Sewing · Troublesome Sewing Terms Untangled

Troublesome Sewing Terms Untangled: Sure about Shirring

This is the fifth post in my Troublesome Sewing Terms Untangled blog series. Check out the others in which I understand basting, stay-stitching, grommets and darts. This week I’m sorting out shirring.

Shirring is something I’ve been wondering about for a while. This is the first Troublesome Term that I came across an example of and said to myself: “Self, what is this elasticated thingy bit called?” 

Most of us have seen shirring, even if we’re not aware that’s what it is. Personally I was doing a bit of shopping for my Turkish holiday and came across some beach dresses with shirred tops.

For those unsure, this is the kind of dress I’m referring to. I’ve seen shirring most often on these types of dresses.

Shirr: verb (shirring) – gather (an area of fabric or part of a garment) by means of drawn or elasticized threads in parallel rows.

(Interestingly on my research travels I found that the first known use of shirring was in roughly 1882 and was gathered without elastic. For the purposes of this post we’ll assume that shirring means to gather with elastic, as this is the predominant use of the technique nowadays.)

The Main Points

  • Used with elastic to create a stretchy, gathered portion of fabric
  • Sewn in lines of stitches using a normal top thread and elasticated thread on the bobbin, if you look at sections of shirring you will see the elastic threaded on the back side while the front looks like normal stitches
  • The bobbin is hand-wound with elastic thread tightly but not stretched and then used like a normal bobbin thread
  • Different methods vary between back-stitching or hand-tying knots at the ends of lines of shirring
  • Space between rows can vary up to 1″
  • Most effective when many rows sewn together in close proximity to each other (approx 1/2″ apart)
  • Often used to gather fabric at bust, waist or sleeve/cuff areas of garments
Shirring spot dress collage
Shirred bust on a dress. Also pictured: close-ups of shirred sections.

Why Sew Shirring?

  • To create elasticated garments – especially good for maternity clothes!
  • It’s comfortable!
  • It’s great for kids clothes as they wear the item as they grow – it’ll fit for a long time! Even when a dress is finally too small it can be worn as a long skirt!
  • It adds good texture to items and makes them look that bit more professional
  • Floaty summer maxi dresses! Need I say more?

Where / When?

  • I’ve seen shirring most often on summer dresses like the ones above – I’m sure you have too! It’s everywhere
  • It’s often used along the hems of tops to fit them to the waistline
  • I’ve also seen smaller sections of shirring on sleeves and cuffs
This dress has sections of shirring along the top of the dress and also around the waistline area. In this way it is used to give shape to an otherwise plain fabric dress.

Much like darts last week, shirring is everywhere when you take a look! When you’re kitting out your summer wardrobe this season take a closer look at shirred sections – it’s not magic, it’s actually pretty simple! This blog post by Make It & Love It is so good at explaining how to shirr fabric!

If you’d like a video explanation on how to sew shirring, check out these videos from Professor Pincushion and Fashion Sewing blog TV that share some different methods.

Happy Sewing!



Image credits: Blue Spot Dress, Red Dress, Secret Garden Dress


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