I love shirring!

This was my weekend project, a new dress.  I bought the fabric years ago because I liked the border design, then discovered the pattern I was going to use had a round hem.  Then I got the shirring elastic last year and it’s taken this long to get down to it.

It’s slightly shorter than planned – I always measure meticulously 2 or 3 times then end up with the waist too big, this time I measured meticulously and ended up with it short.  Lucky for overlockers to make tiny hems!

The one thing I don’t like about a lot of shirred items is the frill at the top, so I put in a thin casing and put in 6mm elastic.  However there’s a trap – the elastic is stronger than the shirring.  I carefully pulled it so it was gathered the same amount as the rest of the dress, but because there’s less give in it the very top is tighter than comfortable.  After doing it I found the 3mm elastic I was searching for, but I haven’t decided if I’ll let it stretch or try to replace it.

The shirring itself was dead easy, hand wind the shirring elastic onto the bobbin so it isn’t stretched, then just sew straight!  I used a walking foot and the fabric has lines of spots to line it all up, although it still took an embarrassing number of rows before I got it straight.  This is a very light fabric so it gathered very easily.

Quick and dirty shirred dress method:

  1. Measure the length you want and add 7-10cm for hem and top casing.
  2. Measure your hips at the widest point and add a generous amount so your skirt is comfortable.  This one is around 30cm more than my hip measurement.  Press well so there are no creases.
  3. Cut a strip around 10cm wide for the shoulder bands, I cut the full width of the fabric and trimmed them down once I’d made the rest of the dress.
  4. Overlock both the top and bottom of the dress.  I did this because it is a very light weave and frays easily, I like to have the edges finished before I’m working on it and little fingers are pulling it about.
  5. Fold over the top and sew a narrow casing, this one is about 1cm. (If you weren’t doing the quick and dirty method you would leave the casing until later.)
  6. Shirr the top of the fabric, roughly every 2cm.  This dress is slightly less because I’m lining up the pattern, it’s up to you what look you want.  Make sure you at least go far enough down to cover your bust, you don’t want a skirt hanging from halfway down your boob!  Looking at this photo I could possibly have done another row to get to the waist, or done less and made it an empire waist.  The dangers of trying to judge everything yourself with toddlers hanging onto your legs!
  7. Thread 3mm or 6mm elastic through the casing and spread your gathers, not too tight!  Attach it firmly at both ends.
  8. Line up the back, right sides together, and sew or overlock straight down.
  9. Try it on to check the length and hem the bottom.
  10. If you were doing this dress properly, this is when you would do the top casing and elastic and measure it so it doesn’t end up too tight.  But I don’t like trying to sew neatly when it’s all gathered, so it serves me right.  Make sure you finish the threads from the seam at the top so they don’t show.

This is a wearable dress just like this, I added the shoulder straps to cover the bra.

  1. Measure how long they need to be over your shoulder, mine was 44 cm so I cut my strip to 1m.
  2. Sew or overlock right sides together to make a long tube then cut in half.  This way you end up with two straps the same width 🙂
  3. I meant to turn the tube so the seam was straight down the back, but forgot and left it on the side.  Sew the end, I put points on these because I think it’s neater than square corners, you could do curves as well.  Do measure them (or trace around a glass) because if you do it by eye it never turns out and looks lopsided. Hint: if you are doing points do a diagonal stitch across the point, it’s much neater when you turn it.
  4. Turn right way out and give a good pressing then topstich if you like.  I love topstitching, I think it makes everything look neater and more finished so long as you are straight!  I used a quilting foot that helps you line up a quarter inch easily.
  5. Choose your buttons and put a buttonhole on the end, make sure it is parallel to the length of the strap.
  6. Try the dress on and pin the straps where you want them to reach on the front, then get someone else to pin them at the back.  Unpin the front and carefully take it off.
  7. Mark both the straps and back of the dress, then unpin them and trim the straps to the right length.  Fold them under like a hem and baste them to the dress.  This is when you sew with very loose tension and long stitches and is just to hold everything in the right place.  It’s easier than pinning here because remember the bodice is all gathered – you have to stretch it out while you are attaching the bands or it won’t go on properly.
  8. Tighten your tension and reduce your stitch length again and sew the straps on, a box or square is the most secure.  Pull out the basting stitches.
  9. Try the dress on and pin the bodice through the buttonholes, then you should be able to undo the straps as if the pins were buttons.  This shows you where to sew them on and you’re finished!

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by MummyTiff on February 2, 2010 at 2:55 am

    That looks bloody fabulous Deb! I WISH I had the nerve to try shirring – even with your brilliant explaination it still seems daunting to me! Well actually not the shirring perse but the straps and the armholes leading up to the straps…….I’m thinking more for DD than for myself as I’m not in a dress place right now. But I think shirring would work well for her ‘cos she’s so little that other dresses swim on her.

    LOVE yours! So flattering!


  2. Posted by Michele on February 2, 2010 at 7:36 am

    That’s just awesome…. will have to tidy of my kitchen table so I can complete some projects too!!
    It looks great, and sounds easy!


  3. Thanks!
    Tiff – that’s why this is a quick and dirty method – there are no armholes to deal with. It’s just a rectangle shirred at the top.

    Did you know you can buy pre-shirred material? I got some a while ago from Spotlight and made dresses for the girls, I don’t know if it was a one-off or if they have it regularly. All you have to do is measure the length you want and hem it, although I added shoulder straps too. Just make sure you work out how much you need by measuring the non-shirred side 🙂


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