How to Gather Like a Pro

In this article, you will learn what gathering is; the most common gathering ratios; how to gather step-by-step with as little fuss as possible; and how to properly press sewn gathering. Are you ready to get your flirty on?!

Gathering is simply gathering a wider piece of fabric so that it can match a narrower piece perfectly.

Frankly, it is simple in theory, BUT just a smidgen tedious and finicky in practice.


Depending on the usage and the fabric drape, it is undeniably pretty and flirty!

So dip into your jar of patience and give it a whirl. And like with anything else, if you do it enough, it eventually becomes as easy as luxuriously inhaling a bar of Ghirardelli Intense Dark Cherry Tango Chocolate Bar in one go! Yum!


Let me put down my chocolate bar and let’s begin with…

The Rules

Rule #1: Get ready to take your time.

Rule #2: Use a long stitch length like 4 or 5mm; this is the basting stitch.

Rule #3: Do NOT backstitch at the start or end of your stitching lines! Because if you do, you will not be able to gather your fabric.

Rule #4: Remember to snip LONG bobbin and needle threads at both the start and end of your stitching lines. You’ll see why soon.

Rule #5: Stitch the gathered piece to the ungathered piece with the gathered piece on top. This way, you can control the gathering, so you end up with a pretty finish!

Alright, now that you know the rules, let’s learn about…

Gathering Ratios

The ratio of the wider (gathered) section to the narrower (ungathered) section can be:

  • 1.5-to-1 (best choice for fabrics that have more body than drape)
  • 2-to-1
  • 2.5-to-1
  • 3-to-1 (extreme fullness: fabrics with body will stand away from the body and soft sheers will drape like a dream)

For example, if the straight section is 10 inches long and you want to use a ratio of 1.5-to-1, then the section to be gathered needs to be 15 inches long.

How to Gather

So now that you’ve got the 411 on ratios, let’s learn…

How to Gather

Just so you know: The gathering technique described here is best suited for light- or medium-weight fabrics.


Step 1: Mark center points.

Mark the center point on both the section to be gathered and the narrower section by snipping with embroidery scissors or water-soluble marking pen. This will make it easier on you to evenly gather the wider section later.

How to Gather

Step 2: Sew two lines of basting stitching.

Change your bobbin thread to a different colour than you are using for your needle thread.

Next, change your stitch length to 4 or 5mm.

Then, from the right side (RS) of the fabric, stitch two parallel lines of basting stitches: one at ⅜ and one at ⅝ inch from the raw edge, leaving long bobbin and needle thread tails of at least 7 inches long. You will need these long thread tails later!

How to Gather

Start your two lines of basting stitches ⅝ inch in from the raw edge at one end and end ⅝ inch in from the raw edge at the opposite end. In this example, ⅝ inch represents the seam allowance (SA) at the side seams (SS).

No backstitching!

Step 3: Orient the wider and the narrower sections to each other.

Place the section to be gathered next to the narrower section. I like to place a pin at each end and at the center points for visual help.

How to Gather

Then, secure one end on the wider section like this using a figure 8 motion…

How to Gather

Step 4: Gather your wider section to fit the narrower section.

Now, dip into your jar of patience I mentioned before and start at the unsecured end.

GENTLY, pull both bobbin threads at one end carefully to gather the fabric between that end and the center point until the longer section is gathered to fit.

How to Gather

Pull gently on the bobbin threads, so they don’t break!

When you’ve completed one side, secure the end by wrapping the bobbin threads around a straight pin, using a figure 8 motion.

Now, repeat the above instructions on the other half.

Gathering in halves will result in more even gathers and less frustration than trying to do an entire length in one go.

Then, adjust the gathers until they are evenly spaced on both sides.

How to Gather

Step 5: Stitch the two sections together.

Once you like how it looks, you are ready to commit.

Set the stitch length back to regular for the fabric you’re sewing! 

And with the gathered section on top, slowly stitch the two sections together using a ⅝ inch SA.

As you stitch, make sure there is no puckering to the narrower section underneath and adjust the gathers on top as needed.

If you have the dexterity (I don’t!), you can tug gently on the hem as you stitch to help with the distribution of your gathers.

How to Gather

Step 6: Remove basting stitches.

Once you’re done, remove both rows of basting stitches simply by clipping the threads on one side, and then pulling the threads loose on the other side. Click HERE to learn how!

Step 7: Finish the SAs.

Finish the SAs for maximum prettiness — see what I mean in the image below!

How to Gather

Step 8: Press.

Finally, press the SAs up on the wrong side (WS) and along the seam from the right side (RS) without squishing your gathering!

How to Gather

Hey, you! Yes, you did!

The End

Gathering is a basic sewing skill that is worthwhile to become the mistress of.

It does require you to slow down and take your time if you are to end up with a pretty ruffle or frill, as they call it across the pond.

And as pretty and flirty as frills are, it is so worth it! So go ahead and conquer this skill, so you can get your flirt on!

And remember…

Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!

Click HERE to learn about the basting stitch!

RELATED: Click HERE if you’re ready to unleash your dressmaking superpowers and learn how to sew a simple dress! Warning: This is a MEGA 5-part series!