Gathering by hand is an age-old custom and a traditional sewing technique. It is a means to draw things together and although machines can do the work, there is still a place for hand-gathered stitching. In addition, learning how to gather fabric by hand has some advantages over the machined method.
Gathering by Hand Tutorial
Why Gather Fabric by Hand?
Gathering by hand is more time-consuming, but it does give you more control over the area to be gathered and the size of the gathers. Hand gathering is ideal for small areas or small articles of clothing. It is also useful for extremely heavy fabrics such as burlap or canvas that are hard to run through a domestic machine.
Supplies for Gathering by Hand
- Fabric - Light to medium weight works best.
- 2 Hand Sewing Needles - While you can use just one needle, it is faster if you have 2.
- Strong Thread
Gathering by Hand Step by Step Instructions
Step 1 - Thread the Needle
Thread 2 needles to use together to create two rows of parallel stitching. Use double thread and tie a knot at the end. The length of the thread needs to be longer than the required gathered length so there is room to pull up the thread and adjust the gathers.
Step 2 - Choose your Fabric
Most fabrics lend themselves to gathers, but the bulkier the fabric, the less attractive it will be gathered. This gathering technique works best on light to medium weight fabric.
The fabric should be cut to length, and if it will be hemmed, this should be sewn first before gathering.
Step 3 - Stitches for Hand Gathering
Stitch 2 rows of running stitch. A running stitch is a very basic up and down stitch.
- SPACING - Basic even gathers can be achieved by starting ¼” (6mm) from the edge and maintain a ¼” (6mm) space between the stitches as you sew along the gathering line. If you need ultimate accuracy, then a row of dots to guide your needle and stitch length will be helpful but not essential.
- MOTION - A stab motion with the needle collecting several tucks of fabric at a time is a quick way to gather up the area and get to the end of the row swiftly. Practice makes perfect!
If you are very coordinated, it is possible to thread two needles and gather using them at the same time. This could take some practice, and the easier option is to stitch one row and then the second underneath. (This is what I did)
Step 4 - Pull the Threads
Pull the threads gently, being careful not to cause any breakage.
When you have pulled up the gathers and are happy with the effect, gently stroke the tucks to suit your needs and end off with a double back stitch to secure the gathers.
Step 5 - Finish the Garment
Finish and attach it to your garment.
If you are certain you gathered to the correct length, machine stitch the gathers to hold them securely in place. Otherwise, fit the gathered fabric to the area needed and pull tighter or loosen it according to your requirements.
When you are happy, insert your gathered piece into the main garment. Stitch by machine between the two gathered lines. Finally, remove the bottom gathering line that shows.
Variations of Gathering by Hand
You can achieve finer gathers by using smaller stitches. See the difference in the gathers using a ⅛" (3mm) stitch length. Of course, this was a little harder to achieve and took a bit longer, but for fine fabrics, this will give a nice effect.
Gathering by Hand - In Conclusion
Here's the best thing about gathering by hand - If you are not happy with the result, then hand stitch gathers pull out very easily, and you can start again. This is very handy for those little gathered, puffy sleeves and tricky curves!
Try your hand at gathering without a sewing machine. It should be a pleasant experience and not reduce you to shedding a tear!
Gathering by Hand
- Fabric to be gathered
- Thread 2 needles with strong thread. The length of thread should be longer than your fabric. Knot the ends.
- Stitch 2 rows of running stitch (basic up and down stitch). The smaller the spaces between your stitches, the finer the gathers produced. Try ¼" (6mm) spacing.
- Pull the threads gently and distribute the gathers evenly.
- The look of the gathering can be changed by varying the stitch length. Attach your gathered piece to your garment by stitching between the gathered lines. After you have finished, remove the line of hand gathering that is below the seam allowance. It should pull out easily.