Shirring is basically decorative gathering with many rows of gathering stitches. Now we mostly hear of shirring done with elastic thread as this creates beautiful gathers rather easily. Elastic thread is wound on the bobbin and then several parallel rows of stitching are done across the fabric. The resultant fabric panel will be beautifully gathered. Another method is to use the gathering foot of a sewing machine.
Checkout this post on the 6 types of gathers – and how to make gathers on fabric .
Shirring is usually done on bodices, shoulders, sleeve cuffs or waistlines to control the fullness.
Which fabric is best for shirring
Light weight fabric shirrs very well. Thin materials like voile , lawn, gauze, chiffon take shirring beautifully well. Light weight cotton, synthetic fabrics like polyester are also best for shirring.
You can do shirring on denim but ensure that it is not the heavy duty kind. My daughter has 2 denim dresses with shirring on them (on sleeve cuffs and ruffles) and they look good – they are made of thinner (dress weight) denim though. I do not think thick denim will be gathered with the thin elastic thread. If you are using heavier fabrics, the fullness will be lesser than if you use light weight fabrics ( less gathering)
Crosswise grain of the fabric is best for shirring.
You get thin elastic thread at the stores – you will find lots of uses for it.They are available in two colours – black and white.
When to shirr a garment ?
Shirring is done on a garment after all the seams of the garment is completed except the final one seam ie if you are sewing a shirred dress all other seams and sewing including hem, top edge , one side seam are finished – then shirring is done. After shirring is finished, join the remaining seam.
How to do shirring on fabric with elastic thread
Wind the bobbin
Thread the bobbin with elastic thread, winding it tautly by hand ( do not stretch), until the bobbin is almost full.
- Thread the elastic thread up through the small holes in your bobbin.
- Wind the bobbin – 2/3 full.
- Cut away the excess tail on top of the hole in the bobbin.
You can wind it by machine as well. Use the foot pedal very slow to wind the bobbin.
For thin fabric it is very necessary that you wind the elastic thread tightly on the bobbin. For other heavier fabric the elastic can be wound slightly loose.
Hand winding is the most preferred as it gives you some control.It is not difficult at all and a little sews a long way. Do not wind the bobbin fully.
Simple rows of evenly spaced shirring looks the most attractive.
Mark your fabric with parallel lines across the fabric on the right side of the fabric ( use disappearing ink pen or chalk). Mark at least 5-6 rows minimum
Ensure that the lines are of same distance from each other.
Thread the machine with top thread matching the fabric
For shirring, Set the machine to a straight stitch stitch – with stitch length maximum in your machine.
Insert the bobbin with the elastic thread – Just like you would for regular thread
If you have a metal bobbin case you should loosen the tension for shirring with elastic
Take out the bobbin thread by moving the hand wheel. This is very important and you should do this every time you are starting a row after stopping- this ensures you have a smooth start.
Start sewing – you will be sewing on the right side of the fabric on the lines you have marked . At the start decrease the stitch length to zero and make one or two stitches in place to anchor the thread. Some advice not to back stitch – they leave long tails of the top thread at the start and end of the stitching and take the top thread to the back of the fabric with a hand sewing needle and then tie knots with the elastic thread.I do both.
Then increase the stitch length to maximum ( or slightly lesser than maximum ; test on a scrap; a 3 works for me) and start stitching along the line.
Keep the fabric taunt at all times so that fabric folds are not caught in your stitching. It is ok to go very slow or stop stitching and check everything is ok – you need a flat fabric surface to sew, so keep the gathers of the fabric away with both hands holding the fabric straight as you sew. This is important for good looking shirring.
Rows of stitching should be parallel. The distance between the rows of stitching should be same at all levels;
How much is the distance between rows is your choice – remember that, if the distance is more, the gathers will look puffed up and not attractive as much as if it is closer.
As you finish the first row you will notice that the gathering is not enough – but that is misleading . You will have to keep on shirring more rows to see the full impact of shirring.
When you have finished shirring remember to go to the back of the fabric and ensure that the ends are secure ; if they are not, make knots.
If the top thread runs out in between or bobbin elastic thread runs out bring the top thread to the back of the fabric and tie knot with the elastic thread to make sure that the elastic thread does not unwind.
Plug the iron on – keep it in the steam setting. Do not worry if you do not have a steam iron. Just sprinkle some water on the shirred fabric with a spray bottle and then use a hot iron to press lightly over the top of the fabric (not on the back with the elastic thread). The elastic thread will shrivel up and gather the fabric more than earlier
How to maintain and care for shirred fabric.
The elastic thread is delicate – more delicate than the regular thread because of its stretch – it can get broken in the wash. It can get stretched and out of shape . So I would say it is better to hand wash the shirred garments.The shirred elastic is prone to breaking if treated / tumbled roughly.
I also would make a separate lining for the back of the shirring – because we have rather sensitive skin around our house – even the cloth labels and zippers irritates my daughter’s skin so shirring would definitely be !!!! so a covering for the scratchy back of shirring is a necessity. It will also protect the shirred elastic. A slip would also help.