Sewing Project: Easy Shirred Summer Dress
Pretty and practical, shirred sections are used as decorative elements and, when paired with elastic thread, shirring is functional, too. This easy sewing project lets you practice shirring—and the result is a gorgeous new dress! Here’s how you do it.
Traditional shirring methods involve marking and sewing multiple basting lines and then gathering and securing the fabric along each line of stitching. A quicker approach is to use a specialty presser foot, the shirring foot, that gathers and secures the fabric in one step.
Soft, lightweight fabric such as voile or batiste works well for all-over shirring. Use a matching thread that blends into the fabric, and sew on the crosswise grain.
An easy way to shirr fabric with a standard presser foot is to use elastic thread (or shirring elastic) in the bobbin. Not only is the fabric gathered and secured in one step, the finished fabric stretches! It’s a quick, easy, and practical solution for fitting garments; plus, it’s a lot of fun.
Here’s how it works:
- Hem or finish fabric edges before shirring. Mark temporary stitching guidelines ½ inch apart on the fabric right side.
- Wind the elastic thread onto the bobbin by hand, taking care not to stretch the thread. Do not use the machine’s bobbin winder; that will stretch the elastic. Load the bobbin in the machine as usual, and use a standard sewing thread that matches the fabric as a top thread.
- Set the stitch length to 3.5mm. As with other gathers, a longer stitch length creates deeper folds. Test-stitch on a fabric scrap and adjust as needed. It may be helpful to reduce the top tension. The goal is to allow the elastic thread to lie on the wrong side of the fabric, with the top thread looping around it to hold it in place.
The elastic thread should lie on the wrong side of the fabric, with the top thread looping around it to hold it in place.
- Place the fabric right side up beneath the presser foot, and stitch along the first marked line, holding both thread tails and backstitching one or two stitches at the beginning and end of the line to secure. When the line of stitches is complete, tie the thread tails together on the wrong side. Repeat for subsequent rows, holding the fabric flat as it travels beneath the needle.
- Press from the right side of the shirred piece to avoid excess heat affecting the elastic. Hold the iron just above the fabric and allow the heat and steam to set the gathers without flattening them. In some instances, pressing may slightly tighten the shirring.
French seams are used on delicate light- and medium-weight sheers and other fabrics where seams and raw edges might show through the finished piece. This seam encloses fabric edges, so raw edges won’t fray. Straight seams on lacy eveningwear, sheer tops, lingerie, and baby clothes are a few common candidates for French seams. The finished seam is on the fabric wrong side but may show as a darkened seamline on lightweight fabrics.
Here’s how to sew a French seam:
- Place fabrics wrong sides together and straight stitch a scant ¼ inch inside the final seamline.
- Trim both seam allowances to a scant ⅛ inch. Fold the fabrics, right sides together, along the just-stitched seam, encasing the trimmed seam allowances. Press, and pin if necessary.
- Straight stitch ¼ inch from the edge (the previous seamline, now folded), encasing the seam allowances. Press the finished seam to one side.
The French seam technique encloses the fabric edges for a fine, secure seam.
This lightweight summer dress is made with 54-inch width cotton voile. The attached lining is a sweet surprise, peeking out from under the dress hem.
A shirring shortcut leads to a quick and easy summer dress.
Fits bust sizes 28 to 38 inches; length is approximately 28 inches, excluding straps
Tools and Materials
1 yard cotton voile for outer dress*
1 ⅛ yards cotton voile for lining*
1 spool of elastic thread
Basic machine-sewing tools
*Suitable fabrics include light- and medium-weight fabrics that drape well. Stretchy fabrics are not suitable for this project. Yardage is based on 54-inch-wide fabric with at least 52 inches of useable width.
- Using a rotary cutter and ruler, square the upper and lower cut edges, and trim selvages from both the outer dress and lining fabric. Place a pin parallel to the trimmed selvage edge to mark the lengthwise grain on each piece of fabric.
- Cut a 4-inch × wof (width of fabric) strip from the outer dress fabric for the dress straps.
Follow this cutting layout to prepare the outer dress and lining fabrics.
Use a ½-inch seam allowance unless otherwise noted.
- With right sides together, fold the 4-inch × wof strip in half lengthwise. Pin, and stitch the long raw edge. Press the seam open. Use a turning tool to turn the strip right side out. Press, centering the seam on the back of the strip.
- Cut the strip in two equal lengths for the straps. Zigzag stitch across the raw edges of each short strap end to prevent fraying.
- With both fabrics facing right side up, layer the lining fabric on top of the outer dress fabric, matching the top crosswise grain edges. Pin, and stitch the layered fabrics together along the top edge. Press the seam flat, fold the lining fabric wrong side up over the seam, and press the seam open. Fold the joined fabrics on the seamline to encase the seam allowances. Both fabrics should be right side up, with the outer dress fabric on top. Press, and edgestitch along the seamed edge. If one fabric is slightly wider than the other, trim the excess amount.
- Pin the layered fabrics together along each side, 10 inches below the top edge. Referring to the shirring instructions above, mark and shirr 9 inches of fabric along the dress upper edge, beginning ½ inch below the stitched upper edge.
Shirr the upper edge of the dress to form a stretchy bodice.
- Temporarily fold the bodice and outer dress out of the way, and use a French seam to join the lining side edges together from the bodice lower edge to the hemline.
- Fold the lining out of the way and use a French seam to join the outer dress edges together from the bodice lower edge to the hemline.
- Fold both skirts out of the way and use a French seam to join the bodice side seams together.
- With the dress right side out and the seam at one side, pin the straps inside the bodice at front and back. The top three shirring lines should overlap the strap ends, with the strap outer edges 2 ½ inches from the side seam and opposite side fold.
- Test-fit the dress, and adjust strap placement and length. If necessary, trim the strap ends and replace the zigzag stitches. Secure the straps to the bodice by stitching just below each of the shirring lines.
- Test-fit the dress again and mark the desired hemline. Use a double-fold hem to finish the lower edges separately. Prepare each edge by pressing ¼ inch of raw edge to the wrong side. Fold and press another ¼ inch to the wrong side, encasing the raw edge. Straight stitch the folded hem in place close to the inner fold.
If extra-wide fabrics aren’t available or you need a larger size, piece fabric panels together to achieve the needed fabric width. For a longer dress, purchase additional yardage and make the dress as directed.
Stitch below the shirring lines to secure the strap ends to the bodice.
This shirred dress is a great way to stay cool and stylish in the warm summer months. And now that you see how easy it is, you can make it for everyone! Happy sewing!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Sewing by Missy Shepler and Rebecca Kemp Brent