Gathering without loosing your sanity

Quite often, when creating garments, we realise we need to gather material. And when working on something like a 23 metre (25 yards for those not using metric) skirt, the “eyeballing” method is a sure way of ending with an unevenly gathered skirt and in dire need of a wig. All that hair pulling is REALLY not good for you, and will look awful on your next performance.

So, how to work with such huge quantities without going nuts? Patience. And lots of pins with different coloured heads, preferably at least 6-8 different colours. Here is how I did it with the monsterskirt (12 metres):

  • step 1: baste all around the piece you need to gather
  • step 2: fold in equal halves, then again, and use pins of one  colour to mark these quarters
  • step 3: mark the quarter parts on the top tier (or the piece you need to attach the gathered section to) using pins of the exact same colour
  • step 4: take the unattached tier again, put together two consecutive pins, mark the eights with a new colour pin.
  • step 5: take the upper tier, mark the halves in between each quarter using pins of the same colour as the eights marked on the bottom tier
  • step 6: lather, rinse, repeat until you’re bored and you’ve got sections of about 15/20 cms (6 to 8″).
  • step 7: join both upper and bottom tiers, using the coloured pins as guides of what to pin where; same coloured pins should go together; pin both vertically for the time being (that is, NOT along the line of where you will sew later)
  • step 8: now use the basting thread, pull the sections; it should be far easier to get an even gathering along such short sections
  • step 9: pin along the lines of  the basting
  • step 10: baste both pieces together, making sure the gathering fabric is flat and there are no gaps; sew. Sergers are ideal for this as they will trim and neat the seam
  • step 11: finish the edges if necessary

You can use this method or a variation of it not just for monsterskirts but of any other project where you are gathering fabric. Typical examples include gathering ruffles, big sleeves into tight cuffs, leg openings into bottom cuffs for harem pants… you get the idea. A variation is also an easy way of applying elastic of a particular length onto fabric for a quick gathering… just skip the basting steps, and instead just stretch the elastic while sewing with a zigzag stitch: you will find the elastic contracts and gathers the fabric more easily.

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