Using a gathering foot is an easy and time-saving way to gather your fabric automatically. They are readily available for most makes of sewing machines and are fairly inexpensive either individually or as part of a kit.
What is a Gathering Foot?
A gathering foot looks similar to your regular all-purpose presser foot but gathers as you sew due to the shape of the foot. It works best with finer fabrics and is not recommended for thick or difficult fabrics. A gathering foot will produce even, fine and soft gathers rather than deep gathers or pleats.
A gathering foot only works on lightweight fabrics. Medium weight fabrics and heavyweight fabrics will barely gather.
This is my Janome gathering foot which I purchased on eBay. I have tried generic brands too that I purchased in a kit and they seem to work just as well.
Gathering Foot vs Ruffler
A gathering foot is different from a Ruffler which is a larger, more complicated device and produces a more dramatic gather. The gathered fabric produced by a ruffler are actually tiny little pleats rather than gentle gathers.
You will, of course, notice the dramatic size difference between the two. A gathering foot is much smaller and lighter, and faster to set up and use.
Further Reading: How to Use a Ruffler Foot
More Articles On Gathering
- How to Gather by Machine
- How to Gather by Hand
- Shirring (sewing with elastic thread)
- Gathering with a Serger
- How to sew Ruching
- Gathering with Cord
- Gathering with Elastic
- How to Gather Ttulle
- Gathering Fabric
- How to Sew a Flounce
How to Use a Gathering Foot Instructions
On most sewing machine models, the back of the foot will just clip on to the shank. Some may have a screw to tighten.
Step 1 - Stitch with the Gathering Foot
Stitch a single layer of fabric. On the RIGHT side of the fabric, straight stitch within the seam allowance. Unlike traditional methods of gathering, you only need to stitch one line, and you don't need to pull the threads after you are finished.
Step 2 - Adjusting the Gathers
The longer the stitch length and the tighter the upper tension, the fuller the gathers.
The gathers will also be affected by the thickness of your fabric. You will see the best results in fine fabrics. Heavy fabrics are very hard to gather with this foot and would be better suited to gathering with a ruffler foot.
Step 3 - Test a Scrap
Before you start sewing, make sure you hold the thread tails to prevent them from getting caught up underneath. You will need to test your fabric to see how much it gathers and adjust the stitch length or tension to get it correct.
SUGGESTED SETTINGS - Start by putting your thread tension dial on 7.0 and stitch length on 4.0 and then adjust to your preference.
See how the longer stitch length on the right produced deeper gathers. Increasing sewing machine tension will also gather more tightly.
Tips for Using a Gathering Foot
The one thing about using a gathering foot or ruffler that is different from a traditional gathering is that it is harder to control the finished length of the fabric.
There are 2 ways you can deal with this.
- The easy way - Cut the ruffle a bit longer than needed and then trim any excess at the end. This way you don’t have to stress out over getting the gathering stitch length and tension perfect.
- The precise way – Cut a test strip of 10 inches then gather it with your foot. Measure the new length. If it is 5 inches you have a 2:1 gather. Keep adjusting the stitch length and tension until you have the correct ratio.
Joining Flat Fabric with a Gathering Foot
Your gathering foot can gather a single piece of fabric, or it can join a flat piece underneath all in one go. This definitely saves a lot of time! You will still need to experiment to get the gathers the correct ratio.
Start sewing with the flat, non-gathered fabric right side up and your fabric to be gathered the wrong side up. In other words, the garment and ruffle are right sides together.
Remember - Tighter gathers come from long stitch length and high tension.
Look how great it looks when finished! Now, normally you would sew the hem first when joining narrow ruffles.
Alternatives to a Gathering foot
The best alternative to a gathering foot is a ruffler foot or traditional gathering, but there are a couple of other methods that you can use.
- GATHERING WITH A SERGER - Did you know that you can gather with a serger? Like the gathering foot, it is best suited to fine to medium-weight fabrics. You can gather with a serger without any special foot or attachments. You just need to change the stitch length and differential feed setting.
- GATHERING WITH CORD - This is a relatively easy method of gathering that is done by zig-zagging over a thin cord or string. You do need to be careful not to catch in the string. Once you are done stitching, just pull the string through the zig-zag stitches. It is perfect for thick or difficult fabrics like tulle.
- GATHERING BY HAND - While it sounds a little laborious, gathering by hand is fairly quick as you just use an up-and-down running stitch. The smaller the stitch, the smaller the gathers.
Gathering Foot - In Conclusion
Now you know how to use a gathering foot, it is time to get sewing. This simple foot will save you so much time gathering so you can get more done in your precious sewing time.