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Sewing Tip: Making and Attaching Gathered/Ruffled Fabric


Do you want to know what some of my favorite emails are to get?  The ones from some of you that tell me that you haven’t sewn since Home Ec in 7th grade but decided to start up again.  And that much to your surprise, you’re actually making things that are mostly turning out.  I have a little mini party in my computer chair every time.  Ha.  Sewing really is a little hidden treasure.  For those of you who sew proficiently, take a few sewing skill steps back and realize that to a beginner, sewing seems REALLY hard.  Sewing a straight line, creating a zig-zag, or eeeek, or trying to sew around a curve……it all seems scary.  But once you get it, it’s kind of like riding a bike.  Right?  So to those of you who haven’t used a sewing machine since you were a kid (or ever), I love that you are trying new skills and attempting things you never thought you could.  And then realize that “hey, I can sew a blind hem, or make piping, or add a zipper.  What was I so worried about?”  (And here’s a whole section of Sewing Tips, in case you’re new around here.)


But just remember, it takes baby steps.  And lots of practice.


A sewing skill that I tend to do a lot, but don’t have a good tutorial for, is ruffles and gathering fabric.  Okay, I do have an old one here.  But I didn’t add enough info to that tutorial, so here’s TAKE 2.  Mostly because I get questions about little things pertaining to ruffles and gathering that I wish I would have added to that old tutorial.  So here’s to explaining it a little bit better:




And yeah, there’s a correct way and a shortcut way.  I rarely use the correct way.  But who really cares?  I love me a shortcut!!  (And just so we’re clear, my mom cringes when she sees me use the shortcut method.  And yes, she taught me correctly.  But I like to save myself some time.  And I really don’t notice much of a difference.)


I even have a few tricks that help me attach my gathered fabric to a tube like a skirt (shown on left) or to a flat piece of fabric (shown on right).  You  may already know and use these same tricks……..but maybe there are some who don’t.




Let’s get started, shall we?


Okay, first of all…….when gathering, you need to adjust your stitch length to the longest it will go.



Here’s my shortcut method first.  I do this about 98% of the time.  Maybe even 99% of the time.  (Even though it makes my mom cringe.  “Love you mom!”)


First, you will sew a nice straight seam along the edge of fabric that you want to gather, without backstitching at each end.  This is also known as a basting stitch. 


See how nice and big those stitches are?  (I used orange thread on top and white thread in my bobbin, so that you could see the different threads.)


Now, you’re going to start pulling either the top thread or the bottom thread and start sliding your fabric together, creating a gathered look.  You can pull the top thread from both sides or the bottom thread from both sides but just be sure that you don’t mix the two.  If you try to pull the top (the orange) thread on the left and then pull the bottom (the white) thread on the right side, it won’t gather correctly and will lock up.  And then you’ll get frustrated.  Ugggh.   So, just remember what thread you’re pulling on.  Now slide the fabric together, creating a nice gathered look.


And if you are gathering on the left side and your gathers are sliding right out on the right side (this happens a lot with slick fabric), you can always tie a knot on the right side so that you lock that side up and the gathers won’t slide off.  (or vice versa)




Now, for the correct gathering method.


You do everything the same, except instead of only one row of stitching, you add another row of stitching right next to the first.


See?  Just the same.  Just two rows of stitches.


Now, instead of only pulling one your one top thread (or your one bottom thread), you’ll grab the two top threads (or the two bottom threads).  And then gather it on up the same way.  Using the double seam gathers more evenly and makes your gathers look more uniform.  It even helps keep the gathers from sliding out a bit more.  (I know mom, I know. ;) )  But it’s not enough of a difference for me to ever care.  And I can usually adjust the ruffles enough as I’m sewing them to whatever other fabric I’m using, and even them up enough so that it doesn’t matter much.  But if you are more of a perfectionist, go on and sew a double seam.  Or if your gathers are frustrating you, try out the double seam to help you keep them stable and more uniform.  It may be just the method you need until you feel like taking the shortcut like I do.  (Just don’t tell my mom I converted you!)


Here you can see the two methods side by side.  See?  Not a huge difference, but you can see a bit of one.  The gathers on the right are smaller and a lot prettier.  (I’ll show you how I make up for that later.)


Now, if you have to attach this gathered fabric to something, here’s a little trick that I use every time.  Totally worth the effort in the long run. :)  Let’s say you have to add this gathered piece to a bed skirt, or the edge of a pillow, or a table runner, or I don’t know……..whatever you’re making.  Well, the piece of fabric above is the fabric I’m attaching mine to.  So I need to find the very center of this piece (I do so by folding it in half).  Then find the very center of the piece you are gathering.  (I un-gathered it to show you this technique.)  Place a pin to mark your centers.


Then gather up your fabric just a bit.


Then place your fabrics together with the edges together that need to be sewn together, and with right sides together.  Pin the two ends together (shown on left) and then pin your two centers together (shown on right).  Gathering in smaller sections like this will just keep your gathers even all the way across.  (This is a mini version and the size of it doesn’t really need this technique but this was just used to show you how to do it on something much bigger.)


Then, pull your threads on each end (remember to pull either the top or bottom thread) and tighten up the gathers so that the gathered piece of fabric is exactly as wide as the flat piece of fabric.


Add more pins to secure your gathers in place.


Now, time for sewing.  I always place the gathered side facing up so that I can keep an eye on it and adjust when necessary.  And then I start sewing either right on top of that old basting stitch or slightly to the left so that it will never show from the other side.  And I slide pins out as I go, being sure to not actually sew over them.  (Have you ever broken a needle this way?  Not fun.)  Oh, and like I explained before, this is where I make up for not making the double seam in the first step.  I keep an eye on the gathers and if I see a gather that’s too big or is going to make more of a pleat than a ruffle, I just use a pin to even it out and help guide it under the needle.


Here’s your seam from the back and then the front.  Pretty, huh?



Now, let’s say you have a large tube of fabric (like a skirt bottom) and need to attach it to another smaller tube (like a waistband of some sort).  Here’s how I tackle that:


I divide tubes of fabric into two sections of gathering: the front and the back.  I find the two very sides of the tube and place a pin at each side.  Then I place a pin in the very center back (which I usually make the seam that sewed the piece of fabric into a tube) and the very center front.  (I never measure, I always just fold it in half to find the center.)  So now there’s 4 pins in place.  Then I make one long basting stitch along the front, starting at one side pin, making my way over to the other side pin, leaving long thread tails at each end.  Then I do the same thing to the back, making sure to leave long threads for that seam too.


Now, I find the sides and center front and center back of the smaller tube of fabric.  Then I place pins at those spots, just like I did with the bigger tube.


Next, I turn the bigger tube inside out and then slide it over the smaller tube and start matching up the pins, sides with sides, front with front, and back with back.


Then I find the thread tails and start pulling on the backside thread. (I’m pulling the white thread now since I turned the tube inside out and this is now the “wrong” side of the fabric.)  I then gather section by section, pulling from the sides and sliding the fabric toward the center pins.


Once it’s all gathered evenly, I place plenty of pins to keep the gather in place.  Then I sew the two pieces of fabric together just like shown above but this time sewing all the way around in circle.


Then, when you turn everything right side out, you have a nicely gathered tube of fabric.  And because this is so mini, it may have to become a dolly skirt. :)


And that’s it.


Gathers 101…….How’d you do??



Let me know how it goes.  And if it wasn’t perfect the first time, try again.


And then put it to use and make a ruffled shirt dress, a ruffled shower curtain, a ruffled heart applique, or a gathered pillow.


Sewing tip: making and attaching gathered/ruffled fabric
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Sewing tip: making and attaching gathered/ruffled fabric
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Sewing tip: making and attaching gathered/ruffled fabric
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Or millions of other things. :)


P.S. Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend if it applies to you. And eat an extra slice of watermelon for me! :)





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This post is sponsored by:


Ashley Johnston

Administrator at Make It & Love It
Ashley Johnston is a professional DIY costume maker, sewist, crafter, and owner of Make It & Love It. She is a mom of 5 and a wife to a very patient (with the craft clutter) husband. In case you’re wondering, she always chooses crafting/sewing/designing over mopping/dusting/wiping base boards……but bathrooms/laundry/full bellies are always attended to. Whew!

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Hi, I'm Ashley

Hi, I’m Ashley—the DIY-enthusiast behind this crazy blog!

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