Saturday, June 19, 2010

summer shirred skirt tutorial

If you have a yard and a half of cute cotton print, some elastic thread, and oh, say, an can have a cute summery shirred skirt like this:

Let's get started!

First, we'll tear our cotton fabric into front and a back skirt panels. The size of your panels will be determined by your measurements. You'll need to measure your HIP and decide on FINISHED LENGTH (how long you want your skirt to be).

FRONT/BACK PANEL WIDTH: Hip x 2 **If you're making an adult version, you can just tear 2 full-fabric widths for front & back. Because of the way we'll construct the side seams to fit, you can trim away the excess.

FRONT/BACK PANEL LENGTH: Length + seam allowance - ruffle. For example, I wanted a knee length skirt with about a 4" ruffle. I measured from my waist to knee, added 1/2" for seam allowance and subtracted 4" for my ruffle. This is the length of my front/back panels. (Mine was 20.5")

RUFFLE: I wanted a nice, full ruffle that was fairly deep (4"). A good rule of thumb for ruffles is to double the length of the flat fabric you're attaching the ruffle to. Since I started with 2 widths of fabric (skirt front + skirt back), I tore four 4-1/2" strips for my ruffle. (the 1/2" is for seam allowance). **I planned to roll hem my ruffle using my serger, but if you're going to hem the ruffle with your sewing machine, don't forget to add that seam allowance too.

So, for example, my skirt panels were two pieces 20" x 44" for front & back, and 4 strips of 44" that were 4.5" wide.

Now for the fun part!

Step 1: Seam your front & back piece together on one side. Press seam open.

(oops. I was lazy and didn't trim away the selvedge. Hehe.)

Finish the top edge of your skirt. I used the serger to do a rolled hem, but you could do a small turned & stitched hem too. I forgot to take a picture until after I shirred, but here's the top edge of my skirt.

Step 2: Shirring may look complicated and a bit scary, but its really not. It's pretty dang easy, and its sort of soothing to sew all those rows one after the other, in nice, straight lines. Your mind can wander off and the hum of the sewing machine is comforting. Like Mr. Rogers.

To shir, you need elastic thread to wind on your bobbin. It's thicker than regular thread, and is actually a nylon fuzzy fiber wrapped tightly around a cord of elastic. It comes in a package in the notions section of your sewing & craft store. (It will be hanging up with the other precut elastics, not with the yardage to be "cut".)

Most shirring tutorials advise that you hand-wind the elastic onto the bobbin. It sounds like it will take forever, but it really doesn't. The hand-winding is supposed to prevent the elastic from being stretched to capacity from your sewing machine bobbin-winder. (Hint: I'll tell you a secret. Sometimes I'm lazy & use my bobbin-winder anyway. I've never had a problem with doing so. Just go slow. Shhh.)

I usually wind as many bobbins as I can. I can shir 2 rows across 2 full widths of fabric with one bobbin. My finished skirt has 14 rows of shirring. That would be 7 bobbins!! I only had 3 empties which means I still had to stop and rewind bobbins a couple of times.

Load your bobbin just like normal in your machine. I do turn the handwheel one time to catch & pull the thread up and place it under the presser foot. I use regular poly/cotton thread in the needle.

Now, you're going to have to fiddle with your stitch length and your tension. Generally you need to increase your stitch length, and increase your tension. Don't go overboard though. You want to shirring to be sturdy enough to last (it is a garment, after all, and will be washed multiple times). I wouldn't increase your stitch length more than 3.5-4. You will also have to increase the tension a bit, somewhere between 6-8 is usually sufficient.

Hint: My settings on the Bernina Activa 220 for this skirt: Stitch Length 3.0; Tension 8

Begin stitching, placing your first line of stitching approximately 1/2" from the hem edge. You can use your regular sewing bed markings for this initial row, but from here on out you will be using your presser foot edge as a guide. Stitch, Stitch, Stitch, lining up each row so that the previous row is on the edge of your presser foot.

Hint: I backstitch at the beginning and end of each row (tutorials vary on this step, but I always feel more secure with a backstitch!) You can also leave thread "tails" to tie into a secure knot at the end of each row.

Your first and even second or third row, you may see very little change in your fabric. You might even suspect its not working right (it's not drawing up enough). Trust me, the more rows you sew, the more the shirring effect will happen. Just keep going. (**There's also a magic step at the end! Of course. I like magic!)

Hint: Two full widths of fabric can be a little unwieldy, so what I do is roll up the fabric so that I only have the leading edge & about 10" or so to deal with. Then, as I sew the line of stitching, I unroll the next 10" or so as necessary. I also pull the fabric flat as it passes under the needle.

Here's the "magic"...Steam! When all finished, with a nice, hot iron, steam the bejeezus out of your shirring. Just hover your iron, don't "touch" the threads. You'll see it immediately begin to draw up into nice, tight shirring.

Here's your finished shirring from the front:

And from the back: many rows to sew?? Well, you might have to do a little math, but I just eyeballed it. Actually, 10 rows was probably sufficient for this little skirt. That made an approximately 4" waistband of shirring. I added a few more rows because I had the insane idea that I could make this a dual garment, functioning sometimes as a "top" and sometimes as a "skirt".

I have too much boobage for that it would seem. So I stopped the madness at 14 rows.

Step 3: Now let's get busy on that ruffle! Seam all of your ruffle strips together. You'll have one, gigantically long strip of fabric. And you'll be cursing me at the thought of all those basting stitches to gather up by hand. Ugh. But wait! I have more magic for you!

It's called a gathering foot. Get thyself to the sewing machine dealer pronto and buy one. Mine looks like this:

I heart mine. Alot.

Before we can gather, though, we need to take care of those raw hem edges on the ruffle. Again, I used the serger to do a roll hem. Nice and tidy (and FAST):

yards and yards of rolled hem ruffle

Now put your gathering foot on and again, we'll play with tension and stitch length to make it work. The longer the stitch length and the higher the tension, the more gathering effect you will get. I've been using my foot for a while, so I can judge pretty well the way different weights of fabric will gather (lightweight fabric gathers up more/tighter than heavier or beefier fabrics).

Hint: My settings: Tension 7, Stitch Length 4.0

I used the 3/8" marking on my machine bed to line up the raw edge of the fabric (you could use your presser foot edge too) and begin stitching. There is no magic final step here, so if its not gathering up enough, try a longer stitch and/or higher tension. (If you can't access a gathering foot, then I'm afraid you'll have to gather the old fashioned way! Curses!)

You'll end up, very quickly I might add, with this:

Hint: I always press my gathers before stitching them to the next piece of fabric. It makes everything lay nice & flat and its much easier to see what you're doing when stitching!

Step 4: Stitch the ruffle to the bottom of your skirt front/back panel, right sides together.

Finish the seam. I used a serged edge, but you could use a wide zigzag too.

Step 5: Now it's time to sew up your last side seam! Almost finished! "Try on" your skirt, to see where you need to stitch the side seam. Your elasticity from shirring (and your machine's tension, fabric type, etc) may vary quite a bit from garment to garment, so pin it on. You want the skirt to be snug enough at the waist so that it doesn't fall off at some inopportune time.

Say, at church. Or in line at the movies.

When you find that "perfect snugness", pin carefully and step out of your skirt. Finish pinning down the entire side seam to ensure all the edges line up: front/back of shirring match, front/back ruffle seam matches, front/back hem edge matches.

If you're like me and used 2 full widths of fabric, you might end up trimming away quite a bit of edge (I trimmed away about 2" from each edge). If you'll be trimming away shirred portions, then you will need to reinforce those areas before cutting, so that all your hard work (elastic thread) doesn't come "undone".

I stitched three lines of straight stitching, right next to each other, in what would become the new "seam allowance" of my side seams. In other words, I stitched right outside of where I pinned to fit, perpendicular to the shirring lines. This stitching will catch and anchor the shirring so that it won't come undone later.

Step 6: Stitch your side seams with a straight stitch. Don't forget to put your regular foot back on and change your tension settings/stitch length to normal first!

Finish the seam. I used my serger.

Step 7: A special hint for you sergers-ers out there. When you're making a garment like this, where the edge of your serging won't be caught in another seam, what do you do with the tail that's left over??

Your serger manual probably tells you to use a bodkin or something to weave the tail into the serged seam. Of course, in my experience, this tends to work its way back out over time, or is next to impossible to do. Here's what I do instead. I cut the tail to approximately 1" and fold it back along the seam, inside the seam allowance like this:

Using the regular sewing machine and a wide zigzag, I catch the serger tail in the zig and the seam allowance edge in the zag. I zigzag along the serger tail for a bit and voila. It's neatly taken care of and will never come undone!

Step Finished! And that my friends, is all there is to it! Now you can go out and wear your cute new skirt!

(And hopefully your legs aren't as pasty pale as mine.)

ps...The fabric used in my skirt is from the fabulous Jennifer Paganelli's Sis Boom line.


  1. Cute skirt! Thanks for the tutes on shirring and gathering...think I'll ask for foot #16 for my birthday!

  2. Such a cute skirt and good information.

  3. This is a darling skirt. Thaks for the outstanding tutorial.

  4. I thought that was a Jennifer Paganelli fabric! GREAT tutorial... You make it look so easy!

  5. Cute skirt! I'm already picturing it in a cotton lawn that I've had in stash for way too long.

  6. Fabulous! You make me want to run out right now and get some of that elastic thread! The skirt looks awesome on you! (And I'm pretty sure my legs are pastier than yours! :D)

  7. Great tutorial! I especially like your shirring how-to's. That is something I've always wanted to try but have been perplexed about.

  8. I have only tried shirring once, and it was for the leg openings of some bloomers for baby Grace. I really struggled with it (wonky, wonky tension) but you make me want to give it another go.

    Also! I just LOVE that idea of how to deal with serger tails! I've been threading them back up through the serging all this time.

  9. Okay, it's not that I don't care about the skirt. Because I do love it. But seriously... the SHOES... AGAIN... I love your shooooeeees!

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. "Don't forget to ... change your tension setting/stitch length to normal first!"

    That's the step I usually forget!

    Gorgeous skirt, and a great tute. I have put a gathering foot at the top of my wish list.

  12. Beautiful, fun skirt. I really need to get some elastic thread. g

  13. Way cute and great tutorial!

  14. Holy detailed tutorial, Batman! Nice.

    PS You are hereby and officially TAGGED, you big baby. Official post to follow later tonight or tomorrow.

  15. Very very cute skirt! I love the shirring.

  16. What a lovely skirt! I have never shirred or watched a tutorial on it. I was wondering what thread one uses for the right side of the fabric. Thank you for sharing this. I may have to give it a whirl!

  17. cute skirt. i looove shearing. its so much fun to do!

  18. What a pretty summer skirt!! I love the idea of using shirring for the waistband! The loose fit of shirred fabric will be sooo comfy in the summer. (Can't stand a constricting waistband in the muggy weather!)

    I linked to your tutorial over at Craft Gossip Sewing:


  19. Heather, you use regular thread on the top. The elastic thread goes only in the bobbin and thread that matches your fabric in the needle.

  20. such a cute skirt! I live shirred fabric! Can't get enough of making things with the elastic...

    Love miranda

  21. Beautiful skirt! Thanks for the great tutorial. Adding this to my 'To Do' list :)

  22. Just found your blog from Craft Gossip. Love the skirt and everything else you've made.

  23. So cute! Thanks for the tute :) Now I just need some elastic thread...which always seemed a tad scary before :P

  24. I think I want to try this! Your skirt is so cute :-) Although, I will have to go buy a gathering foot for my machine...and learn how to use my serger that is still in the box!

  25. Your shirring is fantastic. Mine never looks so good. I love your skirt...if I gather enough courage to try shirring, I'd like to make one like it.

    BTW, that is exactly how I finish my serger tails! Great minds think alike, huh?

  26. That is so cute and perfect for summer! I just clicked over from Craft Gossip and I would love to link to this if you didn't mind.


I love hearing from you, and thank you in advance for reading and commenting! &