How many times have you found a gorgeous dress or blouse, only to try it on and find it doesn’t complement you? Any fan of fashion or clothes crafter knows that looks can be deceiving. In truth, clothing off the shelf is designed for either one size and body shape, or seemingly no shape at all. This all-or-nothing approach to sizing clothes leaves most of us deeply frustrated with our options and our looks. To combat this, tailoring is always an option.
However, there’s no need to pay a lot of money to someone else. Most clothes can be saved at home using simple techniques and even simpler tools. One amazing way to rescue dresses from the donation bin is with shirring. The ultimate guide to shirring will explore everything you need to know to start customizing your outfits today.
Shirring shouldn’t be mistaken for smocking, which similarly uses stitching to create a gathered cloth appearance. The former uses pleats to fold excess cloth together into a pattern. Smocking also lacks the linear appearance and stretchy quality that makes shirring so beautiful and comfy.
It still applies the same logic of bunching cloth decoratively, so anyone familiar with smocking will have no trouble. For anyone new to the idea, not to worry! This technique utilizes elastic strings and bands along with normal sewing machine skills, making it a beautiful feature, friendly even to beginners.
Shirring adds the benefit of not only reshaping the outfit but also creates a flexible fit. It’s a comfortable and elegant solution to baggy and ill-fitting clothes. The unique look of shirring is also elegant on its own and can be fun to add to sections of garments just for the extra flair.
With enough determination, shirring can be added at any point of a piece of clothing’s life. Ideally, this method is most effective when planned for. Like with any sewing technique, it’s easiest to follow a pattern and add shirring before the entire piece is assembled.
Furthermore, shirring is most often used as an after-market rescue effort. In other words, there’s never a wrong time to add shirring. For clothes already assembled, just be very sure to move slowly and measure often. You will want to remove the final seam on the garment to ensure the shirring lays flat and stretches freely even on the seamed points. Once you’ve added shirring, simply restitch the final seams.
For the most part, you won’t want to shirr by hand. While it’s possible, especially with an ample supply of pins, it can be a hassle. Instead, we recommend using any variety of sewing machines. This helps you stay on track and maintain a straight stitch. As mentioned, pins are also very useful to hold the cloth in place, especially the bands of elastic that are added.
The elastic bands themselves will need to be a clothing-specific variety. At least one color of standard thread is needed to complete the top stitch, while elastic thread must be hand-wound for the bottom stitch. Keep scissors to clean up loose ends and cut elastic strips. You will also need a hard-edged ruler to trace stitching lines onto the cloth with. Finally, a chalk pencil works best for adding temporary lines and guidelines to cloth.
First, start by marking where you want the stitching to be. The rule of thumb for shirring is that more lines of elastic gather fabric more effectively. You’ll want at least two rows, but using three to six rows looks the best. Make parallel chalk lines to help guide you as you stitch. Ensure your lines stay an equal distance and ½ inch apart.
For a basic shirring, simply follow the lines marked on the garment. Either create separate lines of stitches that start and stop on each separate line or stitch across to the line below. In the case of the latter style, you will stitch a snaking zigzag. This connects line helps keep the shirring taut, but it's not necessary for the final look. Keep the fabric flat and straight and stitch very slowly to ensure the elastic thread is added with consistent tension. Maintaining the same quality of stitch is essential to create an even gathering.
The first line or two can be very deceptive, so don’t get discouraged. If your garment doesn’t quite have that lined and even look, continue to the next line. It’s the layering of shirring that creates the beautiful, gathered pattern. If it still doesn’t look quite right, try adding more lines of shirring. The ideal number is five at a half-inch distance, but it’s still possible to get the same great look with a little experimentation.
Shirring can also be added to sleeves to create a beautiful ruffle effect. This look is especially popular on summer dresses and blouses with shoulder straps. For straps, use a braided elastic band to run the center and make the garment extra cozy. Add stitching up the edges of the band to create an amazing, flared texture.
The ultimate guide to shirring wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how to customize the technique. If you’re looking for a way to take the formula and shake it up a bit, try a different style of the stitch. On most home sewing machines different stitch patterns are just a switch away. If you’ve never experimented with these settings before, try them out on a scrap of cloth before you use them on shirring. Typically, besides a straight stitch, a common machine should be able to do some combination of zigzag, blanket, ladder, and tree stitch.
More advanced machines can create even more beautiful patterns by overlaying multiple stitches or by using honeycomb and looping stitches. Besides this, you can create your stitching patterns by mixing different styles. Play around with elastic thread colors to find a unique combination for the clothing you’re shirring. By combing attractive stitching and threads that pop, you can transform something donation-bound into a truly one-of-a-kind garment.