How To Form Gathers

Gathers are a series of tiny, soft folds of fabric that create shaping. Usually you’ll add gathers to garments at waistlines, yokes, sleeve caps, cuffs, and necklines.

  1. Set your machine to its longest straight stitch (the basting stitch). Loosen the upper thread tension slightly. Thread the bobbin with a contrasting colour of thread for greater visibility.
  2. On the right side of the fabric, stitch two parallel lines in the seam allowance: one just inside the stitching line and the other 1/4″ (6mm) away. Leave long thread tails at both ends. If the fabric is long, divide the area to be gathered in half and break the basting stitches at the halfway mark.
  3. Pin the basted edge to its corresponding edge, right sides together. Match notches, seam lines, and markings. The piece with the basting stitches will be the longer piece. Secure the threads at one end by wrapping them around a straight pin to form a figure eight.
  4. From the other end, pull the bobbin threads gently, sliding the fabric along the threads to distribute it evenly.
  5. When the gathered piece “fits” the straight piece, pin the layers together at close intervals (about every 1/2″ [1.3cm]). As you work, adjust the gathers with a pin or with your finger nail so they are evenly distributed.
  6. Change to a standard stitch length and normal upper-thread tension. With the gathered side up, machine-stitch a 5/8″ (1.6cm) seam. Remove pins as you sew – do not ever sew over pins! Hold the fabric taut with your fingertips on both sides of the needle to keep the gathers from shifting or pleating.
  7. Open the garment and carefully press the seam allowances toward the flat, ungathered side with the tip of the iron. Do not press across the surface of the gathers or you will flatten them.