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Sewing Tips: Gathering and Sewing With Knits

I know, it’s been a while since my last sewing tips.

(Click here for other basic sewing tips.)

But many of you asked about the stitch that I used with this shirt.

Remember how I explained at the bottom of the post that I asked my mom about sewing with knits and she mentioned that crooked little zig-zag stitch. Well, many of you asked if I could show more of what that looked like.

Here is the stitch on my machine.

That squashed looking zig-zag, listed as #42.

Here is what the stitch looks like on some knit. Notice the difference between the left and the right. The stitch on the left has a wide stitch length…..actually up to the max that it will go. And the one on the right has a small stitch length. It’s all bunched up and rippling the fabric. So play around with it and see what knits it works on best for you.

**And if you’ll notice the shape of the stitch………it will allow the stitch to stretch, unlike a straight stitch where there is no give to it. But is more narrow and less noticeable than a regular zig-zag stitch. But that being said…….I still prefer the ease of the zig-zag on some knits. So play around with it and see what works for you.

Onto another question. Gathering.

Such a simple technique……after you see how it’s done. However, if I have just said, “gather along one side”, that probably has really confused some of you.

So here is the basic idea of gathering fabric. (though there are many techniques out there….) You’ll want to make a basting stitch, which is a really long stitch length. The stitch on the right is a basting stitch and the one on the left is a regular stitch. See the difference in stitch length? (Click on image to enlarge.)

But make sure not to back-stitch on either end. And leave each of your thread ends a few inches long.

Now, looking at that basting stitch, you’ll see that there is the top thread and a bottom one at each end of your stitch.

Grab a hold of the top string and pull as you slide the fabric along the thread, gathering as you go.

Keep pulling and gathering…..

And then pull from the other end, but be sure to pull on the top thread as well.

The if you’re attaching it to another piece of fabric, turn it over so that right sides are facing each other………

And then pin the ends together. But if it is gaping…..

Just pull gently on the thread (the one that was on the top, but now is on the bottom because you flipped your fabric over) and slide the gathers along until they are even.

Now, if you were to sew right along that basting stitch and flip your fabric right side out, it would look something like this. But mine is just pinned, so just imagine with me…..

Make sense?

I hope that helps a bit more for those who had questions about both techniques.


Ashley Johnston
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Ashley Johnston

Owner 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 my 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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  1. Chandra smith says:

    this is the way I learned it in sewing classes when I was young but they taught us to do 2 rows of the stitch it makes aprettier gather and easier to sew and lay flat. It also is security if one thread breaks

  2. Fran T says:

    Hi, My mother in law taught that about 65 years ago and it is great. She also told me that if the piece is extra long, you could pin the pieces together before pulling the thread so you have it evenly distributed. Does that maKe sense? I have made dozens of ruffled curtains and apron edges using this method. I’m so glad to see all you youngsters out there sewing. It is so good for the soul and the purse!

  3. Patty says:

    I have been sewing for a very long time and the gathering tutorial is good but if you make two rows of the long basting stitch, one on the seam line and one about an eighth of an inch away in the seam allowance you can control the gathers much better. They will stay more evenly spaced and easier to sew in. Trust me I have sewn miles of ruffles in my lifetime as well as gathered skirts on fluffy dresses and set in sleeves. It is good that you are doing these tutorials. Sewing was something every girl learned in home ech in my day. I wish they still taught it in schools today.

  4. Gabriele says:

    wow, you have the perfect skills to explain things just great and understandable for everybody. What fun to read your page (which I unfortunately discovered just now… but I will be visiting frequently in future).
    thanks for all your time and effort!

  5. Liada Kirkamn says:

    Amazing out fit just love the dress ,head band and the shoes wanting to make this beautiful outfit for my granddaughter who will be christening in April 2015 thank you for the pattern for the dress and the head band I would love to make the shoes to match but their is no pattern for the shoes could you please send the pattern for shoes Thank you kindly Linda

  6. Connie says:

    That tiny little zig zag that you show is more commonly known as the “Lightning Stitch” To better distinguish it from the regular zig zag stitch and stretch zig zag stitches on most newer sewing machines it’s called that because it looks like a lightning bolt to most people. Loving your blog! Keep up the great tuts. I’m currently decorating my basement family room and putting together my very own dedicated sewing space and will be ready to dive into sewing again after a break of a year and a half. I learn something new all the time when it comes to sewing. Have fun in your sewing adventures. Hope to be visiting here again real soon!

  7. carlalane says:

    I usually use two rows of basting stitch, especially if it is a long ruffle. Especially helpful if one of the strings breaks.

  8. sorahart says:

    What’s your experience like using elastic to gather? I keep hearing it mentioned but wasn’t sure how exactly it’s done.
    Just curious if you had any insight. Thanks!

  9. Gg says:

    Amazing. Thank you sooo much!!!! I can now do so many more projects!!

  10. kelly says:

    whoa man, thanks so much for this! i’m starting to make clothes for our kids and this helped a lot for girls skirts. thanks so much!

  11. selma says:

    i have some stretch denim i want to finally use to make some slipcovers. I prewashed and it shrunk quit a bit for my taste…but when i sewed the cushion after cutting the pattern out, it seemed a little big. Like the 1 in i gave for seam allowance was too much. Im new to this so I wondered, should I cut it true to size? since the material has some give? The material was so wrinkly I had to press/steam it to make it smooth, which is why i thought this would be a good choice, I was hoping the material would fit smooth and fit snug…any ideas what to do? i havent cut another piece out of fear…and not wanting to waste material.

  12. Gina (Lady Goats) says:

    I used your tutorial today on gathering, but I’ve got a question. It was easy to do this with the first few inches of fabric, but I had a long strip (was doing the gathering on the shirt to shrug tute you have), and I couldn’t do it past a few inches. Like, it just stopped pulling the fabric in. I tried to adjust the material down the thread, but it just wasn’t working. Any tips? (btw, the shrug still looks cute without all the ruffles! I just focused them around the front of the shoulders – loving it so far!)

    1. Anonymous says:

      I would suggest pulling your top thread (not the bobbin thread to the front long enough to go the entire length of your piece plus a few inches. Zigzag over the top. Keeping the thread centered on your presses foot. Zigzags the entire length . When done pull the thread from your spool (the one you zigzagged over) to your desired ruffle. This is my preferred ruffling technique!

  13. marilyn says:

    I use my ruffler if I’m making a skirt with tiers, when I’m w/o the ruffler,(they do wear out after alot of fluffy sewing :+) I use a giant,loose zig-zag over fishing line. I anchor the end of fishing line by making a lot of figure 8s around a straight pin, and pinning it securely to the edge of the strip to be gathered. When you’re ready to gather your strip, it slithers smoothly on the fishing line, no broken threads! I’ve made a hilariously full net petticoat this way, and a number of tiered tricot slips (the kind little girls wear under a poufy party dress) If your little girl likes gathered ruffles, you will LOVE using a ruffler.!

  14. Brooke says:

    I just wanted to say that I freaking love your blog. I am still new to sewing, but your tutorials give me so much confidence, and my projects come out good…. really good! Thank you!

    1. Samantha says:

      I’ve been wondering something about the whole gathering and ruffles thing. When you sew it down, should I try to sew directly on the gathering stitch, underneath it, above it??? I’ve recently destroyed a project that needed ruffles and this tutorial was really helpful. I’ve just found it hard to understand how it stays ruffle(y) when the thread is going to just fall out because you don’t back stitch. Do you pull the thread out after you sew it down??

    2. Ashley says:

      Yes, you stitch right over the basting stitch……….or at least try. And usually you can’t pull the original thread out if you’ve sewn over it too much……but sometimes you can pull it right out. And as long as you have your fabric pinned down, it will stay pretty well before you have to sew it in place.

      Hope that helps!

  15. Hi says:

    I can’t sew with knit. I mean I can, but…it doesn’t always turn out very well. Normally it’s stretched or bunchy. Maybe it’s just my machine…or maybe it’s just me…either way, I don’t really like to sew on knit.

  16. Maggie says:

    When I went to my first sewing class (since I didn’t take advantage of a mother who sewed EVERYTHING we wore), I was taught a quick technique for gathering which is really useful for waistbands and such. Get some narrow elastic to the length desired – we used a natural colored non-woven elastic – and fold it in half, then in half again. Mark at the fold, unfold the elastic, and now you have it marked in quarters. Do the same with your fabric. Line up the marks and pin. At this time, you’ll have saggy fabric between the pins. Go to your sewing machine, set up the proper settings (use a zig-zag or other stretch stitch), and then line up your fabric for sewing. Sew a few stitches in the end, and then hold the fabric/elastic behind the needle with your left hand and stretch the fabric/elastic until the fabric is straight. Hold in place and sew to the first pin. Pull the pin, and pull the next section and sew to the next pin. Repeat until all four sections are done, lock your stitches, cut your threads, and voila! Your fabric is now evenly gathered.

  17. Betty says:

    love this site……..took turtle pattern and made pincushion….everyone loves it….love the re-purpose ideas..and yes would u do how to use feet tutorials……..betty

  18. Tiffany says:

    Oh my goodness, I just picked up sewing again (been like 15 years) and I’m gathering a ruffle on my little girls first dress. I was so intimidated on how to do it! And now … this is going to be so easy! Thank you thank you thank you!!

  19. Jessica says:

    justwanting to know what type of sewing maching you use ? you can email me back at thanks !

  20. Barbie says:

    Thank you SO much. I've been trying to learn how to sew (through the internet & just trying it out). My mother used to sew clothes for me all the time, but passed away before she could teach me. Now that I'm a mother, I figured I'd give it a go. I love how clothing looks when it does this, but I could never figure out how to do it. You're a life-saver. Thanks!

  21. Miss Dot says:

    Haha! Sorry, apparently my husband was still logged in when I posted ^^that comment^^. That was from me :) Although, he HAS helped me figure out stuff on my sewing machine before ;)

  22. Will says:

    K, well I'm just going to join the overwhelming number of commenters who've thanked you for making this Sewing Tips section. I too am trying to learn how to sew and it's so hard to find good tutorials on certain techniques. I really appreciate the clarity in your posts and your willingness to (for lack of a better term) dumb things down for us. Keep up the good work – I love your site!

  23. Ashley says:

    Yes, adjusting the stitch length is a setting on your machine. Sometimes it's a knob or a dial or even a digital button. Take a peek in your user's manual to find how to adjust the length. (It will usually have a little picture of a dotted line getting bigger and bigger…..)


  24. SHILLIG4FAMILY says:

    How do you make your stitch longer for a basting stitch? Is it a setting on your machine?

  25. Brantonians says:

    Thanks so much! I spent a long time last night trying to figure out why my straight stitch wouldn't gather!

  26. Amy says:

    Thanks for the tips! Is it necessary to use a ball-point needle when sewing knits? I always thought so, but a friend of mine said it isn't. Do you use one?

  27. bjahlstrom says:

    I have been looking all over for a clear explanation on a basting stitch! You rock!

  28. Bonnie says:

    Thanks for the tips! I've learned sooo much!

    What does "clip valleys, notch mountains" mean and why do you trim the seam allowances?

  29. Tessa and Adam says:

    Ashley! Your rock my world! I just found this website and love it. I have never been really good with crafts, but you just make it so simple to learn and create! I already have 3 projects lined up for this weekend. Keep blogging! I love it.

  30. Beth Nicholls says:

    Looks like a cute little dress! Really appreciate you sharing the basics as sometimes even beginners' books start pretty far on. Love your site!

  31. Crafty Batches says:

    Thank you so much for the gathering tips, trying it out for the first time tonight! ~Sam

  32. Ashley says:

    No Melissa, don't pull the basting stitch out. Just sew right over the top. No need to even worry about it. Nice and easy!! hope that helps!

  33. Parkin Family says:

    Thanks for the tips! Maybe when I figure out how to thread my machine I will attempt that technique some day. LOL!
    Keep the tips coming please!

  34. Melissa says:

    Thank you for the tips as I've been sewing for years but these two areas are my worst. I've tried that zigzag before but it ate at my knit fabric, now I know I need to lengthen my stitches.

    I've done lots of gathering over the years and I always have problems at the end when sewing it to another piece. Do you sew the stitch over the basting stitch that you have gathered? Or to the left of it? Do you remove the basting stitch afterwards?

    I recently made two knit ruffle scarves for my girls and I was hoping you could help me because the gathering didn't stay in some areas. Since the stitches would obviously be seen do I just stitch right over the basting stitch? Hmmm…maybe I should go try another one knit scarve using the gathering technique AND the zigzag stitch you showed us. Thanks, Melissa

  35. Ashley says:

    Jamee – Sorry, I don't think we have the same machine. mine is a Singer Precision but doesn't do any sort of embroidery. Though i wish it did. Sorry about that!

    elliemargaret – I have found clearance jersey knit at Hancock Fabrics several times. But I was told by a few readers about a great online shop:

    I have checked it out and will be placing an order with them but haven't yet. But the prices are pretty good and the site came highly recommended by several people.

    hope that helps!! :)

  36. Kristi at Spend Less and Save More says:

    I sew love your blog! You have the best tips ever. In fact, I have awarded you a Sunshine Award here:

  37. Sew It To Me says:

    I love that you put sewing tips on here!

  38. Angela Hansen says:

    that was great, I usually gather and then spread it out to fit when attaching the other fabric. Your method of pinning the edges and then finish the gather is much easier. Love your blog.

  39. Nancy's Couture says:

    Thank you so much for the tip on knit fabric. I just start really getting into the knits so this was a big help. Thank You!!!!!!

  40. elliemargaret says:

    So I'm determined to learn how to sew my own clothes. I hate looking at all those embellished shirts everywhere and thinking that it can't be that hard! But I need a little recommendation, where do you buy cheap jersey knit? I'd hate to go spend a lot of money on some fabric just to ruin it on my first few projects, which I know realisticly won't turn out. Any tips? Thanks!

  41. Bloggy Mama says:

    You are fabulous. Thank you for all the awesome posts.

  42. Amy Kirchhoff says:

    Oh my goodness! Yours is quickly becoming my favorite blog. Others have good "beginner" projects but sometimes seem to forget just how beginner some of us are. (I've never even touch thread, needle, or a sewing machine until a couple of weeks ago, but my 2010 resolution was to learn to sew. I've been totally inspired by all you bloggers!) Thank you for explaining everything so throughly and WITH PICTURES! You're a great teacher.

  43. Erin says:

    Thank you! I, too, am (slowly) teaching myself to sew. This post was VERY helpful.

  44. Jenette says:

    Making my gathers look good is always an issue for me… I totally need more practice at it. A tip my mom gave me is to do two basting stitch a gather them both that way if one thread breaks–which has happend to me, you don't loose it all.

  45. The Pittmans says:

    Thanks so much.. your blog has me making cute little flowers!
    I need all the tips I can get, so keep up the good work!

  46. Marjorie says:

    Thank you!!! Thank you!!!!

  47. Amy says:

    Thanks for the tips, I wondered which stitch would be best for knits, so I'll give this a go!

  48. Audrey says:

    I love to sew, but heck if I ever do it the easy way! Thanks for the tips, who would of thought gathering was so easy?! Keep the tips coming! Now if I could only figure out how to read a pattern!

  49. The leader says:

    oh, THAT'S how to gather! I never quite understood until now. Thank you so much!

    Fortunately, my 3 year old desn't yet know the difference between a nice gathered skirt and a "hmm, i guess this is good enough for a toddler" stitch. :-) Perhaps next time i'll try it the correct way.

  50. Lindsay Riggs says:

    I love gathering. I use the same technique as you. I have never tried gathering knit fabric and want to try. Do you think it will be problematic?

  51. Lynn from For Love or Funny says:

    I HATE sewing on knits. Perhaps I should try the knit stitch that you use…

  52. bxmama says:

    Is it possible you were reading my mind?! I was wandering the web aimlessly & thinking it would be nice to find a site or blog that made ruffled edges easy for a newbie like me and guess where I landed?! Thanks so much!

  53. Allison and Mason: says:

    This is great!! I have been wondering how to gather for forever! Thank you!

  54. CourtneyKeb says:

    Very handy. I'm a sewing newbee so sometimes I just have to experiment and hope I'm doing things right.
    I was surely thankful to stumble upon this for useful tips! Thanks!!!

  55. Kimbo West says:

    how about you just give me a smiggen of your talent? a spoonful? a drop? I'll take what I can get!

  56. Liz Gibson says:

    Thank you so much, just as Nobodys Nothing said, I have no experience and no one to turn to. This is exactly what I needed. Keep up the great work.

  57. Jamee says:

    it looks like you have the same machine as me and i am having a problem (futura) I want to buy applique designs or even embroidery designs and can not figure out how when i buy them they send me the design how to get it in my futura program on the computer so that i can send it to the machine. don't know if you ever want to do a tutorial on that but if you do i would love it. i will keep watching for all the beautiful things you make i love your blog

  58. Nobodys Nothings says:

    thank you so much for your beginning sewing tips! things like that seem so simple to most people on DIY websites, but to someone like me… who has ZERO seamstress skills, and no one around to show her, your site is absolutely invaluable. i just wanted to let you know how much i appreciate you taking the time to make posts like this one!!!

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

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