Sewing Perfect Gathers - The Elastic Thread Bobbin

Hi Everyone! It's Shari Fuller, the designer behind Thimbles and Acorns, and I am back for the fourth week on the topic of, Sewing Perfect Gathers. Can you believe there are so many different ways to gather fabric? This week, I am going to show you my absolute favorite method for gathering fabric – elastic bobbin thread!

A while back, in Sewing With Elastics, Cinnamon demonstrated how to use elastic bobbin thread to create shirred fabric, but did you realize this same technique can be used for basic gathering as well? Simply swap out your bobbin of regular thread for a bobbin of elastic thread and the elasticized stitches will gather the fabric for you. Not only do you end up with fuss-free perfect gathers, but the elasticity makes it super easy to arrange the gathers around curves or make adjustments as you sew. This method works well with specialty fabrics that have a tendency to fray easily because it greatly reduces how much you need to handle the fabric. It also works well with fine fabrics because the heavier weight elastic thread works as a foundation that adds structure and stability to the fabric.

We'll be demonstrating these methods as basic tutorial exercises on small scraps of fabric to help illustrate how the basic techniques and methods are used at a smaller scale. Follow along to understand the process, hopefully watching us in action will clarify any concerns or issues you may have with these types of techniques.


There are a few tricks to using elastic thread that need to be followed in order for this method to work, so watch closely in the video below:

I encourage you to watch the video for a full in-depth look at the technique!

Here's a brief summary of the technique:

Elastic thread can ONLY be used in the bobbin. It is too thick and stretchy to run easily through all the tension points for the top thread and will only get bound up and break your needle or even your machine.

Hand Wound Bobbin: You can wind your bobbin with elastic thread by hand or by machine. To wind by hand, simply secure the thread to your bobbin and start winding. In the spirit of Goldilocks, not to loose and not too tight. Too loose will cause the elastic to sew unevenly and too tight will cause the bobbin to unwind like a clock. Simple go for about the same tension that is on the spool of thread... erring on the side of slightly tighter rather than looser


Machine Wound Bobbin: As long as you don't use the tension point for the bobbin winder, you wind your bobbin by machine. Place the spool of elastic thread on the thread spool OR hold it in your hand on a pencil or other similar object so that it can spin freely. Secure the elastic thread on the bobbin and place the bobbin on the bobbin winder shaft. Engage the bobbin winder and use your fingers to gently guide the thread onto the bobbin and apply the proper tension. Again, go for about the same tension that is on the spool of thread... erring on the side of slightly tighter rather than looser.


Thread the top of your machine with a standard sewing thread. If you plan to remove the gathering stitches when you are finished, I'd suggest using a different colored thread to make it easier to differentiate between the gathering stitches and the permanent stitches. The bobbin tension is what creates the gathers in this technique, so it is important that you load your bobbin properly. For a bottom loading bobbin, insert the bobbin as you would for standard thread. For a top-loading bobbin, insert the bobbin as for a standard thread - only stop before using the thread cutter and draw up the bobbin thread manually.


Draw the top and bobbin threads to make a tail of about 4 inches. If you have an automatic cutter on your machine DO NOT use it when sewing with elastic thread. If you do, the elastic thread will snap back inside to the bobbin and you will have to rethread the bobbin.

Before you begin, it is a good idea to see how your machine works with elastic thread by practicing on some scrap fabric. Start by making a stitching line with your standard tension and stitch length, backstitching at the beginning and end to secure the threads. At the end of the stitching line, lift your needle and pull the thread out far enough to leave a 4-inch tail when you cut it.

Look at the back of your fabric. The elastic thread should follow the seamline and lay flat along the fabric with the loops of the top thread holding it in place at each stitch. The elastic shouldn't have any loops or waves. If so, adjust your upper tension until it looks right.

Once you have your tension set properly, you will need to determine what the stitch length should be. The longer the stitch length the fuller gathers. Just how full the gathers will be, depends on how heavy your fabric is. I have found on my machine that a stitch length of 5 will gather a quilting cotton at about a 2:1 ratio.

To test the gathers, working on the right side, sew the first stitching line as you would for gathering fabric, making sure to backstitch at the beginning to secure your threads.

Once you reach the end of the first stitching line, Stop. Drop your needle into the fabric, raise your presser foot so you can turn your fabric and stitch about 1/8 inch down, staying inside the seam allowance. Depending on your stitch length, this will only be one or two stitches.

Then, with your needle in the fabric, raise your presser foot again and turn your fabric the other direction and sew the second row of gathering stitches underneath the first. When you come to the end of the row, backstitch, lift your needle and pull the thread out far enough to leave a 4-inch tail when you cut it. 

Now, here is the magical part. Make sure your iron is filled with water and set it to its highest setting. Lay the gathered fabric flat on your ironing board and lightly touching the fabric, give the gathered section a good burst of steam. If you are using a delicate fabric that may be damaged by the heat of the iron, avoid touching the fabric altogether... if necessary, use a pressing cloth.


The elastic thread will constrict to create a nice full and evenly spaced length of gathers

With the right sides together, pin the gathered section to the corresponding piece.  If your gathered section is too long, loosen up the tacked ends of the gathering stitches and gently pull the bobbin threads and draw the fabric evenly along the length.  Just be careful as elastic bobbin thread isn't as strong as other threads. Steam the stitches again to constrict the elastic.

When using this method, it is always best to gather up your fabric more than necessary. The elastic makes it much easier to make adjustments to an over gathered section than an under gathered section.  

Pin in place, using the stretch of the elastic to evenly spread the gathers along the fabric.

Sew the final seam using standard thread.  Be careful not to catch the gathering stitches in the seamline.  

Remove the gathering stitches by drawing out the elastic bobbin thread and then removing the top thread. 



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Suggested Patterns For this Topic: 

  • LJ Blossom
  • LJ Picture Day (Skirt and Top)
  • LJ Boomerit Falls
  • LJ Bubble Skirt
  • LJ CA Cami
  • LJ Catalina
  • LJ Cortina Top
  • LJ Faraway Downs
  • LJ Harajuku Skirt
  • LJ Kimberley Dress
  • LJ Maxi Dress
  • LJ Peplum Top
  • LJ Salina Dress
  • LJ Shinjuku Starlet Jacket
  • LJ Summer In Paris Top
  • LJ Ruched Hoodie
  • TA EnForreau
  • TA Irish Kinsale Cloak
  • TA Young Martha 
  • TA Underpinnings
  • TA Unmentionables 
  • TA Fancy Shift
  • TA Saque Back Gown 
  • TA Bib Front Regency 
  • TA Sarah Hale 
  • TA 1860 Civil War Era Dress 
  • TA Prairie Rose 
  • TA Country Girl 
  • TA Mary and Laura  
  • TA Gigot Sleeve Dress 

 Week Three Task:

  • Watch the Gathering With Elastic Thread video. Practice, practice, practice.
  • Show us what gathering project you're working on this month!
  • Check out the Ultimate Resource Guide for fabric and supply sources. (Find this in the SWC Bonuses section)
  • Jump over the SWC Facebook Group for conversation and project sharing.




January 02, 2020

Now another item to add to my sewing grocery list. I want to try this gathering method. Thanks.


January 01, 2020

Could I get the final version of the PDF of this topic to download? I prefer to work or study offline. Thanks!

debbie swanson
debbie swanson

November 04, 2019

would like to make some outfits with multiple gathered layers, how is this done with only 1/4 seam and possible 3-4 layers of gathers


November 01, 2019

I tried the first technique with the zig zag over the elastic. It worked out perfectly!! so excited for this topic. Heading out to buy elastic thread tonight!


November 01, 2019

I’ve been sewing for 50+ years and still managed to learn a few new tricks…Thank you!


October 31, 2019

Thank you so much for doing this topic. Gathers have always been something I just couldn’t get quite right. No matter how much I wrestled they never came out even. I can’t wait to try all of these new techniques!

Karen Aris
Karen Aris

October 29, 2019

Where in where has Sue Clark gone? I miss her comments!

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