Sewing School Day 9 ~ Shirring

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Welcome to Day 9!

Today’s lesson is shirring! This is one of the first techniques I learned when I started sewing, and it quickly became one of my favorites! Here are a few examples of items I’ve made using shirring…

Ruthie's Romper

Tinkerbell~Shirred Tutu Dress
Cute, right?!?!?
Let’s get started with the tutorial!

Start off by hand winding a bobbin with elastic thread.  Do not stretch the thread as you are winding the bobbin.


(FYI:  At all the stores around here, the elastic thread is in the elastics section, not the thread section.)


Remove the bobbin case from your sewing machine.


PS   This may not be necessary if you are not using a Brother sewing machine.  On other brands of machines, you can usually just insert the bobbin as usual, but if that doesn’t work for you, try doing it this way.


PPS  This is a good time to clean your sewing machine!!


Insert the bobbin into the bobbin holder, and thread.  The elastic thread should slip through that little notch the arrow is pointing to, and pull it back.


Reinsert the bobbin case and put everything back together as you would normally be when you insert a bobbin.   It’s important that you don’t  pull the elastic thread.  See in this pic, I had excess thread.  Normally I would use the  little razor blade to cut it, but you don’t want the thread stretched when you cut it.   This will cause it to pop back into the bobbin case when you cut it, and you will have to take everything apart and start all over again.


Start off by sewing 5 stitches then reverse back over the 5 stitches to lock them in place.  Stitch as you normally would, then when you get to the end of your stitching,  reverse another 5 stitches to lock it in place.  If you have an automatic thread cutter, do NOT use  it.  Pull a good amount of the elastic thread out as pictured above.  Then, release it so that the elastic thread is slack before you cut it.  Just  like when you threaded the bobbin, if you have the elastic thread pulled tight when you cut it, it will pop back into the bobbin and release the tension and you will have to reload the bobbin all over again.


Although your rows of shirring can be any distance apart you want, the easiest and most common is one half inch.  I use the right edge of my presser foot to keep my rows of shirring equally spaced.


Continue your rows of shirring until you are done, and it will look something like this.


Now, as they say on Cribs…here’s where the magic happens!  Pass a steam iron over the rows of  shirring, and they will magically shrink up!


Make sure you hover just above the shirring.   You don’t want the iron to smash the gathers.


Here’s a shot before and after the steam.


Now remember all sewing machines have their own different quirks, and despite this being one of my favorite sewing techniques, shirring took me a few tries to master, so here are a couple of  troubleshooting tips:


1)  You may have to tie off your threads by hand at the beginning and end of your rows of shirring.   This is what I have always seen in tutorials and patterns, but I have never had any trouble just using a reinforcing stitch, so that is why I am suggesting it, but if you have trouble doing this, you can always just tie the upper and bobbin threads together.


2)  You may also need to tighten your bobbin tension, if your bobbin holder is not stretching the elastic thread enough to gather the fabric.  This is done by tightening the small green screw in your bobbin case.  As I mentioned before in the tension post, you want to be careful about doing this.  If you plan to be shirring a lot, you may consider purchasing a bobbin case just for shirring so that you don’t have to mess with the bobbing tension too often.


As usual, if you have never attempted shirring before, I would recommend playing around with it a bit on scraps of fabric until you figure out what works for you.  And feel free to ask any questions in the comments section!


Happy Shirring!



  1. says

    Thank you for this piece! I have been drooling over little girl’s Summer dresses and really wanted to give this a try. I have the thread ready, but just not the courage yet. Thanks for the nudge.

  2. says

    Thank you so much. This is genius! I wanted to make dresses for my grandaughters but could not get the shirring to ‘shir’, and removing the bobbin case and threading it manually worked a treat. I would never have thought of doing it. Thanks again Anne x

  3. Amanda says

    So… I have a question! My fabric is gathering but when I put on the garment the threads all break! What am I doing wrong?

  4. Mary says

    Is there a conversion method to calculate how much the fabric gathers? Like what size of fabric is needed to compensate for the gathering? My granddaughter’s chest measurement is 23″. How much unshirred fabric would I need to make a top fit her?

    • April says

      Hi Mary. I don’t know of a conversion method, but I typically do 3-4 times the the wearer’s measurement. I’d suggest starting with 3x’s because with shirring, if it comes out smaller than you wanted, it really doesn’t matter because it stretches. Whereas if it’s too big, taking in shirred fabric is a HUGE pain. It’s almost impossible to get it lined up right. Hope that makes sense. Let me know if you have any other questions.
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