Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gathering Fabric & Muslin Pillow Tutorial...

I have received many emails lately asking if I might create a tutorial on how I gather fabric. I've used this gathering technique on a number of pillows that I've created recently -- like the pillow I made Monday (below).

Some people call this technique "gathering." Others call it "ruching." It's probably more accurate to call what I do on these pillows gathering, because ruching can also imply "pleating" or "laying in creases."

There are different ways to gather fabric. Many people swear by sewing machine attachments that do the job. I'm not going to rate the easiest or quickest way to gather fabric. I'm merely going to show you how I get the job done. I will attempt to give some basic steps on gathering techniques. I'll also throw in the process for how to make the front of the pillow above. There are a bazillion tutorials on the internet on how to put a pillow together, so I'll let the experts teach you how to finish the pillow by connecting the front of a pillow to the back!

There are two main things one needs to remember when gathering fabric:

1.) A good rule of thumb is to allow 2 ½ times the finished length for the piece of fabric you want gathered. A gathered piece of fabric that does not have enough fullness will end up looking skimpy and as if it has tucks rather than even gathers.

2.) Even, uniform gathers look best. It's best if gathers do not have folds of fabric mixed with flat fabric. The gathering should be evenly spaced.

For the front of the pillow, you will need the following cuts of fabric:
  • Top & bottom gathered panels: Two pieces of fabric 4.5 inches x 45 inches
  • Middle panel: One piece of fabric 8 inches x 18 inches
Back Panel: This amount of fabric will depend on how you are finishing the back. If you are merely making a solid panel back, filling the pillow with stuffing, and then slip stitching it shut the panel of fabric should measure 15 inches x 18 inches.

  • Note: The two "gathered panel" lengths are 2.5 times longer (45 inches) than the middle panel length, which is 18 inches. If your fabric is only 44 inches wide, then just cut the gathered panels to be 44 inches long. One inch will not make any difference.
  • All seams are 1/2 inches, unless otherwise noted.

Gathered panels:
1.) Sew a basting stitch (the longest stitch your machine will allow) along the length of both sides of each 4.5" x 45" panel 3/8" from edge. Don't snip the ends of the basting threads short as you will need them long in order to gather the fabric.

2.) Run another basting stitch along the length of both sides of each 4.5" x 45" panel 5/8" from the edge.

3.) You should have two 4.5" x 45" panels that look like this:

4.) To facilitate even gathers "divide" and mark the length of these gathered panels into four equal sections. See photo below. Mark quarter sections with a pen line being careful not to make the lines any longer than 3/8". (Pins are there to show the marked lines more easily.)

Middle Panel:
5.) Divide and mark with a pen the length of the middle panel the same way you did the gathered panels into four equal sections.

Gathering and attaching the gathered panels:
6.) On the wrong side of one 45" long panel, take the top two basted threads and pull those threads to gather fabric. Carefully pull threads, then ease gathered fabric toward the middle of the panel while holding the two threads tightly in your hand.

7.) Align the middle mark on your 45" gathered panel with the middle mark on your 18" middle panel and pin.

8.) Continue gathering fabric. Work one side of the fabric toward the center and then the other side of the fabric toward the center. Make sure all pen lines meet and pin. Short ends of panels will align. Gathers should be uniform and even. Pin gathered panel to middle panel.

9.) I always anchor the ends of my basting threads around the pin on the end of the fabric to hold it secure, like this:

10.) Change the stitch on your machine from the basting stitch to the regular setting. Sew seam 1/2" from edge. The needle should be running in between both basting lines.

11.) Remove 5/8" basting line which now shows on the right side of the fabric and press seam toward middle panel. Topstitch over seam and along edge of gathers on middle panel.

12.) Repeat Steps 1 - 11 with second 45" panel and attach to the other side of the middle panel.

13.) Attach front of pillow to back using the same gathering techniques you used to attach the gathered panels to the middle panel. (Gather, align pen marks, pin, sew.)

As I said there might be easier or faster ways to gather, but this way creates luscious, full gathers, and I have found it to work well. Please let me know if you make any items using this technique. I'd love to know if the tutorial was helpful!

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