Gathering or ruffling fabric is an essential sewing skill and luckily there are several ways to do it!

Ways to gather fabric:

  • Sew rows of basting (long stitch length) stitches and pull the bobbin thread to gather to the size you need. This is the technique most frequently used by commercial pattern companies. Problem with this method: Depending on your fabric, the bobbin thread could break and you will have to start the process over. 
  • Use a ruffling foot. I love using my ruffling foot and it works well if you have to gather/pleat/ruffle large amounts of fabric. Problem with the method: Attaching the foot correctly along with setting up your desired stitch takes time. It is also difficult to gather the fabric to an exact length without figuring out the before and after pleat ratio.
  • Sew over a piece of cording. This method requires that you zig-zag over a piece of cording and then slide the fabric along the cord until you reach your desired size of gathering. Problem with this method: Sometimes the cord you may have available is not smooth and the stitches will not slide along the cord. You also have to be careful not to sew through the cord when zig-zagging.
  • Using the differential feed on a serger. If you have a serger, you can set your differential feed to “narrow” and the serger will slightly gather the fabric. Problem with this method: It’s great for when you need slightly gathered fabric but is not for deep gathering. To me, this looks more like “easing” the fabric than gathering.
  • Use elastic. You can cut a piece of elastic the size you need your gathered fabric to be and stretch the elastic along the fabric and pin. Keep the elastic even and stretched flat as you sew. Problem with the method: keeping the elastic stretched evenly on both sides can be a challenge. This method works best for short gathering needs like doll clothing. 

The best method I’ve found: I use a variation on the cording method with fishing line! Why fishing line? It’s thicker than sewing thread and nearly impossible to break. It’s also smooth and allows the thread to easily pass over the line to gather I’ve also found that you can gather as you sew over the fishing line to create ruffles that are exactly the size you need and you can instantly see the finished product. It’s a great time saver!

Materials Needed:

  • Fishing line for gathering plastic fabric. I use clear 30 or 40lb weight monofilament fishing line from Amazon
  • [optional]Cording or beading Foot. This is my favorite sewing machine foot for gathering fabrics. Be sure to get the correct foot for your machine. You can use a standard or zig zag foot but you have to be careful to make sure the fishing line stays in the middle of the stitches. The cording or beading foot acts as a guide so you don’t have to be so watchful as you sew.
  • Sewing machine with your normal poly or cotton thread.

The Easiest Way to Gather Fabric:

  1. Cut the fishing line to the length you would like your gather or ruffle to be plus an extra three or four inches to help you hold the line while sewing. 
  2. Tie off the end with a large knot to keep the line from coming out of the zig zag “track”. 
  3. Place the knotted end under your presser foot and using a wide zig-zag stitch, zig-zag over the fishing line with the needle piercing the fabric on both sides of the fishing line. Be careful not to stitch directly on top of the line. You are creating a “tube of thread” for the fishing line to move freely. This is where a cording or beading foot is helpful since it can hold the line for you as you sew making sure that the line is always in the center of the stitches.
  4. As you sew, slightly pull on the fishing line to create gathers. The fishing line smoothly moves under the stitches. Once you reach the end of the fabric needed to be ruffled, tie off the end of the fishing line to keep it from sliding out. 
  5. Adjust the gathers to make them uniform across the fishing line and use a straight stitch to tack down your gathers permanently but avoid stitching over the fishing line. After your gathers are sewn down, you can clip the knot and remove the fishing line. 

That’s it! What do you think about my technique? Have you tried it? Add your comments below!