Shirring Without Elastic Thread

shirring without elastic threadSo what is shirring anyway?

In preparation for a new project this week, I want to introduce you to a technique called shirring (which is sometimes known as smocking) with a simple practice tutorial.  According to Wikipedia, “shirring is two or more rows of gathers that are used to decorate parts of garments, usually sleeves, bodice or yoke.”  With shirring, the gathers can be both decorative as well as functional since elastic can be used to draw in the gathers giving the garment more give to accommodate different sizes.

Most techniques you'll see around will show you how to do shirring with elastic thread.  Personally, I think that technique has some significant limitations, so I'm going to show you how you can do shirring without elastic thread and using normal elastic.  When you use elastic thread, this thread can irritate wearers with sensitive skin.  Also, to use elastic thread you need to wind the thread onto the bobbin of your sewing machine and it can sometimes cause problems with the machine because the thread stretches.  Finding correct thread tension can be a challenge.

Lighter fabrics work best for shirring.  You'll need to use really strong elastic if you're planning to try to gather thick and heavy fabric like denim.  For more Tips for Sewing Denim, please review this tutorial.

Tips For Sewing Denim: Easier Than You Think!

Shirring without elastic thread

Shirring without elastic thread is a technique that calls for a bit of patience, but the payoff is fantastic!  This technique is best used on garments that will be close to the skin like pajama pants, children's clothing or corset-inspired tops where the person that wears the garment has sensitive skin and is bothered by elastic rubbing against the skin.  Shirring without elastic thread allows for a bit of movement and room to breath, while also making the garment last much longer than when using elastic thread.  For best results, it is better to use 1/4″ or 3/8″ elastic.  You can use thinner, of course, but that will depend on your fabric and the design you have in mind.

Where to use shirring without elastic thread?

This type of shirring does not give you a lot of elasticity if you use a thick fabric like damask or brocade, but it will give you the support needed for evening gowns, crop tops and soft corset tops that do not require a lot of boning.  With cotton lawn fabric and 1/4″ elastic, you can make a very soft and glorious pair of pants perfect for a Sunday morning.  But I guess my favorite place to use this technique is on self-lined crop tops.

Materials

  • elastic
  • quilting cotton, cotton pique, rayon, challis linen, or silk dupioni.  (You'll need a couple of rectangles of the same size for this practice.  Roughly a square foot should be enough.)
  • thread to match your fabric
  • a loop turner or safety pins
  • pins

Shirring without elastic thread tutorial

I am using a scrap of fabric with a dark thread so you can see the stitches better.  To begin our shirring practice project, take the two pieces you will be working on right sides facing in, Untitled design(85)shirring with out elastic threadsew the top at 5/8″.  Open the 2 pieces and iron the seams to one side.  Topstitch on the seam allowance.shirring without elstic thread Trim the seam allowance to half.shirring without elastic thread Turn your work right-sides facing out and iron again.  Pin the sides so that the fabric doesn't move and the edge becomes distorted.  Start by making a row of stitches a little wider than the elastic you are using.  I am using a 1/4″ elastic, so my rows are 3/8″ wide starting from the edge.  Sew the first row.  Since half of my foot is 1/4″ wide, I will be using my foot as a rough guide.  If you are planning to make this row larger, I suggest you use a ruler to mark the rows otherwise is very hard to eyeball it and keep the rows straight and consistent.Untitled design(87)

Sew the entire piece, but stop when you have a bit more than 5/8″ at the bottom.  This seam allowance is indispensable to finish the hem of the garment or the waistband if you are making pants or a skirt.

Untitled design(100)

Finishing the shirring without elastic thread

Cut the elastic pieces to 1/2 to 3/4 of the length of your pattern and measurement requirements.  For example, the piece without being stretched should match your body measurements.   How many pieces of elastic will depend upon how many rows you have sewn.

Attach a safety pin at one end of the elastic.  The safety pin will help the elastic stay outside of the fabric as you draw the elastic through the rows.

Shirring without elastic thread

Use your loop turner to pull the elastic to the other side.  If you do not have a loop turner simply attach another safety pin and thread the elastic through the rows.Untitled design(88)

Secure the elastics that have been drawn through the rows with safety pin or pins.Untitled design(93)

Leave the last row empty because this is what you are going to need to integrate the shirring into and finish the garment. Untitled design(94)

Sew along each edge of the piece where the pins are to permanently hold everything in place.  And there you have it.  You can use this piece as a beautiful and functional part of your new project.
Untitled design(101)In my case, I am making this crop top for a party dress.  We'll share a tutorial for this fun project with you all shortly.  You can see some of it below.Untitled design(102)

I hope you enjoyed this alternative, and I think a better, way of shirring without using elastic thread.

I know is not the easiest, but when it is applied to the right garment, the effect is very elegant and comfortable to wear.  It will also last a long, long time.

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Amy
Amy

What a great idea! I’ve never been able to figure out elastic thread, so this is genius!

Rebecca Rosenthal
Rebecca Rosenthal

I love this! I have a double sided skirt with a waistband like this. I’d love to learn how to make more of these. This is what I’ve been looking for. Thank you so much!

eilea princeton

I’ve been grappling with elastic thread for shirring for a couple of years now ever since I had a double mastectomy and needed to reduce the excess material in my camisoles which I now wear instead of bras. It was a frustrating exercise. I don’t know why I didn’t think of just using elastic. I like the lining ideas to avoid elastic irritation but the bias tape channels are a good alternative. Thank you.

Janette Gustafson
Janette Gustafson

Great tips here… thank you.

slmrn1
slmrn1

Thanks for the tutorial. I have been making sun dresses for my daughter and shirring the back area with elastic thread. I have a very hard time adjusting my bobbin case after I am finished with the project. This will alleviate all that stress and frustration.

Peg Looby
Peg Looby

Oh wow! I agree, I have trouble using elastic thread 80% of the time I use it. I don’t think I’ll ever have to use it again! We’ll see, thank you! You always have great ideas. I so appreciate everything you do.

M Wilcox
M Wilcox

I’ve done a similar thing but used a different method which is faster and gives a more light-weight finished product, if those two things are desired.
I first finish any raw edge on the soon-to-be-shirred fabric that will need to be finished in the completed garment. The I take the piece that is to be shirred (single layer, no lining) and mark out parallel lines on the back with fabric marking tool, slightly wider than the elastic I’ll be using. Then I sew bias tape on, using the top two lines as a guide. Then I continue sewing bias tape on EVERY SECOND CHANNEL leaving a blank space between each strip of bias tape.
Then thread the elastic through as in the method above.
The finished garment still has a lovely shirred effect but you use less elastic and the garment feels less restrictive as well. The single layer of fabric is a little cooler than the fully lined, fully elasticized version–which is nice for summer dresses or tops.

Marcia Wilcox
Marcia Wilcox
Reply to  Mayra Cecilia

I’m glad you find it helpful. Another thing I have done in the past is to simply use a long zig zag stitch over very narrow elastic, like 1/8 in elastic, while keeping the elastic stretched. This is a more casual look and a faster technique. It’s good for kids’ play clothes and sundresses. Since they grow out of them so quickly, it seems more practical not to put quite so much time and effort into them.

Patricia C Meek
Patricia C Meek

Oh, Interesting… That is how they are doing it… Thank you…

Margarete
Margarete

After losing weight my favorite T-shirts are too lose. I will use your method to reign in some fabric width, maybe with only 3 rows of elastic. I hope it will work the way I see it in my head. Thank you for your wonderful tutorials.

Maureen Dickinson
Maureen Dickinson

Thanks for sharing this technique I am sure it is much more comfortable on the skin. I always find that shirring elastic tends to chaff and rub, especially in hot weather this will be so much softer.

Umma
Umma

Thanks for this much needed tutorial. I rediscovered a couple spools of elastic thread from 2008! Needless to say I wasn’t to certain I wanted/could to use them, such a great alternative.

Kay
Kay

I like this technique but have a question about getting all those elastic pieces even. After threading them all I usually end up with all sorts of distorted and uneven rows that need a lot of work to adjust. Any secrets to help?

Kitty
Kitty

Really love this & will try on some bloomers for my granddaughter, thank you!

April
April

I love this idea!! Being new to sewing the thought of elastic thread and all that has to be done is a bit daunting. This seems much easier for someone of my skill level to do. Thank you for all of your tutorials as they are helping and have helped me have a better understanding of all that is Sewing!!!!

Brenda Jerles
Brenda Jerles
Reply to  April

This is brilliant! I think it would be Alot better for tops, for those of us that are bustier. More substantial to help support.

Susie W.
Susie W.

Good idea! Thanks for posting this. I hope you’re not offended, but I had to read “thin fabric like damask or brocade” a few times, thinking I was missing something… are you sure you didn’t mean “thick”?

Miriam Isaacs
Miriam Isaacs

this is an amazing and simple technique. Just a bit more time consuming. I always found shirring elastic thoroughly frustrating and unsuccessful.

Ada
Ada

I’m new to sewing and tried tried using the elastic thread once but it didn’t turn out as I imagine. Will try this technique the next time, thanks

Talliana
Talliana

i have been shirring this way for a long time. Last year I tried using the elastic thread method and for me the method above is a lot easier for the clothes that I make.

Jeanera
Jeanera

I have been shirring by wrapping elastic thread around the bobbin for years as I love using this technique on tops and maxi dresses and I love your alternative tutorial as it looks a lot longer lasting and looks well worth the effort! Thanks for sharing.

Mindy Marik
Mindy Marik

Thanks for the tutorial. I am looking forward to seeing your crop top.