Sew a Shirred Sundress

Sew a Shirred Sundress
To create a shirred bodice for a casual sundress, fabrics to consider are usually lightweight such as voile, cotton, cotton blends, handkerchief linen and rayon. Any fabric that uses fine, high-thread-count yarns is best for a shirring technique since the fabric will be tightly bunched or gathered in a small area.

The shirring for an easy pull-on sundress is accomplished with elastic thread that is hand wound onto the sewing machine’s bobbin and stitching the fabric usually using a simple straight stitch. A zig zag stitch can be used as well. Stitch length is set to a slightly longer than usual setting at least 3.0 or on older machines 10 stitches per inch. The fabric gathers best with a longer stitch.

Try a test sample to determine the best stitch length that will produce the desired shirred look. Gently steam the test sample with an iron after stitching as it may be necessary to tighten the gathering. Once heated the elastic thread will tighten the shirred look more than just the stitching alone will show.

To create a simple sleeveless sundress with rows of elastic shirring for the bodice:

Measure around the widest part of the chest or bust area. Fabric width should be 2 to 2 and 1/2 times this dimension. Consider what measurement is desired for the length for the dress with hem and cut fabric length accordingly.

If using lightweight fabric from a 45-inch wide bolt, one-yard of fabric should be sufficient for a child size dress, 1 and 1/2 yards for an adult size dress. To begin, narrow hem what will be the top of the garment.

Since only the fabric making up the bodice area will be shirred, the bottom half or more of the fabric simply flows in gentle soft folds away from the top part, effortlessly creating the dress bottom.

Some things to consider for the best shirring outcome:

Hand wind elastic thread onto the bobbin without stretching the thread. Wind at a slow but steady pace. Wind a few more bobbins if more than a few stitching rows will be applied as the parallel stitching will use up the elastic thread quickly. It is not recommended to wind the bobbin with elastic thread by using the machine.

Use regular all-purpose thread for the top thread spool. Draw up the bobbin thread through the throat place using the same procedure as with any other kind of thread before beginning to sew.

Mark the garment bodice area with chalk, a water-soluble fabric pencil or vanishing fabric marker or any favored marking tool where the first row of stitching will be from one end of the fabric width to the opposite end. Subsequent rows of stitching will be easy to stitch as they all will be parallel to that first row and approximately 1/2-inch apart. Stitch several rows all across the garment bodice area from edge to edge or stitch leaving out the areas that will become a seam allowance to reduce bulk.

Avoid using the various built in thread cutters on the machine to cut the threads at the end of a stitching row as the elastic thread end may be inadvertently stretched and once tension is released result in a too short thread end making hand tying off difficult. After each complete line of stitching, use scissors to cut the thread ends leaving a 3 or 4-inch thread tail.

It is best not to backstitch at the beginning of the row and not at all at the row end. This allows for greater adjustment of the elastic as it will be hand pulled to create the gathers. Hand tie off each row of stitching at the beginning and end of each row to secure. Leave thread ends without cutting off for the time being.

After stitching as many parallel rows as desired, pull up each line of stitching individually using the elastic thread ends, then let go to relax the thread a bit and allow the thread to create the soft gatherings. While the shirring may at first appear not as tightly gathered as desired, apply steam from an iron to the area with the elastic side up and without actually applying direct pressure to avoid flattening the gathers. The elastic threads will appear to shrink the gathers even more. Hand tie off thread ends once the desired shirred width is adjusted for the desired body width measurement.

Finally, fill a bobbin with regular all-purpose thread, then fold shirred fabric with right sides together lengthwise and matching edges, stitch long seam to form a tube of fabric with bodice area at the top and remaining fabric to form dress bottom. Stitch a second line of stitches next to the first line within the lengthwise seam allowance to be sure elastic is caught securely in the line of stitching. Trim seam edges to neaten. Serge-finish or zig zag seam allowance if desired, finally turn the fabric tube right sides out. Hem bottom of sundress as desired. Of course, shoulder ties can be added to the sundress too.

Elegant yet casual, breezy and cool a sundress, particularly one with a shirred bodice, may become an easy favorite part of a summer wardrobe.

Sew happy, sew inspired.

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This content was written by Cheryl Ellex. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Cheryl Ellex for details.