Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Shirred Dress Tutorial


Summertime, and the living is eeeeeaaasy... actually no - it's already darn hot, so what better time to do a shirred dress tutorial for you all than now, hey? This dress is super simple to whip up. You won't even need a pattern, just a measuring tape and some lovely fabric. So let's get measuring, and get ready to sew!

Things you will need:
Fabric of your choice (I suggest a lightweight cotton, as you don't want anything too heavy for a shirred dress)
Elastic thread
1cm wide elastic
Matching thread

For the record, I used a Liberty Tana Lawn from Tessuti Fabrics that I had hiding away in my stash.

Step 1:
Firstly you need to measure how much fabric you will need. I measured around Grumble's torso, and then multiplied that measurement by two plus seam allowances to get the total width of the dress. The shirred part will stretch over to fit the bust nicely, without feeling too tight.

Here are the standard torso measurements for children, based on Australian Standards:

Children's Measurements
Size        Age                    Height                  Chest
2            2 - 3 years            92cm                   56cm
3            3 - 4 years            100cm                 58cm
4            4 - 5 years            108cm                 60cm
5            5 - 6 years            115cm                 62cm
6            6 - 7 years            120cm                 64cm
7            7 - 8 years            125cm                 66cm
8            8 - 9 years            130 - 140cm        68cm
10          10 - 11 years        140 - 150cm        74 - 80cm
11          11 - 12 years        150 - 160cm        80 - 86cm
12          12 - 13 years        155 - 160cm        86 - 90cm
13          13 - 14 years        160 - 165cm        90 - 95cm
14          14 - 15 years        165 - 170cm        95 - 100cm

Or, if you decide you'd rather make a shirred dress for yourself, here are the standard women's measurements, based on Australian Standards:

Women's Measurements
Size              Bust                     Waist                      Hip
XS               75 - 80cm            56 - 61cm               84 - 88cm
S                  82 - 87cm            61 - 66cm               88 - 93cm
M                 92 - 97cm            71 - 76cm               98 - 103cm
L                  102 - 109cm        81 - 88cm               108 - 115cm
XL               115 - 121cm        94 - 100cm             121 - 127cm

Firstly you'll need to figure out your torso measurement, and then double that, then add seam allowances. For example, Grumbles had a torso measurement of 68cm. Multiplying that by two gives you 136cm. Adding seam allowances of 2cm to each side makes it 140cm. You'll be cutting out a front and a back, so divide that figure by two to get the width of each piece. In this case it is 70cm.

I decided that I wanted the dress to be mid-calf in length, so measured Grumbles once more. The resulting measurement was 65cm, from top of bust line to mid-calf. Adding 5cm for seam and casing allowances gave me a final figure of 70cm.

So my final pattern piece for both front and back was 70cm wide and 70cm long. Once you've figured yours out, cut two of these.

Hooray! The maths part is over. Let's move on to some actual sewing!

Step 2:

Once you have cut out your pattern pieces, overlock or finish all edges.

Step 3:
Sew one side seam together, leaving the other side seam open.

Step 4:

Create the casing for the elastic. On the wrong side turn over the overlocked edge and press, then turn over again to create a 1.3cm wide casing. Press. Stitch the casing close to the edge. Oh, and try not to laugh at my daggy ironing board.

Step 5:

Before you begin to shirr, you'll need to have changed your normal bobbin for one that has been tightly wound with elastic thread. If the elastic thread isn't tightly wound onto the bobbin, then the elasticised effect will not occur. It's easiest to do this by hand, stretching tight the thread as you wind it onto the bobbin.

Now let the shirring begin! On the right side stitch a foot width away from the casing stitching. As you sew the elastic will cause the shirred part to bunch up behind your machine foot. It's pretty exciting!

Step 6:

Repeat the shirring a foot width away until you have done 10 rows, or until you have shirred for your desired amount. If you are large busted you may want to shirr more than 10, or if you are making it for a very young child you may want to shirr for less than 10 rows. Figure out what you'll be most comfortable with, and go from there.

You will probably need to re-wind your bobbin with more elastic thread every few rows. As you shirr, straighten out the fabric - it helps you keep a straight line.

Step 7:
Once the shirring has been completed, insert the desired length of 1cm wide elastic (measure it around the torso to see what length feels comfortable) into the casing at the top of the dress, tacking it to each end to keep it in place.

Then with right sides facing sew your other side seam together. I like to sew over the shirred part twice, just to reinforce the elastic thread. We don't want any of them wriggling loose now!

Then hem the bottom of the dress.

Step 8:

Measure out how long your shoulder straps will be, then cut a two 3cm strips of fabric this length. Folding the strips in two with right sides together, sew close to the edge of the strap. Trim seam allowances, then inside-out the strips. Attach the shoulder straps to the inside of the back and the front of the dress in your desired position. I find with Grumbles that the straps don't slip off her shoulders so much if I cross them over at the back.

Now pat yourself on the back and do a happy dance - you've completed a shirred dress!



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I'm so happy to see this post!

    Ive been wanting to make one of these for myself forever.

    Thank you!!!

  3. Thank you!! I was just thinking a shirred dress would be perfect for summer.

    Do you think that an adult sized version would need more than 10 rows of shirring due to that area being a bit larger than a girl's?

  4. Good point, Rachel - I'll amend that in the instructions now!

  5. Thanks! I had no idea if it would or not, I've never shirred anything before. Thanks for a great tutorial. xx

  6. What a sweet little dress! Thanks for a great tutorial. :)

  7. Ingrid2:05 pm

    I've never done one of these either, so I might try it. Thanks so much for the tutorial! I'm sure my daughter will want one when she sees your daughters.

  8. Shirring is gorgeous. I may try it sometime.

    Mary Beth

  9. Anonymous9:40 pm

    Gorgeous dress and thanks for the tutorial, I have only tried shirring once, but you had some good tips in there, I am going to give it another go

    Ren x

  10. Great tutorial! I'd like to try this for my daughter but I'm not quite understanding about the elastic-- do I have to wind tightly the bobbin underneath and also the top bobbin? I'm not sure how I'd make the top thread tight if thats the case? Possibly a silly question but I've not tried anything like this before :-0

  11. gorgeous and thanks for the tutorial!

  12. Wow.. it looks very nice and as You said it doesnt look hard to make it.. Who knows maybe next time I will try to make similar...
    But right now I am planning to make a skirt from my grandmas sweater.. very warm:)

  13. I really appreciate your time and generosity in publishing this tutorial.

  14. JoJo Sews12:32 pm

    Thanks so much for taking the time to post your comprehensive tutorial! I recently came across your blog and it has inspired me to approach my sewing more confidently as a result. And, I particularly enjoy coming across fellow Australian sewers (I am in Sydney).

    I have been re-modelling some of my favourite clothes this weekend and used your shirring tutorial to mirror a small square that existed as an accent on the (RTW)sleeves, as a way to cinch in the waist on a too-boxy linen shirt. So pleased with the result - thank you!

  15. Oh, that last photo is so pretty. I love her expression, and the balance, color, all.

  16. Thank you so much for this Tutorial. You make it sound so easy, even for a beginner like me! I am going to try and make one for my Daughter this afternoon with a bit of Disney inspiration for our upcoming trip to Walt Disney World!.

    I also LOVE the liberty fabric you used. Looking forward to reading the rest of your blog. Thanks again :-)

  17. Aimie5:17 am

    I have followed your instructions but it looks nothing like yours :-( do you have normal cotton thread in the needle or elastic also? I found it was too thick to thread through the eye of the needle and when I did manage it, it wouldn't go through the fabric. When I just use elastic in the bobbin it doesn't shir hardly at all :-( can anyone tell me what I'm doing wrong? I would the shirring aplastic around the bobbin as tight as I could do I don't think it's that :-(

    1. Hi Amy,

      You only need the elastic thread in the bobbin, and you should just use normal thread for the needle.

      If you have wound the bobbin elastic as tight as you can, and it is still not shirring, then you may need to check the bobbin and needle tensions, and tighten them up a bit. Do a few test runs on spare pieces of fabric, altering the tensions as you go, until you get the desired shirring effect.

    2. Aimie1:30 am

      Thank you for your reply. I realised what I was doing wrong... I had my machine set to short stitches. I lengthened them and voila!! Perfect!!!

      Thank you

    3. I was taught to wind the shirring elastic onto the bobbin snugly, but never stretched out. I've always done this by hand and my shirring works perfectly.

  18. Thanks so much for this tutorial. The sizing info is fantastic!!!
    I've blogged about my shirred dress that I made using this tute here...
    Thanks again, Cass xx

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  20. Thank you so much i cant wait to try making one.


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