MN2204 Brumby / Sewalongs / Sewing Techniques / Tips & Tutorials

Tutorial // how to gather heavy fabrics

Gathering is a sewing technique where the fabric is bunched together to create a ruffle effect.

We all know the basic method for gathering, right? You stitch two or three rows of basting stitches, grab and hold the top thread tails, and push the fabric with your fingers to create the gathers. While this works perfectly well for lightweight to medium fabrics, trying to gather heavier weight fabrics, like denim, might snap those delicate threads. And you know what is perfect when made in something like denim, twill, or corduroy? The Brumby skirt! But not to worry, we have some tips for creating the perfect gathers in even the heaviest of fabrics.

How to gather heavy fabricsHow to gather heavy fabrics

1. sticking with the conventional

If you want to try and stick to the basic method of gathering, there are a couple of tricks to keep those threads form snapping. Really, it all comes down to the stitch length. While lighter fabrics gather better with a length of around 3.5 (you can control the gathers better so they don’t slide), a longer stitch length for heavy fabrics will not be as tight, which will help prevent thread breakage. Try maxing it out at 5.0. Or play around and test out lengths to find what works best for your fabric.

Also, always always use more than one row of parallel stitches.

How to gather heavy fabricsHow to gather heavy fabrics

2. zig zag over cord

An easier way to get those gathers with your heavy fabric is to zig zag stitch over a thicker piece of thread. It could be cord, embroidery floss, very thin ribbon or elastic, or in my case – bakers twine.

Always stitch this one from the wrong side of your fabric. Again, find the stitch width and length that best works for the cord that you are working with. You will want to clear the cord on either side, so that your stitches do not catch it. For the twine that I used, I set my width to 4.5 and the length to 2.0.

Place your cord/string/ribbon in the center of your dresser foot, leaving an inch or so of ”tail” at the beginning, and zig zag over it. Again – be careful not to catch the cord with your stitching.

Then just pull on the cord while pushing and gathering the fabric with your fingers.

How to gather heavy fabricsHow to gather heavy fabrics

3. gather with elastic

Another simple way to create gathers is by sewing over elastic. This isn’t always the best option for all garments, as it creates extra bulk in the seam. But if that is not something you are worried about, this method goes super fast!

Cut a piece of elastic the length of your gathered piece. Pin one end of the elastic to one end of your garment, and the other end to the other end. Find the center of the elastic, and pin it to the center of the garment. Place your fabric underneath the presser foot, and pull and stretch the elastic so that it runs even with the fabric. Stitch down the center of the elastic as you stretch it.

Let me know if you have any questions in comments! Holly xoxo

About Author

Holly writes part time for the Megan Nielsen blog– sewing like crazy, creating tutorials and sewalongs. She has been sewing since she was a little girl, and has her degree in apparel design. Now she’s a stay at home mama, and spends all her free nap times at her sewing machine.

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7 years ago

My other favourite method is to use shirring elastic in the bobbin – I’m really bad at distributing the gathers and shirring elastic can be great if there’s not too much heavy fabric!

V Reed
7 years ago

One of my go to ways for gathering fabrics is to switch out the bobbin with one threaded with heavy duty thread. Then stitch at the wider length, wrong side of the fabric down. Once you have your lines of stitching, pull on the heavy duty thread to gather the fabric. I find the thicker thread easier to hold onto when I’m working the gathers into my fabric and they pull/unpick easier than standard weight threads!

7 years ago

You always have the best tutorials! I never would have thought to do the second one. Thanks!


[…] Nielsen’s blog is where I learned the technique of sewing over a cord or string to gather […]

4 years ago

Thank you Meagan! Now I can finish making your Darling Ranges dress in flannel. I busted all 3 rows of basting stitches on heavy flannel just doing the simple gathers it calls for . It is already cold, we’re having unseasonably cold weather in the SW USA & warm dresses are needed now. Fortuntaly, the quality flannel & pattern are not making my Darling Ranges dress look like a nightgown …

2 years ago

Great ideas – thank you!! What width would you recommend cutting your fabric to achieve optimal fullness? 1.5 or 2 times the finished width?


[…] gathering the skirt and arm ruffles, I used a technique I learned from Megan Nielsen, where you do a large zigzag over a piece of string in your seam allowance.  I used baker’s […]