Don’t Get Ruffled, Get Ruffling: Gather Fabric Using a Serger

Christmas skirt made by using serger to gather fabric

by Cathy Ellsaesser, posted on

In a previous blog, Specialty Sewing Machine Feet for Gathering Fabric, I took some pictures and linked to a couple of videos of using special sewing machine feet to create gathers and ruffles.  In this blog, I will show you how to gather fabric using a serger.

You’ve probably noticed that I use the words gather and ruffle, but don’t really explain the difference between the two. In reality, a ruffle is gathered fabric added as trim or decoration to another piece of fabric.  Gathering fabric is simply the process of taking a long piece of fabric and making it shorter by using thread to pull or bunch the fabric together along a stitching line.

Semantics aside, as I said in another previous blog, How to Gather Fabric and Create Ruffles, gathered fabric adds a lot of interest to everything from garments to home decor items. In the little Christmas skirt at the top of this blog, the ruffles were made with a serger. It sure was easy gathering over 200″ of fabric to create the ruffles when I used my serger!

So, for today’s blog, let’s continue gathering, but this time lets gather fabric using a serger.

Using a Standard Serger Foot

  1. Set your serger for 4-thread overlock. Here, I have red and yellow thread in the loopers and black thread in the needles to make it easier to see the threads.
  2. Increase your Stitch Length to the highest number ~ mine is a 4, but some sergers go up to 5
  3. Serge along the raw edge.  You will notice that it does a little gathering if you set your differential to the highest amount you can.  This is normal. In my sample, I did not set a high differential feed.Photo of four thread overlock stitches to gather fabric using a serger
  4. Notice the two needle threads (the black threads).  Put a needle underneath the two parallel threads and separate them from the loops.  Be careful not to catch either of the looper threads – it will knot if you do.  At the edge of the fabric, pull the ends of the two needle threads out of the chain of threads.  Do not tangle these up with the looper threads. Keep them straight.  If you do this correctly, they will slip out easily.Photo of four thread overlock stitches with needle threads separated. These will be pulled to gather fabric using a serger
  5. Just as with using basting threads on a sewing machine, pull the two needle threads to gather your fabric.Photo of black needle threads from thread overlock stitches pulled to gather fabric using a serger
  6. Keep in mind that the serger will gather along the edge, so you may need the adjust your seam allowance first.  Make sure the left needle of your serged seam does not extend past your desired seam allowance. If it does, you will see the threads outside the seam allowance on your garment.

Terrific! You have nice, even gathers that you can easily be adjust and then attach. I especially love the clean serged edge.

Photo of ruffle made of gather fabric using a serger


Using a Gathering Serger Foot

With a gathering foot it is easy to attach the ruffle to your base fabric the same time you are gathering the fabric.

Photo of gathering foot to gather fabric using a serger.

This serger foot has a metal guide on the bottom. Anything that goes over the metal guide will not be ruffled, anything underneath the guide will be ruffled. Photo of path fabric takes under and in the gathering footPlace the fabric that you are going to ruffle, face up under the serger foot.

Photo showing when you gather fabric using a serger the ruffle fabric goes face up under the gathering foot.

Place the unruffled fabric face down in the groove of the serger foot.

Photo showing when you gather fabric using a serger you place the flat fabric in the groove on the foot on top of the ruffle fabric     When you gather fabric using a serger gathering foot the ruffle fabric goes face up under the foot and the flat fabric goes face down in the groove on the foot.

Guide the bottom fabric with your left hand and the top fabric with your right to keep the fabric aligned under the serger foot.

The serger creates the ruffles underneath the serger foot as it guides the flat fabric through the groove in the foot. When you are finished, you have a beautifully attached ruffle and a finished edge!

Photo showing that when you gather fabric using a serger you can create a ruffle while sewing to flat fabric    Photo showing that when you gather fabric using a serger you create a beautiful finished seam.

Photo showing when you gather fabric using a serger the finished product is a beautiful ruffle sewn to flat fabric

If you want an “unattached” ruffle, just add your ruffle fabric under the foot and stitch along the fabric edge. You can then use this ruffle in a pillow seam, for example.

Watch this video to see how easy it is to gather fabric using a serger.


There are several benefits to creating ruffles on a serger instead of gathering by pulling basting stitches:

  1. Fast. Set your machine for 4 thread overlock, snap on the gathering foot, and feed the fabric through. Presto! You’re done!
  2. Perfect. There’s no hand adjustments needed, so it’s far less tedious to create perfect ruffles.
  3. Efficient. You gather and sew in one step.
  4. Neat.  The edge is neatly finished.

There is only one drawback in creating ruffles when you gather fabric using a serger. When you gather fabric by hand, it’s easy to make the finished gathers the exact length you need. With some pre-work, though, you can calculate the amount of the fabric that is gathered. Then you can make the appropriate adjustments to get the length you need.

Coupon So You Can Gather Fabric Using a Serger

Here’s another benefit! Thirty percent off any foot that helps you gather fabric and make ruffles. This includes feet used on sewing machines or sergers.

Give a Serger Some Love (and a Home)

As I am sure you know, a serger cuts fabric and finishes seams at the same time.  Most sergers will do additional edge finishes such as a rolled hem.  Five thread sergers will do things like a chain stitch, wave edge, or cover stitch. Check out one of our previous blogs, Sergers: Info and Tips, to find out more about what a serger can do for you besides gather fabric! Check out our website and visit the product pages to see some of the different brands of sergers we carry. Then, visit your local Rocky Mountain Sewing and Vacuum to get a demo on one (or more) of the many fine sergers they carry. Then carry one home and start discovering all you can do with a serger — including, but no way limited to, making beautiful ruffles.

Screen shot of Rocky Mountain Sewing and Vacuum product page