30 October 2019

Ten Tips for Sewing Gathers - With Video!

Tilly and the Buttons - Ten tips for sewing gathers

Want some top tips on how to sew beautiful, even gathers? Well, look no further, we've got you covered. This post is jam-packed with hints and tricks on how to create and sew gathers which can be used for tonnes of sewing projects. We've also made a step-by-step tutorial video to show you how it's done :)

Gathering is a sewing technique that pops up in loads of different sewing projects. Put simply, gathering involves reducing the width of one piece of fabric so it can be joined to another piece. You'll often see this in skirts and dresses where flowy skirts are gathered to join a waistband or bodice. In the case of our Indigo smock pattern, you can also use gathers to attach the flounce sleeve option. 

Before we get stuck into the tips, if you want to learn the basics of sewing gathers, check out our how-to video to see how it's done:

Onto Team Tilly's ten tips for sewing gathers...

1) Sew gather stitches in a contrast colour - or not!

We usually suggest using thread in a contrast colour to your fabric for the gather stitches. Gather stitches are temporary, so using a thread that stands out against your fabric will make it much easier to see them and unpick them later on. It’s also a great opportunity to use up any leftover thread from previous projects that you have lying around.

However, Tilly has been all about the sewing shortcuts lately (running a business and running after a toddler leaves very short windows in which to sew!). If you’re looking to save time, you could leave in any rows of gather stitching that you're going to overlock (serge) over when finishing the seam allowances. If you’re going to do this, use thread that's a similar colour to either the fabric or overlocker thread so it's not that visible, but a darker or lighter shade so you can still see any you do want to unpick.

Tilly and the Buttons - Ten tips for sewing gathers

2) Divide and conquer

If the piece of fabric you’re gathering is particularly wide or heavy, divide the gathering into sections to avoid putting too much stress on the threads as they might snap when you pull them.

For a wide gathered skirt, sew two sets of gather stitching - one trio at the front and one at the back. Fold the skirt fabric in half to find the centre and mark with a pin, then find the centre of the piece you are attaching the gathered fabric (in this example, the bodice) to and also mark with a pin. This enables you to create gathers in much more manageable sections, making your life far easier!

3) Use a long stitch and low thread tension

Long, loose stitches are your friend when it comes to gathering fabric – not only does the lower resistance make it easier to move and gather the fabric, but it makes it way easier to unpick the gather stitches later on. Lower the thread tension on your sewing machine and set your machine the longest stitch length, usually 4 or 5 mm.

Tilly and the Buttons - Ten tips for sewing gathers

4) Three is the magic number

I find I get the best results when gathering by sewing three rows of parallel gather stitches instead of two. It might seem tempting to skip sewing that last row of stitching (speaking from experience), but it will make your life so much easier in the long run, I promise. Having three rows of gather stitching makes it easier to move and manipulate the fabric, plus the extra row serves as a handy backup in case one of the other threads break.

5) Tacking is your friend

If you want to double-check how your gathers look, tack (baste) the pieces together using matching thread to your fabric and a long stitch length. This means you can check that the gathers are nice and even and can easily unpick any sections that need a bit of adjusting and re-do them.

Once you’re happy with the look of the gathers, sew directly over the tacking stitches in a regular stitch length to seal in place.

6) Avoid the seam allowance 

Try to avoid sewing the rows of gather stitching where the finished seam stitching will go, usually 15mm (5/8in) from the edge. If you sew on this seam line, it makes it a bit harder to unpick the gather stitches later as the stitches will be overlapped. We suggest positioning your rows of gather stitches around 5mm (1/4in), 12mm (1/2in) and 19mm (3/4in) from the edge.

Do test it out on your fabric though - if it's very delicate and the unpicked stitches leave holes in your material, you may want to reposition these three rows so they're all less than 15mm (5/8in) from the edge so any holes don't show on your finished garment.

Tilly and the Buttons - Ten tips for sewing gathers

7) Lower the presser foot pressure

Before sewing the gathered piece to another piece - for example, joining a gathered skirt to a bodice - consider lowering the presser foot pressure (if your machine allows you to). By raising the foot slightly, you won't be in danger of squishing up the gathers as you sew over them.

8) Keep it smooth

As you're sewing the pieces together, keep an eye on your gathers and smooth them as you sew with your fingers. If you see any sections of gathers that look particularly tight or bunched up, pause your sewing, with the needle down to keep the fabric in place. Take the pins out and re-distribute the gathers for that section and start sewing again. You can do this as many times as you need to, to help you achieve lovely even gathers for the whole seam.

9) Call in the reinforcements!

If the gathered piece you’re attaching is particularly heavy, such as a skirt in medium weight fabric, it’s a good idea to reinforce the joining seam to give it an extra bit of support. Luckily this is super easy to do. Once you’ve stitched the pieces together, sew an extra row of stitching over the seam to lock those stitches in place. This will add extra support to the seam and will prevent the fabric from pulling or the stitches breaking under the weight of the skirt.

10) Press in moderation

Once you've sewn the gathered piece to the one you're attaching it to, you'll need to press the seam. However, you don't want to press the seam too enthusiastically as you'll want to retain those beautiful gathers you've just sewn! A light touch with the iron is more than enough here and will ensure that those gathers keep their shape and don't get squished.

Tilly and the Buttons - Ten tips for sewing gathers

I hope you've enjoyed our ten tips for sewing gathers! If you're itching to try out your new gathering knowledge, why not try the dreamy Indigo smock top and dress sewing pattern? With a gorgeous gathered skirt and sleeve flounce option there's plenty of opportunity to practice sewing beautiful, swooshy gathers!


Author: Nikki Hoar
Video: Jenny Lingham-Doe
Photos: Jane Looker