Sewing Fine Gathers

Last summer, I started sewing a pretty wrap top, Butterick B5328, but got distracted by other things and never finished it.

I just unearthed the pieces and started working on it again. As is usual for me, I got hung up on the way my gathers were turning out. No matter how much I tried to distribute the fabric evenly and sew carefully, I always ended up with uneven gathers, which, in some places, looked more like pleats. Gathering fabric should be a piece of cake! But it’s not–at least not the way it’s traditionally done, i.e. sew two rows of basting stitches in the seam allowance and tug on a pair of threads until the fabric is bunched up the right amount.

Gathered Top
Gathered Top

In fact, the poor results I had been getting when gathering fabric prompted me to go out and buy a specialty sewing foot for that purpose. It works, but requires finesse. If you don’t use it often, you won’t develop the necessary finesse (unless you’re one of those perfect people I love to hate who does everything perfectly.) You may imagine how excited I was yesterday when I found a solution to my gathering woes, which involves no expensive gadgets and requires minimal finesse. All it requires is a few simple adjustments to your machine.

Look at the difference between my old technique using two rows of basting stitches (the right side of the blouse) and Susan Wigley’s technique using two rows of short stitches (14-16 stitches per inch or about 2.0mm; find a stitch length conversion chart here) and tension set to 0 (left side of the blouse):

The old method produces what looks like uneven pleats; the new method produces very fine and even gathers.

Step 1: Loosen the tension to 0-1 on the dial.

Step 2: Adjust your stitch length to 14-16 stitches per inch (small stitches produce small gathers).

Step 3: Sew 2 rows of stitching 1/4″ apart along the seam line at the top of the skirt, making certain that you back-tack at one end to securely anchor the stitches.

Step 4: To gather, pull on the Bobbin threads until the skirt fits the bodice. It should gather easily, if it doesn’t you’ll want to loosen the tension a little more next time, so it is loose. Tie the ends off securely.

Step 5: Adjust the gathers by hand to distribute them evenly around the skirt. Then to “fine tune” the gathers, drag a large needle or an awl across the stitches. I know it sounds strange, but try it. It works!

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My name is Amy Stanton and I am a blogger from Seattle, WA. If you enjoy beautiful photographs, personal essays, book reviews, travel logs, and brag posts about sewing and knitting projects, then we are going to hit it off. ♥

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