Gathering is the act of bundling up a portion of fabric to fit onto a smaller, pre-measured length of fabric, thus creating fullness. Gathering is normally achieved by using a longer machine stitch that allows for the threads to be manually pulled which consequently gathers up the fabric. Usually, gathering is done at either one third or a half of the original width depending on the fabric and the amount of fullness you want to achieve. Gathering is most commonly found along the waistline, sleeve cuffs, shoulder seams, yokes and ruffles. Depending on the fabric you are using, you should pay close attention to the thickness of your thread and your sewing machine's tension and stitch length. If you are working with a very thick fabric, use a thicker thread as you will have to manually pull the threads of the stitch and you wouldn't wont the thread to break! When it comes to the length of stitch you should use, the answer lies again in the thickness and weight of the fabric you are working with. The thicker and heavier your fabric is, the longer your machine stitch will have to be- This will ensure that the stitch can be pulled easily when gathering. If the fabric is lightweight and thin, your stitch will be shorter than that of a heavier fabric but longer than what you would normally use on a regular seam.
If it sounds a bit confusing, don't worry! Practicing makes perfect which is why we'll show you all the (simple) steps necessary to sew a gathered seam from start to finish.
Understanding Gathering On a Sewing Pattern
On your sewing patterns, gathering is usually marked on the seam allowance by a single or double row of dashed lines. You should also find notches spaced out along the seam allowance that will help you align the gathers perfectly to the non-gathered edge.
Below are the two pattern pieces that will be sewn together into a gathered seam. The top on is plain and the bottom pattern has the gathered seam. On both edges (closest to each other), you can see three separate notches spaced out evenly. These notches will help you align your seam properly so that you achieve evenly distributed gathering.
Once the sewing patterns are cut, clip the notches on both pattern pieces as shown bellow. Our notches are in a T shape, yours might be a triangle shape- you can use whichever markings work best for you!
Gathering The Fabric
1. Figure out your stitch length: Once the notches are transferred onto your fabric, it is time to add the two gathering stitches using your sewing machine. As mentioned above, the stitch length that is best for achieving gathering depends on the type of fabric you're using, but it should always be longer than what you normally use on a regular seam- it is more similar to a basting stitch and usually has about 6-12 stitches per inches. Use a scrap piece of fabric to test the different stitch lengths before working on the final project.
Because we're working with a medium weight fabric, we've set our sewing machine at about 8 stitches per inch.
2. On the right side of the fabric, sew a straight stitch right above seam line, maybe less than a mm above. Add an additional stitch parallel to it about 1/4" above. Make sure you leave enough thread length on your sewing machine before stitching.
Leave longer portions of the stitch threads at both ends. You will manually pull them to create gathering
It is necessary that you stitch on the face side of the fabric because in order to gather easily, you need to pull on the bobbin threads located at the bottom of your sewing machine. Stitching on the face side will ensure that the bobbin threads end up on the wrong side of your fabric and are facing you when aligning the gathered seam edges.
If you have side seams or other seams placed vertically along the gathered edge, stitch individually between the seams never going through the actual seam- it is very difficult to pull the threads through multiple layers of fabric.
3. Align the notches of the stitched edge to the notches on the regular edge and secure with pins. If you have other seams or details that need to match, make sure you align those properly as well.
Match all the notches and place a pin at every notch to secure.
4. At one end of the stitching, wrap the loose threads around a pin as shown. This will ensure that when you pull from the opposite end, the stitch stays in place and doesn't come out.
5. Starting at the opposite end of the pin mentioned above, gently pull on both bobbin threads until the gathering matches the adjoining regular edge. Use your other hand to spread the gathers evenly across the fabric.
Repeat step 3 and 4 on the other end of the gathering.
6. Pin the gathered edge to the regular edge on the gathering side. Place pins horizontally as shown bellow.
Sewing the Gathered Seam Together
7. At this point, your machine is probably still set at the gathering stitch length. Make sure that before you get started, you switch the length to a regular stitch you would normally use to sew the fabric you are working with.
Once adjusted, stitch right bellow the bottom gathering stitch (on the seamline) spreading the gathers evenly as you sew, and holding the fabric straight on both sides of the presser foot in order to avoid unnecessary folds and pleats.
The regular seam stitch is placed very close to the bottom gathering stitch, about 1 mm bellow.
8. Iron the gathering only at the seam allowance using the point of your iron so that the gathered seam allowance stays flat and not bulky. Use a serger or a dense zigzag stitch to clean finish the raw edge of the gathered seam.
Ironing Gathering Properly
When ironing a gathered seam, the seam allowance should be pointing towards the side that isn't gathered. This will minimize bulk and maintain the seam allowance naturally in place.
DO NOT iron across the gathers directly on top or they will flatten and the seam will loose it's fullness.
Ironing gathers properly should be done by using the point of your iron and moving up towards the seam in between the gathers.
Have you ever looked at one of your dresses or blouses and thought: I really wish this was sleeveless… Perhaps the sleeves feel uncomfortable, or maybe they don’t lay or fit the way you would like them to. Sleeve styles can be a great representation of past and present fashion trends, which sometimes risks making a clothing item look and feel outdated once trends change and evolve. For example, the transition from over-sized, puffy sleeves in the 80's and 90's to plain sleeves in later years is probably the most recognizable in sleeve-trends. Like most of us, you or someone in your family is probably still holding on to some outdated sleeve styles somewhere in the back of their closet. It so happens that when we really love a clothing item, it is kind of difficult to let it go even if we might never wear it again. If the rest of the garment is perfect but the sleeves are a deal breaker, the good news is, you can always remove them! If you own a sewing machine and have played around with sewing and crafts a bit, this shouldn’t be too difficult. We’ll show you how!
Step 1: Remove the existing sleeves
Turn your dress or blouse inside out and using your trusty seam-ripper, remove the stitching around the armhole. You will notice that the raw edges of your armhole seam are clean-finished most likely with an overlock stitch as shown bellow. You will also need to remove this overlock/serging stitch in order to separate the sleeve from the garment. Overlock/serging stitches take a bit longer to remove but there is definitely a trick to it. Learn the easiest way to do it by following the steps for removing a serging/overlock stitch in last week's blog post.
Using your seam-ripper, cut through the straight stitch and pull on the thread to remove it. Depending on how long the stitch is, you can rip through one stitch loop every two or three inches. If the stitch is longer and comes out very easily, you can always increase the increments for ripping the stitch loops, then pull the end of the threads to remove.
Repeat for removing the second sleeve.
Step 2: Pin the binding to the raw edge
Although there are a few different ways to clean finish the armholes, using pre-cut and pre-folded binding is probably the easiest. You can buy pre-folded binding at your local fabric store. Make sure you get the version that say "double fold" on the label. This means that the binding is folded three times and designed to enclose the raw edges. Usually, 1/4" wide binding is most appropriate for the armhole because the smaller width makes it easier to maneuver when sewing along round edges.
1. Turn your dress or blouse on its face side (you should be pinning your binding to the face of the garment). Begin by folding one of the ends of your binding in about 1/4" as shown in the image above. Pin the binding with the inside of the fold facing up making sure the edge of the binding is perfectly aligned to the raw edge of the armhole. The face of your garment's fabric should be touching with the outside of the binding.
2. Continue pining horizontally around the edge of the armhole until you reach the initial fold you started with. Overlap the binding and cut the edge as shown above. The binding edges should be overlapping so that when you sew, the raw edges of both the armhole and the binding are enclosed by the 1/4" binding fold you started with.
Repeat on the second armhole.
Step 3: Sew the binding
Sewing the binding can sometimes take a little bit of practice so if you're somewhat of a beginner you should tread carefully. Don't forget that if you make a wrong turn, you can always use your seam-ripper to undo the stitching! Attaching the binding is comprised of three steps: sewing the outer edges together, folding in twice to enclose the raw edges and hide the binding on the inside (ironing as you fold),and finishing the binding with a stitch along the inner fold. We'll show you these detailed steps bellow!
1. Stitch on top of the fold that is closest to the raw edges using the fold line as a guide. Be very careful to keep the edges of the armhole and the binding aligned at all times. This can get a little challenging when you get to the rounder parts of the armhole but if you move a little slower around those edges, you'll be just fine. Once you get to where you started stitching, overlap the stitches and back-stitch to keep in place, ensuring a durable finish. Read more about back-stitching in the how to back-stitch by hand or on the machine blog.
2. Using the pre-fold of your binding as a guide, fold the binding in once to enclose the raw edges, then fold once more to hide the binding on the inside of the garment. Iron as you fold and place a few pins to keep this fold in place. The outside of your armhole should be clean and the binding should only be visible on the inside.
Repeat for the the second armhole.
3. Stitch on the inside of the garment, using the inner-most fold of the binding as a guide. Stitch as close to the fold as possible maintaining a steady, straight stitch all around. Pictured above is what your armholes should look like once finished.
For a clean, professional look make sure you iron down the edges of the completed armholes on the face side of your dress or blouse.
Learning how to sew shouldn't be over-complicated or require you to spend a fortune. It is true that learning to sew and the necessary, constant practice that comes along with it takes consistent effort and can eventually add up monetarily. Nonetheless, you should always keep in mind that as a beginner, you don't have to start big! Just having a simple sewing machine and some basic tools can put you on the right path to becoming a great seamstress, while learning some short cuts and tricks will eliminate some unnecessary complexity form the learning process.
Speaking of having some sewing tricks up your sleeve, we'll introduce you to five of our favorite sewing hacks that are bound to save you some time and money while ensuring your sewing experience is comfortable as well as efficient. In the learning process, it takes time and lots of practice to figure out what works best for you. Don't feel like you have to be bound by strict rules when it comes to sewing correctly. After all, there are dozens of right ways to do things resulting in the same finished product.
Here are the five hacks we've put together to help you maximize efficiency and comfort while minimizing cost and error in the learning process:
1. Use dry, leftover pieces of soap as tailor's chalk.
As you learn how to sew you will soon find out that marking your fabric is something you have to do quite often. You could buy some tailor's chalk or a fabric marking pencil but if you're looking to save some cash, using leftover dry soap pieces can do the job just as well- the best part is, it will come out in the wash in an instant and never damage the fabric. Tailor's chalk or fabric marking pencils aren't necessarily the most expensive but they certainly run out pretty fast with a lot of use. On the other hand, leftover pieces of soap that normally end up in the trash bin, work just as well to mark the fabrics and can sometimes create an even smoother finish than regular tailor's chalk that needs to be sharpened constantly. Because it's a more dense material, solid soap will hold up to more rigid use, while many fabric marking pencils and tailors chalk can crumble under too much applied pressure. We suggest you give it a try on your next sewing project and you might be pretty impressed with how well a simple piece of soap can do the job!
2. Use a sleeve ironing board to comfortably iron all seams during sewing.
If you're not familiar with a sleeve ironing board, you will most likely need to invest in one as you dive deeper into more complicated sewing techniques like attaching a sleeve. A sleeve ironing board is a thin, rectangular board with round edges that is lifted to allow for easy sleeve seam ironing. It provides a comfortable elevation for ironing, and the thin rectangular shapes allow you to easily iron down some of the more difficult, round seams. Chances are, once you start using a sleeve ironing board, you will find that it actually works better for ironing down seams than a regular ironing board. It is compact in size and shape and the fact that its elevated from the surface of the larger ironing board allows the fabric to drape down while the actual seam is aligned perfectly for ironing. Although it's great for ironing down seams and achieving that crisp professional finish, we don't necessarily recommend the sleeve ironing board for ironing the entire garment simply because it would be too time consuming. For ironing larger surfaces of fabrics, use your regular ironing board.
3. Instead of a pin cushion, use a magnet as a pin holder.
This little trick will keep your sewing area clean and organized whether you like it or not. Pin cushions are cute but are not the most efficient if you're using a lot of pins and constantly need to pin seams together. If you normally use a pin cushion during sewing, you probably don't put the pins back on the cushion until you're done working for the day-it just takes too much time to stick them in and out while many of them mange to take a tumble on the floor and not be found until the next few days. Well, using a larger surface magnet instead of a pin cushion to house your pins will actually do the work for you. All you have to do is hold the magnet over the surface and all the pins will run to it and you wont have to lift a finger. After all, there are way more important things to focus on while sewing then collecting pins one by one or searching for them on the floor. Using a magnet is so much more comfortable and efficient and you'll actually have fun with it. There are a variety of magnet pin holders at the fabric store you can choose from but if you have magnet with a larger surface somewhere in your house (that no one is using) make it your new " pin cushion"- You'll be glad you did!
4. Use a piece of white muslin as a protective shield when ironing delicate fabrics or attaching fusible interfacing.
This is a trick that you probably have either heard of or used before. Putting a piece of muslin or plain 100% cotton fabric in between the fabric and the iron can protect the surfaces of both items. When you're ironing delicate fabrics like silks or heat-sensitive ones like wool, polyester, nylon (to name just a few), you want to make sure that the harsh metal surface of the iron does not burn and damage the fibers. We are all guilty of damaging sensitive clothing items with a single touch from an extra hot iron... Using a cotton cloth as a shield can save some of your most precious garments from disaster. On the other hand, an ironing cloth will come in handy when attaching fusible interfacing. Even though you're not ironing on the glue side, some of the glue can seep out from the porous surface of the interfacing causing your iron to be sticky and turn brown (from burnt particles attaching to it). If you've ever worked with fusible interfacing, you probably know very well what we're referring to. That feeling of not being able to smoothly move the iron back and forth because of the fusible glue stuck to its metal surface. Once that happens, cleaning is in order. However, you can avoid the hassle and inconvenience by simply using a piece of muslin as a protective layer/ This will keep your iron clean and shiny as well as working at its fullest capacity for many years.
5. Use a pin to pull out sharp lined edges on the face side of the garment.
As you become a more advanced seamstress, you will start to explore various finishing techniques and attempt to sew a variety of unique styles. Chances are that at some point in your process, whether you need to sew a strap or attach a center-front facing, you will be working with straight edges that needs to be clearly defined on the finished garment. A sharp or straight edge on a clothing item is usually enclosed in a facing or lining and clean finished using a variety of different methods. Examples of enclosed sharp edges are on slit cuffs, collars, straps and waist ties, pockets and at the bottom of openings that are finished with a facing or lining. If you've attempted to sew any of the elements listed above you probably know how difficult it is to sew clearly defined, smooth finished edges on the face side of the garment.
A trick you could use to pull the stitching and even out the enclosed angles from the outside is by using a pin and gently grabbing on to the stitch thread pulling it slowly towards the outside. The secret here is to grab on to the sewing thread and NOT the threads of the fabric or you run the risk of pulling the fibers out and unraveling the weaving.
Use the image below as a visual guide.
6. Use masking tape to mark a seam allowance line on your sewing machine.
If you've been sewing for a while you are probably already familiar with this witty trick. Many sewing machines have sewing guides only up to 1"-1 1/2" seam allowance so if you need to sew a straight stitch at 2" for example, the pre-marked guides wont be much help. The solution? Measure from the needle point out 2" towards the right and place a piece of masking tape vertically imitating a seam allowance guide. You can use this trick for any seam allowance needed that your machine doesn't provide. It is simple, effective and extremely easy to remove without leaving an adhesive trace behind. Because it provides a thicker line as a guide, you might even prefer to use masking tape for the already existing pre-marked seam allowance guides on your machine. Don't be afraid to experiment! There's no written rule as long as your stitch is sewn at the correct seam allowance throughout.
Now that you know these simple, easy to use hacks, you sewing experience should become a bit more simple and enjoyable. Happy Sewing!
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