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How to Gather


Gathering is a technique that adds fullness to a garment by joining a large piece of fabric to a smaller piece with tiny uneven pleats. Gathering is most frequently done by machine, although you can gather by hand, as well. Gathering stitches are sewn to pull up the fabric, and the gathered fabric is sewn permanently in place.

Gathered skirt on Cambie Dress

Gathered skirt on Cambie Dress

Gathered bust on Cinnamon Slip (Colette Patterns)

Gathered bust on Cinnamon Slip (Colette Patterns)


Use gathers when sewing skirts and dresses, especially those with very full skirts. One place where you will see gathers used is on ruffles. A ruffle is simply a gathered piece of fabric.  (More on ruffles on page link) Gathering adds fullness and dimension, so you may see it as part of the garment’s structure, for example, on puffed sleeves that are shaped with gathers at the top of the sleeve or at the bustline or neckline.

You can also change pleats to gathers, for example, on a pleated skirt or pleated bodice. Simply disregard the pleat lines and gather the edges instead. Or eliminate darts by replacing them with gathers. This will create a softer look with less structure than darts. Again, simply ignore the dart markings and sew gathering stitches between the dart lines. You may need to sew about 1″ (2.5cm) past the dart markings to gather the area evenly.


Determine where you need to gather. Sometimes it will be between two notches or two small circles; other times you will be gathering the entire length of a piece. Make sure you know where you’re starting and where you’re stopping before you begin.

How to gather (1)

Sew one row of long machine stitches from the start point to the end point. Usually stitch size 4 is used for gathering. Sew this first row just inside your seam line. If your seam allowances are 5⁄8″ (1.5cm), make your stitch line ½” (1.3cm) from the edge. Do not backstitch or trim the threads.

Sew a second row of stitching ¼” (6mm) from the edge. Or aim to center the second row between the first row of stitching and the raw edge.

How to gather (2)

Separate the top two threads from the bottom two threads. Tie the two bobbin threads together in a knot. I do this for two reasons. One, it will help you easily find the right threads to pull and keep them separate from the top threads. Two, it will help you pull each row of gathering evenly. If you pull one thread more than the other, your gathering may be uneven.

How to gather (3)

If you are gathering a long section, make sure the gathers are distributed evenly. Divide both sections in half and mark the halfway point on both pieces. Repeat by dividing these two sections in half, then in half again.

How to gather (4)

Hold the bottom threads in your right hand, and use your left hand to slide the fabric along the length of the gathering stitches. Pull with your right hand, and slide the fabric down the bottom threads. You’re going to end up with a very long tail of threads in your right hand.

Keep pulling the gathers until they match the opposite edge. Pin your gathers to the straight edge and adjust them to fit. You can redistribute the fullness of the gathers if it’s more gathered in one place and less gathered in other spots. Just use your fingers to smooth the fullness into place.

If you’re not going to sew the seam right away, secure the gathering stitches by placing a pin at each end and wrapping the long thread tails around the pin in a figure-eight pattern.

Baste (page link) the seam, then check to see if the gathers are even. Look for large tucks or ungathered sections. Regather these sections and baste in place. Sew the seam permanently. Once the seam is sewn permanently, remove the gathering stitches. Or, instead, carefully unpick any gathering stitches that are visible from the right side.

Tips + Notes

  • You can turn gathers into pleats (page link), but it’s much easier to go the other way and turn pleats into gathers! If you really want to turn a gathered section into pleats, decide how many pleats you want, mark them evenly and sew the pleats. Baste and check your work to make sure you are happy with the effect of the pleats.
  • For gathering thicker fabrics, try stitching with a zigzag stitch over heavy thread or dental floss, then pulling the thicker thread to form the gathers.
  • Loosen the tension on the top thread slightly before sewing your rows of gathers. This makes the bobbin thread easier to pull. Start both rows in line with each other. If you have the same number of gathering stitches in each row, your gathers will be even. This is more important when gathering smaller sections of fabric.
  • Gather in a contrast thread color so it’s easy to remove the stitches. This also saves your matching thread for permanent sewing only.

Source : The Sewtionary An A to Z Guide to 101 Sewing Techniques + Definitions
About the Author : Tasia ST. Germaine