Learn How to Gather Fabric Like a Boss

When I first discovered how to gather fabric, a whole world of sewing opportunities opened up to me. I quickly became obsessed with gathering skirts and making ruffles! Although gathering fabric is very simple there are a few things you need to know.

What is Gathering?

Gathering fabric is like a family reunion, family gathering close together, except with fabric! Gathering creates ruffles or bunches of fabric together. I mean it wouldn’t be a family reunion if someone’s tail feathers didn’t get ruffled, right?

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how to gather fabric

How to Gather Fabric

Adjust your machine’s stitch length to a long basting stitch. We cover everything you’ll ever want to know about basting stitches here. It’s a good idea to hem your ruffle before gathering as it will be difficult to do so afterward. 

how to gather fabric

Start by baste stitching 1/8″-1/4” away from the raw edge along the entire length of your fabric. Remember to never back stitch when basting. You are also going to want to leave your thread ends fairly long so that your stitches don’t slip out. 

how to gather fabric

Make two or three rows of parallel baste stitches each about 1/4” from the last. Then simply separate your top threads from your bottom ones. While holding your top threads together gently tug and slide your fabric down so that it bunches together. 

Keep adjusting your gathers along your stitches until the entire length of fabric is evenly gathered. 

How Many Rows of Basting Do I Use?

Here’s a guide to what your gathers will look like depending on how many rows of stitches you use. 

how to gather fabric

Using a single line of basting is fastest. So if you’re on a time crunch one row will get the job done. Two or three rows are preferred to achieve beautiful flawless ruffles. 

How Much Fabric Do I Need for Ruffles?

Usually, your pattern will tell you how long you need to cut your fabric when making a ruffle. Though if you’re not using a pattern then this is a guide to how long you might want to cut your ruffle to achieve your desired amount of gathering. 

how to gather fabric

Let’s say that I want to attach my ruffle to a 10” piece of fabric. I will cut my ruffle either one and a half times, two times, or two and a half times the length of my main fabric. Use this guide to determine how much gathering you prefer.


Editor’s Note: Enjoying this fundamental sewing technique? Check out what basting stitching are and how they can help!


Gather Bulky Fabrics – Zig Zag Method

Gathering fabric is easy when using a lighter weight fabric like a quilting cotton. But what if you’re wanting to gather a thicker fabric? Well if you use the technique above your fabric will not easily bunch together and your stitches will likely break. Here’s another technique you can use instead.

how to gather fabric

Stitch down a thick string to one end of your fabric. Then select a zig-zag stitch that is wide enough to cross over your string. Simply stitch over the string making sure not to catch it with your needle. Then you will pull on your string sliding your fabric down to gather it.

how to gather fabric

Attaching Gathers to Your Main Fabric

First, make sure to adjust your stitch length back to a regular straight stitch. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten to do this until I had stitched the entire length only to have to rip it out and start all over! If attaching your ruffle to a flat piece of fabric, simply pin your ruffle at both ends and adjust your gathering to fit. 

how to gather fabric

If you’re attaching your gathered fabric in the round like in a skirt, I like to first sew up my side seams and then run my basting stitches the entire way around the top. I then pin my skirt and bodice side seams together and adjust my gathers while pinning. 

Helpful Tips!

  1. I like to keep my gathered fabric facing up while sewing it to my main fabric. I find that my ruffles want to dip in between my pins so this way I can ensure that I’m stitching right where I want to and that no extra fabric is getting bunched up and caught under my stitching. 
  2. Another helpful tip is to knot your threads once you have your gathers where you want them. Gathers tend to slide out at the ends so knotting your threads will ensure that you will have nice gathers up to the very edge.

Well now that you’re an expert gatherer, go ruffle some tail feathers with your next sewing project! Check out our favorite women’s sewing patterns that use gathering:

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8 thoughts on “Learn How to Gather Fabric Like a Boss”

  1. Thank you for this very informative.article. I want to add a ruffle to the bottom of my great granddaughter’s nightgown and I didn’t know how long to cut the ruffle fabric. This helps a lot, especially the idea of zigzagging over string to create the ruffle. Brilliant! Thank you!

  2. MonaMarieRosemary

    This is helpful information.

    A couple tips I have are: make sure your bobbin is full when you start the basting stitches that will become the gathering stitches! If the bobbin thread runs out while you are basting, you’ll have to start all over. Gathering is a delicate process that cannot be rushed, or I break the threads. Pull a little, scootch the fabric a little. Pull a little scootch a little. Eventually all the fibers loosen up and the whole gathering process eases a bit. Even though it takes more time to run two rows of gathering stitches, the improved results I get are worth it, plus if one thread breaks you still have a back-up. Above and below the gathers just hold their place better with two rows of gathering stitches.

    I like to use a slightly different (or a lot different) colored thread in the bobbin/gathering pull thread, so it is easier for me to see the pulling threads from the not-pulling threads.

    In addition to marking the side seams of the flat fabric and the gathered fabric, I like to mark quarter sections as well, so that if gathers don’t match up, I can tell which sections need more gathers and which sections could do with less.

    As a young sewist it made sense to me to keep the ruffled piece on top where I could see as I sewed, but as I gained experience and paid attention to instructions in the patterns, they were always wanting me to put the gathered piece on the bottom, closest to the feed dogs. Apparently the feed dogs, by definition, help with scootching and easing gathers or unevenly matched pieces. After I tried it a couple times, I was pleased with the process. I do still accidentally catch some of the fabric in with the sewing and then I have to rip out a few stitches and re-do an inch, but the overall process as well as the end result is better. And, with more appropriate pinning and smoothing before I start, the accidental catches are reduced. Sometimes a light steam also helps set the fabric before sewing.

    I do love a feminine, gathered, flouncy twirly skirt, for any age girl or woman! Thank you for this!

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