How to Sew a Gathered Dress With Elastic Thread

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Project Overview
  • Total Time: 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $30

Elastic thread is thicker and stretchier than regular thread. So it's useful when you're working with stretchy fabrics. You typically use elastic thread in your sewing machine in combination with regular thread. It helps to create clothing that gives a little, such as a top with shirring. This project, which requires intermediate sewing skills and about 2 hours to complete, creates a comfortable gathered dress with elastic thread that will generally fit adults sizes small to large. Make sure you purchase fabric that's at least 1 1/2 times as wide as your widest body measurement. The length you make the dress is up to you.


For best results, purchase new elastic thread, not elastic thread that has been in a sewing box for years. Elastic thread loses its elasticity over time.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sewing machine and two bobbins (one for regular thread and one for elastic thread)
  • Scissors
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Measuring tape


  • 60-inch-wide lightweight to midweight fabric
  • Matching thread
  • Elastic thread


  1. Prepare the Fabric

    Make sure to preshrink the fabric before you start sewing. Thread your sewing machine with regular thread (bobbin and upper thread). Then, square the fabric, making sure both cut edges are straight.

    Next, you'll sew a small hem on what will be the top edge of your ​dress. Turn under 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch, press, and turn it under again to enclose the raw edge. Sew the hem in place as close to the folded edge as possible. Press again.

  2. Thread Your Sewing Machine With the Elastic Thread

    To sew with elastic thread, you must hand-wind the bobbin without stretching the elastic thread. Wind the elastic thread on the bobbin until the bobbin is full. (Thread the top of the sewing machine with your regular sewing thread.) Leave a couple inches of tail of the elastic thread, and bring the elastic thread up through the sewing machine throat plate.

    Never use the automatic thread-cutting features on your sewing machine while sewing with elastic thread. The automatic thread cutter won't leave a long enough tail, causing the end of the elastic thread to pull back into the bobbin case and requiring you to rethread the machine.

    Set your stitch length at 3 or longer. Test the setup on a fabric scrap. The weight of the fabric and the stitch length will both impact the amount of bunching the elastic thread will create.

  3. Create Rows of Gathering

    With the right side of the fabric up, beginning just under the hemmed edge, sew a row of stitching an even distance from the hem. Repeat sewing rows of stitching an even distance (approximately 1/4 inch) from each other, using your presser foot as a seam guide.

    Sew 2 to 12 inches of rows of stitching with the elastic thread, depending on how much gathering you desire. For the elasticized fabric to cover the bust area, sew at least 10 to 12 inches worth of rows.

  4. Seam the Dress

    Rethread the sewing machine with regular thread in the bobbin and upper thread.

    Aligning the top edge and the selvages, pin the selvage edges together. Sew a seam 1/2 inch in from the selvages on the body of the fabric.

    Press. Trim away the selvages. And apply a seam finish. Press again.

  5. Add Optional Tie Straps

    Cut two 2-inch strips the width of the fabric, removing the selvages.

    Fold in 1/4 inch on each end, bringing the wrong sides of the fabric together. Press the length of the strip in half. And press each edge into the pressed line, placing the wrong sides of the fabric together. Refold and align the folded edges to match.

    Sew as close to the aligned edges as possible, pivoting at the ends to sew the ends closed. Fold the length of the sewn strips in half, and cut on the fold.

    Try on the dress. Pin the ties in place, so they will tie on the shoulder. Then, take off the dress, and sew the ties in place on the top hem.

  6. Hem the Dress

    Try on the dress and decide the desired length. Add 2 1/2 inches to the desired finished length.

    Trim away any excess fabric. Then, turn under 1/2 inch, and press the fabric. Turn under 2 inches, and press in place.

    Hand sew or use your sewing machine blind hem to sew the hem in place.