Gather perfectly (Almost) every time

For many years, I successfully avoided gathering any fabric whatsoever. After complete meltdown-inducing failure on what should have been cute dresses in high school. I gave up, thinking it wouldn't matter since I preferred a tailored look, anyway.

Then I had a baby girl

And the world of gathers, ruffles, and associated headaches threatened to close in on me. In response, I naturally went to look for a gadget. I bought a ruffler foot. This is an amazing contraption, though intimidating.

Too much math required...and experimentation...but if I ever ruffle a sofa cover, I'll bring this back out!

Adjustable ruffling settings still didn't offer this perfectionist the control I wanted over the distribution of gathers. (Why waste fabric by sewing gathers into seam allowances? What if I wanted to center gathers over a toddler belly for a better fit?)

So, I practiced and experimented, took advice and discarded advice to wind up with this technique.

First, sew two rows of basting stitches with the needle tension down low. Sew one line of basting stitches on each side of the eventual seam allowance. This pattern calls for a 1/2" seam allowance, so I've used 1/4" and 3/4" from the raw edge for the gathering stitches.

1/4" then 3/4" seam allowances

Leave long tails wherever you're going to match a seam and at Center Front and Center Back. I like to use at least 4 breaks like this for simpler gathering and to reduce the likelihood of breakage.

Leave a space to achieve a more accurate match between notches

Match your seams or notches to the corresponding markings on your pattern. In this pattern we use a 2:1 ratio, meaning each gathered section is 2x as long as the section to which it will be gathered. It appears pretty droopy at first, but evenly droopy is the goal here.

CF marked and pinned. Raw edges matched and pinned.

Before you start to pull any threads, anchor one side by wrapping a figure 8 around a pin.

Anchored thread ends.

Next, you'll want to pull both top threads at the same time to reduce the length of the gathered section to match the main section. You don't have to worry about distribution yet; just make sure the sections are the same length. Then anchor the second set of threads as you did the first. (Setting the needle tension to low during the basting stitch makes this part really easy.)

Both sides anchored and gathered edge matched flat edge.

Repeat for each section, anchoring at the beginning, then pulling to match, then anchoring at the end of each.

Once all the gathered sections are completely matched and anchored, distribute the gathers evenly, and pin in place. You shouldn't require too many pins, as you'll be stitching right away.

Pin between the sections.

Important: return your settings to normal at this point ... Regular tension and construction stitch length

Now you can take your work over to the machine and stitch directly between the basting stitches, removing pins and brushing the figure 8s out of the way as you go.

Your gathers are stabilized by the basting stitches, so you won't accidentally ruin that careful distribution during this step, as I have often done when basting inside the seam allowance only.

Stitch right between the tracks. Couldn't be easier!

Here's what the seam looks like from the right side:

Yank that thread right out of there!

Finally, take your gathered piece over to the ironing board and press from the loose edge up to the gathered seam, holding the main piece. This way you won't crush those lovely gathers into random pleats!

Created By
Karen Lepage


Thanks to Rae Hoekstra for the cover photo, to Tashina Emery for her adorable self in the top. Fabrics: Loominous by Anna Maria Horner, courtesy of Sew Mama Sew ( and Hart's Fabrics.

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