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Setting serger differential feed

myca99 | Posted in General Discussion on


I am making a gypsy skirt muslin as described in the June/July ’06 issue of Threads. The first tier is 40″, second 60″, third 80″, and fourth 100″. I’m gathering on my serger without a gathering foot.

I assumed that dividing the longer layer by the shorter would give me the differential setting. That meant:
gather 3rd and 4th: 100/80 = 1.25
gather 2nd and 3rd: 80/60 = 1.3
gather 1st and 2nd: 60/40 = 1.5

But it turned out those settings didn’t gather nearly enough to match the shorter layer I was attaching it to. Is the differential setting a thumb in the wind kind of thing, or can you really derive it from some calculation between 2 fabric lengths? It seems like you would need to be able to calculate it without trial and error if you use a gathering foot that actually seams as it gathers.

BTW, I’m a brand new serger user, so if something seems obvious, go ahead and call it out — I really may not be aware of it.


Edited 3/28/2007 12:24 pm ET by myca99


  1. MaryinColorado | | #1

    I would gather them all the same amount as the different fabric lengths should take care of the width you need.  The differential setting adjusts the front feed teeth to feed more or less fabric in proportion to the rear feed teeth.  For gathering I set it to the highest setting and increase the stitch length. 

     I rarely use the gathering foot but it is more controllable when gathering and attatching two fabrics at the same time.  On thin material you use a lower differential setting and it feeds the fabric more slowly and holds it more firmly. 

    Some sewing machines have a gatherer/ pleater that has numbers to adjust the amounts of gathering as you describe.  The pleater works better for me than the gathering settings.  But since owning a serger, I never gather with the sewing machine anymore.

    Hope this is helpful.  Mary

    1. PrincessKatja | | #2

      Regarding matching gypsy skirt layers:

      I used the Threads article to make miniature tiered skirts for the state 4-H clothing judging contest last year.    I used the serger and sewing machine using different techniques to gather the fabric prior to stitching together.  Of course, when the 4-H'ers are judging the garment they needed to take the evenness of the gathering into consideration as part of the garment construction.

      I found that the easiest, fastest and most consistent gathering was achieved by using clear elastic.  If you haven't done this before, it's a great way to gather fabric to a particular length.

      1. Stretch the elastic well (think pre-stretching a balloon prior to inflating)  2. Cut the elastic to the desired final gathered length, plus a little tab on each end for hanging onto.  3.  Mark quadrants onto the skirt, and onto the elastic.  4.  Zig-zag the material onto the elastic, stretching the elastic so that the quadrants match up.

      The material will be gathered to the desired length and the gathers will be completely even.  This is hard to acheive any other way.  If you gather inside the seam allowance, you can serge off or tear off the clear elastic afterward if you don't want it in the seam allowance.

      The second best way to do this for the gypsy skirt was using an old-fashioned sewing machine ruffler.  But I had to play with it a bit to get the correct setting for the gathering ratio I needed.

      I found using the serger, even with a gathering foot, was very difficult to control the exact amount of gathering.  With my machine it just didn't gather quite enough for this application.  But "Your Mileage May Vary". 



      1. myca99 | | #3

        Ok, thanks y'all. I wasn't sure whether to suspect my serger was out of wack or not. But I guess the fabric thickness alone is enough to knock off any calculation you might do. The clear elastic makes a lot of sense. I got a small amount at the sewing expo last month, but I'm sure I'll run out soon. Is clear elastic something JoAnn's carries, or do you order it online? Thanks,

        1. PrincessKatja | | #4

          You should be able to find it at JoAnn or any sewing store with decent supply of  notions. 

          Enjoy! It's great for a lot of applications.  It also makes a handy shoulder reinforcement for stretch knits.  Just serge it into your seam.  It allows knit shirts to stretch but makes sure they make it "back" into shape. 

  2. NansiM | | #5

    Hi.  Here's a couple of other things you can try.  Experiment with using the longest stitch length available on your serger as well as the highest diff. feed setting.  This should make a difference.  After that, you can also gradually increase the tension on your NEEDLE thread - the tighter the tension the more gathers you'll get.  Just be careful you don't go so tight that the needle thread breaks.

    Try these experiments with a fixed length of scrap fabric identical to what you're working on.  I use 10" strips, then measure what you end up with after each adjustment and note it right on each sample.  You should be able to get down to a 5 - 6" finished piece which would be about a 2:1 ration of  fullness.  this is usually fine for most gathering.  You can also see what the difference is between pattern pieces for the different skirt layers to have an idea as to whether or not this would work.  It should get you closer than where you were.

    Test, test, test...samples are a great help!

    1. myca99 | | #6

      Ok, thanks NansiM. I'll go back and try that. It seemed a shame to have differential feed adjustments on my machine if I wasn't going to use them. I'm also finding there is an art to using clear elastic. Apparently, you have to cut it a little shorter than the length you want it to draw up to, and I haven't been able to figure out just how short that should be for each layer. -Myca-

      1. sherryv | | #7


        There are many ways to do the gathering for a skirt like yours, and don't give up on your DF yet - it's very useful for lots of things besides true gathering such as this.  One thing I wanted to mention is that, after you gather your tier using DF, if it's not gathered as much as you need (and it probably won't be,) you can just pull the needle threads and gather it to the length you need. - very easy.

        The way I have done skirt tiers like this was to  calculate the gathering (I needed 2:1) which meant a 10" strip should be gathered to 5".  I did a couple test strips on my regular machine and ruffler, then gathered away.  I serged the ruffles onto the skirt.  I prefer to do it this way because I have lots of control over the ruffle settings with the sewing machine ruffler attachment.  That clear elastic idea seems like a good one, too.  HTH

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