Shirred Top

Shirring is one of the easiest and most satisfying techniques to learn. To make a top or dress you do not need a pattern and the only stitch you need is the regular straight stitch. Shirring is simply multiple rows of stitches using elastic thread.

Please read the comment section following this post - there is additional advice and problem solving ideas.  It turns out that not every machine is the same.  Thank you to everyone who has contributed!

To make a shirred top:

-Measure the chest.

-Cut a rectangle of material with one side twice the length of the chest measurement (chest x2). The other side is the length of the top you desire.

Pause: To do shirring with this method I am about to describe, you want to acquire some elastic thread from your local fabric and notions store.

To use the elastic thread, wind it by hand into a bobbin and place it in your bobbin case just as you would regular thread. Do use regular thread on the top spool (in a coordinating colour, because it will be on top of the shirt.)

-Okay, now load sewing machine with elastic thread on bobbin.

-Set your stitches to wider stitch (the theory being, the wider the stitch, the tighter the elastic)

-Start your first row by placing your needle in the material (right side up) about 1 1/2" below the top of the raw edge (leaving enough room to make a hem)

-Backstitch to secure thread, and stitch your first row. Backstitch at end of row to secure.
-Start a second row 1/2" or so below (use your first row as a guide). Make sure you pull elastic and fabric taunt as you stitch subsequent rows.
-Keep stitching rows in this manner until you have the desired amount. The bobbin will need refilled a few times. If you run out in the middle of a row, just make sure you go back over the last few stitches to secure the elastic with the refilled bobbin.
The fun bit:
-Take your sheet of shirred fabric and try it on. Wrap it around your body and make sure that it will not be too small for you or too big. If it is too small, make a second shirred sheet in the same way and join them as side seams. If too big, just make where the seam should be.
-Sew up sheet into tube.
-Hem bottom and top.
-Add straps.


  1. great tutorial. i love your stuff on Craftster! xoxo, julie (wobblerat)

  2. Oh wow, I love your tutes! I was going to buy a shirt like this for my daughter yesterday but now I can make one... thanks.

  3. Ok, I realize this is an old tute--but one quick question for you--do you find that the inside of the shirred part (the elastic side) is a little rough? I wonder how much my daughter is going to like it on her bare skin. Maybe there is more than one type of elastic thread that I could be using?

  4. The shirring doesn't bother my kid, but she's pretty relaxed about what she wears. It's not scratchy, but its not exactly polar fleece either. I would suggest you post a question on the craftster discussion board under clothing and see if it bothers anyone. I know that for those who are texture sensitive, it could bother them.

    You could always put an under shirt on your daughter too. Or make a coordinating puff sleeve shirt to wear under.

  5. thank you so much for the tutes!

    I thought the shirring might be rough to my daughter as well - When I made her dress using this technique, I also put in another layer of fabric afterward. I sewed it to them together at the top. It's definitely not as good as the work here, but it is under mlejcbs on craftster if you want to check it out.

  6. I have a question about hand winding the bobbin, do I need hold this tight or loose- thanks for the tute!

  7. moosie - does a mid-tension make sense? You do not want to stretch the elastic and you also do not want be loose enough to tangle on the bobbin and interfere with its function.

    That said, some people have machines that respond a little differently. Ten minutes of experimenting will tell you way more than I can.

  8. Hi I have recently started sewing and I would love to make a dress and shirt using this method however when I sew it it doesn't gather. I have tried longer stiches and looser tension and have rewound the bobbin to different tensions however it doesn't seem to be working. What am I doing wrong? And if that is impossiible to tell, how do I tighten it by hand? I am doing a continuous line, stepping down a cm when I get back to the start.

  9. That's very odd, Andy. If your machine works well regularly - no tension issues - and the bobbin is wound with elastic thread (at zero tension - most of the time it isn't stretched at all, the same way it comes in the package), then it should pull the elastic out when sewing enough to gather the fabric in. The elastic isn't very old or unusually stretched before you wind?


    Maybe you can go about shirring in a different way. You can also get a shirred look by premeasuring a piece of elastic thread to the gather you desire, securing it at the start, and zig zagging over top the elastic while stretching it to meet the other side. The zig zagged stitches will fall on either side of the elastic thread to make a chanel for it to travel down. Secure the end.

    Maybe you want to try this technique? It's a bit more time consuming than regular shirring, but it actually gives you much more control over your gather and the look of your garment.

    Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.

  10. The internet is wonderful! I'd been planning to make a shirred top for some time. Now I decided to google the question How can I make a shirred top? and here you are with nice tips. Thanks so much. Silvia, from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

  11. I agree, the internet is pretty good stuff. Happy shirring!

  12. Thanks for the tips. I'm starting to explore summer dress ideas for my baby girl. This is great! I can't wait to try it.

  13. Thank you for this tute. I'm going to make one of these cute dresses for my wee one soon. I found you via Craftster and in a recent post, you mentioned that you had been known to sew a tube, then do the shirring in a spiral. Did you find this easier than the method you described above? That spiral thing appeals to me a lot because I am worried about all those knots I have to tie and secure!!

  14. ady, it's certainly faster and less complicated to do the tube/spiral thing, but you need to be pretty confident the finished product will be the size you want. You may want to do the two panels for the first one and make sure the sizing is right. The thing about this method is that the elastic may gather the material too tight or too loose depending on your machine and personal touch with it all.

    After you've got the right amount of material, though, go for it - way easier and way faster (or, you can just do it anyway and if it doesn't work chalk it up to experience. I've also been known to salvage a mis-sized shirring project by cutting it into panels to use as embellishments on blouses by securing the elastic where I'm going to cut it with a tight straight stitch and then sewing it onto a new garment.)

    good luck!

  15. I'm wondering if it would be easier to hem the top edge before shirring, to not have to deal with the fabric being bunchy and whatnot? I'm so making one of these for summer.

  16. Definitely easier to hem the top first.

    In fact, I am now a compulsive preemptive hemmer - if making a child's dress I will even hem before I sew the skirt to bodice (since I will have no hope in heck in getting a fitting in to do a hem perfectly aligned with the floor - at least mine just would not stand still).

  17. Love this tutorial! In fact, love all of your tutorials. Thank you so much for posting it. I made my daughter a sundress with shirring in under an hour. I'm thinking that I'll be making more of these in the future.

  18. Hi Veg! Love the tute! Now off to go raid the fabric stash to make Goose some new clothes!

  19. Vegbee!!! The shirring in a spiral technique is awesome! I much prefer it and it makes it so much quicker! Can't thank you enough for this tute (and your other ones) - next project, the twirly patch dress!

  20. hey vegbee, i saw ur tutes and decided to give it a try but i dont know what i did wrong, i didnt get the same end result.firstly, the elastic started to pull as i started the second roll,should i cut the thread after each roll? cos even after backstitching it it was still pulling so i had a too small tube. secondly, the back thread,the one to hold the elastic thread was toooooo loose! is it becos i used a the loongest number on my machine....? pls i really need ur help, i need to make this again! than u vegbee!

  21. darn lola, I'm sorry that didn't go well!

    If the elastic is pulling, stop and check if it is caught in the bobbin. By the 'second roll' do you mean the next row of shirring on the garment or a second bobbin of elastic? Either way, you do need to stop and re start your stitching, which means back stitching at the end (and beginning) and trimming all threads.

    As for the loose thread, perhaps you may need a tension adjustment (make note of where its at before you twiddle any dials so you can always put things back to where they were originally). Some machines/brands act differently with elastic thread so you might want to do some work with some scrap material first and figure out where yours works best. Maybe a smaller stitch may help too. But I suspect the top thread will straighten itself out once the elastic issue is taken care of.

    Hope that helps. Let me know if anything is unclear.

    good luck!

  22. I thought is so great and wouldn't be that hard but for some reason I'm having a very difficult time. My elastic keeps zig zaging (loose) when I sew it. If I pull the elastic it scrunches up just fine(but I don't want to screw up the elastic). I've tried all different lengths of stitches and tried messing with the tension I've gotten closer but still no luck. Any suggestions? I've also tried the other way of doing it but for me it doesn't scrunch up as much. HELP!

  23. anon, I thought I had posted a reply days ago and just noticed that it didn't stick. Sorry :(

    So, after waiting a week for a reply, I can't help. About the loose elastic, I've got no idea. I'd suggest setting your stitch length to the longest setting, but that is all I can. I've never heard of the elastic being too loose.

    good luck - and if you find a solution I'd love to know.

  24. This technique worked very well for me. My daughter-in-law brought me an old shirred top that had become "unshirred" and asked if I could fix it--and I did, in about 5 minutes. Then I made myself a 2-hour sundress from a yellow print passed along by a friend.

  25. I bought some lovely fabric over 2 years ago, thinking I'd make some lovely sun dresses. But I wanted elastic shirring! I asked at the fabric stores, in the sewing machine/tutoring section, but no one knew what I wanted, much less how to do it! I had hoped to make them by the end of June for a trip to Denver. Needless to say, the fabric is still sitting there while I ponder what to do with it.

    Anyway, I appreciate the tute. So maybe I'll get to it later this week.

    I'll post again when these projects are done. :-)


  26. I have found that sometimes the shirring doesn't gather as well. To fix it, all you need to do it touch it up with a steam iron on the non elastic side. You should see it gather up right before your eyes!

  27. I am very thankful I came across this blog post because I have been wanting to make a shirred dress for a long time. The thing is...every time I try shirring, the elastic doesn't take.

    Like, the regular thread goes into the fabric and stitches fine but the elastic goes in for one stitch and then no more. MYSTERIOUS. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

  28. Sari,
    very mysterious. First, always check with your manual that your bobbin is correctly positioned. I've run across the problem with a minor offset, like the thread running the wrong way, is okay for regular thread, but the problem becomes very obvious when doing speciality sewing.

    It does sound like the elastic is breaking - I would see if tension adjustments help.

    Anyone else have any ideas? If you do figure it out Sari, please let us know :)

  29. Thanks for responding Vegbee. I finally figured out what was going wrong and I'm so happy. My thread was old or a bad brand or something because it wasn't strong enough to seure the elastic. I just got better thread and now everything goes exactly how it should. :)

  30. ah, bad thread. I've got to remember that next time things go mysterious on my machines - I've got some that are getting a little up there. Perhaps I need to do a bit of research into correct thread handling and storage...

  31. Hi I too wanted to say thanks for this tut, I am another one who wanted to make tops and dresses like this but I didnt know if I needed a special machine or not.

    Will be off to the shops tomorrow to buy some elastic thread and give it ago

  32. Thank you! I never thought that this could be ever be accomplished my my own hands! I love your tutorials so much.

  33. Anon,

    Isn't it fun to find out what our hands can do for us?

    glad you enjoy!

  34. Vegbee,

    Thank YOU! I've tried out making a shirred dress for my daughter using your tutorial, it really help. I also made a peasant blouse too. you could check out my blog to see the one I made using your tut. Many many thanks to YOU!!

  35. wan,

    no, thank you!

    I'd love to have a peek but your link is not functional. help me out here...

  36. omg this is so cool! i made the mistake of looking at a few of the other post while my cousin was watching and now he's already making me make halloween costumes LOL, hmm i wonder if he knows we still have like six months until october

  37. Thankyou sooooo much in advance. I have been wanting to TRY a shirred top since like *forever*! Will definately give this a go.

  38. I love this. Someday, I hope to try this! I linked!

  39. Hi! Thank you for all the great info! I bought elastic thread for the first time today and had no clue what to do with it; this really helped! I was having a major issue with getting tension so the elastic wasn't wavy on the bottom, I hand-wrapped the bobbin 2ce, and finally decided to try wrapping it with the elastic tight, using the bobbin winder on my machine, it worked like a charm! I have a newer computerized Brother machine, and i read somewhere else online that the computerized machines sometimes don't work very well with the hand wrapped elastic......... so, those of you that are doing that and it isn't working, try wrapping it like normal thread! worked GREAT for me!! :)

  40. I found this tutorial on another page and it seems to answer a lot of the questions about elastic I have seen on here. I hope you don't mind me adding the link here, Vegbee, I just thought it might help.

  41. Vegbee, thanks so much for the great tutorial. It was very easy to understand and follow along. I made my 3 yr old the dress and she just loves it!

  42. I really need your help! My elastic continues to come out wavy on the bottom and the shirring does work....shapeless dress to say the least! I too have worked with the tension on my machine (up and down), have new thread, used the iron to steam, used the longest stitch length, hand wound the bobbin with no tension and with some tension and today used the machine to wind...and still no luck. What was supposed to be a sundress for my daughter in under an hour has ended up taking hours and many spools of elastic thread. My machine is a Husqvarna Emerald 183. Thanks!

  43. Thanks so much VegBee! After reading the comments I was thinking "Ulp, this'll never work for me if it didn't work for them!" - but by some miracle, it did! FWIW I wound the elastic thread on pretty loosely - almost no tension - and put my stitch on the longest possible setting (4). I've since tried it with a 3, but I prefer the 4 even though a 4 makes the finished fabric rather smaller than half its original size.

    Instead of shirring in a spiral or doing every row separately, I pivoted 90 degrees right at the end of each row, stitched 3 stitches down the side, pivoted 90 degrees left again and went back down the next row... think lots of hairpin turns. That way I didn't have to cut the elastic and risk unravelling.

    Here are two tops I completed - the corset-backed one was a result of the shirring shrinking my fabric more than expected, but I like the way it turned out anyway. :p Shirring is addictive - I keep hunting through my stash looking for more things to shirr! :)

  44. Thanks for the information, its been a great help in turning an old skirt of my Auntie into a maxi dress!

  45. Thank you, thank you. Your explanations are brilliant. Have wanted to shirr for a while and knew I needed the elastic, but that is where my knowledge ended. Cant wait to give it a try!!

  46. Hi, Me again (Mary). I am soo glad I've found your blogs, can't say that enough. I've been sewing all by my lonesome with no one to go to for help/advice. Even at our local fabric/craft store, they seem to know less about sewing that I do (which is really sad, cos I'm no expert).

    I've tried shirring and haven't had any luck. After I sew the fabric is still flat. So I tried to steam it with my iron as someone mentioned, but there was no change.

    I'll keep trying different things. Meanwhile, I was wondering if anyone who had problems like me was able to figure it out. And if so, what did you do different?


  47. Mary,

    There seems to be a small but significant number of people (or machines) that have a tough time with shirring. I wish I could figure it out but I've never had a problem with it. I'd suggest making absolutely sure you've got the basics down and reading some other shirring tutorials (there is a ton! try googling 'how to shirr') and see if you can find any answers there. If you figure it out, there are plenty of people who would like to know too!

    Sorry I couldn't be more help :(

  48. Hi it's Mary. You've been a HUGE help. I was thinking if so many of us (so relieved it's not just me) are having problems, there's gotta be some little tiny something going wrong. I searched more tutorials on shirring and then came across one that said, "You may notice your first couple of rows don't gather as much as you'd like. Don't worry. As you continue to stitch more rows, your garment will gather more." Lightbulb moment!!!! I'd only practiced 1 row at a time, not multiples. So I did it again, only this time sewing 5 rows. And EUREKA! I've successfully shirred a piece of fabric. I spritzed some water on it and it tightend a little more and steamed it to get it as tight as I could. It now stretches to about 1.75 to 2 times it's shirred length.

    Maybe this'll help some of the others out there. They could have been doing the same thing I did, just testing 1 row.

    Wow, it was such a simple thing that made a big difference.

    I'll be shirr to use this a lot for summer outfits!


  49. Mary,

    good call! Next time I post on shirring I am definitely mentioning this. Thank you!

  50. I fought that danged elastic thread for close to a week, I almost gave up a dozen times, but tonight, something finally clicked, everything finally came together, and my 4 year-old fashion bug finally has the new blouse she's been bugging me to make!!! I took your advice and did some surfing to see what else I could find about shirring, then combined what I learned from them with what I learned from you (thank you SO much for mentioning shirring in spiral, it was a lifesaver for me!) and before I knew it, I was snipping my last thread. I am so proud of myself and so glad I found this place!!!

  51. After trying to do as you explained, my sewing machine would not shir...I did find out that because I have a drop in bobbin type machine, I can wind the elastic on the bobbin the same as I would regular thread. It will wind very tight and I needed to adjust my tension and IT WORKED!!!! My daughter was so happy to have a new shirt! Thank you for your teachings and keep up the good work.

  52. Been looking forward to this tutorial! At first attempt ,could not get my machine to shirr even though the stitches were taking. but after some twiddleing and reading back through the comments, I fixed it and thought Id share.

    For those having trouble getting a gather, check out the bobbin case's anatomy. Cylendrical hole for bobbin and hook for guiding the thread, right? Is your elastic still through that funny little thread guide arm? (technical jargon, wink wink) I found that when drawing up the bobbin thread, before even begining to sew, my elastic pulled loose of the guide hook easily and headed straight up and out of the bobbin-hole. Hense the apperance of a threaded machine and stitches too, but no tension on the elastic and therfore, no gathering. So, that said, pull the elastic taut into it's little bobbin arm and peek to make sure it stays in place (if you have a transparent bobbin cover)

    That fixed it for me and I was pleased with the extra tip of steam ironing for additional pucker.

    Good luck!

  53. Sometimes I keep reading long after I should have gone on to do other, more productive things, just out of laziness. But tonight I find that the very last comment in this thread gives me the answer to why my shirring wasn't working well. THANKS, SHANNER!

  54. Oh, and thank you, vegbee! Your tute also answered many questions for me.

  55. Hi I'm having trouble getting my mechine to take the bobbin thread, it;s elastic wont thread it self. Its a brother and I'm going nuts, I'm trying to make a tutu for my little girls 1st birthday in two weeks. Any ideas how to fix this?

  56. Littlefee89,

    I'm not sure what kind of set up you have, but you have to wind the elastic thread by hand onto the bobbin and then if you can manually pull it through to the needle do so. Read through all the comments here too to read other people's advice when they had problems. Drop in bobbins do not work as well as the side loading type.

  57. littlefee89, why are you using elastic thread to make a tutu?

  58. Well It's a Pettiskirt really.It's so cute.

    Martha did have Kaiya Eve on....

    Here is the pattern off her website....

    Pettiskirts How-To
    Cut the Pieces
    1. Satin charmeuse: one 7 1/2-by-48-inch rectangle.

    2. Iron-on interfacing: two 2-by-48-inch strips.

    3. Nylon chiffon: six 3 1/2-by-46-inch strips; twelve 4 1/2-by-54-inch strips; enough lengths of 2 1/2-inch-wide strips to make 48 yards.

    4. One-inch-wide ribbon elastic: one 17-inch-long piece.

    5. One-inch-wide ribbon: two 18-inch-long pieces.

    Make the Waistband
    1. Iron a strip of interfacing to the wrong side of the satin charmeuse rectangle along each long edge.

    2. Fold the satin charmeuse piece in half widthwise (to make a 7 1/2-by-24-inch rectangle), with right sides facing each other. Match edges and pin along short side.

    3. Starting at one end of the pinned short side, sew a seam along the side for 2 inches and backstitch to secure. Leave a 1 1/2-inch opening and begin sewing again to finish the edge, backstitching at both ends.

    4. Flip the the waistband right side out and fold in half lengthwise by folding the top half in toward the center, matching the raw edges at the bottom. The fabric should be right side out on the inside and outside of the waistband. Press the fold and pin the raw edges.

    5. Straight stitch all the way around the waistband, 1 1/4 inch down from the fold.

    6. Straight stitch all the way around the waistband once more, 1 inch down from the first stitch line.

    First Tier
    1. Sew 3 of the 3 1/2-inch-wide nylon chiffon pieces together, end to end, to make one long strip. Repeat to make a second strip.

    2. Shirr along one long end of each strip.

    3. Attach the shirred side of one strip to the outer bottom raw edge of the waistband. Repeat with the second shirred strip and the inside bottom raw edge of the waistband.

    Second Tier
    1. Sew 6 of the 4 1/2-inch-wide nylon chiffon pieces together to make a long strip. Repeat to make a second strip.

    2. Shirr along one long end of each strip.

    3. Attach the shirred side of one strip to the bottom edge of the outer first tier. Repeat with the second shirred strip and the bottom edge of the inner first tier.

    Ruffle Fluff
    1. Sew enough 2 1/2-inch strips of nylon chiffon together to make two 24-yard long strips.

    2. Shirr these strips down the middle of the strip (not along an edge as before).

    3. Pin the stitched line of the shirred strip to the bottom edge of the outer second tier, and sew in place along the stitched line. Repeat with the second shirred strip on the bottom of the inner second tier.

    Ribbon Elastic
    1. On one end of the 17-inch elastic piece, attach a button. On the opposite end, sew a buttonhole.

    2. Attach the 18-inch pieces of ribbon to each end of the elastic.

    3. Attach a large safety pin to one end of the ribbon, and feed through the waistband channel.

    4. Button the elastic and tie ribbon ends in a bow. Cut ribbon ends neatly to finish.

  59. I just wanted to say thanks!!! I always wanted to do this & had no clue it was this easy. Now mind you that it took me days of tinkering & troubleshooting to find the right setup to get it perfect, but I don't mind tinkering when I know I can get there. Silly me thought you needed some special high tech machine to do it. FOR ME the only thing I have to do to get it right is leave my tension the same as usual, hand wind the bobbin to what I feel is about medium tension & set my stitch to the longest length. My first row doesn't look like much when on a woven fabric (luckily I was field testing on knits & those shirr up very easily on the first row when I have it set right)...but after about the third row (on wovens)'s amazing! I have a drop in bobbin and have no problems with it. I have a Kenmore Model#1653000 if that helps anyone. When all is said & done once I knew HOW my machine needs to be set up to shirr, this has got to be the easiest thing I have EVER learned in sewing. If someone had been able to take 2 minutes to show me how to do it on my machine, it would have been incredibly easy to recreate. Now When I want to make small ruffles, like for cute little baby bums I can just shirr instead of hand gathering like I used to! It is soooo much easier too because the gathers are always uniform and I don't have to adjust for length. I just do a couple of rows VERY close together & then steam to let it tighten,. Then I iron it down to make it as flat as possible before laying it on the backside of the diaper cover & straight stitching it down (with no tension of course as that would pucker the bum area when you let go of the tension). Then I stitch front to back & done. I hope that is clear explanation. These days I also use shirring on the legholes where I used to use elastic. YAY!

  60. Finally figured out what was doing wrong! First off, my machine needed oiling. I have a Janome. Second, I was winding my bobbin too tight, as well as trying to save some time by machine winding. Even at the loosest tension, the machine winding doesn't work for me. It took me an hour to figure that out. So I didn't save any time there. For me, and my Janome, hand-winding with literally no tension produced perfect results. Hope that helps someone out there!

  61. I read your other post on shirring on knit fabric, which is what I'm trying to do, so I hope you can help. The problem I'm having is I'm shirring, vertically, on a baby beanie to create a ruched look. The shirring is working HOWEVER when I tug on the beanie it stretches back out and loses the gathers. I did back stitch at the beginning and end. I wonder if I should start and finish and back stitch with a normal length stitch and use a long stitch inbetween? I tried simply using a gathering stitch but when I stitched over the gathers they still wouldn't hold (with a straight or stretch stitch). Any advice?? Thanks!