Tutorial: Corded gathering

Corded gathering is a historically accurate way to gather huge amounts of fabric without pleating it.  It is also fantastically easy, especially compared to modern ‘pulled thread’ gathering, so is wonderful for any project where you want to gather a huge amount of fabric.  
I used it for the ruffles at the bottom of my hoopskirt petticoat, and for the tiers of ruffles on the 1850s raspberry paisley dress
Note: for this tutorial height goes up and down in relation to the body, and width goes around the body, so all descriptions are given in height x width
You will need:
  •  a piece of narrow cord 2″ longer than you want the finished gathered width to be.  You can using piping cord, or better yet, the cheap stuff you buy at the hardware store, but be sure it is cotton or hemp or another natural fibre
  • Your length of fabric for gathering, hemmed on one edge, and at least 1″ higher than you want the finished length to be.  The width will depend on how gathered you want the fabric to be.  2x as long is standard for ruffles, but if you are gathering in the waistband of a huge 186s skirt, you will be gathering as much as 6-8x the finished width.
For example, for my hoopskirt petticoat my cord lengths were both 162″ long, because my petticoat is 160 wide at the hem, and my un-gathered ruffle pieces were 320″ long (2x as long as the hem) and 5″ high, hemmed.
For my tiered skirt, my three cord lengths were each 182″ long, the width of the skirt, but the ruffle lengths were 200″, 220″, and 240″, respectively, because Arnold’s pattern calls for the tiers to be more ruffled as they go down the skirt. 
Step 1:
On the wrong side of the fabric, fold over the extra 1″ or so of fabric on the un-hemmed height edge.  Measure the fabric to make sure it is exactly the height you want , and press and pin (if necessary) the fold.  The cord will slip into the fold that you have just created.
Step 2
Tie a knot at one end of your cord length.  Lay the cord in the fold/channel you have created in your fabric (depending on the length of the fabric, cord, you may need to pin it in, or may only be able to insert part of it and will need to continue to lay the cord in the channel as you go).  Using your piping foot or invisible zipper foot, stitch slightly to left of the cord, sealing the cord in the crease of the fabric.
Be careful not to sew the cord at any point!  If you do you will be unable to pull and gather it!

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The cord in the channel

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Sewing just the left of the cord.  

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You don’t want your channel to be too tight as that will make it hard for you to pull and gather.  ‘

Step 3:
As you sew, stop every once in a while and tug on the cord, to gather the fabric behind the needle on to the cord.  The more fabric you are gathering on to the cord, the more often you will need to pull the cord forward and gather the sewn fabric.
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Gathered fabric behind the needle, pulling the cord in front of the needle.
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Pulling and gathering.

Step 4:
Gather as you sew until all the fabric is sewn and gathered on to the cord.  Measure and adjust the gathers to make sure the fabric is exactly as wide as you need it to be, and then tie off the cord to secure both ends of the gathers.
Step 5:
Sew both ends of the gathered ruffle/fabric together, if needed, and then pin your gathered fabric to your waistband/skirt/petticoat etc., and sew it down.  I find that the cords don’t create much additional bulk, so they can be left in the finished project, and the ironed top edge is tidy enough to be visible on the outside of a garment (which is not the case with pulled thread gathering)
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Sewing my gathered tier to my 1850s paisley skirt base.
Easy peasy!  And no chance of your gathering threads breaking, and so much easier on your fingers and wrists for pulling and gathering!  And, of course, historically accurate!*
*And yes, if you want to be uber-historically accurate for pre-1850s garments, you can do all the sewing by hand! 
6 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Sarah says:

    Better than the long-stitch gathering method for large amounts of fabric, and a solution to the problem of the bunch-y raw edge that results from the zig-zag over cord approach to gathering. Brilliant.

  2. Teri says:

    Awesome! Thank you for the information, I’m making some costumes for next Christmas and this will make the final product look much better!

  3. Taracat says:

    I think this could be the solution to all my gathering problems – thank you so much!

  4. LadyD says:

    I used this technique as I was sewing gathers on a petticoat by hand, so managing to have a long enough thread to gather was impossible. lol!

  5. Fawn says:

    I only heard about the cord-and-zig-zag-stitch method yesterday, so I googled it to make sure I understood it. I found this instead and it worked so well!

    I was in a hurry and couldn’t find any natural cord, so the one I used ended up being some elasticized cord I found in my ribbon box. It worked out fine and I just pulled it out after I’d attached the gathered material to the waistband. Thanks for the great tutorial!

  6. Amber says:

    And this has been bookmarked. I wish I found this last year :/

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