Monday, 21 June 2010

Shirring tutorial


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.
Supplies

Firstly, you'll need some shirring elastic, as shown above. It's only a mm thick and comes in a variety of different colours, however, as it will only appear on the back of your garment, I think that a light and a dark coloured elastic should suffice for most shirring eventualities. Unlike regular sewing, when elastic thread is in the bobbin case it is not pulled up through the fabric, which means you can be a little less exacting about colour-matching.

Use regular cotton or polyester thread in the top spool holder. The colour should match your fabric.

Fabric - my own rule of thumb is that I cut double the width of actual fabric needed, as the shirring will reduce it by approximately 1/2. The height measurement remains as it would if you were not shirring the fabric, so just add in normal seam and hemming allowances.

Preparing the fabric



It's essential that you hem any edges that need finishing before you begin shirring...as it will be virtually impossible to do this afterwards. In the case of shirring the back panel of a child's dress, or the top of shirt then it will normally only be the long upper edge that requires hemming.

You should also make sure that the fabric has been ironed to give a smooth surface to work on.

 Wind the bobbin up

The bobbin should be wound by hand, putting about as much tension on the elastic as you would if hand-winding a a normal cotton thread: firm, so that it sits in the bobbin neatly and without excess slack, but not pulled completely taut. The best way is to wind it fast without thinking about it too much, and the tension should be just about right!

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.


Tension
  • 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.
Stitch Length


  • 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.
Let us begin! Wheeheeeee!


  • 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.
  • But remember, you're not trying to pull the fabric through the machine faster than it would naturally travel, simply holding it flat against the bed of the machine and repressing its impish spirit!
  • If your bobbin thread runs out mid-line, don't panic. Simply reload the bobbin and, holding the fabric taut, take a few securing stitches and continue on your way. Shirring is very forgiving and a multitude of sewing sins can be hidden in its folds.


Finishing off

When your final line of shirring is complete, secure and cut the threads. You should be left with a springy piece of fabric that can be pulled in and out accordion-style (and if you're new to shirring too, then you may well spend some time marvelling at this. I certainly did).
The reverse side should look like the above.


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.



If the fabric hasn't reduced by as much as you'd hoped, then pressing the entire piece of shirring can retract the folds further and make the shirring a little tighter.


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.

Warning: I'm currently shirring the contents of my entire wardrobe...it's an addiction that can become all-consuming. I suggest only buying shirring elastic in small quantities, as a mass of it can be a dangerous thing and allow one to simply go wild with it. Wishing you self-restraint.

Happy shirring,
Florence x

60 comments:

  1. GREAT tutorial!!! I feel much more confident in giving this a go--thanks!

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  2. Brilliant - thanks for the tutorial, it sounds so simple, and so addictive!!

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  3. Wow. That is so amazing. I've got to try it.

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  4. So pleased that you like the look of it - I can't wait to see what shirred goodies you come up with.

    Florence x

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  5. Your shirring looks so nice! I think the trick is to do lots of rows. I just did some on the midriff of a dress and I think I need to add more...

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  6. I tried shirring(sp?) with no success until I altered the tension in my bobbin. It might be a last resort but it worked a treat so if you have problems bear it in mind.

    And yes it looks fabulous! Am experimenting too :)

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  7. So excited, I had a go at this myself a while ago with a verbal 'this is how it works' from a friend and it went all wrong. Can't wait to try again now, so much easier with all your images. Thank you for the great tutorial!

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  8. Thank you for this tutorial! I have wanted to try shirring for a long time, and now I feel more confident! Your instructions are great and even fun to read! :)

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  9. Thank you, Florence. I feel confident enough to give it a go now! lots of love, Amanda xxx

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  10. great post, thanks! you have demystified shirring for me - look forward to trying it.

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  11. Very clear instructions, thank you. I will have to give it a try.

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  12. What a lovely tutorial. I LOVE shirring. I never think it is going to work, and yet it always does.

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  13. Perfectly clear tutorial, thank you for that. I'm about to dive in so wish me luck!

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  14. Love it. I have been meaning to make a dress like this for my daughter, and hopefully I will be able to make time before we go away.... however, now you've pointed out how addictive it is maybe it's not such a good idea.... I may end up with a multitude of sheared boob tubes. He he, what a thought!!!!!

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  15. you make it look very simple! thats lovely.

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  16. Oh good luck, Harmony & Rosie.

    Thank you so much for all your lovely comments.

    Leonie...that's a worrying thought. Perhaps there are limits to the shirring fun after all...

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  17. What a wonderful tutorial! As soon as I've finished stuff I'm doing with Brownies tomorrow, I'm busting out the elastic :-)

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  18. Great tutorial! All the photos are incredible helpful and they give the right support to anyone attempting to give it a try!

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  19. Thankyou for the tutorial, I feel less dauntend by the prospect- really looking forward to trying this x

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  20. This is great, when I read your post with the word "shirring" yesterday, I thought it sounded incredibly difficult and being new to sewing it would be beyond my capabilities! But, your article today has given me the confidence to go out and try it. Can you really put the elastic on a bobbin and just start shirring?

    I can't wait to give it a go!

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  21. Thankyou so much for taking the timne to share this cleverness. I have added to my favourites list and will definitely be trying it - on my list of things to have a go at!

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  22. Lovely. Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I remember my mother making dresses like this for me and now I shall do the same for my girls.

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  23. Hi Florence, thanks for a really detailed tutorial, I am going to give this one a go for sure! Just wondering, when you attached the straps to your daughter's dress, (i.e. to the shirred section), how did you deal with the shirry bit when sewing - just go straight over without thinking, or do you have to stretch it flat a bit? Thanks, Danielle

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  24. Danielle - I think there are several ways of doing this.

    The first way is to attach the straps before you even begin shirring, at the point when you're hemming the top of the fabric, - you can tuck the end of the strap up into the hem, fold it back on itself and it will be secured in place when you top-stitch the hem in place - I think that this is the neatest way of doing it.

    The two other ways of doing it mean that the strap must be finished properly at the short end, but once this is done, you could simply go over your top stitching to secure in place (which is fine, and I know that this seems to be how many shops do it), If you were doing this then I'd stretch out the shirring and sew it in place. But if going for this option then I'd prefer to handstitch the strap in place as it's just a nicer finish.

    I hope that helps.

    Thank you so much for all the lovely comments - I'm so pleased that you like the tutorial and will find it useful. x

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  25. Hi Florence. I shirred several little dresses I had made for Isabella when she was ttwo, but have done little since. Lovely reminder thank you x

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  26. I just wanted to add the 27th "Thank You!"
    How kind of you to share a tutorial on this.

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  27. Thank you so much for the fabulous tutorial! Can't wait to give it a go.

    K x

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  28. Excellent, am going to try that.

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  29. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Ive been wondering for awhile how they do it this.

    Thanks!

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  30. Dear Florence, I keep trying but somethings are going wrong with the shirring and I hope you can help me.
    I have a pfaff tiptronic so I set the machine as you recommended, but the upper tread is way to loose and it looks like that the elastic tread isn't coming out of the cast, so the fabric is shrinking (?) way too much.
    Do you know what I have to do to make is right? A dress is ready for shirring!

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  31. Oh, this is just brilliant, thank you! I'm fairly new at sewing, and garments with shirring on suit me so well, but I thought it was going to be a few years before I could attempt it. This has definitely made me more confident about giving it a go :) Thanks!

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  32. I did some shirring on a vintage dress recently to really take in the excess fabric - hadn't realized how very easy it was to do!!
    Quick, fun and easy!
    Thanks for post the tutorial - super clear pictures
    x

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  33. Oh my goodness, I wish I had discovered your blog sooner! Love the headbands, I've always wanted to make some for my 4 yr old daughter. Great tutorial! Think this could become my latest obsession!

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  34. Thanks for the tutorial. As soon as I get my hands on some of the shirring elastic, I will get started!

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  35. I just love the tutorial. Tahnks a lot!

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  36. Great tutorial! Thank you so much! I am feeling confident enough to tackle this for my daughter's new summer dress.

    mommyoftwo247.blogspot.com

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  37. Hello, After much much trying I finally got it right. I changed the machine setting of the upper threat to nine and pull the fabric pretty hard. And now its heaven! I made a dress for my daughter and she loves it, she is so happy, and she wears it! I made a vest before, but she said (age 4)" Really nice mum, but I'm nog going to wear that" (AHUM..). But this dress isn't coming of her.
    Thank you for your tutorial!

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  38. I did it! Thank you! I've been wanting to try this ever since first reading about it and now I have and it works - after a bit of messing with tension, stitch length and rewinding the bobbin.

    It's brilliant - thank you so much for a great tutorial!

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  39. Fab! Thanks very much. I've just 'rediscovered' sewing after a long lay-off, and am about to launch into ....gasp....a sundress, so this tutorial is a wonderful refresher course. Greetings from a very hot France.

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  40. wow what a fab blog - am loving it - esp love love love your wreath on the wall near your sewing machine - how did you make that - its beautiful - thanks for sharing your shirring tutorial with us all xxxx

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  41. Thanks for your lovely and comprehensive tutorial (with such clear and pretty pictures)!

    I've just used it to make a top for my little one - it's very addictive as you say so will be making several more....!

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  42. Florence,

    So happy to have run into your blog. I'm pregnant and thinking this would be a perfect for maternity clothes. Looking forward to learning this new skill, appreciate the time you put into making this tutorial!

    From Brazil,
    Rachel

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  43. Thank you. I have been wanting to do some shirring for such a long time but been reluctant. Your tutorial made it so easy and it looks fabulous. Now am off to do more!!

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  44. This is brilliant. It sounded so easy. Thanks for posting this tutorial. I'm going to try this.

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  45. Thank you! Great tutorial, I have been sewing for years and never tried Shirring....how have I missed this? I will be trying it out soon!

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  46. wow you solve my problem - thank you very much

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  47. Thanks for the great tutorial! Glad you put lots of pictures in :)

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  48. What a fantastic tutorial, the best I've come across so far, thank you so much, you've just taken the fear out of shirring for me! Vanessa xxx

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  49. Thanks for the great tutorial I have had some fabric lying around ready to be made into a dress for my daughter. I think I will have to make a maxi type dress now with a shirred top. Then I might have to make myself one, lol.

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  50. Thank you so much, I followed your tutorial for shirring and made a shirred summer dress for my niece! x

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  51. I just followed your tutorial for a first-time shirring project, and you made it so easy! I can see what you mean about this being addictive! I'll be posting my finished shirred dress on my blog soon--bethbeingcrafty.blogspot.com.

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  52. Very Nice tutorial....thank you

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  53. Omgosh Florence, I cant wait to try this. I had a try a few years ago and thought I was scarred for the from the experience, but what a brilliant tutorial. Thank you so much and a very happy Easter to you. Love Jane xx

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  54. so many thanks - for your knowledge and wit!

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  55. Thank you for your tutorial. I am going to attempt this on a scarf that will be a gift. Thank you.

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  56. Wow. You just made my year!! This wizardry is AMAZING -- THANK YOU!!!

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  57. Hi, just skimmed through the shirring tutorial, and will deffo have a go. I tried shirring 40 yrs ago, couldn't work it out but your clear step by step pics and text have inspired me. I love your site and look forward to a good look round! Thank you so much, Sue

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x