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How to Sew Gathering Stitches: Step-by-Step Guide (2024)

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how to sew gathering stitchesLooking to unlock the (not so) secret weapon of sewing? Gathering stitches are your answer. Gathers add fullness and dimension when sewing garments, but where do you start? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with this step-by-step guide on sewing gathering stitches.

From prepping for gathers to techniques like two thread basting or zigzagging over cord and even finishing the gathered seam, this comprehensive article has everything you need.

Key Takeaways

  • Use a lightweight woven fabric and set the machine to the longest stitch length.
  • Sew two parallel rows of stitches 1/4 inch apart inside the marked area.
  • Pull the top threads to gather the fabric and adjust the gathers evenly.
  • Secure the gathers with pins or stitches, remove basting stitches, and finish the gathered seam as desired.

Gathering Fabric: a Step-by-Step Guide

Gathering Fabric: a Step-by-Step Guide
Start by selecting a lightweight woven fabric and setting your machine to the longest stitch length. Next, measure and mark the area you want to gather. Sew one line of stitches 1/4 inch inside this marking, then sew a second line 1/4 inch away from the first.

Leave long thread tails, then pull the top threads to gather the fabric. Adjust the gathers evenly and secure with pins.

Sew a line of stitches at your normal length over the gathering stitches to hold them in place. Finally, remove the basting stitches, press, and finish your gathered seam as desired.

Consider testing different stitch lengths and fabrics to find what works best for your project. Gathering takes practice, but produces beautiful detail in garments and home decor.

Preparing for Gathering

Preparing for Gathering

  1. Check the fabric type and weight. Heavier fabrics may need a longer stitch length.
  2. Mark the seam allowance on your fabric piece. This ensures even gathering within the seam.
  3. Use quality thread and set the tension slightly looser than normal.
  4. Test on scraps first to check stitch length before sewing gathering rows on your project.

When gathering, go slowly and guide the bulk of fabric under the presser foot to prevent skipped stitches. If adjusting the thread tension doesn’t fix uneven gathers, try sewing a third row of stitches for more control.

Techniques for Gathering Fabric

Techniques for Gathering Fabric
There are a few key techniques for gathering fabric that you’ll want to know about. To start, two thread gathering involves sewing two parallel rows of long basting stitches on either side of the seam allowance, then pulling the threads to gather the fabric.

Three thread basting adds a third row down the center for extra control. Zigzag stitching over a cord works well for heavy fabrics by zigzag stitching over a cord, gathering it, then removing the cord after sewing the seam.

Two Thread Gathering

Test different stitch lengths on scrap fabric before sewing two rows of straight stitches for gathering. Sew two rows of long, straight stitches about 1/4-inch apart within the seam allowance or just outside it.

Leave long thread tails and gently pull both top threads to gather the fabric. Adjust the gathers evenly and pin while smoothing the fabric. Finish the gathered seam by sewing at regular length over the gathering stitches or next to them.

Remove the gathering stitches after securing the seam. For even gathers on large sections, mark quarters before stitching.

Three Thread Basting

Relate peacefully to the extra margin given by utilizing three thread basting for fabric gathering. With three rows instead of two, independently manipulate each thread for balanced gathers. Adjust top tension high, middle normal, bottom loose. Troubleshoot by varying tensions and stitch lengths.

First test on scraps. Alternate straight and zigzag stitches in rows. Compare precision to gathering foot and hand gathering. For stable, heavy fabrics, basting surpasses alternative gathering methods. Master even gathers by thoughtfully leveraging three parallel threads.

Zig Zag Over a Cord

You’d pull the cord through the fabric then zigzag over it to gather heavy or slippery material. Position the cord under the presser foot. Adjust the zigzag stitch width to go slightly over the cord. Use a large stitch length. Sew slowly, guiding the fabric to keep the cord from shifting.

Check the tension settings. The zigzag stitches grasp the cord to create gathers. Press the seams once the cord is removed. Use cord gathering for heavy canvas, vinyl, slippery satin. It prevents tunneling on thick fabrics. It’s an alternative to a ruffler attachment.

Securing the Gathers

Securing the Gathers
Once you’ve sewn your gathering stitches, it’s time to secure the gathers before moving on. You’ll need to prevent the threads from unraveling as you work. Use pins spaced out along the gathering row or tiny basting stitches at the ends.

Knotting the top threads securely also works. If you have a gathering foot, it’ll help keep things tidy.

After adjusting the gathers how you want, sew a normal length securing stitch 1⁄4 inch away. This’ll set the gathers in place neatly. Remove any pins or basting threads. Give the seam a press with the gathers folded down before completing your project.

Securing the threads is a crucial step for keeping gathers orderly and preventing frustrating unraveling.

Finishing the Gathered Seam

Finishing the Gathered Seam
After securing your gathers, finish the gathered seam by sewing it with your normal stitch length. Take it slowly as you guide the gathered fabric through the presser foot to prevent snagging. Once stitched, press the seam allowance away from the gathers using the tip of your iron and light steam.

This helps set the gathers. Tie off and clip any gathering or stay stitches within the seam allowance.

Finish by serging, zig-zag stitching, or bias binding the raw edges. For lighter fabrics, a simple zig zag finish works well. Try bias binding on medium-weight fabrics for a clean finish. Serging is best for heavier woven fabrics.

Play around with different finishing techniques on your swatch first before finishing your final garment seam.

A nicely pressed and finished gathered seam takes your project to the next level.

6 Methods for Gathering Fabric

6 Methods for Gathering Fabric
Gathering fabric can totally transform the look and shape of your sewing projects. To get the best results, try machine gathering with a long stitch length, three rows of hand gathering stitches, serger gathering by adjusting the differential feed, or cord gathering for thick fabrics.

Machine Gathering

Your machine gathers fabric into billowing waves, bringing life to lifeless cloth.

  1. Prepare fabric by pressing and marking the gathering area.
  2. Set stitch length to the longest setting.
  3. Sew two parallel rows 1/4 apart within the seam allowance.
  4. Pull the bobbin threads to gather the fabric and adjust fullness.

Machine gathering techniques bring dimension to flat fabric with ruffles, flounces, and shirring. Mastering stitch length, tension, and fabric choice allows for flawless gathers.

Three Rows Gathering

Let’s make this happen with three thread basting, friend. Sew the first two lines of gathering stitch as usual. Then sew a third line of straight stitch halfway between the other two. Evenly adjust the gathers on all three rows.

This gives you finer control over the fullness, distributing it evenly. It works on light to medium weight fabrics. Secure the ends well. Finish by sewing over the middle row with a regular stitch length.

Hand Gathering

You’ll skillfully pinch and pull dainty folds using only nimble fingers and thread.

  • Mark and space gathering stitches evenly across the fabric
  • Use silk thread for lightweight fabrics; heavier thread for midweight fabrics
  • Tie knots at each end and slide gathers along the thread to adjust

Hand gathering provides precise control for delicate fabrics like chiffon and lace. With practice, you can create customized gathers and ruffles faster than machine techniques. Don’t let tricky fabrics intimidate you. Master hand gathering for endless design possibilities.

Serger Gathering

With serger gathering, adjust your tension settings and differential feed to easily gather lightweight fabrics. Increase the upper looper tension while decreasing the lower looper tension to allow the top thread to pull and gather the fabric.

Also increase the differential feed to 2.5-3 to help prevent tunneling as the lower layer feeds faster than the upper layer. Test serger tension and differential feed adjustments on scraps first for best results.

The serger makes quick work of gathering lightweight wovens and knits. Adjusting both tension and differential feed gives you precise control over the gathering amount. Always test serger adjustments before sewing final garment pieces. Lightly steam pressing can help set the gathers before joining seams.

Cord Gathering

Cinch up heavier fabrics like canvas and denim by zigzagging a cord. Select a cord that matches the fabric’s weight. Position and zigzag over it within the seam allowance. Remove the cord once finished.

First, mark key points with notches. Go slowly and don’t catch the cord under the presser foot to prevent skipped stitches. Cord gathering adds professional polish to structured dresses, tailored jackets, upholstered furniture, and home decor.

Creative touches like smocking and ruffles become possible on thick fabrics with this technique.

Tips for Achieving the Best Gathering Stitch

Tips for Achieving the Best Gathering Stitch
Mark the points before you gather, so your ruffles flow smoothly as a meadow stream.

  • Check the bobbin thread is ample for long ruffles.
  • Mark the fabric at evenly spaced points with tailor’s chalk before gathering.
  • Add a third row of long running stitches for control over unruly fabrics.
  • Press on the wrong side while gathering to keep stitches hidden.
  • Sew with bias binding instead of felling the edge to enclose stitching unseen.

Take time plotting your gathering before stitching, and your ruffles shall flow like liquid silk. Use long stitches, mark key points, mind the bobbin fill, add a guiding row, and press wrong side out.

Sewing Without Visible Stitches: Tips and Tricks

Sewing Without Visible Stitches: Tips and Tricks
When sewing intricate details or gathering delicate fabrics, sometimes the goal is to have the finished project appear seamless.

  • Use fine thread that matches the fabric color. Dark thread blends into dark fabrics.
  • Instead of backstitching for reinforcement, take one tiny stitch backward on top of the previous one before moving forward.
  • Keep stitches tiny and evenly spaced. Aim for 10-12 stitches per inch.
  • Stitch just inside the folded edge of a hem or facing. The fold hides the stitches.
  • On a lining or facing, stitch close to the seam line so stitches disappear into the seam allowance.
  • When gathering, use clear elastic so it blends in. A gathering foot helps create even gathers invisibly.
  • For smocking, wind shirring elastic into the bobbin and increase the stitch length.
  • Conceal gathering stitches by positioning them close to enclosed seams. Once sewn, trim away excess gathering stitches.

With practice, patience, and the right materials, your projects can have beautiful, seamless finishing that conceals the construction details.


Gathering fabric can be daunting for beginners, but with some know-how and practice, it gets easier. This step-by-step guide teaches you how to sew gathering stitches so you can create beautiful, professional-looking projects quickly.

You’ll learn all the techniques – from two thread gathering to cord gathering – to achieve great gathering stitches. Plus, you’ll find plenty of tips and tricks for sewing without visible stitches.

With the right tools and knowledge, you can create stunning garments and home decor easily. Don’t let the challenge of gathering fabric stop you from achieving your creative goals.

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Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a site dedicated to those passionate about crafting. With years of experience and research under his belt, he sought to create a platform where he could share his knowledge and skills with others who shared his interests.