Quick & Easy Gathering with Dental Floss!

At last!  A quick and easy way to gather long pieces of fabric with out breaking the gathering threads, ever.  The secret is in the dental floss!

I nearly went crazy today.  I'm working on a new pattern and it requires gathering a longer fabric into the shorter piece of fabric.  Lots of it, lots of times in very long lengths.  The end result is going to be very pretty I know, but I wasn't sure I would get there.

No matter how careful I was, how slowly I did it, I kept on breaking my gathering threads.  Over and over again.  And I'd have to unpick and start again.  And again.  My fabric was starting to fray and really suffer and I was getting no where.  That's when I threw it all the floor in disgust and took a break for coffee and a Creme Egg.  I like to brush after eating sugary snacks, and when I opened the bathroom cabinet to get my toothbrush I had a eureka moment!  My eyes fell on the dental floss.

I'm not sure where I saw this, but somewhere in the back of my sewing brain, I remembered seeing someone using fishing line to gather fabric.  Well, I didn't have any, but I did have dental floss and it's long, thin, waxy – it should be perfect!

How to do quick and easy gathering with dental floss

You will need to check on the width of your seam allowance and make sure, as usual, that your gathering stitches are within this allowance so they won't be seen on the front of the fabric later.

I set my machine to a zig-zag stitch, 2.5 long and 5.0 wide.  That seemed to work just fine.  I wouldn't go any narrower than that in case you snag the floss.

I started out securing my threads with a couple of reverse stitches, then lifted the presser foot and placed the dental floss in place, lined up with the central mark on the presser foot.  I left 3 or 4 inches hanging out the back to tie off later.

At last!  A quick and easy way to gather long pieces of fabric with out breaking the gathering threads, ever.  The secret is in the dental floss!

Then I sewed, zig-zagging my way down the fabric over the dental floss in the middle.  It was really quick.

At last!  A quick and easy way to gather long pieces of fabric with out breaking the gathering threads, ever.  The secret is in the dental floss!

Once I got to the end, I left a length of floss and cut the threads short.  I tied the start of the floss to the threads left at the start of the stitches and then simply pulled on the dental floss to gather up the fabric.  Because it waxy and slippery, it was SO smooth.  It pulled up so easily, I almost sobbed after my previous frustrations.

At last!  A quick and easy way to gather long pieces of fabric with out breaking the gathering threads, ever.  The secret is in the dental floss!

Once I had it to the right length, I just wrapped it round a pin a few times to hold the end of the floss in place.  Then I matched up my raw edges and stitched the gathered fabric to the adjoining piece, just outside the zig-zag stitches.

At last!  A quick and easy way to gather long pieces of fabric with out breaking the gathering threads, ever.  The secret is in the dental floss!

Once it was done, it was a simple snip to cut the end of the dental floss and pull it back out again.  I wound it back in the container for next time and remembered to put it in the drawer with my threads, not back in the bathroom cabinet!

At last!  A quick and easy way to gather long pieces of fabric with out breaking the gathering threads, ever.  The secret is in the dental floss!

Next time you have gathering to do, especially if its long pieces like mine, consider giving the dental floss trick a try.  Saved me hours or frustration.  Look out for the gathered skirt pattern coming soon for summer….

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88 Responses to Quick & Easy Gathering with Dental Floss!

  1. Mallyn says:

    You just literally saved me hours of my life and so much frustration and tears. I’m making a gathered skirt out of heavy wool fabric and I was in tears because i could not get the thread to stop breaking. This method should help!!

  2. VYinLA says:

    I like the method for pulling but realize I don’t know what length I need to spread the gathers across…. Next time I will MARK the floss at the end points for my desired distance, and then when I pull the gathers I will SEE my desired length!

  3. Fayth says:

    THANK YOU! You have no idea how happy I was to fall upon this! I never knew how to gather, patterns would never tell me, they would just tell me to do it, (Nor did I exactly know that it actually had a name! I called it scrunching!) I don’t know anyone around me that sews to teach me so I’m fully self taught. I feel so silly that I didn’t know this, but I’m glad I was able to learn so easily through you! 🙂

  4. Anais Rigal says:

    Awesome! I just gathered 75 inches of fabric completely effortlessly… Thanks Deby! 😀

  5. Bo says:

    thanks a trillion will be getting out to go look for this floss and start using it and so so cool. thanks again and look forward to hearing from you soon. boge.

  6. Rebecca says:

    I Pinned this and thank god I did as I needed to do some gathers on a bolster pillow yesterday. It is one of those tricks that you look at and think “WHY didn’t I think of this years ago?!”

  7. DCarrDesigns says:

    When I was a girl (decades ago), we had a ball of clean string, which I used for this same method. It was not easy to remove (after the pinning and sewing), so FLOSS is a great alternative! Thanks for sharing this genius tip!

    • Deby Coles says:

      Yes the string would work, but the floss is so thin and waxy that is just slides out so easily afterwards. Good to hear you’ve been sewing for a good number of years.

      • Caren marks says:

        I have been using dental floss in this manner for quite some time especially when you have more than two layers of fabric to gather. It does lie even smoother when you do two rows also. But I love that it’s so strong and much much easier then breaking threads over and over and getting frustrated.

  8. Alexandria McKinnon says:

    I have been using this technique for several years with fine crochet cotton. But, what I also like to do is run two lines of gathering threads – that second line makes the gathers lie smoothly and makes the whole process go together more easily!

  9. eva says:

    I have been using top stitch thread in the bottom bobbin when sewing a gathering stitch- it never breaks!

  10. Eileen Fac says:

    So glad I found this site. What a great solution to a problem that we have all had at one time or another.

  11. Krista says:

    Here’s another tip for those frustrating times when you’re gathering fabirc – I’ve done ALOT of gathering in my time and the quickest way I ever found to gather fabric was to use shirring elastic in your bobbin. There’s no messing around with trying to get the gathers even etc. you just sew one line, then stretch it out to whatever length you need when sewing the skirt onto the waist band or bodice.

    On thicker fabrics it doesn’t always gather as much as you need, but for normal dress weight cottons, silks etc. it’s the best!

    • Deby Coles says:

      Ah I can only wish. No matter how many tutorials I rad/watch/follow, my machine simply refuses to shirr. It has an automatic tension feature which just overrides whatever I try to do and I just gt a regular line of stitches with non-stretched elastic on the back. But its a great idea for others – thanks for suggesting it, and should I ever gt another machine, I’ll certainly give this a go.

  12. MI says:

    Upholstry thread is also very strong and would work for this. I have sewn leather with it and it works well for that.

  13. Amber says:

    Hey! I just wanted to tell you that I’ve sewn leather falconry gloves with dental floss for a long time now 🙂 It’s awesome and it holds perfectly everytime. So you can use it for almost anything I think 🙂

  14. SusanAnn Sheidy says:

    Thank you a million, billion, gazillion times for the dental floss idea. I too have thrown my sewing across the room every time my basting thread broke including a few choice vulgar words. I would have never, ever thought of it and I fish and never would have thought of line. DA!

    • Deby Coles says:

      It’s a joyous feeling to glide those gathers along. It’s one small thing I feel will make so many things so much easier now. I understand your frustration!

      • Lauren R. says:

        Yes, I can kiss you on the mouth for this!!! I’m very, very new to sewing. I made my son a sensory blanket, that’s the only reason I bought a sewing machine. I made a pencil case, then found your blog. I made your Wear Everywhere dress. It did not come out well, but was a great learning experience and I have a comfy house dress! I am just finishing a dress I made from two different patterns, and had to gather the back of the skirt, and as I was about to cry, I remembered seeing something about gathering on your site. HOORAY!


    I’ve had dental floss in my sewing drawer for years, but haven’t used it in a long time. (Don’t gather much, I guess.) I did learn some other uses for it here, so thanks for that!

  16. Franni V says:

    I think this is a fantastic idea, I rushed to Pin it just so I’ll be able to find it again! This would also be an option for those knitting patterns where you have to cast on using waste yarn – I bet it’s much easier (and far cheaper) than the usual suggestions.

  17. Erlene says:

    That’s such a neat trick. I wish I knew this a few years ago when I used to sew my little girls those full twirly skirts.

  18. Sharlyn says:

    Two thumbs way, way up! So cool!

  19. Avis Cooper says:

    I’ve used this technique for ages. Dental floss is part of my sewing necessities!

  20. Wendy says:

    great! I also use dental floss/tape for sewing up children’s fabric toys that I make – very strong and never breaks which is a lot safer to the baby/child.

    • Deby Coles says:

      Seems it has so many uses, my husband has just used a piece last night to sew up a tear in his wet suit – he says this stuff is never coming undone! Maybe I should put some in new packaging and sell it as a specialist sewing thread!

  21. lINDA says:

    I have used this tecnique since the 1970’s when I used to make square dance dresses. I just used a heavy duty thread, like carpet thread, for my gathering thread. Be sure to mark you fabric in 1/4 or half so it is easy to evenly distribute it on the shorter fabric before sewing them together. Believe me that will save you a lot of time too.

  22. cucicucicoo says:

    What an interesting trick! Goes to show that taking a creme egg break is always useful! 😉 Lisa

  23. Tricia says:

    Great idea, Debbie. May I also suggest using “hand quilting thread”? It is strong and has a wax coating for added strength and glide-ability.

  24. Gina S. says:

    I have a grand daughter that i sew for, so gathering all the time. I found a gathering foot at Home Sew Inc. & Newark Dress Maker Supplies. I gathered 84 inches of fabric for a full length dress for her in 1 min. flat! Well worth the $9.95 I payed for it. It will also attach ruffles to your fabric and you can use it to make pleats. The instructions that come with it isn’t much but there is a you tube video that shows how to use it.They have all kinds of sewing supplies. This is the web site http://www.homesewing.com

    • Deby Coles says:

      These are great Gina, but what I’ve found with them is that you have no idea how much fabric you need before you start. You can’t set it that exactly. So when I tried to use my gathering foot on this project, it gathered too much and I ran out of fabric for the gathered layer before I got to the end. So I adjusted tried again, and this time it didn’t gather enough so I had not enough gathers and fabric left over. Grrr, I couldn’t get it right. How do you do it when you have two pieces that have to match each other exactly once finished?

      • Gina S. says:

        To be honest the first time i just put the fabric on and tried it and it turned out perfect, lol. Mine can be set to gather at different stitch lengths, i just set it for whatever looks good.:) . Sorry i know that’s not much help.

  25. Elizabeth says:

    Wonderful!! I have often broken my thread trying to gather, so this tip is well-timed! Great post!!

  26. Julie says:

    Oh Deby, what a brilliant idea. I’ve used floss for jewellery making as it’s so cheap and strong, but never for sewing! Genius!

  27. Marilyn says:

    I do this all the time and it works like a charm! 😀

  28. I just love your blog! I keep happening upon your posts. I getting ready to follow it now! Thanks for another lovely tutorial!

  29. France says:

    Well, I would have never thought of that. An eureka moment indeed and I will remember that, in my own sewing brain. Thank you so much for showing us!

  30. Crystelle Boutique says:

    I did not know this trick! I am going to try it right this week when I do some sewing….!! Yay!! 🙂
    hugs x, Crystelle

  31. Christy says:

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

  32. Cathy says:

    What an ingenious idea – I have used thread only to have it break – thanks for the great tip….

  33. Love that you jumped right outside of the box Deby. Great tip that I will be sharing!

  34. Lorena says:

    I had not thought of that in a thousand years lol so clever. Thank you

  35. Emily Thompson says:

    very clever!! I recently have a gathering disaster too and I ended up just doing small sections at a time.. this is brilliant though!!!

  36. Ginger says:

    Thanks for the great tip. I’m going to give it a try next time I need to gather.

  37. Elise @frugalfarmwife.com says:

    That’s genius! I don’t sew much anymore, but I’m definitely going to show this to my sister. Thanks!

  38. It can also be helpful if you use a presser foot with a groove underneath so it doesn’t get caught on the floss – if you don’t have one, an open-toed foot is also good. I’ve seen this trick in some sewing technique books, but I’d be hard-pressed to say which ones…I read too many, LOL!

    • Deby Coles says:

      That’s a great idea. I wonder if it would work by laying down the floss in the groove on an invisible zipper foot? Oh I don’t know though…I’ll have to check mine out and see if I can zig-zag stitch with that foot. But certainly using an open toe foot would help. Thanks Eileen.

  39. Cynthia L says:

    What a fantastic idea! I wish I would have thought of it!

  40. Anne says:

    very clever indeed!

    • Jilly says:

      I’ve been gathering by zig-zag stitching across a stronger thread for years. Forget dental floss, any stronger thread will do, button thread, fine crochet cotton, whatever you have in your workbox. You can even use fine elastic as well.

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