What Is A Gathering Stitch On A Sewing Machine

Sewing machines are among the most versatile and useful tools in the fashion world. It’s no wonder that the industry standard for sewing machines uses the gathering stitch as a way to assemble fabrics in a neat and tidy way. But what precisely is a gathering stitch?

In a nutshell, the gathering stitch is the basic to create gathers, fullness or pleats in a piece of fabric. It enables the fabric to be manipulated in one direction while having the threads deliberately bunched up in the other direction. The stitch creates a ‘wave’ pattern across the fabric and is usually created with a zigzag stitch setting on a sewing machine. The stitch is fed from the back of the fabric, so the stitch you see is looped on the top and bottom of the fabric. The seam allowance is usually about ⅜ inch.

Using the gathering stitch on fabrics allows them to be easily manipulated into desirable shapes. It can help designers to create traditional gathering , like frills and pleats, on sleeves, collars and hems. Pros recommend gathering fabric before sewing it to another fabric as it distributes it evenly and makes it easier to work with.

Not all fabrics are suitable for gathering though. Delicate materials, like silk or jersey, are difficult to gather because they tend to stretch or tear. For these materials, basic gathering methods, such as pleating, are preferred. On the contrary, heavier fabrics can easily be gathered and are quite forgiving with the gathering stitch.

In order to get the most out of the gathering stitch, a few tips can help ensure success. For instance, it’s important to ensure that the machine is properly threaded and the bobbin will rotate in the correct direction. Most machines have an arrow indicating the direction of the spinning wheel to properly thread it. The needle and thread tension should also be adjusted, depending on the fabric weight and thickness.

Avoiding fabric slipping is important too. To make sure it won’t happen, use a walking foot and make sure to stabilize the fabric at the beginning of the stitch. Stabilizing involves either using some twill tape, fusible web, or spray adhesive at the starting point. Other tips include using matching thread to avoid snags as well as to avoid stretching or bunching the fabric.

Gathering Fabric with Ribbon

Ribbon can be used to provide a unique technique to create a softly draped effect on gathers with lighter fabrics like chiffon and taffeta. Ribbon, ruffling foot or ruffler, and twill tape are key elements in making these types of gathers. The twill tape aids in the pleating process, while the ribbon and ruffling foot help give the gather a beautiful draped effect on the fabric.

When using ribbon for a beautiful drape effect, remember to look for ribbons that are extra wide. This helps reduce the amount of bulk while adding a smoother look. Start by stitching the ribbon to the top of the fabric. Then, using the ruffling foot, create a pattern stitch. This will help in securely stitching the ribbon to the fabric. Finally, give the fabric a slight press to set the stitch.

Ribbon gathering is a great way to add a creative touch to hems, necklines, and sleeves. It is more complicated than other gathering methods, but it allows for a softer look, which is perfect for light fabrics.

Gathering Fabric with Elastic

Elastic is a great substitute for gathering a fabric as it holds its shape and maintains the gathers for a longer duration. It’s best for lightweight fabrics like chiffon, georgette, organza, voile, and sheer cotton, but it can also be used with other materials. To gather a fabric using elastic, first mark the back of the fabric with chalk. Then, use a zigzag stitch to stitch the elastic at the chalk mark. Pull the elastic to make it fit the mark, and continue to stitch until the fabric is completely gathered. Finally, secure the elastic with a straight stitch at the beginning and end of the elastic.

Elastic gathering is perfect for hems, necklines, and sleeves, as long as they’re not too long. It is easy to finish the seams and gives a beautiful look to the garment. It is also flexible and allows for the fabric to move freely.

However, since elastic isn’t as strong as other gathering methods, it’s important to pay attention to the quality of the elastic used. Make sure to choose a strong and durable elastic for a higher quality finish.

Gathering Fabric with Beading

When gathering fabric with beading, you need to gather the garment a few more times than you would with a standard gathering stitch. This is because the beading needs to fit through the center portion of the zigzag stitch. To do this, you need to make sure your needle is straight and your thread tension is consistently pulled.

Before adding the beads, leave a long tail of thread and change the machine back to a straight stitch. Run a few rows of the stitch until the fabric is firmly gathered and then tie a knot in the thread. Then, attach the beads and keep stitching until you finish the entire gathering stitch.

To ensure a neat finish, some sewers choose to continue their stitches until they can reinforce the end with a bar tack. Sewers should also use a beading foot to avoid the beads slipping through the fabric. This helps guide the beading into place and adds extra stability.

Gathering with beading is a great way to add detail to any piece of clothing. It can add sparkle, provide a unique interest and give a delicate touch to hems, necklines, and sleeves.

Gathering Fabric with Bias Tape

Gathering fabric with bias tape is another great way to add fullness and a decorative edge to hems. The bias tape provides a neat finish to the garment as well as a secure gathering stitch. It also provides a bit of protection against wear and tear.

To gather fabric with bias tape, first measure the length of fabric you’ll need to finish the garment. Then, cut a strip of bias tape that is slightly longer than the desired length. Pin the tape along the edge of the fabric, paying attention to make sure the edges are lined up. Sew a gathering stitch along the edge of the tape and pull the thread to gather the fabric.

Finally, fold the excess bias tape over the seam, tucking in the raw edges, and sew again along the bias tape to complete the gathering stitch. This method gives an even finish and hides the raw edges of the fabric. It also gives a clean look and can be used on any type of fabric, including delicate ones.

Gathering Fabric without An Iron

Gathering fabric without relying on the use of an iron is a great way to make sure your piece of clothing stays in the right shape and doesn’t get wrinkled. Instead of relying on the use of steam and heat, you can use a simple gathering stitch to make sure the fabric stays in the right shape.

To do this, you’ll need to start by sewing a gathering stitch. To ensure an even distribution, you can attach a row of staystitching along the edge of the fabric. As with other gathering methods, pull the thread to gather the fabric in order to make it the desired length.

Depending on the fabric, you may also have to mark the fabric with pins to make sure the fabric is kept in the right shape as you sew. This can be especially helpful when working with delicate fabrics like silk or jersey.

Finally, secure the gathering stitch with a bar tack to ensure a neat and secure finish. This simple method of gathering fabric without an iron provides a neat and wrinkle-free effect to any piece of clothing.


As a summary, gathering stitches can help add fullness and shape to a piece of clothing, allowing designers to create unique and interesting garments. Each gathering technique mentioned above has its own benefits, ensuring an immaculate finish in any fabric. Plus, with the help of these easy tips, you will be able to use the gathering stitch with confidence and create impeccable garments.

Geoffrey Kirby is an experienced author and sewist who has been creating sewn projects for over 20 years. He has a passion for teaching beginners and inspiring more advanced sewists both online and through his writings. Outside of writing about sewing, Geoffrey loves to explore new techniques and styles of sewing that incorporate upcycling fabric remnants into sweet items with personality.

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