How much curl up

4 ways to gather fabric: this is guaranteed to succeed!

There are many uses for ruffles: for example, you can sew chic ruffled sleeves or necklines or use a ruffled strip of fabric to lengthen a t-shirt to a dress. The question arises as to how much material you need for shirring. Many instructions say that you should gather the fabric by a factor of 2, i.e. that the fabric is cut twice as wide as the desired width of the garment. But unfortunately it's not always that simple.

I read a while ago that the amount of fabric needed to pucker depends on the thickness of the fabric. With light fabrics you need more width, thick fabrics are less gathered.

What may be cold coffee for some sewing professionals opened my eyes and I took it as an opportunity to write these instructions. There are detailed photo instructions for four possibilities of gathering: with the sewing machine, with Framilon tape / Framilastic, with elastic tape and with a bias tape tunnel. So you are well prepared for all frizzy occasions! πŸ™‚

How much fabric when gathering?

The principle of gathering is to cut the fabric wider than the desired final length. This additional width is pulled together and that gives the ruffled look.

How wide you cut the fabric and by what factor you gather the fabric depends on two questions: How thick is the fabric and how much volume should the gathering have? The thicker the fabric and the more stance it has, the less it will be gathered. Very fine fabrics are gathered much more strongly, otherwise they will collapse too much.

Here is a table to use as a guide, inspired by Dennic Chunman Lo's book Pattern Cutting * (as an Amazon affiliate, I make my money on qualified purchases).

This is how much fabric you need to pucker

ExamplesGathering factor
Heavy fabricsThick wool, sweat, romanite jersey1.5x
Medium weight fabricsPoplin, blouse fabrics, single jersey2x
Light fabrics(Silk) chiffon, soft tulle3-4x


Using the example of a gathered skirt

Here is an example of the effect of varying degrees of gathering. For this cotton skirt I used a woven fabric with a relatively large amount of stance.

First I cut the fabric twice as wide as the desired end size. My model's hips are 60 cm, so I cut a 120 cm strip of fabric. This is what the end result looks like, the skirt is quite voluminous:

Here is the same skirt with a gathering of 1.5 instead of 2 (that is, the cotton fabric was 90 cm wide). It has fewer wrinkles and falls more heavily.

Both skirts have their charm and it is a matter of taste how much fabric you want to use for gathering.

There are several ways to gather the fabric. You can gather the fabric with a long straight stitch on the sewing machine and then gather it by hand. The advantage of this method is that it does not require any additional material. The gathering is not stretchable and is suitable, for example, to gather a skirt that is sewn to a cuff.

If you want the gathering to remain stretchable over the long term, you can use Framilon tape or elastic thread. This also makes the wrinkles particularly even and fine.

You can also pull the elastic into a bias tape tunnel. This looks particularly professional with a neckline, for example, but is also a little more complex to sew.

Gathering with the sewing machine

Traditionally, for example, a skirt is gathered with a sewing machine by quilting a straight seam with the largest possible stitch length close to the edge (the largest stitch length on my machine is 4.5 mm). You only secure the seam on one side, on the other side you simply let the threads protrude a few centimeters.

Then you pull on one of the two unsecured threads and push the fabric together like on a curtain rod. The large stitch length makes this pretty easy. It doesn't matter whether you pull on the upper thread or the bobbin thread.

Now you push the folds to the left and distribute the gathering evenly over the entire width of the fabric. Next, sew the skirt to the cuff with an elastic stitch.

At the end you remove the thread that was used for shirring:


Shirring with Framilon tape

Framilon tape is a thin, transparent tape made of polyurethane that is very stretchy and can be worn next to the skin. It has a significantly greater restoring force than most normal rubber bands and therefore the gathering hardly wears out.

Here I show the procedure using the example of a gathered section.

First you cut the framilon tape to the length you want the neckline to have. This is of course shorter than the fabric that is to be gathered. You close the ribbon in a circle with a few stitches. Be careful not to twist the tape. This seam doesn't have to hold well, it just helps you to position the tape correctly at the neckline.

Now sew the tape unstretched with a few stitches on the center back of the neckline so that it adheres well to the fabric.

Now you pin the tape evenly in three (or more) places on the cutout. Start with the opposite side of the ribbon and attach it to the center front of the neckline. Next, pull the Framilon tape along the length of the fabric, grab the fabric and elastic by the shoulder and pin both together there.

You stretch the tape so that it lies flat (it won't tear, even if it feels like that) and sew it tight. When stretched, the Framilon tape is quite thin and depending on the fabric color and light you cannot always see whether you are sewing on the tape. However, if you sew correctly and the needle penetrates the Framilastic, you can clearly hear it.

Secure seam: Since it is not so easy to sew back and forth on the Framilon tape, you can either secure the seam in place (if your sewing machine can) or let the threads protrude a little longer and knot them by hand.

This is what the cutout looks like. The elastic makes the fabric very even and finely gathered.

Here you can see the Juno jumpsuit with a ruffled neckline in action. Because the neckline is so stretchable, the mouse can easily get into the one-piece from above.


Gathering with an elastic band

Gathering with an elastic band is very similar to that with Framilon tape. I show it here using the example of a tulle skirt that I sewed for the mouse for Halloween as part of its pumpkin costume. To do this, I folded a fine tulle fabric twice lengthways and processed it in four layers.

First you close the elastic again with a tight zigzag stitch to form a ring. It is important not to twist the tape in itself.

Now you pin the elastic band evenly under the edge of the skirt and sew it on with a normal zigzag stitch. You may be able to set the stitch width a little wider.

It feels like puckering with elastic is a little easier than with Framilon, but the elastic is stretched relatively easily when sewing on. In fact, this skirt got a little too wide and I attached it to the top with two safety pins.

Therefore, in the meantime, to be on the safe side, I always cut the elastic band a little shorter than the desired end length, especially if the rubber is slightly stretchy.

By the way, the orange tulle was once a curtain that I bought for little money in a second-hand shop. When I saw it, it was immediately clear to me what would become of it, because I did not yet have a Halloween costume suitable for toddlers. Because I think that small children don't have to look particularly scary, but I think a pumpkin costume is totally cute! πŸ™‚

Gathering rubber in the drawstring

You can also use a rubber band in a drawstring for gathering or, as here, inside a bias tape. This is a bit more complex to sew, but it looks tidier and is always useful when you see the gathering later, for example on a neckline.

In addition to the elastic band, you also need a bias tape that is about 1 cm longer than the unstretched neckline.

The upper edge of the bias tape is pinned about 5 mm below the hem. Now fold the end of the bias tape over so that the edge looks nice and clean later.

You only sew that at first upper edge of the bias tape, the lower edge remains open.

Now you close the elastic band with a zigzag stitch to form a ring.

Then you put the elastic under the bias tape and sew the lower edge of the bias tape without sewing on the elastic.

When sewing, you always pull the elastic so that you can sew the ribbon easily.

This is what the cutout looks like finished. I think that the cutout looks extremely good with the matching colored ribbon.

Even if, of course, you can't see the bias tape when it's on. πŸ™‚

If you don't have a finished woven ribbon at hand, you can easily make it yourself: Instructions: Make bias tape yourself

So now I hope all the questions about gathering fabrics have been answered! If something is still unclear, write to me, either here in the comments or by email.

Many greetings and have fun sewing!


Category: General, Sewing Instructions, Sewing Tips