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, gathering by hand has some advantages over the machined method.
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.
How to Gather by Hand
Step one: Thread 2 needles to use together to create two rows of parallel stitching. Use double thread and tie a knot at the end. (Read: how to thread a needle and tie a knot)
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 two: Choose your fabric.
Most fabrics lend themselves to gathers, but the bulkier the fabric, the less attractive it will be gathered. If you need ultimate accuracy, then a row of dots to guide your needle and stitch length will be helpful but not essential.
Step three: Stitch 2 rows of running stitch.
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.
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 stitch one row and then the second underneath. (This is what I did)
Step four: Pull the threads.
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 five: 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 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 1/8″ (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.
Here’s another advantage of 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 the help of a machine. It should be a pleasant experience and not reduce you to shedding a tear!