Here’s a little turorial for you if you’re not that keen on gathering. In case you don’t know, gathering is the process of condensing a piece of fabric, creating a ruffled effect, and then attaching it to a flat piece, most often found on the skirt, or here the sleeve meets the bodice.
If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, a great place to start is this excellent tutorial from Shwin called Gathering 101, which takes you through absolutely everything you need to know.
I’ve found a lot of children’s clothes contain an element of gathering, it’s a nice way of adding shape and fullness to a garment that’s made of flat pieces, without the darts or tucks you might find on an adult garment, and it’s a lot easier (I think), than adding pleats. It can be super tedious, but if you take a bit of time to get it right, it really does look pretty.
So here’s a little look at the way I do it – it’s not necessarily the right way, but it’s the way I’ve found suits me.
First – your thread. I like to use an inexpensive polyester thread for gathering (actually, I tend to sew with this all the time, I recommend Coats Moon), it doesn’t grip the thread as tightly as cotton, and it allows you to slide the fabric up and down the thread easily. I’ve found this particular brand doesn’t snap easily either. I like to use a different colour top thread to bobbin thread, so I can clearly see which thread to pull, and which to unpick at the end.
Make sure your thread tension is decreased slightly – i turn mine down to 2 or 3, but any lower and it just goes too loopy and gets caught.
Make your thread length as long as you can, and stitch with a normal straight stitch.
I always run two lines of gathering stitches, three if i’m feeling extra perfectionist. It really helps you even out the gathering, and give some stability. Plus, if a thread breaks, you have a safety net.
I’m sewing a Newborn Nancy tea dress in lovely black polka dots, so I’m using a 1cm (3/8″) seam allowance. I want to get my gathering either side of my final stitch line when I join the skirt to the bodice. I’m doing my first line of gathering about in line with the presser foot edge, as the seam allowance doesn’t give me a lot of space to play with.
Here’s the finished lines of gathering. If i was going to be doing a larger piece (like an adult’s skirt), I might break up the stitching into sections, so it’s not too much gathering along the thread in one go… but this is only a little piece so it should be okay in one go!
Knot the ends of the threads together on one side, I normally do the left side as i’m right handed.
Separate out the red (bottom, bobbin) thread and ry to keep the green (top, spool) thread away from what you’re doing. Then, hold on to the red thread and gently push the fabric down the threads. I find this works better than pulling the threads, and it’s less likely to snap.
Gradually ease the fabric along the length of the thread. I like to gather it all up tight, then gradually separate it out, so that I know it’s even.
A tight gather on your fabric should look like this. Next, match it up to your bodice piece, right sides together, and ease the gather around so that the width of the gathered piece is the same as the width of the bodice. It’s a little fiddly but pin as you go, and take it slowly and evenly, so that the gathering is evenly spaced. Match up the centre of the bodice with the centre of the skirt, so that you can gauge how much to move the fabric.
When you’ve sewn the skirt fabric to the bodice, unpick the rows of gathering stitch, and gently spread out the skirt. Be careful when you’re pressing the top, so that you don’t flatten the gathers.
Here’s the finished dress, in black micro polka dot, with a white lining, and pale baby pink poppers – perfect for a newborn little girl! You can see how the skirt has some fullness from the gathering, but it’s not too pouffy, and easy to iron and look after (who wants to be ironing pleats?).
Hope this is helpful! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.