Gathering My Thoughts… 12




Using two rows of straight stitches inside a 1/4-inch seam allowance.


When using two straight stitches for gathering on a narrow seam allowance, the raw edge of the fabric has a tendency to get pulled down into the seam line.

Sewing small scale designs often requires a little ingenuity.  I like ruffles, puffed sleeves, and full skirts…. but when it comes time to add them to doll clothes, the process always begins with a long sigh.  Creating a nice neat gather begins with sewing two rows of gathering stitches, one just inside the seamline and the other 1/4-inch above it, which work together to stabilize the seam allowance.  Herein lies the problem, doll clothes only have 1/4-inch seam allowances.  Because of this, the space between the two rows of gathering stitches and the raw edge of the fabric is greatly reduced… and so is the stability of the seam allowance.  Hence, the reason for my sigh.  In drawing up the gathering stitches, the narrow seam allowances twist and the raw edges have a tendency to get pulled under… often tucked between folds so they aren’t noticeable until AFTER the final seam has been sewn.  It is so frustrating to finish a project, only then to find raw edges poking intermittently through a seam line.  Well, I have been doing a lot of thinking on this problem as of late, and think I have come up with a solution.   The problem to solve was how to stabilize the seam allowance while drawing the gathering stitches.  Widening the space between the stitching lines was the most obvious choice, but to do that would mean sewing outside the seamline and risking marring the fabric.  After a bit of head scratching, I thought, why not use a zig zag stitch?  Now, using a zig zag stitch alone presents other problems in that the opposite sides would push and pull on each other creating a rippled effect.  However, when paired up with a straight stitch the two work together.  The straight stitch stabilizes the effect of the zig zag and the pushing and pulling of effect of the zig zag stitch keeps the raw edge of the seam allowance from getting pulled under…  is anyone else sensing a great marriage analogy here?

Step 1:  Set the stitch length on your sewing machine to the proper length for gathering your fabric.   Shorter stitches make neater gathers, so it is best to keep the stitch length as short as possible, but long enough to draw the bobbin threads easily.  Generally, the lighter the fabric, the shorter the stitch length you can use.

Step 2:  Sew a stitching line just inside the seam allowance where you want your gathers to be.

Step 3:  Set the zig zag stitch to the widest setting and adjust the stitch length to match the stitch length of the first stitching line – remember, stitch width and stitch length are two different settings.


Using one row of straight stitches and one row of zig zag stitches inside a 1/4-inch seam allowance.

Step 4:  Sew a zig zag stitch following the 1/4 inch seam allowance.  The stitches should fall between the  raw edge of the seam allowance and the first stitching line.  If necessary, adjust the width of the zig zag so that it does’t cross the first stitching line.


When the zig zag stitches are pulled, the two sides work together to hold the raw edge upright.

Step 5:  To gather, draw the bobbin threads from both rows.  Because the overall length of the zig zag stitching line is longer, you will need to pull on that one more to get the stabilizing effect.

Step 6:  Arrange the gathers evenly and stitch in place.   That’s it!  Try it out, and tell me what you think…


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12 thoughts on “Gathering My Thoughts…

  • Sophie

    This is very interresting! I too struggle with gathering when doing doll clothes, and I know what you mean when you say “the raw edges have a tendency to get pulled under… often tucked between folds so they aren’t noticeable until AFTER the final seam has been sewn”. It happened to me many times, and I sighed!

    Next time, I’ll try your technique!

  • Janine

    I do lots of 1/4″ seams and know exactly what you are talking about. Going to give this method a try. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Joan Longbrake

    Good idea would like to add if you loosen your top tension slightly pulling bottom thread only gatheing much easier. I do use a third line if fabric good woven. I place it about a half of an inch below the seam allowan this does keep your gathers flat and neat while sewing. Do not pull thread out when done instead cut top thread every inch or sw then pull bottom thread this causes less fabric strain. Course then you have to pick out the top thread. Your method would also be great with those pesky sleeves especially going around the armseye .

  • Gloria

    I think you have a good solution. I have always used two threads and pull out the one that would show on the face of the fabric because I have a wonderful iron that is also a good steamer.

  • Rebecca

    Genius! I am going to try this next time and I’ll let you know how it worked out for me. I always get so frustrated with gathers on small scale clothing because of the problems you described. Thanks, Shari!

  • Eva Salo

    Thanks for this tip!! I used it this afternoon and found it made gathering a slippery fabric so easy I’ll be doing this from now on.

  • Carolyn Dolores Bisbee

    I like this idea. I have also used fray check on the edge to keep the fabric from fraying. This sometimes makes the edge stiff. I does soften some by the time the time the garment is finished.

  • Donna Watts

    I have struggled with sewing the 1/4 ” seams on thesilks and silkies I brought home with me from India. I tried it on the En Forreau dress I am making and it worked great! This will be a helpful arrow to add to my quiver of sewing tricks. I will have to search your older newsletters for any other helpful tricks for handling these difficult fabrics. A 1/4″ seam allowance can fray away before you can even sew it!

  • Penny T.

    I’ll definitely be trying this. I tend to err on placing the second gathering line just below the seamline, but as you mention, that method risks leaving behind visible holes in some fabrics.

  • Amanda Rose

    I like to use two different colors of thread and pull only one, this really helps me keep track of my thread. I Keep telling myself the ruffles are worth the extra effort ?

  • Cyria

    Thank you so much for the tips. I have been struggling most the day with gathering a silk skirt. Then I remembered your newsletter on this mater. Wow, what a difference the zig zag makes. Helps prevent the silk from shredding and me from pulling out all my hair.