Tutorial: Shirring Technique

Are you one to start trembling (and! maybe sweating profusely as well) every time you have to apply the shirring technique on a garment? Well, you are not alone! I think shirring is one of the most feared sewing techniques there is but! it is also one of the most rewarding when mastered :)

In this post I will share with you lots of tips and tricks so that you can let the fear aside and embrace shirring in all its Summery glory. Are you ready? Let's go!

How to master the shirring technique

Materials needed and recomendations

  • Test different elasticated threads till you find the one that works best for your machine, needle and project. In my case, I opted for a 1000m cone (you use many metres of elastic thread when shirring a front and back bodice pieces) of this Gütterman thread. My elastic is pretty thin and that's what has worked best for me so far. I have tried thicker ones but they created a pretty big mess inside the bobbin case.

Machine set-up and testing

Before starting, I need to make a distinction. There are different set-ups depending on where the bobbin case is located in your machine. If you have a front / side load machine (your bobbin case is at the front), head to this link and to minute 2.58'' for a great tutorial. If your machine has a drop in bobbin case, like mine, continue reading :)

1. Pick up and empty bobbin and your elastic thread. Wind the bobbin manually pulling slightly each time you go around the bobbin. Don't make it too full as that might work against you while sewing.

Cut the extra elastic coming from the hole on your bobbin as it can get stuck easily in the bobbin case and place the bobbin in its case. I usually try to pull a bit from the end of the elastic to make sure it's got some tension.

    2. Place the normal matching thread you were going to use for your garment on the top thread spool holder and the bobbin with the elastic in the bobbin case.

    3. Change the length of your stitch to 4 or 4.5mm.

    Now, you are ready to test how your machine behaves while shirring :)

    4. For this, pick up a scrap of light-weight fabric or a fabric similar to the one you will be using for your final garment and draw a straight line close to one of the edges on the right side. Use a rectangular piece of fabric around 30cm / 12'' long and 20cm / 8'' wide.

    Continue marking lines with a ruler and a fabric marker leaving a space of 1 or 1.5cm in between them.

    5. Then, head to the machine and sew a straight line right on top of the first line that you have drawn with the right side of your fabric facing up. You will probably feel how the fabric starts to shirr itself a bit. Start right at the beginning and finish right at the other end of your fabric. Don't reverse stitch and don't use the automatic thread-cutting tool on your machine if it's got one.

    When finished, take out the fabric from the machine, cut the elastic thread leaving a long tail and check if the elastic has done its job. It might not feel very shirred but it will get more so as you continue sewing.

    Now, secure the elastic thread at the beginning and end of your line of stitches by making a knot. Don't worry about this knot because that part will be concealed and out of view in the seam when shirring for example the front and back of a top.

    6. If you are happy with your first line of shirring, continue with the rest of the lines in exactly the same way. The only difference will be that as you keep adding more lines of stitches, the fabric will really start to scrunch-up so it is important to keep it as flat as possible along each line as shown below.

    7. When you are finished and if you feel that your fabric is not shirred enough, pick up your iron and using the steam button, hover it above your fabric. You will see how it magically shrinks!


    Now, does it sound easy? Yes. May you encounter one or two problems while shirring? Yes as well :) Let's see what could happen and how to solve it.

    _"The elastic thread is not pulling the fabric".

    • First, that might have to do with the tension of the elastic thread in the bobbin. Make sure that the winding of the bobbin has been done correctly and that you pulled a bit from the elastic thread while doing it.
    • Second option, you might need to adjust the tension on the actual bobbin case holder itself. Head to the tutorial below, minute 13'', to see how I adjusted the tension on my old machine to make it work. The con of this? You need to make sure that you put it back to how it was after you finish shirring.

    _"My fabric is not shirred enough".

    • When using medium-weight fabrics, the elastic thread might not have the strength to shirr your fabric properly. Try to always go for light-weight materials.

    • Your elastic thread might be too thick and not have much elasticity. Try different brands and models till you find the one that works best for you. Thin and pretty stretchy is usually a winner.

    • Do the steam iron trick I explained before to see if it can be solved like that.

    _"The elastic gets tangled up in the bobbin case".

    • Try to wind the bobbin again creating some tension while winding the thread. Also, don't fill the bobbin all the way, leave a bit of free space in the bobbin.

    • Remember to cut the end of the elastic that goes through one of the holes on your bobbin case when you wind it. That little bit can get easily caught when sewing.

    To finish this post, you can find below a tutorial I filmed a while ago on how to shirr. You can also practice with the Rasberry Jumpsuit and Dress pattern :)

    Keep following for more and leave a comment :)

    Happy shirring!


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