The term “gathering” fabric means to shorten the length of a strip of fabric in order for the longer piece to be attached to a shorter piece. Used mostly in clothing to manage fullness, some examples include attaching a full sleeve to the cuff of a shirt.
In fact, if you think about any item of clothing that has a bit of “fullness” or puffiness to it, the sewist used the fabric-gathering technique to achieve that look. And if you’re wondering how to gather fabric without a sewing machine, just know that the process is easier than you think.
Can You Gather Fabric by Hand?
Believe it or not, you don’t need a sewing machine in order to gather fabric; in fact, you can’t become a seamstress without learning this because gathered fabric is part of pillows, ruffles, necklines, and much more. Sewing gathers by hand offers many advantages over using a sewing machine so let’s learn some of the basics first.
How to Gather Fabric Without a Sewing Machine
If you are without a sewing machine or merely want to learn to gather fabric by hand, following are the steps that you need to take:
1. Use Two Needles
To start with, thread two sewing needles and plan to use both of them at the same time. Use double thread and make sure that you tie a knot at the end of each needle. You will be using these two needles together in order to create two rows of parallel stitches. Remember that when you’re pulling the thread off of the spool, it will have to be much longer than the required gathered length because you’ll want to have plenty of room to pull up the thread to adjust the gathers. In other words, make sure that you have plenty of thread on your needles!
2. Choose the Fabric You Wish to Use
Choosing your fabric is an important step of this process but the good news is that most fabrics do well with gathers. That being said, if a fabric is on the bulky side, the gathers may not look as good as they do in lighter fabrics. Gathers are also sometimes harder to accomplish when you use thicker, bulkier fabrics and part of this is because it’s more difficult to make the gathers accurate. You can make it easier if you make a row of dots using chalk fabric market to guide your needle and your stitch length. This will make the gathers both more accurate and a lot easier to accomplish in the end.
3. Stitch Two Rows of a Running Stitch
If you want basic even-looking gathers, start a quarter-inch (6mm) from the edge of the fabric, then maintain quarter-inch spaces between each of the stitches, making sure that you sew along the gathering line. You can also execute a stab motion with the needle that allows you to collect several tucks of fabric at a time. This makes gathering up the area and getting to the end of your row a lot quicker. If you are super coordinated, you can consider threading two needles and use them at the same time in order to get your gathers.
Using two needles at a time takes practice so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. If you’re not interested in doing it this way, don’t worry. Stitching one row and then the second one underneath will work just as well. Just keep in mind that practice makes perfect so if you don’t get this just right the first time, it will happen eventually.
Video: How to Sew a Running Stitch
4. Pull Your Threads
Once you have pulled up the gathers in your fabric and you’ve inspected it to make sure that it is right, stroke the tucks gently until they look just the way that you want them to look. Once you’re positive that the gathers suit your needs for your project, simply execute a double back-stitch so that the gathers will be secured. That means that this part of your project is complete so the next step is attaching the piece to the rest of the garment.
5. Finish the Project by Attaching the Piece to Your Garment
At this point, you’ll want to make sure that you gathered to the right length. If you did, go ahead and machine-stitch the gathers so they can be held in place. If the fabric isn’t just as you want it, you can fit it to the area needed and then either pull tighter or loosen up the gathers, depending on your own requirements. When you are finally happy with the look and fit, go ahead and insert the piece into your main garment. Next, you’ll want to machine-stitch between the two gather lines. This is an important step.
When you’re done with all of this, remove the gathering line at the bottom, which is the line that is showing. You should have a nice, clean attachment at this point.
Video: Gathering Using One Needle
The Advantages of Hand-Sewing Your Gathers
Believe it or not, there are advantages to sewing gathers by hand over using a sewing machine. The main one is that if you finish up and you’re not happy with the results, hand-stitched gathers are much easier to pull out so that you can start all over again. Regardless of what you’re making or attaching it to, this is a huge advantage over machine stitches, which are often too tight in the end to pull out and start over again.
When you gather by hand, you are also better able to determine the size of the folds just by adapting the width of your stitches. When you attempt to gather by using your sewing machine, you simply cannot achieve this. In addition, although lighter fabrics can be gathered much more quickly using a sewing machine, gathering bulkier fabrics is usually much quicker when you sew by hand. It may seem as if the opposite is true; however, with heavier fabrics, sewing gathers with a machine sometimes makes the thread snap as you work.
It is also good to note that in the beginning, gathering was always done by hand even by people who owned a good sewing machine. While hand-gathering is more time-consuming than using a machine, it tends to give you more control over the project, particularly when it comes to the area to be gathered and even the size of those gathers.
In addition, if you’re working with small areas or small articles of clothing, hand-gathering is much more convenient and can even be a little easier. If you’re not convinced of this, go ahead and try to gather your fabric using both hand-sewing and sewing with your machine. You’ll soon realize that in certain instances, sewing by hand is just easier for you, not to mention faster.
Other Options to Gather Fabric
1. Fusible Gathering Tape
Another option to gather fabric other than hand sewing or machine sewing, is using fusible gathering tape.
2. Gathering Presser Foot
If you decide to use your sewing machine to gather your fabric, using a gathering pressure foot can make the job easier.
Learning how to gather fabric without a sewing machine is a must because it is often the most efficient way to do it, particularly if you’re using small pieces of fabric or fabric that is very thick or bulky. You definitely have a better sense of control over the entire project and if you have to start all over at the end because you aren’t happy with the results, it is much simpler to do. In many cases, it is also faster to complete the project if you sew it by hand.
Whatever the reason, gathering by hand is a smart thing to know how to do because you can utilize this method if something is wrong with your sewing machine or if you simply want to get a bigger sense of accomplishment once the project is complete.