As promised here's the shirring tutorial that some of you asked for and that I was more than happy to put together (due to it meaning that I have a seemingly legitimate excuse to ignore making those curtains for a few more hours). The photos are many...just because whenever I'm looking at how to do something if someone just tells me with words, I'm left thinking 'are you sure?' or 'can she really mean just like this?'. Before I started shirring I consulted several books and had a good look around online...it seems that there are several different ways to shirr with regard to tension, stitch length, how the end of each row of shirring is handled and several other variables. This is my way...and it works very happily for me. I hope that it does for you too.
For the uninitiated, shirring is the process of sewing with elastic thread in the bobbin in order to elasticise fabric. Why would you want to do this? Not only does it add textural visual interest, it's also fantastically practical. Because shirring adds some stretch to the fabric, it is perfect for dressmaking (example here), as it offers a very forgiving fit to the final garment that has some 'play' in it. Additionally it means that you can forget about zips and buttons - your fabric will happily stretch to allow the garment to be taken on and off. Fabulous? Yes, let's get started.
Preparing the fabric
Wind the bobbin up
You may want to wind a couple of bobbins up, as I find that I use two to shirr the top of one small dress panel (luckily, shirring elastic is inexpensive).
Load the bobbin into the bobbin case exactly as you normally would, and then place in the machine.
- The top tension should be set slightly lower than usual. I reduce mine to 4, but you may wish to reduce yours further...it's worth playing around on some test fabric as every machine is different.
- The men in my local sewing machine shop once told me that they would never alter the bobbin tension as even they wouldn't be capable of resetting it as precisely as it had been done in the factory...some tutorials mention playing around with this...but you really shouldn't need to and one shirring escapade can never be worth upsetting your machine's equilibrium.
- The stitch length will need to be lengthened. I normally sew with mine at a length of 2, for shirring I go up to 3.5. Again, play around on a piece of test fabric and see what works best for you.
- To shirr you will be sewing in parallell rows, using the right-hand edge of your presser foot as a guide. Start by lining it up with the edge of your fabric - this will be where you make your first line of stitching.
- The fabric should face the right way up, so that the regular cotton stitches are formed on the face of the fabric and the elastic is on the underneath.
- Take a few stitches forward and backwards to secure the threads and then stitch to the end of the row. I tend to use both my hands for the first line to make sure that the material is flat at the back and front as it goes through the machine.
- My machine sounds a little louder than normal when using elastic thread in the bobbin - I don't think that this needs to be a worrisome matter, so just enjoy the shirring and ignore it.
- When you reach the end of the row, take a couple of forward and backward stitches to secure and then clip the threads. You should have something resembling this.
Subsequent shirring rows...
- Continue shirring in the same way, always remembering to secure the threads at the beginning and end of each line and lining the right-hand edge of the presser foot up with the last line of stitching.
- After the first line of stitching, you'll need to pay more attention to keeping the piece of fabric that you're working on held flat. At first you'll be able to do this by stretching one hand around your work...but as the shirring lines increase and the fabric becomes more playful with its new-found elasticity, you'll need to launch a two-handed assault on keeping it flat.
The top hemmed edge, will probably look a little ugly and unsuitable to be seen at the top of a dress. Don't panic, this is easily solved by ironing. I iron on the face of the fabric, so that the heat isn't directly on the elastic. Give it a good press and it should look much more presentable, as below.
Your shirred piece of fabric is now ready to insert into whatever item you happen to be making. I hope that you loved shirring as much I have.