gathering with clear elastic

Quick tute for those who are wondering why and how to use clear elastic for gathering.

First off, why: clear elastic is relatively inexpensive, very flexible, light-weight, and you can sew and cut it (length-wise) and it won't unravel like regular elastic. It gathers evenly and quickly - a nice change for those of us who are 'baste and pull' challenged - and the gathering is done with one line of stitching instead of three (baste two and final secure stitch). Also, it will gather to an exact length (whatever length you cut it to) and takes the ifyness out of elastic thread.

For people with sergers, this stuff is great because you can run it off the edge past the chopper blade without damaging the elastic or disorganizing the gather. Basically, you can use the serger to do the whole gather, no stopping to gather on the regular machine and switching to the serger to finish the seam.

Now, how: Clear elastic comes in a variety of sizes, but I suggest using a 1/2" or 3/8" to start, just to get a feel of it.

Cut the length desired for gather, minus 1/4" (because it stretches out to be slightly larger after sewn.) I usually evenly mark (with pins) both the fabric to be gathered and the strip of clear elastic at 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4 lengths (or whatever makes managable sections) and then pin the two together so the gather will be even. Put your fabric and the end of elastic under the needle, make a couple of stitches to secure, and the stretch it out to evenly match the fabric length. Sew right through elastic.

Keep stretching and stitching until you are done your gathering. Presto, done! You can stitch through the elastic again to attach your gathered fabric to whatever it goes on.


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  1. Thank you Thank You!

    I must find out how to find this stuff. With no serger, it is ok too? Now I will attempt your twirly patchwork! If I can.

  2. Its totally okay without a serger - works just as well.

    My fabric store and machine shop both sell it (just ask for clear elastic, they'll have it somewhere). Look for elastic that is more clear than cloudy. Cloudy elastic means its getting old and will be more difficult to use than fresh stuff.

    Happy twirl dress making!

  3. So with a regular machine do you use a straight stitch or would you zig zag??

    Man, I want a serger!! :)

  4. Yes, serger nice!

    I would use a wide zig zag of medium length, because a straight stitch, as I did in the picture, curls up and makes it a bit akward.

    But I haven't tried it. Let us know how it goes?

  5. this is such a great tip! i am so impressed, thank you for sharing. i am "baste and pull" inept

  6. Wow! What a great tip. I will definitely be trying this next time I need to gather.

  7. Dang! What a great idea - you definitely need to keep posting tutes! THANKS!!

  8. This may revolutionize my sewing life!! I am currently working on these simple gathered waist skirts for girls and the gathering process is killing me. My question: I will be gathering 2 complete widths of fabric that have been sewn together at the ends to form a large circle. (got it?) Will this method still work? How will I know how much tension to pull on the elastic to make it reach all the way around the circle?
    Finally, what did you mean when you said that you mark your fabric and your elastic at 1/4, 1/2 etc.?
    Thanks for the wonderful suggestions!
    Bird's Nest

  9. Nancy,
    Determine how long the length of fabric is supposed to be when gathered and cut your elastic that long. I do this all the time for gathered skirts with multiple tiers.

    To make sure it is evenly gathered, use a pin to mark regular sections in both the elastic and the fabric to be gathered. I usually fold the elastic in half, stick a pin there, and fold it in half again and stick in two pins on the fold. Thus the pins end up at 1/4 of the length, at 1/2 of the length and 3/4 of the length. If you divide up the fabric in the same manner, you can match up the pins as you sew, stretching the elastic to meet the fabric.

    I hope that made sense... I can clarifiy some more after I have a sleep maybe :D

  10. You know you are an absolute GENIUS, right???? I LOVE THIS STUFF! I found this tute and immediately had to run out and get some to complete my daughter's twirly dress!!!!
    I've used it several times since then - just had to say that I love your tutes - and recommendations!

  11. To echo earlier commenters: YOU ARE A GENIUS!

    Now another item to add to my list of things to buy in Canada. I can't wait to try this out! (Also can't wait to send links to your blog to all my sewing friends!)

  12. Oh my GOSH, this would have made life easier when making my daughter's Christmas dress ... I have oodles of this stuff in my craft closet and never would have thought to use it this way. *off to finish the twirl skirt*

  13. Man, I am so impressed. I have been sewing for 40 years. How did I miss this stuff? Last night I sat for an hour pulling threads on a gathered skirt for my Alice in Wonderland. NOT TODAY. For my Queen of Hearts I will be using clear elastic!!!

  14. What a great idea. Thanks for sharing. I have yards of this stuff sitting around because it did not work for my original plan. Now I have something to do with it AND I might actually make the twirly skirts I keep admiring for my little twirly girl.

  15. This is ingenious!! I have a stash of clear elastic sitting in my drawer from my MCN making days.... wow. this is going to rock my gathering world. And make twirly skirts a LOT quicker!!

  16. All I can say is WOW! I can't wait to use this. I make your twirly skirts and they come out great.. THANK YOU by the way.. but I am always getting the elastic wrong somehow. I am going to the store today to buy it :-)


  17. okay,I know I am fairly good at taking instructions and making them visual but for the life of me I can't figure out what you mean by attaching it with a serger. Does the clear elastic hang off the edge? I really want to figure out how to do it with the serger since I'm a speed sewer lol. Another question do you leave the clear elastic on the garment after you join the gathered whatever to the other piece? Can you feel it? Wonder how it would work to add 1/2 inch of fabric, serge/gather with clear elastic, then reserge the gathered fabric cutting off the elastic and extra 1/2 inch? Think the gathers would hold?

  18. LoriS.,

    You can sew the clear elastic in like you would a regular elastic, just stitch it on where you'd like. The serger bit is that clear elastic doesn't unfray like regular elastic when you cut the edge with the serger blade. Otherwise, just thing of it as a regular sew.

    If you are using the elastic for gathering on the serger, I see no reason why not leave the elastic in. It's not uncomfortable and not at all bulky. In fact, many manufactured knit garments have clear elastic sewn into the shoulder seams and other seams that take a lot of weight and could stretch out of shape as stabilizer.

    If you are interested in gathering just with the serger, that is possible to, providing your fabric is not very heavy. Lightweight fabric works the best, really. Just use one needle, turning the tension way up on that, and turning the tension way down on the upper looper. And sew. The dress I just completed has the ruffle gathered with just the serger, and it saves a whole bunch of extra steps.

    Hope that helps :)

  19. Okay, another newbie here. I kind of get the pinning (1/2, 1/4, etc) thing but I still don't get how to apply this technique. I'm working up the nerve to make your patch twirly skirt.

    So, I would sew patches together for layer D, then layer E. To join the two layers, I would start with right sides together, and put the layer E on top so I can see layer E get sewn while layer D is on the bottom side. I would stretch the elastic from where I start to sew to the 1/4 point on layer E zig-zagging through the elastic and it will magically line up the two layers correctly?

    Or, do I have just have layer E in the sewing machine, stretch the elastic to the 1/4 point, zig-zag through the stretched elastic, etc. all the way around and the material is magically gathered, THEN join layer D and layer E?

    Thanks in advance for trying to decipher this... --L

  20. Sorry, forgot to include the other question I had. You say to cut the desired length minus 1/4".

    How do you determine desired length of the elastic? For example, if I'm trying to attach layer E to layer D on the twirly dress, should I take a tape measure, go around the bottom of layer D and the measurement I come up with (minus 1/4") is the amount of elastic I'd need to gather layer E? THANKS again!

  21. Okay, yes, a third entry....

    I don't have a serger and zig-zagging every seam inside this dress seems like it would take a crazy amount of time. Could I use pinking shears and trim the insides to avoid fraying?

    What if I cut out the squares w/ pinking shears in the first place, then sew together? I know, that seems like a lot of work too, but I'm hoping somewhere out there a pinking rotary cutter exists.

  22. Lis, it may help you out to have a look at this tutorial:

    it is same idea, sans patches.

    A section needs to be gathered before you attach it to another tier. The desired length (the length you cut the elastic) is the length of tier above it. To measure, just take your elastic directly to the smaller tier and cut it the same length. No need for a measuring tape middle man.

    for the fraying, pinking shears will help cut it down but not entirely. Go for it, though, and see what happens. I have not seen a pinking rotary cutter, though wouldn't it be nice? :D

    The 1/4, 1/2, etc length sections are to help evenly stretch the elastic out for an even gather. Both the elastic and the fabric to be gathered needs to be divided into quarters and then the quarter sections matched up. This means a longer fabric section to a shorter elastic, and then the elastic is stretched to the same length as the fabric when you go to sew that section. It makes more sense when you go to sew it. You may even do it intuitively, and I'm just confusing you :D

    Hope this answers some questions! Let me know how it goes :)

  23. Yipee, that link [] helped so much! The diagrams were especially useful to a visual learner like me. And, I'm psyched to use this shiny tinkerbell fabric I have on the bottom tier. For some reason, one edge of it is already hemmed via serger - bought it that way and there's not enough material for a full skirt, but definitely enough in length for a bottom tier!!! I will definitely try to send you a photo when it's complete.

    I went to Joann Fabric yesterday, and wished I had paid more attention to what I was looking at. I did find a pinking shear rotary blade, but have no idea what the brand was. I have a Fiskars cutter and dismissed the replacement blade the moment I saw it was another brand. So, they DO exist!

    What a great idea to take the elastic directly to the tier instead of measuring and cutting - thanks for the time-saving tip!

    Lastly (for now!) thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I feel all alone foraging through this sewing stuff as not a family member or friend has the slightest ability or interest in sewing.

  24. Its an OLFA pinking blade. I love mine. Makes like so much easier. If you live in the US, Joanns has a 50% off coupon this week.

  25. When using zig zag do you trim off the excess elastic on the back side?? I have done this with 1/4 " but it is a little difficult. When I use the 1/2" would I trim it or just leave it. It seems like it might be kind of messy on the inside with the elastic left in.

    Thanks for the tip....(which is why I tried it with the 1/4" which I had for the shoulders of knit things.


  26. LOVE this tutorial!!! Question though. SO I started out trying to serge and it wasn't working. So I just serged the fabric then put the elastic on top of that. But my elastic popped broke! Did I not stretch it enough at first? I was working with a skirt panel that was about 30" and was trying to ruffle it up to attach to a shirt that was about 12". I ended up cutting off some of the width of the skirt to prevent the elastic from breaking again. Still came out full but not as full as I wanted.