How to Gather Fabric with a Sewing Machine

Learn how to gather fabric with a sewing machine from designer Jennifer Wiese in this Howcast tutorial.

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Up next in How to Use a Sewing Machine (37 videos)

Thinking of getting a sewing machine or have one that sometimes drives you mad? In these videos, designer Jennifer Wiese walks you through all the basics, from how to wind a bobbin and adjust tension to how to make a basting stitch and use a seam guide. She also answers frequently asked questions and helps you troubleshoot common sewing machine problems, like why your top thread keeps breaking.

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Hi, I'm Jennifer from Workroom Social and today I'm going to show you how to gather fabric. We have our fabric piece right here that we want to gather and the first thing we're going to do is go to our sewing machine and make sure that we're on a straight stitch. Then we're going to turn our stitch length up as high as it will go, on my machine it's a four; so we're going to use a large stitch length. Then we're going to take our fabric and, for this project, we're going to assume a 5/8 of an inch seam allowance. Knowing that we're using a 5/8 of an inch seam allowance, the first thing I'm going to do is sew a line at 1/4 of an inch seam allowance, just on the one-ply fabric. Before I start, I want to make sure that I have long thread tails going out the back because we're going to use these to gather the fabric, so I'm just going to lay those there. Then I'm going to put my fabric in the machine and, for the 1/4 of an inch seam allowance, I'm just going to use the edge of my presser foot and I'm going to sew all the way across. When you get to the end of your fabric, you want to pull your fabric out and keep these long thread tails. So I'm going to cut, just in the middle, so that I have a long tail on my fabric, and a long tail on my machine. I'm going to pull that to the back and now I'm going to sew another narrow seam, another 1/4 inch from the seam that I just sewed. If you add them together, 1/4 and 1/4, you would want the raw edge of your fabric aligned on the 1/2-inch seam marker on your seam guide. I'm going to put my fabric in and then I'm going to sew all the way down again. We're going to do the same thing we did already. We're going to put long thread tails and clip our project off. Now we are ready to gather our fabric. The first thing you should do is separate your top needle thread from your bobbin thread. Then you should tie off one set, so I'm going to tie this set off, which is on top, and you can just make a knot, just a quick overhand knot. Then I'm going to pull it tight down on the fabric. Then, since we have a lot of threads here, I'm just going to clip this because I don't have to worry about that, I don't want it to get in my way. So we pulled the top here and tied it off so we're going to do the same on the opposite end. I'm going to take the top threads and I'm going to tie them off, just like I did on the other side. Then I'm going to clip those threads. Great! So now I can go ahead and gather my fabric. To do that, I'm going to work from the left and then from the right, gathering fabric towards the middle. All I'm going to do is hold these tails and pull my fabric in towards the center to make these gathers. Then you can do it from the opposite side as well to make your gathers. Now if this were going into something, say this was going to be a skirt, you would definitely want to set this down and spread these gathers out evenly. You can see here, they are really tightly gathered and here it's kind of a little loose so you take your tails and hang on and just kind of spread them out; that made it a lot better. Then you can balance it out from the opposite side as well, just kind of move things along to get them nice and balanced. Once you have your fabric gathered and it's in the place you want, you can now tie your other threads off so that they won't move. You want to try and keep your knots close to the edge so that this won't come undone. Then you'll take your fabric, we'll make a little waistband. Say this is the waistband and this is our skirt piece, you're going to pin the gathered fabric to the straight portion. Then you'll take this to the sewing machine and we're going to sew our 5/8 of an inch seam allowance. From our raw edge to our gather stitch here, we have 1/2-inch, so we're going to be to the left of all of our gather stitches. We'll take this back to the sewing machine and line it up with our 5/8 and sew across our gathers. As you come up to all the gathering, I like to just kind of pull things down straight before I sew over them, make sure everything is laying really nicely. We have a lot of bunching here so we're just going to pull everything down, make sure it's well balanced and then if something comes a little undone, that's okay. You have your threads tied so you can just grab it and pull it a little bit to get it to align correctly. Then you'll just sew off. Now, we can cut all of our threads and take this to the iron and you see our very even and lovely gathers. And that's how you gather fabric.

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  • Jennifer Wiese

    Jennifer Wiese is an arts-and-crafts-obsessed designer and the owner of Workroom Social, a textile crafts studio located in Brooklyn, New York. With a well-equipped workspace that caters to both sewers and screen printers, Jennifer enjoys working with crafters and fashion designers alike! For more information on Jennifer and Workroom Social, please go to workroomsocial.com.