gathering with a serger

Gathering Using a Serger

If there’s one thing I love on a knit dress, it’s ruffles! My girls love ruffles of all kinds on their dresses too, and lucky for us Boo and Lu has tons of gorgeous ruffled knit dresses. I know sometimes in can feel intimidating to gather all that knit fabric into ruffles, but that’s where your serger can help! Did you know you can easily do all your knit gathering using a serger, even if you don’t have a special gathering foot? Today I am going to show you how!


For this tutorial I changed my two needle threads to a contrasting color (blue) and left my two looper threads white, to make it easier to see in these pictures which threads you need to pull. If you are new to gathering using a serger, you may want to try this too. It can make it easier to identify the correct threads to pull.

Serger Settings for Gathering

The first step in gathering with your serger is adjusting the settings on your machine. First, set your stitch length to the longest stitch your machine can do. On mine, it is a 5. Second, set your differential feed to the highest number, on mine it is a 2. Third, set your stitch width either as wide as it goes, or close to. My machine doesn’t have numbers for the width, but I set it to the widest.

Next, you will adjust your tension settings. Start with your tension wherever you would typically sew for a standard seam on the material you plan to gather. Then, set your needle tensions higher than normal, and your looper tensions lower than normal. How much will depend on your machine. For my machine, I typically gather mid-weight knits with my needle tension at 6, and the looper tension at 3.5.

My absolute number one piece of advice on this, is experiment on scraps of fabric until you find what tension is going to work best for your particular machine. Cut several pieces of fabric the same length, maybe ten to fifteen inches long, and gather each one with a different tension setting, and note how much gathering you get. I recomend making a chart of ideal settings for 25% length reduction, 50% reduction, etc. This will be handy in the future!
Longest stitch length, highest differential.
Higher needle tension, lower looper tension.

Gathering Your Fabric

Now you are ready to start gathering your fabric! Feed your fabric through your machine, while gently pushing your fabric forward toward the feed dogs. Make sure to leave a long serger tail at the beginning and end of your fabric. You now have the base gathering in, and can adjust to exactly the final length you need. When in doubt, gather with your machine too loose rather than too tight, because it is easy to tighten your gathers, but virtually impossible to lengthen unless you leave super long tails.

To adjust your gathers, you need to pick your needle threads out of the serger tail. I use a seam ripper to do this. Gently use your seam ripper, a needle, pin, tweezers, etc., to pull your needle threads out of the serger tail, separate from your looper threads. In these pictures, my needle threads are the blue ones. Stop unthreading them when you are at your fabric edge.

If you plan to gather all from one side of the fabric, tie off the serger tail on the opposite side into a knot so that you don’t lose your gathers. I usually gather from each side, meeting in the center.

Adjust your gathers by gently pulling both needle threads, and sliding your fabric toward center, until you have the desired amount of gathering. Be sure to pull both needle threads equally and at the same time. If you are gathering one long piece of fabric, you’re done! Continue sewing per your pattern instructions.

Gathering with a serger
Leave a long thread tail on either side of your fabric.
Use a seam ripper or other tool to separate your needle threads.
Gently remove your needle threads (blue here) from the thread tail, stopping at the edge of the fabric.
Pull your needle threads at the same time to tighten your gathers.

Gathering a Loop

But what if you are gathering a continuous piece of fabric, like a ruffle loop? You can still use the same technique with a minor adjustment. This is how I like to do it for easy and clean gathers on my serger on a loop of fabric.

Begin the same way as a single piece of fabric. With your gathering settings, serge around your continuous loop, but this time, stop about an inch before you get to where you started. As you approach this spot, you may want to move your starting serger thread tail out of the way to be sure you don’t accidentally cut it off with the serger knife as you approach it. Then, with your needles in the down position, lift your presser foot and move your fabric out of the way. Lower your presser foot and continue serging, so that you have a long tail. You will finish with two long serger tails, one at the beginning and one at the end, with roughly half an inch to one inch unsewn in between.

Gathering with a serger
Stop serging as you approach where you began.
Gathering with a serger
Drop your needles, lift your presser foot, and serge off the fabric.
You’ll finish with a small gap between the serger ends.

Next, take your loop to your regular sewing machine. With a long stitch length, beginning about 1/2″ before your gap, sew a straight line as close to the serger line as you can, finishing 1/2″ or so after you get to the end of the gap. Backstitch at the beginning of this line to lock it, but leave long thread tails at the end. Leave alone till later.

Gather your loop using the same method as before, unpicking your needle threads and pulling them until you have the desired gather tightness. Once you have your gathers adjusted to the amount you want, pull your sewing machine thread tail to gather that little gap you left in your serger line. This ensures perfect gathering all the way around.

Gathering with a serger
Sew a straight gathering stitch with one end locked off longer than the length of the gap.
Gathering with a serger
Pull the thread to tighten the gathers to close the gap.

You are done! You can use this technique to quickly gather knit fabrics with any of the gorgeous knit patterns from Boo and Lu! I used it to make this Snapdragon skirt which I mashed with a Pepper bodice and Tigerlily straps.

Happy sewing, and happy gathering!

xoxo Jessie

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