partially and leave the needle attached.

2). Slash a hole in the base fabric the same size as the radius of the pulled up circle. Gather and flatten the puff so it is the same width across the gathers as the slashed hole.

3). Working from the front of the fabric, push the puff through the slashed hole and pin one end in place. Adjust the gathers until the puff is exactly the same size as the hole then fasten off the thread.

Inset puff A

Inset puff B

Inset puff, front.

4). Now working from the back, pin the puff in place all the way around using the pins vertically. Sew around the hole and through the puff using small backstitch. Remove the gathering thread if required.

Inset puff C

Inset puff D

Inset puff, reverse.


When filled with stuffing, these bobbles look like Shibori, the Japanese tie-dyeing technique. When left unstuffed, the effect is more like smocking. Many variations are possible depending on fabric choice, circle size and amount of stuffing used. Bobbles can be placed randomly and made to different sizes, and you could try combining stuffed and unstuffed bobbles in the same piece.

Unstuffed bobbles

In this basic version, the bobbles are tiny. Either side of the fabric can be considered the top, depending on which way you push the fullness of the fabric when you pull up the gathers.

1). Draw the arrangement of the bobble design on the reverse of the fabric. Here a simple off-set grid has been drawn with circles no more than 1cm (3⁄₈in) in diameter but any size can be used.

Bobbles A

2). With a knotted thread, stitch the circle line using tiny running stitches to end up back where you started; leave the needle attached.

Bobbles B

3). Pull up the thread to create gathers. Push the excess fabric to the front or the back depending on the effect desired (the sample shows the excess fabric pushed to the front). Pull up tightly and fasten the thread with two tiny stitches.

Bobbles C

Bobbles D

Unstuffed bobbles.

Stuffed bobbles

In this version, small amounts of stuffing are introduced to the circle when the thread is drawn up to create a cavity. Wool stuffing can be used when the finished work will not be heavily used and washing is not required. Polyester stuffing can also be used but it is harder to form into a small ball, so wool is preferred. Hard stuffing, such as polystyrene balls, wooden or plastic beads, can also be used for a different effect and this technique is used to create the Bobble Cushion.

1). Prepare the fabric marking out the design arrangement on the reverse of the fabric (see Unstuffed Bobbles, step 1), using larger circles to allow for filling with stuffing. In this sample the circles are 4cm (1½in) in diameter.

2). Stitch as Unstuffed Bobbles, step 2, then gently pull up the thread to create a cavity. Take a small amount of stuffing and work into a small ball about the size of the cavity. Push the ball in the cavity and pull up the thread.

Stuffed bobbles C

3). Fasten the stitching off close to where you started, using three small stitches hidden in the fold.

Stuffed bobbles A

Stuffed bobbles worked on velvet fabric: the bobbles are positioned irregularly and close together.

Stuffed bobbles B

Stuffed bobbles worked on silk fabric: the bobbles are arranged in an offset grid pattern.

Project Idea : Bobble Cushion

Stuffed bobbles come out beautifully in silk/ viscose velvet, and are incredibly tactile, creating a cushion that can’t be put down.

Technique : Stuffed Bobbles
Material : Front fabric – silk/viscose velvet; Interlining – calico; Backing fabric for cushion – organic cotton or quilting cotton

  • Cut a piece of front fabric twice the required finished size. For this cushion, which measures 30 x 30cm (12 x 12in), a piece of fabric measuring 60 x 60cm (24 x 24in) was used.
  • Work the Stuffed Bobbles technique using 3cm (11⁄₈in) circles and stuff with polyester stuffing for durability, or wool if preferred.
  • Cut an interlining fabric from calico or plain cotton, 5cm (2in) bigger all round than the finished cushion size (35 x 35 cm/14 x 14 in). Place the interlining fabric right side up and position the bobble velvet fabric on top, right side up. Match the edges and corners together where possible and begin pinning in place.
  • Arrange the excess fabric along the edges, folding and tucking the puckered fabric so it matches the interlining fabric. While there may well be excess fabric overlapping the edges in some places, in other places you may have to gently stretch the velvet fabric. Pin in place as you go. Ensure the finished piece is square and not pulling the interlining. It should measure 35cm (14in) square.
  • When all the fabric is distributed evenly and pinned in place, tack (baste) by hand using small stitches to keep all the tucks in place, then remove the pins. Trim any excess front fabric away.
  • Make the interlined panel into a cushion using your preferred method.

Project Idea - Bobble Cushion B

Fabric Manipulation
150 CREATIVE Sewing Techniques

Ruth Singer