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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Gathering with a Serger

I love sewing.  I'm sure that's no surprise, and there's a good chance you're the same way since you are here reading this!  But as much as I love sewing, I also like to learn new ways to save time while I do it. After all, the quicker I can do something, the more creating I can do!  Today's skill is is not a new technique but  it sounds like there are many of our sewing friends who don't know how to do it.  So... let's get to it and learn something new!

Gathering can be done with a regular sewing machine, or even just by hand.  But if you happen to have a serger, you have the greatest gathering tool at your fingertips and it doesn't even require a special foot!  While it's true that there are ruffling feet available, there is somewhat of a learning curve for them and the method I'm showing today is just as effective, in my opinion.  I'm going to demonstrate how gathering is done on my Brother 1034D serger, first using photo steps and then with video! 


The most important part of gathering with a serger is getting the settings right. This is not difficult or time consuming at all.  If you're worried about remembering the settings I teach you today, or getting them set back to normal when you're done, be sure to print out our handy little chart to post by your machines -- you can fill in the blanks for your particular model so it's really handy! Okay, so let's go. 

The main idea we want to go for in adjusting our settings, no matter the model, is that we want our left and right needle tensions to be turned up high, while both looper tensions stay where they are.  On my particular model, you can see in the photo above that I set them to about 9-7-4-4.   This will cause the needle threads to pull tight while the upper and lower looper threads remain normal. 

Then on the side settings, I changed only the first knob by putting it up to a 2. (I normally have it set at a 1 for seam serging.)  This higher setting causes the fabric to pull through twice as fast between top and bottom, giving us a nice gather.  The other two knobs will stay the same and the blade should be turned off.  (Again, this may be different depending on your model. If you're not sure, check your manual and practice on some scraps.) 

If you are in the habit of removing one of your needles for rolled hems etc, you will want both needles in for gathering, and your stitch foot in place if your model has one. 


With the settings adjusted, now you're ready to gather!  I recommend practicing on a long scrap before doing it on an actual outfit.   First you will sew out a chain of thread several inches long before putting your fabric under the foot.  Because the knife is turned off, you will line up the edge of the fabric with the edge of the knife, where it would be cutting if it were turned on. See the photo above.  Put the foot down and begin serging.

As you serge, the settings will cause the fabric to automatically gather as you go, as shown in the photo above. This will give you about a 2-to-1 ratio, which is perfect for most of our skirt and ruffle pieces. No worries if it doesn't come out to that exact ratio though, because you will be able to adjust.  When you get to the end of the fabric, continue sewing off the edge and give yourself several inches of tail off the end before clipping.

Doesn't this gather look great?!  The serger did all the work here. I didn't do any of it by hand by pulling on threads and I did not have to use a special foot! Now I'm ready to pin the ruffle to the skirt, or the skirt to the bodice, etc.  If you already have your skirt/ruffle sewn into a loop instead of a straight edge like I did here, you still do it the same way. 

As you pin your gathered edge in place, if you find that it is gathered a little too tightly, all you need to do is pull out on the fabric to loosen it!  Just be sure you don't pull the fabric beyond the tail ends of the thread. 

If you happen to let the gathers out too much as you go and you need to gather them back in, you can still do that too.  Here's how:

I made the threads the different colors here so it would be easy to see. The pink threads are the looper threads, and the white threads are the needle threads.  We will leave the pink looper threads completely alone.  Using tweezers or fingers, reach through the pink threads and grab the white ones, on the very end of the fabric.  Pull them free enough for you to grab them.

Hold onto those two threads while you pull the fabric inward, gathering it back up as necessary.  It really is that simple!  The important part is knowing which threads to grab. You can remember this tutorial and that I had white ones running parallel with the edge; those are the ones you need to gather with.  

This is why I love using the serger with a regular foot -- the gathers are secure but still adjustable. When you get it to where you want it, just finish pinning in place and then sew your ruffle/skirt on. 

And there you have it! If you'd like to see the process again, here's a quick video:

That wasn't so bad, was it?  I genuinely hope that you will give this method a try. I bet you won't ever go back to gathering without your serger!  Now don't forget to go back and print out our little settings chart so you can remember what you learned today. 

Let's Create! ~ Kristen 


  1. Awesome tutorial! Thank you, Kristen :)

  2. Awesome!! May I ask why the knife should be turned off?

  3. Sweet! Thank you!!!!!!

  4. You have won the internet for me today! Thank you!

  5. Woohoo! Thank you! This could work for Blanche ruffles right?

  6. can Janome do the gathering too?

  7. I was about ready to chuck my 1034d out the window because i couldn't get my settings right.... FANTASTIC tutorial!

  8. can you gather knit fabric the same way?

  9. Super excited about all the cool things I’m learning! My needle threads keep breaking with these settings
    any tips?