How to Sew a Simple Elastic Gathered Top

a closeup shot wearing the simple gathered top

I had a small amount of this fabric leftover from a project (I made an Orchards Dress out of this gorgeous fabric) and really wanted to use it for something else. There was just enough to sew up this super simple top and I want to share how I did it! I also share a few ideas for variations that would be just as easy to try.

This top is essentially just two rectangles gathered at the top with elastic but I wanted the strap ends to be enclosed. This was a little extra work, but I think was worth it to get a clean looking inside.

the simple gathered top laying on a table

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some things you’ll need

  • Elastic – I’m using 1/2″ elastic but any size will work with a few adjustments
  • Loop turner – this is used for making the straps
  • Fabric! The block print fabric I’m using is from Blackbird Fabrics
showing the fabric and elastic laid on the table

Prep

This top doesn’t take too much prep but I was working with limited fabric so I wanted to make sure I was using it up efficiently.

Take some measurements

First you’ll want to take some measurements. I started by measuring my upper bust where I wanted the top to sit. Decide how gathered you want the top to be and multiply your upper bust measurement by that amount.

Like I mention in my article How To Attach a Gathered Skirt to a Bodice a good base amount for gathering is 1.5x the width of the bust measurement (or the bodice for a dress). For full gathers you can do 2x the width or go somewhere in between. I thankfully had the whole width of the fabric to work with so I went with 1.75x the width of my upper bust measurement.

Decide what seam allowance you want to use – I’m using a 3/8″ seam allowance – and don’t forget to add that to the width of the panels.

You will need two panels that are half of the total finished circumference of the top. For example, my upper bust measurement is 33″. I multiplied 33 x 1.75 (the amount of gathering I wanted) to get 57.75. Then I divided 57.75 by 2 to get 28.8 – which is the width of one of the panels. I made it an even 28″ and added in my 3/8″ seam allowance (on both sides) which brought my final width of one panel to 28.75″.

Decide the length of your top and add in seam allowance for the hem and the elastic at the top. For the method I’m using using a facing (a strip of fabric used to cover the raw edges) with a 1/4″ seam allowance to enclose the straps at the top. An alternate method is to fold over the top to make a casing for the elastic and sew the straps on later – if you’re going this route, then just account for that in your final length measurement.

showing the cut out facings for the simple gathered top

Cut out your fabric

Cut out your two panels for your top at the desired width and length.

Cut out the facings (x 2) for enclosing the straps at the top. The facing is the same width as your panels and however wide you need to enclose the elastic (plus the seam allowance to sew it on). Since I’m using 1/2″ elastic, I cut my facings 2.25″ wide.

Cut out your straps – you will need two. I used the same straps from my Square Neck Tank Hack but made it 1″ wide for slightly thinner straps. The measurements for those are 18 1/2″ long x 1″ wide. I didn’t need the whole length though and my strap length (before sewing) was 14″ long.

Time to Sew

Now that the math part is over, it’s time to sew together your top! Pin the short ends of the panels right sides together and sew.

Finish the side seams with a zigzag stitch or a serger and press both sides the same direction. This will help you keep track of which is the front and back for a later step.

You will notice that I serged the top edge of my panels after sewn together. This is because I was originally just going to fold the top over to enclose the elastic before I decided to use a facing. This would be an even simpler way to make a casing for the elastic! You would just need to sew the straps onto the top after threading the elastic through and gathering.

the sewn together facing for the simple gathered top

Sew the short ends of the facings right sides together. Use the same seam allowance as the side seams.

pinning the facing to the top of the simple gathered top

Place the facing right sides together at the top of the panels, matching side seams, and pin.

Sew the straps right side together – I used a 3/8″ seam allowance. Turn right side out with a loop turner.

Now, the hardest part for me was figuring out the strap placement. It’s hard to visualize exactly where you want them without the elastic and gathers in place. It took a little bit of trial and error to get them where I wanted.

I tried the top on at this point and placed the side seams at my side. I gathered the fabric to get an idea of what it would look like and marked with a pin about where I wanted the straps. Not very official, I know, but I knew I could move them later if I needed to (which I did…several times).

One thing you can do, is to tie a length of elastic together around the upper bust and bring the panels under the elastic. Distribute the gathers around and make sure the side seams are at your sides. Mark where you want your straps to lay at the front and the back. Decide how long you want the straps to be and trim if needed – I cut mine down to 14″ long.

I placed my front straps 6″ away from the side seams, and my back straps 7.5″ away from the sides. Placing them farther away in the back helps to keep them from falling down over the shoulders. Pin the straps under the facing and sew in place. Mark the back of the top so you know the right way to put it on.

Press the seam allowance and facing up and away from the panels. Fold under the raw edge 3/8″ (this may be different for you if you’re using wider elastic). Fold the facing down so it doesn’t show from the right side.

Edgestitch all around leaving an opening for the elastic to thread through.

With a safety pin attached to the end, thread the elastic through the casing until you get to the end. You can pin the elastic together and try on the top at this point. If everything looks good, sew the elastic together with a zigzag stitch to secure. Distribute the gathers around evenly.

Hem the bottom to your desired length. I did a tiny 1/4″ hem since my top was already pretty short.

Your gathered top is now done!

closeup of one side of the finished simple gathered top
showing the simple gathered top with two channels of elastic
A variation with two channels of 1/2″ elastic giving it a shirring effect

Variations

While working on my gathered top I had a few ideas for simple ways to change up the design:

  • Cut four ties instead of 2 and cut them a little longer to be able to tie them at the shoulder. This is also an easier way to adjust the straps to the desired length!
  • Make the facing wider to fit two channels of elastic to give a shirring effect. (I actually tried this before deciding to take one channel of elastic out – see photo above).
  • Leave space at the top of the before sewing the elastic channel to make a paper waist bag edge.
  • Cut wider straps.
  • Add elastic at the bottom of the top. Cut a shorter length and make a cropped top or bralette.
  • Extend the panels into dress length – I might give this a try!

To be honest I was unsure that I would even like this top when I had first had the idea to make it. However, I love how it turned out and it’s such an easy top for summer! Trying it on with other handmade clothes from my closet helped give me ideas for how to wear it – I’m happy I found something else to make out of this fabric!

Hope this tutorial was helpful or gave you some inspiration to sew your own! Thanks for reading 🙂

Bethany signature

3 thoughts on “How to Sew a Simple Elastic Gathered Top”

  1. Hello. I am very new to sewing and I stumbled across your website, it is truly lovely! Thank you for such a wonderful reference and learning place. Quick question. The skirt with patch pockets on the bottom left of the page… is that your personal pattern or someone else’s? I really like it.

    1. Hi! Thank you for your kind comment! The skirt I’m wearing is the Peppermint Pocket Skirt (free pattern) which you can find on the Peppermint Magazine website. It’s a great beginner friendly pattern and one of the first projects I made when I first starting sewing my own clothes!

      – Bethany

  2. Ooooh, you could even add a cotton lycra bandeau inside which would replace the casing and provide a little shelf bra! I might try this!!

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