Gathering is a fabric manipulation technique used in all types of sewing. It is one way to manage fullness, allowing a longer piece of fabric to be attached to a shorter piece, such as set in sleeves or attaching a skirt to a waistband. Gathering is also used decoratively to add visual interest to items. Gathers are used in all types of clothing, home decor, and craft items, so it is an important sewing technique to be familiar with. Below, I will show several different ways to gather fabric and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each technique.
To create gathers, a long straight stitch is sewn in fabric, in most cases along the edge and then the fabric is pulled up along the thread, causing the fabric to pucker and wrinkle along the stitching line. The resulting gathers are then sewn in place with a permanent stitching line to secure them in place.
At its most basic, gathering is a fairly simple technique - stitch a line and pull up the thread - but there are a few different ways to do it that vary slightly in method. I do not exclusively use one method to the exclusion of the others - I will use the method that best suits the type of project I am sewing at the time.
I am going to visually demonstrate three different methods for gathering using a standard sewing machine. A single row of straight stitching, a double row (or more) of straight stitching and a zigzag stitch method. You can also gather fabric by hand, if you are so inclined, using a simple running stitch.
Regardless of the method that I use, when I stitch my gathering line, I always use different colors of thread in the bobbin and the top of the machine that both contrast with the fabric that I am using. Using contrasting colors makes it easier to determine which thread to remove after the gathers have been sewn in. And, yes, I did learn this lesson the hard way.
I was also taught to always pull up on the bobbin thread and using a different thread in the bobbin allows me to identify the bobbin thread more quickly. The main reason that I do my gathering using the bobbin thread is because when I stitch the gathering line with the fabric facing right side up, the bobbin thread lies on the wrong side of the fabric. This comes in handy later when attaching the gathered section to another piece of fabric. When the fabrics are right sides together, the threads being adjusted are on the outside face of the fabric, making it easier to secure the ends and adjust the gathers.