Creative articles about sewing

“Irina” Sew Along – Week 5 – Gather Skirt

Welcome to Week 5 of the Irina Sew Along. This week we are talking all about gathering! There are many different ways to achieve a gathered effect on clothing. I’ve done each dress a different way so that I can show you some options.

The classic technique for gathering is to sew 2 rows of straight stitches and pull the threads by hand to make the fabric pucker but did you know that you can actually gather on the overlocker? Overlocker gathering automatically puckers the fabric up for you like magic! However not everyone has an overlocker so we will be covering both techniques. 


Divide and Mark – For both dresses

This week we need to gather the skirt of our dress so we can attach it to the bodice but before we start gathering we need to divide our skirt and bodice into sections that will get matched up when we’re ready to sew. It’s the same idea as having notches to help line things up, theses markings keep our gathers evenly distributed around the dress. 

Step 1

Find the centre front of the skirt by folding it in half, bringing the 2 side seams together. Mark the point that it folds with either fabric chalk or washaway pen. We need something that is drawn on, rather than a pin because the pin will get in the way when we do our gathering. If using chalk make sure it is a substantial line because it might get rubbed off while gathering. 

Once you have found the centre you can fold the sides in to the meet the middle and mark those points as well. You’ve now divided the skirt front into 4 sections. Transfer these markings to the skirt back as well so that the whole skirt is divided into 8 even sections. You can do as many of these sections as you need but I find that this is enough to keep things evenly distributed.

Step 2

Do the same to the bodice as well. Divide it into 8 sections and put a chalk, washaway pen or pin in place. You can get away with just using pins in the bodice because we will leave them there until we are ready to attach the two pieces together. 


Gathering – Method 1 – Two rows of straight stitch

We are going to sew 2 rows of stitching that will be pulled up. Because the distance around the skirt is quite long, I like to sew 2 different sections of gathering stitching to make it easier to pull up. I sew one section across the front, stop, leave long threads, and sew a separate section of gathering stitches across the back as you’ll see below.

Step 1

On your machine select a straight stitch, adjust the length to 4 – 5mm and slightly loosen the needle tension. Stitching on the right side of the fabric, sew two lines of stitching across the front – one on or just beyond the seamline (1cm), the other inside the seam allowance (approx. 6 – 9mm apart). Repeat this across the back section  as well. 

Stopping at the sides seams and leaving long tails of thread, you should end up with 2 rows of long straight stitches that have a break at each side seam. The picture below is the break at the side seams. This break in the gathering stitches is also helpful to avoid the loose pocket bag at the sides. We don’t want the pocket bag included in the gathering stitches.  


Step 2

With right sides together we are going to match up our marks on the skirt with the marks on the bodice before we start pulling our gather. Place pieces right side together and pin at all the marks. In the photo below the bodice is right sides out and it is upside down in the middle of the skirt piece. The skirt piece is wrong side out.

Step 3

To pull up the gathers, find the bobbin threads of the 2 rows of gathering stitches and start pulling them. You can see in the photo this starts to pucker the fabric. Gently push the gathers of fabric along the threads until the skirt piece is the same length as the bodice. I start on one side of the front and pull until the gathers reach the centre. Then I get the bobbin threads from the other side and pull from that side until the gathers reach the centre again.  Repeat for the back as well until the gathers are evenly distributed around the whole skirt. Add as many pins as you need to hold the gathers in place. I forgot to take a photo of my gathered skirt before I sewed it but you can see a video of me gathering up the skirt here: Facebook Video 

Step 4

Now set your machine back to a normal stitch length of 2.5 and standard tension. Sew around the whole waist with the standard 1cm seam allowance. This will be roughly between the two lines of gathering stitches. After the seam is sewn, you can remove the row of gathering stitches that can be seen on the right side (you can see the gathering stitches in the image below). Pull that bobbin thread until the whole thread comes out.

Step 5

Next lay your pocket bags on top of that gathered waist seam, going towards the centre front and sew over top of the 1cm seam you’ve just sewn to secure them in place. Finish the seam of your waist with either overlocking or zig zag.

Step 6 – Optional

Because I have top stitched all my other seams I chose to top stitch the waist seam as well. I pushed the seam allowance up towards the top/bodice and stitched close to the gathered edge. 


Gathering – Method 2 – With the overlocker

Before we get started on the gather, have you divided your skirt and bodice into sections and put chalk marks? If not please jump back to the start of the post and do that first.

Step 1

To gather on the overlocker we need to change a few settings and it always best to do a test on a scrap of the same fabric you are using for your dress because each fabric will behave slightly differently. 

Overlocker settings:

  • 4 thread overlock
  • Stitch Length: 4 – 4.5 (as long as your machine will go)
  • Differential feed:  1.5 – 2
  • Needle tensions: increase to between 5.5 – 6.5 

Once you have changed these settings get a long-ish strip of fabric and run it through. The machine will go a lot faster than usual because of all the settings we’ve increased and it should pull the fabric up into gathers as it goes. You can have a look at your test piece and decide if it is gathered enough to your liking but keep in mind that we can adjust the gathers after it is sewn as well. We can stretch them out further or we can dig out the 2 needle threads and pull them, like with the above method, to gather it more. 

If you want it to be more gathered you can increase the needle tension to a higher number and/or adjust the differential feed to more or less. Have a play and see what different results you get!

Step 2

Once you’re happy with your gather settings you can start gathering your skirt. I did the same as the previous method and did 2 sections of gathering. I started at a side seam and went across the front. Then stopped and left a long tail before starting again to go across the back. Just incase you need to adjust your gather I find 2 sections easier to control than one and this also makes it easy to avoid the pocket bags at each side seam. 

Step 3

Once you have gathered up your skirt on the overlocker you can start pinning your skirt to the bodice. Match up the side seams and section marks your put on both pieces. Then adjust your gathers so that the skirt is the same as the bodice piece. This may be smoothing out your gathers or pulling the gathers tighter depending on how your gathering came out of the overlocker. Add as many pins as you feel the need for. 



Step 4

Next we need to sew the waist seam. You can either do this on your sewing machine or go over it again with the overlocker. You will need to put your overlocker back to normal 4 thread overlock settings before you do this or it will try and gather it again. You can include the pocket bags into the waist seam when you sew that as well.

NB. If overlocking REMOVE THE PINS AS YOU GO! I have put this in all caps because it is very important to remember to remove the pins because if you sew over a pin on your overlocker you will blunt the knife very dramatically.

Step 5

If you are making the Merino Tunic version, once the waist is done you can repeat the process for the next tier of your skirt.

Week 5 complete!

And that’s it for week 5 of gathering. I hope you have learned something new about gathering but if you have your own preferred method of gathering, of course go ahead and do that. As always please ask any questions you may have in the comments and please share pictures! I love seeing what you’re doing 🙂


To see previous post you can click here:


Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Difficulty level: Intermediate
Used Material: all purpose thread, cotton or linen, denim chambray, fusible interfacing, knit fabric, light non-fusible interfacing
Used Products:

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  • sewfuntoys EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

    Anna,I see you listed 2 methods to gather the skirt tier. I was hoping to get assistance with gathering using the gathering foot on the sewing machine (previous months featured foot). I have a new Bernina gathering foot for my 790+. I tested a few scraps but the “flimsy” jersey fabric isn’t working to place gathering pleats on the fabric. I wanted to give it a go. Have you tried to use the gathering foot on the sewing machine?

    • Anna Hicks EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

      Hi ya. Which gathering foot are you referring to? I’m not sure which was the featured foot in the USA sorry. In NZ we have a different one. Do you mean the Ruffler foot #86 or the Gathering foot #16?

      • sewfuntoys EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

        It is the Ruffler Foots #86. I do have a Serger that does everything, yet I wanted to try out my newly acquired foot #86.  Thanks again

      • Anna Hicks EditEditing comments on the BERNINA blog is only possible after logging in with a blog user account. Sign up now or create a user account if you do not have one yet.

        Ahh ok. I don’t think I’ve tried the ruffler foot with a knit fabric before actually. I’ll see if I can find time to have a play with knits myself sometime soon. It works really well with woven fabrics but I imagine some types of knit fabric might just be too slippery.
        My first go-to trick to try it with a knit fabric would be using a spray starch. You could starch the top edge of the knit fabric and if that takes, it might have just enough temporary stiffness to help it go through the ruffler. Although not all spray starches will work on a knit fabric.
        I would also try all the different settings on the ruffler foot and sewing slowly.

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