How To Do Vintage Style Shirring

Shirring is an old-school technique. You might think that everything knows how to do it. But that’s not the case.

The shirring technique stands out as a gathering with several rows of gathering stitches. These days, shirring gets done with elastic and makes the work a lot easier, quicker and simple.

The elastic thread gets wound on the bobbins, and several parallel rows of stitching takes place across the material. This helps in creating beautiful and unique gathers.

You can also create these gathers through the gathering foot of the sewing machine. Shirring is mainly done on sleeve cuffs, bodices, or waistlines, which helps control the fullness.

Curious to know more about the technique? The details provided in this document will be your ultimate guide.

How To Do Vintage Style Shirring

If you think that the shirring technique is pretty complicated or tricky, you are wrong. The steps are super easy, and when you follow them correctly, you do not experience any issues.

Given below are the steps that you must follow. Take a look down below!

Step 1

Wind up the bobbin and thread it with the elastic thread. Make sure to wind it carefully with your hands until the bobbin is almost complete.

After that, you must thread up the elastic thread right through the tiny holes within the bobbin. Wind the bobbin to 2/3 full. Cut down the extra tail located at the top of the gap within the bobbin.

If you are experiencing issues when winding it with your hand, you can use the sewing machine. But you need to use the foot pedal slowly. For the heavy fabrics, you can wound the elastic a bit loosely.

The hand-winding method stands out as the most preferred one as it provides you with a bit of control. The process is not arduous, and you only require a little sewing work. But don’t wind the bobbin ultimately.

Step 2

The rows with even-shaped shirrings appear the most eye-catching or attractive. Make parallel lines across the fabric on the right-hand side. Try to use chalk or disappearing markers for the lines.

Mark or chalk out 5 to 6 rows of lines on the material. Keep in mind that each of the lines carries the exact distance between each other.

Step 3

String the sewing machine with the thread that resembles the fabric color. For the shirring work, set up the device for the straight stitch with the maximum stitch length available on your machine.

Step 4

Put the bobbin within the elastic thread. This process is the same as how you insert a thread for your regular sewing work.

Do you have a metal bobbin case? No problem, loosen the tension a little when shirring with elastic. With the help of the handwheel, you can easily take out the bobbin thread.

This is pretty crucial, and you must do this each time you begin a brand-new row right after stopping. Doing so will help in ensuring a smooth start.

Step 5

Now, all you have to do is start the sewing work. You need to sew on the right-hand side of the fabric where you have drawn the lines.

In the beginning, reduce the stitch length to zero and make at least 1 or 2 stitches to anchor the thread. Don’t do backstitch as they leave long tails of the top thread at the end and start of the stitching.

With a hand sewing needle, you can easily take the top thread at the back of the material and tie up the knots with an elastic thread.

After that, you can increase the stitch length to the maximum level and start stitching on the line. Always keep the material at taunt as it will prevent the fabric folds from getting caught on your stitching work.

You can conduct the stitching work slowly or stop the stitching and check whether everything is okay. Also, keep a flat fabric surface when you are sewing.

It will be much better to keep away the fabric, and all you have to do is hold on to the material with your hands while you sew it. This is highly important as it makes your shirring look stunning.

When you have completed your shirring, check the backside of the fabric to ensure whether the ends are secure and safe. If not, make knots with immediate effect.

Step 6

Switch on the iron or the presser and keep it in the steam option. It’s okay if you don’t own a steam iron. You can dampen water on the shirred material and use a hot iron to press on it lightly.

But don’t press the hot iron at the back where the elastic thread is located. The thread will shrivel up and gather a lot more fabric than it should.

How To Maintain The Shirred Fabric?

When compared with other threads, the elastic thread is a lot more delicate. It’s mainly due to its stretch and will get broken down when washing it. It will stretch more and will not stay in shape.

If you mistreat it, it’s guaranteed that the shirred elastic will break. You must create a separate lining for the backside of the shirring. This is necessary if you have people in your home with sensitive skin.

So, it will be better to cover up the back to prevent skin irritation or problems. The cover will not just help the wearer to receive comfort but also protect the shirred elastic.

You can also use a slip for covering the backside as well.

The Fabric You Need To Consider For Shirring

When you are doing vintage-style shirring, you must go for a basic woven fabric. Doing so will help you have reasonable control over the technique. But you can also try out the shirring technique on other fabrics.

The shirring technique might look dramatic when it’s used on lightweight fabrics but will do wonders when used on heavy fabrics.

You will also receive a positive outcome when you use the shirring technique on the terry cloth. For the non-woven or heavier fabric, you have to adjust your sewing device setting.

You also need to use a different presser foot appropriate for the correct fabric type. No matter what material you use, make sure to check the stitching work on scrap material first.

Also, don’t forget to pre-shrink the fabric, especially when you are shirring a c garment. When the finished piece gets laundered, the shirring will pull up more.

Materials You Need For The Shirring Work

To do some vintage-style shirring, you need proper tools and materials for the job. Not having those tools will make it impossible for you to complete the shirring work.

Below listed are some of the primary materials you need.

  1. Pins
  2. Scissors
  3. Elastic thread
  4. All-purpose thread
  5. Reverse pattern foot
  6. Lightweight fabric, such as seersucker or cotton
  7. A sewing machine
  8. Narrow straight stitch hemmer.

What To Do If The Machine Doesn’t Have A Drop-In Bobbin?

If your sewing machine doesn’t have a bobbin tension adjustment, the shirring will not work even when you follow all the shirring steps correctly. You can try some of the tips mentioned below with your sewing machine.

  1. Try to wind up the thread within your bobbin with a feeder so that it’s tight. Make sure you slide underneath the tension lever within the auto feeder.
  2. You need to check that the elastic thread goes through the tension spring and into the bobbin holder. It’s because you might easily miss it.
  3. Don’t forget to adjust the length of the stitch. Try it with various settings and check how the shirring reacts to each of them.

What Can You Do When The Shirring Doesn’t Work?

There might be situations where the shirring or smocking doesn’t work when you need them to. But there is nothing to panic about. You can resolve the issues efficiently, and for that, you need to follow several steps. They are:

Step 1: Check to see that the bobbin is not full of the thread.

Step 2: Try re-thread your entire sewing machine.

Step 3: Be sure that the elastic thread is not too loose or tight on the bobbin.

Step 4: Check whether you have messed with the tension or other setting of your sewing machine while adjusting the stitch length. It will mess up the stitch and create issues with the shirring.

Step 5: It will be much better to put regular thread instead of the elastic one into the bobbin and do some sewing on scrap material. You need to make sure it usually sews with standard thread.

Step 6: Make sure to check whether you are sewing through the numerous layers of the material. When you are sewing through many layers, it will become difficult for the elastic to pull the fabric together.

Vintage-style shirring has been pretty popular way back in the past and even today. To get started, you do not require any special needles or attachments. All you need is an elastic thread, and it will not cost you much.

The information in this document will provide the things you need to know about shirring and teach you how to do it.



I'm Jessica Flores, a professional fashion designer and an expert seamstress. Crafting has always been a deep-seated passion of mine, one that has flourished and evolved over the years. I've dedicated considerable time to both studying and practicing in the realm of fashion and sewing, amassing a wealth of experience and skills. It brings me great joy to share these insights and experiences with you all, hoping to inspire and foster a similar passion for the art of sewing.

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