Learn three different ways for how to gather fabric and where to use each sewing technique. Gathering can be a tricky skill to perfect, but it’s an important sewing technique to know. At the end of the post I compare different fabrics when they are gathered, different gathering ratios, and gathered fabric cut on different directions.

In all my samples I sewed I either used a quilting cotton fabric or rayon. I used an all-purpose sewing machine needle and all-purpose sewing thread.

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How to Gather Fabric and Comparing Gathering Ratios // heatherhandmade.com

How to Gather Fabric

Tips for Gathering Fabric

Choose either beauty or cost efficiency. Determine skill level since some directions are easy to gather than others. Sew and gather slowly. It’s not something to be rushed!

Use a contrasting color of thread in the bobbin while gathering to make it easier to remove after sewing. Before gathering pin equal sections on the piece to be gathered and equal sections on the smaller piece to make it easier to match up. Do not press the gathers flat since you will remove the volume you just created.

three Different ways to gather fabric

Use a serger to gather the fabric. Change the settings on your serger to gather the fabric as you sew. This works best with lightweight fabric and doesn’t always gather enough. I often have to add tucks to make the gathered piece small enough.

Use a giant zigzag over a string, floss, or yarn. This is easy and fast, and threads never break when gathering. The gathering isn’t very even though.

Sew three rows of basting stitches. The slowest way to gather, but it makes the nicest and most even gathers. The extra time is always worth the pretty result.

How to Gather Fabric and Comparing Gathering Ratios // heatherhandmade.com

The top two gathers are uneven and not as nice looking as the bottom gather. The top is serged gathers, the middle is the zigzag over strings, and the bottom is the three rows of basting stitches.How to Gather Fabric and Comparing Gathering Ratios // heatherhandmade.com

There are extra tucks in the top two gathers to make the fabric fit the smaller piece. I do like that these three ways of gathering rarely have any threads breaking while gathering.How to Gather Fabric and Comparing Gathering Ratios // heatherhandmade.com

Gathering Sewing Machine Foot

There is also a gathering foot for your sewing machine. I like the pretty even gathers it creates, but I find it hard to know the ratio it’s creating. It’s best to use it when creating lots of ruffles and the ratio doesn’t matter that much.

It’s almost like it creates lots of tiny little pleats or tucks instead of actually gathering the fabric.

Gathering Ratios

Below I show different ratios of gathered fabric and fabric gathered on different grainlines to show how it can make a difference.

This ratio is 2:1 meaning the gathered piece is twice as long as the small, short piece. The top gathered sample is fabric cut with the grainline up and down. The bottom gathered sample is fabric cut with the grainline side to side.

How to Gather Fabric and Comparing Gathering Ratios // heatherhandmade.com

This ratio is 1.5:1 meaning the gathered piece is one and a half times as long as the small, short piece. The top gathered sample is fabric cut with the grainline side to side. The bottom gathered sample is fabric cut on the bias.

How to Gather Fabric and Comparing Gathering Ratios // heatherhandmade.com

This ratio is 23:1 meaning the gathered piece is three times as long as the small, short piece. The top gathered sample is fabric cut on the bias. The bottom gathered sample is fabric cut with the grainline up and down.
How to Gather Fabric and Comparing Gathering Ratios // heatherhandmade.com

I also wanted to compare different fabrics when gathered. On the left is quilting cotton fabric in a 3:1 ratio and a 1.5:1 ratio. On the right is rayon fabric in a 3:1 ratio and a 1.5:1 ratio.

The rayon is a beautiful gather, but it is much softer. The quilting cotton fabric has a tighter gather with a lot of volume. They create different looks but are beautiful in their own way.How to Gather Fabric and Comparing Gathering Ratios // heatherhandmade.com

Comparing Gather Directions Chart

There are three different directions of fabric that you can gather on. You can gather on:

  • the grainline
  • the crosswise grain
  • the bias

Each one has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to gathering, and I wrote it up in a chart.

How to Gather Fabric and Comparing Gathering Ratios // heatherhandmade.com

Grainline Gathering

  • medium difficulty to gather
  • medium difficulty to make nice, even gathering
  • uses the smallest amount of fabric

Crosswise Gathering

  • difficult to gather
  • difficult to make nice, even gathering
  • can use border prints

Bias Gathering

  • easy to gather
  • easy to make nice, even gathering
  • uses lots of fabric
  • beautiful

If you make something using this tutorial, I’d love to see! Please share it on social media with the hashtag #heatherhandmade and tag me!

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Author: Heather Handmade

I'm a seamstress and mother. I sew, blog, thrift, upcycle, design fabric, and teach sewing classes. I'm also a self-proclaimed fabric fondler.

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