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Couture Method for Even Gathers

Credit: Carol Fresia, Jeff Roos, and Cari Delahanty

Gathers are used to add volume and shaping to skirts, sleeves, and bodices. When they’re a featured element, it’s important to ensure they are evenly spaced and properly aligned. Threads Contributing Editor Susan Khalje shares tips for improving gathers; you’ll add an extra step or two, but the results are worth it.

Stitch length and gathering ratio

Most gathering methods have sewers use a long stitch length: 4.0 mm or longer. Susan advises using the shortest stitch length you can, as the tighter stitches hold the gathers in place more securely. To determine how long the stitches should be, experiment with your fabric. Decrease the stitch length until it’s as short as possible but you can still smoothly pull the needle thread to gather the fabric.

Another important test to make is to decide on the gathering ratio. This depends on the look you want, the amount of fabric you have, and the weight of the fabric. Lightweight fabrics can be gathered at higher ratio than thick and heavy fabrics. Be sure to test gathering over an intersecting seam, if the garment will have seams.

Sew the gathering stitches

Start by finishing the fabric’s raw edge with a zigzag or serged stitch, to control raveling as you’re forming the gathers. Then mark the fabric to be gathered and the fabric to which it will be sewn with evenly spaced marks. Susan uses tailor’s tacks at the edge of the fabric to be gathered, as pen or pencil marks are hard to see once the fabric has been gathered.

The key to Susan’s technique is to apply three rows of gathering stitches, not the usual one or two. Sew the first row on the seamline; place the second row about 1/4 inch away, within the…


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  1. cgincolorado | | #1

    This is a great article on how to make beautiful gathers. I learned the three row method making heirloom baby clothes on cotton batiste. And of course, baste! I have made so many errors not basting the gathers. So of course, it's much more efficient to baste and not have to rip and resew the seam. I always skip the articles about how to perform a technique fast, I want to do it right, even if it takes longer. Thanks so much for your expertise.

  2. user-7078403 | | #2

    The gathers were exquisite. Your video was very informative and your expertise and presentation was a joy to watch. Thanks so much for taking the time to explain in detail.

  3. user-2592332 | | #3

    First time I have seen this method since I learned it in the late 70s. Worked in a custom drapery workshop, it was the way Miss Sally gathered miles of ruffles perfectly. I do prefer to stitch a row just outside the seam line, 1/16th it so, instead of on it. And sew with the gathers facing up for control.

  4. purejoy | | #4

    I always love watching Susan’s hands “controlling the fabric”. I was lucky enough to take classes from her and she is so inspiring; she takes sewing to the next level . Thank you for this informative video

  5. machelleh | | #5

    Thank you for this great video! I’ve never seen that technique and I learned so much. I was trained exactly as you described- take very long stitches and pull the bobbin thread. Your technique gave so much more beautiful results.

  6. user-7832448 | | #6

    Thank you for this informative video. I have long struggled with gathers, and I even avoid patterns, at times, that include them in the design. I've often wondered about pulling the bobbin threads to make gathers, since they never seemed to gather evenly or stay in place. This is so much better. I am very excited to try this technique.

  7. mkk5000 | | #7

    Great video! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  8. user-7818190 | | #8

    This is the best video I've watched on how to gather well. I always dread having to gather as it never turns out neat. Now I know what I was doing wrong. Thank you so much for sharing this great method!

  9. User avater
    Jstephens111 | | #9

    I love this method for gathering! I tried it immediately after watching and it works beautifully. Thank you so much for posting this great video!

  10. user-7687656 | | #10

    I know this is late, but what is the pressing mat used in the video?

    1. carolfresia | | #11

      The mat used here is a wonderful item that is no longer made. It's been in the Threads video/photo studio for a number of years, and we guard it carefully because it is so handy. It folds in half so the gridded surface is inside, and it has handles for carrying. The reverse side is black felt, which makes it a good surface for planning quilt blocks and such. There was a larger size, too. I'm sorry I don't remember the brand now, but it hasn't been available on the market for at least 10 years, I think. If I ever find it again, I'll be sure to post!
      Carol Fresia
      Editor, Threads magazine

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