Gathering fabric is a method that reduces the length of a piece of fabric, to allow a longer piece of fabric to be attached to a shorter one. It is a technique I have discovered is not explained in most sewing patterns. They usually just say “gather your fabric to the width of you bodice” (or whatever else you may be gathering to). Today I will discuss the best way to gather fabric, or rather the 3 best ways to gather it!

Each method is my favorite in its own way, depending on the situation. None of them require any special feet for your machine. Two of them can be done with your sewing machine.

The third way is how to easily gather fabric with your serger (overlock machine). The serger method is my favorite way to gather when adding ruffles to a dress bottom and it keeps woven fabric edges from fraying! My favorite method is the last method discussed. I love to use when attaching a woven skirt to a knit bodice!

Gathering Fabric - 3 Easy Ways to Gather Fabric

Gather Fabric with a sewing machine

This may be the most common method that people discuss. To me it is the most time consuming and the one I use the least of these three options. None the less it is a good method and works very well though so don’t count it out!

Start with your two fabric pieces.

You want to gather your longer piece to fit your shorter piece. Use a straight stitch at the longest stitch length. DO NOT back stitch!! This is known as a basting stitch. And you’ll want to remove those threads at the end.

Start with long threads at your machine..

Stitch two parallel line about 1/8”-1/4” apart. I prefer to keep mine inside the seam allowance so when I pull the threads back out I don’t have visible holes. But you have to review your pattern to make sure you have enough seam allowance to work with. Otherwise do one line inside and one outside the allowance.

Separate your bobbin threads from you main threads.

Now you want to hold your bobbin threads with one hand while you use the other hand to pull the fabric along those threads. You will see it start bunching or gathering as you pull.

Now, you should have gathered you fabric To match the length of the remaining fabric and sew them together.

Now you remove the two rows of basting stitches from your fabric. This is why you don’t Backstitch. The threads should just slide out as you pull them.

Gather fabric with a serger

If you have a serger (overlock machine), gathering fabric is easiest with this. That is unless you need the gathered area to stretch. If so, the easiest way will be discussed in the next section. This is a super simple way that doesn’t involve any extra feet or changing your settings. (You don’t need turn up your differential feed or use a gathering foot)

First, you just want to cut your fabric to the dimensions you need and serge the edge of your fabric that you need to gather.

Then you want to use your Seam ripper or another pointy tool (you don’t actually want to rip the threads here). Pull the needle thread closest to the edge of your fabric loose from the chain as shown below.

Now that you have your thread out of the chain, you want to grab your thread with one hand and your fabric with the other. Pull gently on the thread and slowly pull the fabric the opposite way.

As you pull the fabric in the opposite direction of the thread, it will begin to gather. You can choose how gathered you want to make the fabric. This allows you better control to align it the proper width to the fabric you are sewing it to.

I’m not saying a gathering foot or the increasing differential feed are bad ideas. But if you need a skirt to match the width of a bodice this is the way to get it exact. Using the other methods take a lot of calculations and trial and error. This method saves SO MUCH TIME!

Gather fabric with Elasic

The final method is one of my favorite for attaching a woven skirt to a knit bodice. To make a woven skirt you will almost always need to gather your fabric (follow your pattern). Of course the knit bodice stretches naturally but woven fabrics do not. How do you gather woven fabric and still allow it to stretch?

So of course you’re going to need a piece of elastic to allow the woven skirt to stretch. I prefer clear elastic for this. And all you need is a sewing machine, nothing else special.

To start, You want to measure the bodice that you plan to attach the gathered fabric to.

Next, you want to cut 2 pieces of elastic. I personally cut each one the width of the bodice +3-4 inches. The reason why is you are going to have to stretch the elastic as you sew. You will need a little bit of extra elastic on both ends to be able to hold onto. Then I mark both pieces of elastic the width of my bodice leaving one and a half to 2 inches on each side of the markings. I also mark the centerpoint between the two lines.

At this point I already have my skirt sewn together along the side seams. You also want to mark the centerpoint of the front and back of the skirt with a clip. Stretch your elastic from the side seam to your clip. It is important to make sure it reaches from the side seam of the skirt to where the center mark you made reaches your center clip.

Now, you want to locate the far left mark on your elastic. Line it up with the side seam of your skirt at the top of the pattern where you need the fabric gathered. Place the fabric and elastic under your presser foot holding onto the excess elastic you left at the end. Using a straight stitch I back stitch three times to secure it to the side seam.

Now with the presser foot down and the back stitch complete I stretched the excess elastic from the back of my machine. I also stretched the front of the elastic to where my midpoint mark is again aligned with my clip at the midpoint of my fabric.

The trick here is you want to hold the elastic in place against the center clip while simultaneously pulling slightly on the excess elastic in the back as you sew. If you don’t pull slightly on the back of the elastic the feed dogs aren’t going to be able to easily pull your fabric and elastic through, because you are stretching the elastic from the front. So don’t forget to pull the elastic slightly from the back. I use a straight stitch for this part and sew right down the center of the elastic until I reach my midpoint mark and clip. Then you should start seeing some gathers in the fabric behind your presser foot.

Next continue from the midpoint to the opposite side seam using the same method with the remainder of that piece of elastic. Stretch it to where the right side marking you made on the elastic aligns with the other side seam.

Now you are going to do the exact same thing with the second piece of elastic and the backside of your skirt . trim the excess elastic once you are finished with the entire skirt.

How to sew elastic gathered skirt to a bodice

Place your bodice inside your skirt with raw edges aligned and right sides of the fabric together. Line the side seams of the bodice with the side seams of the skirt and clip. Then I clip the bodice to the skirt about every 2 inches! When I say clips it’s because they are 100x easier then pinning!

This is the most important step to allow the waist to stretch Once sewn on the bodice! You want to use this three point zig zag stitch if your machine has it, it allows for the most stretch!

Once you sew them together your seam should look like this..

Final product

This is the Melanie maxi dress and more From Peek a boo pattern shop! Probably mine and my daughters very favorite dress pattern!!

Last comment of the day.. I want to thank YOU, my readers! I am so grateful you come and allow to me to part of your journey! Without you, Feedspot wouldn’t have listed me in their top 100 sewing blogs only 1 month after starting this blog! I thank you and thank Feedspot for this honor!

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