Free Tutorial: Gathering fabric using clear elastic
I enjoy sewing with woven fabrics for a variety of projects, but love knits for kids' clothing because they're so comfortable. I particularly enjoy Ottobre magazine for their multitude of easy-to-wear but still funky patterns for kids. I decided to pair their Lucky Cat pattern in the Spring 1/2013 issue with some Birdsong Comfy-Fit Leggings. The Ottobres can be a little intimidating at first - lots of pattern pieces per page, no seam allowances, and to-the-point instructions. But the fit is great on most designs and, oh, the eye candy in each issue!
Key to sewing up this design is the use of clear elastic to gather the fabric at the empire waist, to gather the sleeve caps and sleeves, and to gather the bottom before the addition of the hem band. Clear elastic works great for gathering, and it's a tool you'll want to use...there are a few tips that you won't learn from Ottobre.
First, measure the section to which you're attaching your gathered fabric - not the fabric you're going to gather. Stretch your clear elastic (I buy mine here) a few times to loosen it up, and cut it 2-3 inches (5-8 cm) longer than what you've measured. Using a Sharpie, make three marks on the elastic - about an inch from one edge, then from that mark to the measurement you're trying to achieve, and then in the middle (which you will figure out by folding it in half, meeting the two marks you've drawn, and marking the half-way point). What you don't want to do is cut the elastic to the exact size to begin with - you want an inch or so on each end so you have something to hold onto.
(I should know - I muttered a few expletives when I tried to gather the sleeve caps on this pattern without cutting the elastic longer than recommended, and marking as suggested above.)
Now mark the middle of the piece of fabric you want to gather (not the piece you just measured! Set it aside for now), and place a pin or a snip there (below).
Line up your elastic with the first mark on the edge of the fabric to be gathered, on the right side of your fabric. Don't worry; this is in the seam allowance and you won't see it later. Take a couple of basting stitches on your sewing machine. Now continue to baste - stretching the clear elastic, not the fabric - until the middle marks on the elastic meets the middle mark you've pinned in your fabric. Once you make it to the middle, keep stretching the elastic until you get to the mark at the end. If you have a larger piece of fabric, you may consider making marks at the quarter points.
You'll see the fabric start to gather as you baste. Once you reach the end, the fabric should be gathered to the width of the piece to which you're attaching it:
In the sections about sewing the sleeves, the instructions will tell you to gather the sleeve cap to 8 cm (about 3 1/8 inches) from notch to notch - this is where you'll definitely want to cut your elastic about 14 cm (5 1/2 inches) so you have room to maneuver your fingers to keep the stretch. Be sure to mark the 8 cm/ 3 1/8" on the elastic so you know where to start and stop, though.
That's all there is to it! Of course you can always gather using gathering stitches, but clear elastic is an easy, professional way to go and is quite quick once you get the hang of it. :) An aside - in the photo below I'd like to say my daughter is jumping for joy because of the ease of using clear elastic to gather, but it's because she saw a cement truck drive down the street - a neighbor is getting a new driveway - and she declared that "Spinny trucks are my favorite!" Oh, the days when we were so easily amused, right?
I loved the fabrics for this pattern, by the way. The main print in the top is Lillestoff Scandifruit (for those who don't mind splurging on great knits...I sized up on this top so she can wear it next spring/summer mainly because of price). The accent fabrics and legging fabrics are from Eurogirls Boutique. And the hair flower is the felt version of the Camellia flower pattern.