Gathering fabric is a way to draw the fabric in to change the shape, loosen fit, add fullness or add interest to a design.

I went for a bit of a rummage through my wardrobe and found a few pieces where I think gathers work well as a little inspiration before you get started! Unfortunately there isn't much diversity here (I am a bit of a sucker for a gathered waist as you may gather).

Here's a sneak peak of a top I have left mid-make for far too long. Must get those buttons on so I can wear it this summer!

Gathers need not be limited to the waist, they work well at the hips, on sleeves, on the back of shirts and as a trim on hemlines or sleeves, but for the tutorial I have kept it simple by using a simple top pattern.

You won't need many tools for this tutorial. Just a ruler, a pencil, a sheet of pattern paper and a sewing machine.

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To start, decide where you would like your gathers. Draw a line parallel to the centre front (or centre back) through the pattern in the chosen spot. Above are some examples of conventional places - above the bust, below the bust, waist and hip. Avoid a horizontal line through bust point as it can be unflattering.

adding gathers

Be sure to mark a balance point on your panel line. This will be an absolute life saver when you are trying to evenly distribute your gathers when preparing to sew. Mark it at the midpoint (halfway point) of the seam.

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Separate your pattern into two pieces by tracing each piece onto another piece of paper (being sure to leave enough space around each pattern piece to add seam allowance). Don't forget to transfer all pattern markings, such as the grainline and any notches.

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The type of fabric you are using will govern how dense or sparse your gathers are.

For example, if you are using something light like silk chiffon you will need far more fabric (and therefore gathers) than if you were using a heavy cotton drill.

Take a piece of the fabric you will be using for the final piece you are making (or something very similar in weight and handle).

Measure a length of fabric (I used 50cm). Either cut this piece off, or mark length with a piece of masking tape (I like to do it this way so that I can remove the gathering stitch later and use the fabric again).

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Jump on your sewing machine and turn your stitch width up to 4 or 5. Stitch along the length of your fabric. Be sure not to backstitch at either end and to leave both your top and bottom threads long at both ends.

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Focus on either the top or bottom thread (it doesn't really matter which one, but once started be sure to stick to the same thread) and pull until gathers in the fabric naturally form.

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Pull on the threads until desired gathers are achieved and distribute evenly along the thread.

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Once you are satisfied with how the gathering looks, remeasure your length of fabric. Write down this figure.

Next thing to do is a little bit of maths. Take your first measurement ( the original length of the fabric) and divide it by your new measurement. 

For example, the length I started with was 50cm, and once I gathered the fabric it measured 18cm. When I divide 50 by 18 the answer is 2.78.

Go back to the pattern pieces and measure the length of the seam where you are adding gathers.

Write down the measurement and then multiply it by the number you got in the previous step. 

For example, the length of the seam in this case was 18cm. 18 x 2.78 = 50.04. This will ensure that your pattern will be gathered to the same density as your test strip.

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Extend the line (and the rest of the pattern) to this new length to accommodate the gathers. Move the balance point so it is in the new halfway point.

Complete the pattern by adding seam allowance, cutting instructions and notches.

What next?