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How to: Machine gather

A fun, and super useful technique that is well worth mastering.

First things first. Why gather?

Gathers essentially create fullness by taking a longer piece of fabric and making it shorter (think curtains pulled open on a curtain rod). This technique has a number of applications, from adding flare or shape to skirts and tops, creating ruffles, managing ease at a sleeve head, or for attaching a bodice to a skirt or peplum.

Gathering is not a technique to be scared of. I actually find the process weirdly therapeutic. While there are a few different ways to create gathers (by hand, with elastic, or using a machine), for the purpose of this post, and because it’s my preferred method, I will be focusing on machine gathering.

Below I offer a step by step guide on how to create gathers using a sewing machine, complete with some useful tips and tricks that I have learnt over the years. I hope you find it useful!



  • Set your sewing machine to the longest straight stitch setting. This is often referred to as a basting stitch. I tend to set my machine at around 4mm.

  • Mark the centre and quarter points of both the piece you are gathering and the piece you are attaching it to. This can be done by creating small notches, or creating a small mark using a washable marker. This will help ensure the gathers are evenly spread.

  • Sew one row of stitching within the seam allowance, and a second outside the seam allowance.

    • I recommend doing a test with your fabric beforehand as this may help ascertain whether two or three rows of basting stitch will produce a neater, more even, finish. While I find two rows to be sufficient for the fabrics I tend to work with, you may find three produces a better finish, so always better to test first. When working with three rows of stitching, simply sew two rows of basting stitch within the seam allowance and one outside.

  • Be sure to leave long tails of threads at both ends of the stitching. There is nothing worse than finding you have nothing to pull, or it coming undone.

  • Gently pull both bobbin thread tails to create the gathers, sliding the fabric along, and spreading the gathers evenly. Gather until the gathered width matches the width of the fabric piece that you are sewing to.

    • In order to avoid your threads from snapping;

      • Use good quality thread. It might seem wasteful as you are simply going to pull it out, but don’t skimp on your thread. Doing it once, is less wasteful than having to do it twice anyway.

      • Segregate your gathering into smaller sections. Therefore, if a thread does snap, the area to un-pick and re-stitch is much smaller.

  • Pin pieces together matching the notches, and slide the fabric along to distribute the gathers evenly.

  • Stitch the pieces together sewing in between the rows of basting stitch. I recommend sewing gathered side up so you can see what you are doing and to avoid catching any fabric underneath.

  • Once you are happy, remove the rows of basting stitch carefully by continuing to gently pull the bobbin thread or using a quick-unpick.

Please get in touch or leave me a comment, I would love to know if you found this tutorial useful, or if you have any tips to share on creating the perfect gather.

Thanks for reading!

Emma xx

This is a personal blog. Any views or opinions contained on this site are my own. I am not affiliated with any brands, products, or organisations mentioned, and do not receive any sponsorship, payment, or other compensation for any of the content on this site.

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