I can probably consider myself a bit of a sewing freak in that gathering fabric is one of my favourite sewing tasks to do... Luckily I also love wearing garments with gathered elements so you can see how the Eloise dress is just heaven all round in my book! If you're not like me, and I know I'm in the minority here, and you dread gathering, I'm here to help make it a little easier, more bearable and eventually even enjoyable. The key is finding the gathering method that works best for you - and I'll be outlining various options and linking to specific tutorials - and accepting the fact that, like hand sewing a hem, gathering is something that we need to slow down for, relishing that prolonged moment of focus after all the whizzy machine sewing.
In this post we will be:
- Assembling the frill pieces
- Gathering the frill
- Joining the frill to the dress' hem and/or sleeve cuffs
- Finishing and topstitching the frill seam
ASSEMBLING AND GATHERING THE FRILLS
The gathered frill pieces of the Eloise dress are cut circularly as opposed to being long rectangles, as gathered skirts or tiers often are. Nothing against gathered rectangles at all - but for this dress, for which we required extra movement and swooshiness (yep, that's a technical term), you just can't beat a gathered circle - all the flounce of the gathers, plus all the drape, volume and schwing of a circle skirt.
This process applies to both the hem frill and the sleeve frill.
Start by seaming the side seams of the frill by stitching both pieces right sides together to form a loop. Finish the excess and press to one side.
Now it's time to gather. As I mentioned before, you have a bunch of options when it comes to how you gather...
Basting by hand - this involves running two parallel rows of running stitch with a hand sewing needle. Definitely the most time consuming option, but you don't run the risk of your basting stitches snapping halfway through the gathering process (and when that happens you pretty much just have to start again...). You can also control the size of your gathers when you baste by hand - teeny tiny running stitch will result in small, neat gathers like you would get on a machine, and longer running stitches will get you a softer result with larger gathers.
Basting by machine - this is my favourite way to gather. You run two or three parallel rows of long straight machine stitches at the edge that needs to be gathered, backstitching at the start of your stitching, but not at the end. Then you pull gently and evenly on the bobbin threads to gather the fabric. You do need to be careful that you don't gather too aggressively and accidentally snap the threads... but machine basting, for me, results in perfectly even gathers that snag and distort the least when it comes to seaming the gathered piece in question - especially if you've gone all out and done three rows of basting stitches instead of two!
Gathering with dental floss and the zigzag stitch - you read that right! The dental floss technique is the express way to gather! Basically just a case of sewing a zigzag stitch along the edge that needs to be gathered, trapping a length of floss as you sew. You can find our tutorial for this method here. You could also use string in the place of floss, but the floss is great because it glides really smoothly as you gather the fabric.
We are going to be gathering by machine. Start by sewing three parallel lines of long straight machine stitches along the inner concave curve of the frill, backstitching securely at the beginning but not at the end.
Holding onto the bobbin threads at the un-backstitched end, gather the fabric by pushing it along the taught threads.
As you gather, keep checking the length of the gathered edge against the hem or cuff that you're going to be joining it to. When you get them to match up in length, securely tie the bobbin threads in a knot to prevent the gathers from undoing.
Now comes my favourite bit - spend a little time now distributing those gathers so that they are evenly spaced all along. The last thing we want is for sections of the frill to have no gathers and other sections to have really tight intense gathers! We want to get it nice and uniform throughout.
JOINING THE FRILL TO YOUR DRESS / SLEEVE
With right sides together, carefully pin the gathered frill to the dress' hem or the sleeve's cuff. Start by matching up the side seams, centre front and centre back and then getting loads of pins in between.
How you sew the gathered frill to the dress now is also a matter of personal preference...
The technically correct way is to feed the fabric through with the gathers on the bottom and the un-gathered layer on top. The machine's feed dogs on the bottom will help to feed your gathers through while the foot glides over the smooth top layer, therefore minimising the risk of distorted, puckered gathers. This does work in theory, but some people are put off by the fact that with the gathers on the bottom, you can't see what's going on. I find with this method that I will end up with a couple of spots where the gathers have been caught and sewn down across the seam (if that makes sense?!), but it's easy to just unpick and restitch small sections that need it.
Alternatively, you could have the gathers on the top layer, giving you more visual control over how the gathers are being stitched down, preventing any bunching up of gathers as you go. The problem with this method is that the foot will inevitably smoosh the gathers down as opposed to feeding them through, making this technique a little more slow going as you're constantly stopping and starting to make sure the gathers are being stitched evenly.
So, I like to sew with my gathers on the bottom layer...
When you've stitched your frill in place, finish the excess seam allowance and very gently press the seam up into the dress / sleeve from the wrong side. Remove all the visible basting stitches.
To finish - and this part is totally optional, so if all that gathering has you breaking out in a cold sweat, you're totally allowed to call it quits now! - we're going to topstitch the seam allowance in place about 2-3mm from the seam.
PS. This beautiful fabric is a deliciously soft viscose linen mix from Like Sew Amazing!
All done for today! Before the itch to get the hemming done right away kicks in, remember that the frill is a circle, and so needs the same treatment as a regular circle skirt - the wise thing to do is hang your dress up (on a dress form or a hanger) to leave the frill portion of the dress to "drop" overnight. Seeing as circle skirts have some fibres on the bias and some on the straight grain, different sections of the skirt will react differently to the effects of gravity, namely the parts on the bias will droop lower than those on the straight. To avoid a wobbly, uneven hem, let the fabric drop overnight, then even out the hem in the morning ready for hemming.
NEXT UP ON THE ELOISE SEWALONG...
Last post! Finishing touches to get your Eloise dress ready for action - hemming, sewing the button and making the belt.