Gathering by Hand – The Right Way

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Gathering by hand is an age-old custom and a traditional sewing technique.  It is a means to draw things together and although machines can do the work, there is still a place for hand-gathered stitching. In addition, learning how to gather fabric by hand has some advantages over the machined method.

gathering by hand, how to gather by handPinGathering by Hand


Gathering by HandWhy Gather Fabric by Hand?Gathering by Hand MethodsStep 1 – Thread the NeedleStep 2 – Choose your FabricStep 3 – StitchesStep 4 – PullStep 5 – FinishVariations of Gathering by HandGathering by Hand – In ConclusionMore Gathering ArticlesGathering by HandToolsMaterialsInstructionsNotes

Gathering by Hand

Why Gather Fabric by Hand?

Gathering by hand is more time consuming, but it does give you more control over the area to be gathered and the size of the gathers.  Hand gathering is ideal for small areas or small articles of clothing. It is also useful for extremely heavy fabrics such as burlap or canvas that are hard to run through a domestic machine.

Gathering by Hand Methods

Step 1 – Thread the Needle

Thread 2 needles to use together to create two rows of parallel stitching.  Use double thread and tie a knot at the end. The length of the thread needs to be longer than the required gathered length so there is room to pull up the thread and adjust the gathers.

Further Reading: 

How to Thread a Needle and Tie a Knot and how to Use a Needle Threader

Step 2 – Choose your Fabric

Most fabrics lend themselves to gathers, but the bulkier the fabric, the less attractive it will be gathered.  If you need ultimate accuracy, then a row of dots to guide your needle and stitch length will be helpful but not essential.

2 needles and fabric2 needles and fabricPinGathering by Hand – Needles

Step 3 – Stitches

Stitch 2 rows of running stitch. A running stitch is a very basic up and down stitch.

SPACING – Basic even gathers can be achieved by starting ¼” (6mm) from the edge and maintain a ¼” (6mm) space between the stitches as you sew along the gathering line.MOTION – A stab motion with the needle collecting several tucks of fabric at a time is a quick way to gather up the area and get to the end of the row swiftly.  Practice makes perfect!Gathering by Hand Using Running StitchGathering by Hand Using Running StitchPinGathering by Hand Using Running Stitch

If you are very coordinated, it is possible to thread two needles and gather using them at the same time.  This could take some practice and the easier option is stitch one row and then the second underneath. (This is what I did)

Gathering by Hand - 2 RowsGathering by Hand - 2 RowsPinGathering by Hand – 2 Rows

Step 4 – Pull

Pull the threads gently being careful not to cause any breakage.

Gathering by Hand - Pull GentlyGathering by Hand - Pull GentlyPinGathering by Hand – Pull Gently

When you have pulled up the gathers and are happy with the effect, gently stroke the tucks to suit your needs and end off with a double back stitch to secure the gathers.

gathering by handgathering by handPinGathering by Hand

Step 5 – Finish

Finish and attach it to your garment.

If you are certain you gathered to the correct length, machine stitch the gathers to hold them securely in place.  Otherwise, fit the gathered fabric to the area needed and pull tighter or loosen according to your requirements.

When you are happy, insert your gathered piece into the main garment.  Stitch by machine between the two gathered lines.  Finally, remove the bottom gathering line that shows.

Variations of Gathering by Hand

You can achieve finer gathers by using smaller stitches. See the difference in the gathers using a ⅛” (3mm) stitch length. Of course, this was a little harder to achieve and took a bit longer but for fine fabrics, this will give a nice effect.

gathering by handgathering by handPinVariations of Gathering by Hand

Gathering by Hand – In Conclusion

Here`s the best thing about gathering by hand – If you are not happy with the result, then hand stitch gathers pull out very easily and you can start again.  This is very handy for those little gathered, puffy sleeves and tricky curves!

Try your hand at gathering without the help of a machine.  It should be a pleasant experience and not reduce you to shedding a tear!

More Gathering Articles

How to gather by machineHow to gather by handShirring (sewing with elastic thread)Gathering with a sergerHow to sew ruchingGathering with cordGathering with elasticHow to gather tulleGathering footRufflerGathering Fabric

how to gatherhow to gatherPinhow to gatherhow to gatherPingathering with a sergergathering with a sergerPingathering footgathering footPinrufflerrufflerPin

gathering by handgathering by handPin

Gathering by Hand

Learn how to gather by hand with this easy step-by-step tutorial. Gathering by hand is great for delicate fabrics and also heavy fabrics that can't be gathered by machine.

5/5 – (21 votes)

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Difficulty: Easy Beginner

Keyword: Sewing

Total Time: 3minutes




ThreadFabric to be gathered


Thread 2 needles with strong thread. The length of thread should be longer than your fabric. Knot the ends.Stitch 2 rows of running stitch (basic up and down stitch). The smaller the spaces between your stitches, the finer the gathers produced. Try ¼" (6mm) spacing.running stitchrunning stitchPinPull the threads gently and distribute the gathers evenly. pulling the gatherspulling the gathersPinAttach your gathered piece to your garment by stitching between the gathered lines. After you have finished, remove the line of hand gathering that is below the seam allowance. It should pull out easily.


See the full tutorial at

5/5 – (21 votes)