Gather by hand, or use a straight machine stitch, or a machine gathering foot.
Also a link to guidance on shirring with elastic bobbin thread.
And to a post on distributing gathers evenly when you attach them to a shorter edge.

Hand gathering

(image source)

The hand gathering stitch is like running stitch, with both parts of the stitch the same length.
The shorter the hand stitches, the finer the gathering.
Usually sewn through 1 or 2 layers of fabric, the gathers get too bulky with more.
Leave long threads at beginning and end of stitching, so it’s easy to pull up the gathers.

Machine gathering

Use a longer straight stitch.
Loosen the upper thread tension a little, so it’s easy to pull up the lower thread to make the gathers.
Leave long thread ends. And don’t backstitch at ends of stitching, so it’s easy to pull up the threads.

For a longer length of gathers, such as a skirt ruffle, many people prefer to use polyester thread, as it’s less likely to break when you’re pulling up the gathers. Also it’s easier if you gather in sections.

As often happens with sewing technique, it’s easier and gives a better result if you take a little more trouble.
Sew two gathering lines, about 1/4″ apart, about 1/8″ either side of the final stitching line.
After final stitching, remove the gathering line that shows.

Here’s a video from Londa Rohlfling.

A second method is not so neat, but some people find it easier.
For this method you need a length of thick thread, a bit longer than the fabric you’re gathering.
Crochet cotton, perle embroidery thread, topstitching thread are possibilities.
Sew a zigzag stitch over the thick thread, taking care not to stitch into the thread.
Then pull up the thick thread to make the gathers.

Machine gathering foot

Your machine may have a gathering foot.
Use in 2 ways.
1. to gather one fabric.
2. to gather one fabric and sew it onto another un-gathered fabric.

Here’s two videos of the foot in action, showing both methods.


Sewing Parts Online
Ignore the first part of this if your machine has snap-on feet.

Notes :

1. Gather edge of fabric.
Feed the edge to be gathered under the foot.
Try some samples varying the stitch length and tension to change the amount of gathering.
Want it more gathered ?
– use a longer stitch length (the feed dogs pull up more fabric before the machine takes the next stitch).
– use higher tension for the upper thread (less thread is pulled through the needle as the machine makes a stitch).

2. Gather the edge of one fabric and sew it onto the ungathered edge of a second fabric, all in one step.
Feed the fabric to be gathered under the foot, and the fabric it’s being gathered onto in the slot above.
(If you’re used to sewing gathers the conventional way, notice this is the opposite. When you sew gathers with a standard foot, you place the gathers down on the ungathered fabric, and sew from the gathers side. When using a gathering foot, the gathers are underneath, out of sight.)

Using a gathering foot to sew 2 fabrics together needs a bit of practice with holding everything in position.
The second video shows what happens if you don’t take care with this.
The two layers of fabric are separated by a metal flange in the foot. The fabric layers slide around relative to each other if you don’t sew slowly and control the fabric – control sideways but not lengthways.

Shirring with elastic bobbin thread

The second video also shows the gathering foot used for shirring with elastic thread in the bobbin.
It isn’t necessary to use the gathering foot for this technique.

Here are some tips and comments about using elastic thread.

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Attaching a gathered edge to a shorter edge, with the gathers evenly distributed
Using a gathering foot to combine gathered and ungathered fabrics, it’s difficult to control how much the fabric is gathered.
To stitch a specific length of gathered fabric to a specific straight edge, see this post on Halving and quartering.

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Links available January 2022

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