Shirring tutorial for summer dresses

completed shirring

Summer is officially here and that means shirring summer dresses!!!

In my opinion one of the easiest things for shaping a summer dress is with shirring as it gives shapes whilst not having a thick waist band to dig in. It can also be quite daunting if your just learning to sew too as it requires a bobbin thread that you wouldn’t usually use.

When I was learning to use shirring I sometimes had it working a treat and had great results but sometimes it wouldn’t and I never really understood what I was doing wrong. Sometimes, I would try to re-thread it and it would work again but I was never sure what on earth I’d done to fix it until I had my light bulb moment!

So the picture below shows my bobbin case. It’s a top loading machine. You can see that next the the plastic arm that sticks out that you tuck the thread under is a smaller metal arm. This arm is essential for your bobbin tension.

Bobbin housing













When you stick the bobbin in, you have to make sure it loops under this, if it doesn’t, your shirring will look like this:


Put the fabric under the foot where you want the shirring to start. Back stitch a few stitches and sew with the right side of fabric facing upright. The elastic will be underneath. Try on a scrap fabric first. When you get to the end of your row, back stitch again to lock your stitches.

In the next picture, I have loaded my bobbin correctly and this is the shirring I produced! Nice hey (I’m making a Simple Sew Amelia dress – new post to follow). The shirring will gather even more if you hover the iron closely over the top and steam.

Back side of shirring

Front of shirred panel – note the colour of top thread

Correctly loaded bobbin

Another view of the bobbin and where the elastic is going through

Please note the elastic thread is UNDER the little metal arm (I’m not sure if the pic reflects this)

I am by no means an oracle on sewing so some sewing purists may disagree on some of my views but below is a few other things I’ve encountered that maybe of use:

  • You have to back stitch to lock your thread in place at the beginning and end of your row(I would do a few to be honest)
  • I don’t think it matters whether your bobbin is hand wound or machine wound.(this is the controversial one!) I have done both and had great results for both – because its the bobbin tension that does all the magic.
  • Use the edges of the sewing machine feet to ensure you get even stitching lines. Make sure the the edge of the feet sits next to the previous row of stitches each time. This will give close shirring. Experiment with needle position to see if you want narrower or wider lines.
  • Play around with the placement of the shirring to make a simple square of fabric look amazing but also extremely comfortable.

It can be placed:

-on a waist band (handy for pregnancy skirts, babies waistbands for no digging in)

– the top of a dress

– top of a dress and at the waist

-all down the bodice

-just at the back of a bodice

-ankle (like harem pants or trackie bottoms)

It is definitely a skill worth having in your sewing arsenal and can provide a variety of looks by playing with the placement

I’d love to hear your tips that help towards the ‘perfect shir’!

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