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personalized teacher signs customized rustic pillow covers How to Make Gathers with Your Sewing Machine

Updated: 2019-09-17 18:11Font Size: LMS

We love to gather with friends and family to share good food and conversation. We enjoy gathering with like-minded folks to attend concerts and other events. In these contexts, gathering is fun and easy. By comparison, in sewing... gathering is often known as daunting or simply too time-consuming! We believe all gathering should be fun and easy, and we aim to change the perception of gathering with a sewing machine. After reading this tutorial, we bet you’ll be inviting all your sewing friends over to convince them just how easy it is to gather fabric. If you do this, we think you should call it "gatherers gathering on gathers!"

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Gathers can add to the finish of a project or be a focal point. They can be tight and frilly or loose and billowy. No matter how you use them, they're a great embellishment that has been a favorite for centuries.

The primary reason to gather the raw edge of fabric is to create a ruffle that will eventually be inserted into or attached onto a project.

Not to be confused with shirring or pleating (box or knife) or tucks, gathering creates fullness and shape in fabric that is otherwise flat. You'll find gathering in every area of sewing; home décor, garments, accessories, heirloom, even quilting. Gathered fabric is always sewn to a flat section of a project (usually but not always along an outside edge), such as the bottom of a skirt; or is inserted between a seam, such as around a throw pillow or blanket.

Like gatherings of people, gatherings of fabric can have very different looks. Think about the gathers around a ballerina’s tutu versus the gathers around a bed skirt. The tulle used in the tutu is sheer and lightweight. The bed skirt is most likely made of a medium to heavy weight home decorating fabric. The fabric types are obviously poles apart, but what else causes these two projects to look so different?

The appearance of a?gathered (or ruffled) strip of fabric?depends on three aspects. One is the type of fabric selected for the gather; some fabrics simply gather better than others. Second is the technique you use to actually gather the fabric; we show you several options below. Third is how the original length of the fabric you’re planning to gather compares to the length of the fabric you'll be sewing the gathers to. If you’re following a patternpersonalized teacher signs, you'll be provided with this third piece of information, otherwise, you need to figure it out on your own.?

There is a general rule of thumb regarding the cut length of the piece to be gathered. For medium weight fabrics (cottons and knits), the length should be 2? times the length of the edge you will be sewing it to. For lightweight fabrics (voile or that tutu tulle above), the cut length should 3 times as long. Remember: the longer the piece, in comparison to what it is being sewn to, the tighter the gathers.?

Tools you’ll need

Before we get started, there is one detail you have to pay attention to regardless of the method you use to gather fabric. The gathering stitch should always be sewn within the seam allowance. To quickly review, home décor sewing traditionally uses a ?" seam allowance, most garment construction uses a ?" seam allowance, and in quilting, you normally use a ?" seam allowance. Keep these measurements in mind as you incorporate gathers into your sewing projects.?

In many of our tutorials, we like to present you with a number of alternatives so you can try several to find what works best for you. Gathering fabric is no exception. Let’s look at the options.

The traditional method of gathering uses a double row of long basting stitches sewn ?” apart within the seam allowance.?

NOTE: In our example below, we’re using a plain fabric with brightly colored thread so you can see the technique. In addition, we’ve placed a different color thread in the bobbin, which you will understand as you continue to read. These stark contrasts are for sample purposes only. We made our straight quilting cotton piece just 9" long, therefore our strip to be gathered is 22?" long (2? times our straight piece). Finally, we are assuming a ?" seam allowance.

Before starting, decide how you want to finish the opposite raw edge from where you’ll be gathering. You can create a double hem, rolled hem, serged hem, etc. The choice depends on your project/pattern. It’s simply much easier to do this before the fabric is gathered.

NOTE: You can also cut your strip to be gathered at double the width and fold it in half, creating a folded finished edge. In this case you would then be gathering two layers rather than one. This is often used for the ruffled edge of a blanket.

Also known as the "cheating" method or corded zig zag method, this option uses a long zig zag stitch to couch over heavy thread, yarn or string to gather fabric. For some, this technique is easier to do. Proponents also claim it's easier to remove when completed.?

You can also use specialty sewing machine feet and attachments (most are optional, meaning they do not come standard with the machine) to automatically gather fabric as you sew. Since Janome is the exclusive sewing machine sponsor here at Sew4Home, we’re featuring their specific feet and attachments. Check with your local sewing machine retailer for comparable feet for your make and model.

The Ruffler is a very serious looking attachment, but it’s a blast to watch in action. The Janome version is compatible with most sewing machines regardless of brand. You can create different types of ruffles and pleats quickly and easily based on how you set the foot. Be sure to read our product review for a more thorough look at this foot.

Janome has a snap-on foot designed for working with lightweight fabrics. It’s called the Gathering foot. It gently gathers the fabric for you as you sew.?

Specific instructions come with this foot. In order to sew successfully, you have to lengthen the stitch to 3.0 mm or longer, and tighten the tension slightly. In combination with these stitch adjustments, what really makes this foot work so well is how it’s designed underneath. A "bump" on the bottom of the foot causes the fabric to feed slowly against the feed dogs of the machine.

It’s a good idea to place markings on your fabric for any center or side points prior to the actual gathering. This way, you can match the points between the straight and gathered fabrics and insure the gathering is evenly spaced between the points. Otherwise, you could end up with too much fabric gathered to one side or the other, giving your project a lopsided look.?

Sometimes, if you’re gathering a very long piece, it can be helpful to work from the center out instead of from edge to edge. You start the gathering stitches in the center, leaving thread tails in the middle, then work out to the edges, first to one side, then to the other side, allowing you to gather two smaller sections instead of one super long strip. This method also makes it easier to match up center points.

Make sure you have enough bobbin thread for the distance you need to sew. If you run out midstream, you'll have to start all over again. You need a continuous length of thread.

Keeping track of all the threads can get confusing. If you use a different color thread in the bobbin, you can clearly see which threads you need to hold. Plus, this is a great use for those left over bobbins you have from other projects! We did this in our example above.

If you hold your finger behind the foot as you do your machine basting, the fabric will start to pucker and gather as you stitch.?

This gives you a head start on the gathering process.

If you forgot to mark your center and side points before you started, pin the basted strip to the straight edge at the center and/or the side edges (just these points - don't fill in with pins). Then, gather between the pin points to the finished size.

Experts sometimes sew a third row of basting for more precise gathers. However, this is recommended for medium weight fabrics only.

For the zig zag method, you can also use a foot that is compatible with a zig zag stitch and has some sort of hole or holder on the foot. Janome has a Cording foot that would be acceptable. We used this foot in our example above.

Adjusting tension may be necessary, depending on the make or model sewing machine. When using a basting stitch, you tighten the needle tension so the thread will pull and begin to gather the fabric. When using the zig zag method, lower the needle tension so the fabric stays flat, otherwise the zig zag stitch will pull too tight around the yarn, which can effect the overall gathering later.?

NOTE: On the Janome machines we use in our S4H studios, we did not have to adjust the tension settings for the basting or zig zag method, but this might not be the case with your machine make and model, so we felt it was?important to mention.

It’s not necessary to start with a flat, straight strip of fabric. You can use a folded strip (as we mentioned above in Option #1), a hemmed strip (which we recommended above), a tube, or a bias cut strip.?

If the gathering process starts to jam up and the fabric won’t move, you’ve pushed too much into the same spot too soon. Back out the gathers a bit and work in smaller increments; you’ll find the fabric starts sliding easily on the thread again.

If you backstitch at the beginning of the basting stitch, it will hold the threads in place as you gather from the other end, eliminating the need to knot them. However, we do not recommend this for most situations and especially not for long pieces; it's usually better to work from two directions.

Sometimes the basting or zig zag stitches peek out from the seam after you’ve sewn the gathered strip to your final project. Simply remove the stitches with a seam ripper. It will not affect the finished seam.

If you’re sewing gathers on loosely woven or jersey knit fabrics, you may find you have to sew seam binding, twill tape, or ribbon just above the original line of sewing to strengthen the gathers.

If you need to press gathers, use the point of the iron on the wrong side to go in and out of the gathers as you press.

If you own or are interested in owning a serger, you can also create gathers by adjusting the serger's differential feed. In addition, you can do something called elastic gathering on a serger. Ask your local sewing machine retailer for a demonstration or visit Janome’s Dealer Locator to find a Janome America dealer in your area.?

Contributors

Sample Creation and Instructional Outline: Jodi Kelly

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