Gathers might be my favorite sort of shaping. They’re easy to get right – much more forgiving than darts – and they add an interesting little detail. Someone recently asked for more detail on how I make the gathers in my picnic dress, so here it is: a step by step tutorial on gathering.

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1. Decide where your gathers go. Mark each end of the gather. For bust gathers, start by subtracting your front underbust/ribcage measurement from your front bust measurement – this is how much you will gather up. Then measure how much ungathered space you want in front, and how much. For example, my front bust measurement is 19″ and underbust/ribcage is 14″, so I need to gather in 2.5″ on each side. If I wanted the final gathers to be 3″ I would need to start with 5.5″, so I might mark my fabric to be gathered between 2.5″ and 8″. This leaves 3″ of ungathered fabric in the middle, which works well for me. You might want to hold a measuring tape up to yourself and make sure you’re happy with where the gathers are going to side and how long they will be.

2. Stitch between the marks, using a slightly longer stitch than usual. The longer the stitch you use, the bigger the gathers will be and the more fabric you can gather in. If you’re using a heavier weight fabric or trying to gather very tightly, you’ll need a very long stich length. If your fabric is lighter weight or you’d like the gathers to be less obvious, use a shorter stitch length. I typically use a stitch that is one step longer than the one I sew seams with.

3. Make the gathers. Pull both threads to the back on each side of the seam. Tie the ends of the thread together in a double knot on one side. On the other side, pull gently on one thread (it’s easier with the back thread, but either will work), pushing the fabric along. When your gathers are the length you want, tie the two threads together.

4. Sew the gathers into a seam. When you sew a gathered piece of fabric to a smooth piece, put the gathers on top. Make sure the tiny ruffled edge is all pulled out so no fabric gets caught poking through. Sew right over your gathering line.

I’m you’re still confused about step three, I made a little video!

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