Gathering techniques are great for textile projects and customising clothing. Frills, gathers and ruffles can be used as trimmings in the traditional way, or inset into fabrics to create a heavily-textured look. Ruth Singer explains how gathering techniques have been used over the years and highlights some of her favourite project ideas.
Ruth Singer’s brand new book, Fabric Manipulation, offers instruction on 150 creative sewing techniques including pleating, folding, smocking, quilting, trapunto and applique. The book includes a section called ‘Stitch & Gather’, which covers a wide range of techniques where thread is used to create shape and structure, often by gathering. I chatted to Ruth Singer to learn more about gathering techniques:
“As with pleats, gathering techniques were used to decorate 18th century gowns. Wide strips of bias-cut silk fabric with decorative pinked (zigzag cut) edges were swirled and stitched down the front of gowns and stomachers.
I’ve played around with this technique many times and have found bias-cut fabrics to be perfect for making draped scarves and ruffles. The Ruffle Scarf featured in the book is made with 3 different fabrics layered up together before gathering. I’ve also used the technique to make embellishments for cushions and interior décor.
The Pattern Stitched Ribbon Ruffles technique is traditionally used to make fabric flowers and I first saw it in a 1920s book on ribbon art. I found the same technique used as a detail on a couture dress made by Mainbocher for Wallis Simpson in 1937, which is now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The collar centre-back seam is gathered using the Zigzag Shirring technique.
Other well-known techniques in this section include Suffolk Puffs, shirring and smocking. I love Suffolk puffs immensely and have used them for several years in my own work, creating new ways of using them in textile artworks. I like to create the puffs in fabric that matches the background and hand stitch them to create a seamless effect. I enjoy creating movement and variation in a repetitive design by using different sizes of puff, and you can add stuffing behind some of them to create more dimension.
I created the Circle Edge Gather technique as a development of Suffolk puffs and have used this technique to make a draping scarf. I came up with the idea of Stuffed Bobbles in the same experimental phase and later discovered that it is very similar to the effect created by Japanese shibori stitching. I enjoy the organic, irregular quality of this technique which I have used on wall panels as well as garments and accessories.”
Learn all of these techniques and many more in Ruth Singer’s latest book Fabric Manipulation, also available as a downloadable PDF ebook. With diagrams and full colour photographs for 150 creative sewing techniques, along with innovative project ideas, this is an essential resource for all abilities. Discover more about Ruth, her inspirations and her background in sewing in my Ruth Singer interview.