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How to gather fabric

How to gather fabric

This guide on how to gather fabric is an extract from Wendy Ward‘s new book How to Sew Sustainably published by Cico Books.  The book teaches you how to create clothes and homeware, using fabric scraps from other projects, discarded home textiles and used clothing.


Gathering can look completely different depending on the type of fabric you are using; a lightweight, soft drapey fabric won’t gain lots of fullness even with lots of gathers, but with the same amount of gathering a crisper, heavier weight fabric will start to look quite balloon-like and structured.

1) Set up your sewing machine for a gathering stitch:

Straight stitch

Longest stitch length

Loose needle tension (1 or 2 on a tension dial that goes up to 9)

2) If you are gathering an edge that will be joined to another part make sure your gathering stitches are positioned within the seam allowance.

3) Don’t reverse stitch at the beginning of your machining, simply start sewing where instructed to in the project and make sure you leave long thread ends on the needle and bobbin.

4) At the end of your first line of gathering stitches, again don’t reverse stitch, just take the fabric out of the machine and cut the threads leaving long thread ends on your fabric and your machine, ready to start the next row of stitching.

5) Machine your second row of gathering stitches in between the first row and the edge of the fabric if gathering an edge, or as directed in the project instructions.

How to sew a gathered sleeve
A gathered sleeve

6) Secure one end only (the same end!) of each row of stitching by pulling the bobbin thread through—pull on the end of the needle thread and a loop should appear around the last stitch. Pull the loop until you find the end of the thread and knot all four threads together.


7) At the other end of the gathering stitches, hold onto the two thread ends on the bobbin side and pull, moving the fabric gradually along the rows of stitching.


8) Continue carefully moving the fabric along until the gathered fabric has reached the required measurement as explained in the project instructions.


9) When the fabric has been gathered to the right length, pull the two needle threads through from the other side of the fabric (that you haven’t been pulling on) as described in step 6 and knot all four threads securely.



Don’t rush the gathering stage; keep moving the fabric along gradually. If you pull too hard and snap the threads you will have to start again and if you don’t keep moving the fabric along gradually it can all get bunched up and stuck in one place.

For more sewing techniques and sustainable sewing projects buy Wendy’s book How to Sew Sustainably. Also don’t forgot to take a look at the no pattern t-shirt and dress project Wendy wrote for us. 

How to Sew Sustainably by Wendy Ward, published by CICO Books (£12.99)

Photography by Julian Ward © CICO Books