Do you ever learn a new sewing technique, and then wonder what in the world you can do with it? I do, and I thought that it might be fun to do a mini series of sorts, applying one sewing technique to five different projects. Shirring is a technique that I first attempted at the end of last summer. It is a simple technique that can be applied in a number of different ways to create a number of simple projects. It involves sewing with elastic thread in your bobbin, and standard machine thread in your needle. The elastic thread in the bobbin pulls the fabric creating a nice gathered, or smocked, look. The more rows of shirring that you sew, the more gathered it becomes.
If you haven't ever heard of shirring, or have been afraid to attempt it you may want to reference the following links and videos. If you have a basic understanding of it, and are interested in creating a simple sundress like the one featured, you can read my basic instructions for the dress below.
Shirring BasicsNow there are several shirring tutorials available online, and that is how I first learned to shirr. Rather than repeating all of the same information, I thought I'd refer you to my favorite shirring resources for instruction.
Kathlene from Grosgrain, has several video tutorials that are extremely helpful. She offers helpful tips on getting the elastic bobbin thread to scrunch up, and on adjusting the tension on a Brother sewing machine. You can find her basic shirring video tutorial here, and her Brother machine shirring video here.
Disney, of Ruffles and Stuff, also provides a great photo tutorial on how to shirr. You can find her technique tutorial here.
The Ruffle Strapped Sundress
When I was a little girl I had a little yellow sundress that I would have loved to wear year round. It was shirred at the top, and always fit my thin frame perfectly. Shirring is a great way to create a basic dress that can fit a number of different body types. I recently made this shirred dress for my 5 year old niece. She is extremely petite, and I knew that making a shirred dress was probably my best bet on getting a good fit, without access to her measurements.
To create the dress you will need to know two basic measurements, the width around the child's chest (though this doesn't have to be exact....thank you shirring), and the desired length of the dress.
I couldn't just take my nieces measurements, so I measured Clark, who is three years younger than her, but he happens to outweigh her by about three pounds. I figured that the discrepancy in size couldn't be too great. Once I had a rough idea of the circumference of the chest, and an idea of the length of the dress (this should be determined by measuring just below the arm pit to the desired length, whether it be to the floor, mid calf, or to the knee).
The basic dress is created by cutting out two rectangles that are sewn together at the side seams, with a narrow rolled hem at the top, and a narrow hem at the bottom. Knowing this, you can determine the exact size that your rectangles need to be. Each piece (front and back) should be the width of the chest measurement (plus seam allowance times two), and the length of your dress measurement (plus about 1-1/2" for narrowed rolled hem, and hem).
You will cut out your two rectangles. Sew them together at the sides and finish off raw edges. You should have a basic tube that is 2x the circumference of the chest, the shirring will gather in the top for a proper fit. Once your side seams are sewn, create a narrow rolled hem at the top of the dress by either using a narrow rolled hem presser foot, or by turning the fabric under 1/4" two times, pressing, and stitching down. For the bottom hem I finished off the raw edge, turned it in 1/4", stitched down, and then applied a pom pom trim around the base (the second row of stitching).
Now that your dress is hemmed and trimmed, you will want to begin shirring. I began shirring about 1/4" from my narrow rolled hem stitching line. You will want to make sure that you lock in your stitches when you start and stop stitching. My shirred lines are about 1/2" apart, or the width of my presser foot. I sewed about 13 rows of shirring. For this style of sundress, you will want to sew enough to reach the bottom of the sternum.
I wanted to create a strap with a bit of width to it, so I decided to make a little ruffle strap. To create the straps I cut two long pieces that were four times the desired width, and long enough to reach from the top of the sundress, over the shoulder, and to the back, plus about one inch length for attachment. I pressed the strips of fabric in half, and then folded the raw edges in toward the original pressed crease. This creates a strap with encased raw edges.
Next create your ruffles. You are going to want to cut your ruffles four and a half inches wide, and twice as long as your straps. Fold your ruffle pieces in half and press. Using a long gathering stitch, gather your ruffles along the raw edges. Leave threads long, and adjust the ruffles to the length of the straps. I next attached the trim the edge of the ruffles, with the trim facing away from the raw edges of the ruffles. Sandwich your ruffles between the open edge of your straps. Pin in place. Stitch 1/8" away from the edge of the strap, catching in the edge of the ruffle. Topstitch along the folded edge of the strap. Your straps are now created.
To attach them to the dress I recommend trying it on your model, and positioning them so that the straps sit right in the dip of the shoulder. Pin the straps to the front of your dress. Stitch in place. Try dress on again, and adjust straps so that they fit well, and won't slip off the shoulders. Stitch the straps in place in the back. Another option is to attach them to the front, and then create a button closure for the back of the dress. This will give you more flexibility to adjust it for growth, you can add multiple button holes for size adjustment.
Now that your sundress is finished, you can tighten up your shirring by using a steam iron, and steaming (while not pressing, just hovering) above the shirred lines. The elastic thread will tighten, and so will your fabric.
I know that this mini series has the potential to become a bit monotonous, but I thought that it would be a fun way to develop my shirring technique. If you get bored, just hang in there, I'll have something new soon.