Look in any kids boutique and you will see all sorts of clothing with shirring elastic. Sewing with elastic thread is great as you don’t need to worry about any fiddly zips, buttons or dreaded buttonholes.
With a little practice, you will be making perfectly shirred tops, dresses and skirts too!
What is Shirring?
Shirring is simply putting elastic thread in your bobbin case to create and elasticated band. Sounding easy already right?
Sewing with Elastic Thread: Purchasing Elastic Thread
The first thing we need is elastic thread. It generally just comes in black or white so choose which is the best match. The elastic will be on the back of the garment so unless your fabric is really sheer you won’t see it when worn. For the best results purchase a good quality elastic thread like Gutermann. Some of the cheaper elastics are overly stretchy and you may not be happy with the results.
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How to Wind a Bobbin with Elastic Thread
Thread the elastic through one of the holes in your bobbin to stop the end pulling out.
Then start hand winding the elastic thread. You can’t wind elastic thread on the machine I’m afraid. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take long to wind a bobbin as the elastic is much thicker than regular thread. You will want the bobbin to be not wound too tight. Once you are finished cut off the excess from the hole at the top of the bobbin.
Sewing with Elastic Thread: Shirring
Start by threading your machine. You will have regular thread in the top of the machine. Put the elastic bobbin in your machine as you normally would. Make sure it is threaded correctly through any tension grooves in the bobbin casing.
Set your machine to a longer stitch length. I set mine to a 4.0 which is what I would usually use to gather. We will be straight stitching so the width will be 0.
Backstitch the end and then start stitching your first row. It may seem a little strange at first as it often sounds different to normal sewing due to the increased tension in the bobbin. The first row won’t gather up much but you will notice the elastic gets progressively tighter as you add more rows.
At the end of each row you can either backstitch and cut off the threads or just move to the next row forming a loop at the end. I prefer back stitching even though it does use a little more elastic due to the longer tails.
Once you have sewn your first row, start sewing the second row at about 1/4 – 1/2 inch apart. I like to use the edge of my presser foot as a guide.
It is very important that you stretch out the elastic in front of the foot. You need to be sewing over flat fabric.
Once you have finished, gently press the fabric with a hot steam iron. Don’t pull the iron along the gathers but simply press on top and then move to the next section. This will give your shirring finer gathers.
TROUBLESHOOTING – If you find that your elastic is becoming uneven and loopy at the back, just check that the bobbin elastic thread has not come out of the tension groove.
What are you going to shirr? Do you have a special project in mind? Please comment below.
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- READ MORE IN THE HOW TO GATHER SERIES
- How to gather fabric – simple machine gathering techniques
- How to gather fabric with a gathering foot
- How to gather fabric with a ruffler
- How to gather fabric with cord and a zig-zag stitch
- How to gather tulle
- How to gather with clear elastic
- Sewing with elastic thread: How to sew shirring
- Sewing elastic in an elastic waistband