Monday, June 14, 2010

Shirred Sundress

This is my neice, Whiteney. Isn't she cute? I am glad she was willing to be my model because my own kids are spending a couple of weeks at their grandparents' house and I just couldn't wait that long. The dress is for my neighbor who just turned four. Nevermind that her birthday was last month and this is really late. Better late than never, I always say.

So to preface, this dress is very basic. It is a rectangle with shirring on the top. Then the sleeves are rectangles with elastic thread sewn down each side to make it gather. I read tutorial after tutorial about how to do the shirring and it seemed easy enough. Just hand wind the elastic thread onto the bobbin and sew at a regular stitch and regular tension. I tried that but it didn't work. I tried machine winding the bobbin. I tried messing with the stitch length and the tension and nothing worked. The bobbin thread was always super loose and it didn't tighten up. Then after reading the comments on one blog (I'm sorry, I don't remember which one it was!), I found out that apparently, you can't shir with a Brother machine, which is, of course, what I have. So I went to my mom's to use her old trusty Elgin and it worked like a charm. So all of my future shirring will be done at my mom's house. It's a good thing she lives close because I am in love with shirring.

Here's the how-to. Cut a basic rectangle. You'll need it to be double the circumference of the subject's chest and however long you want it to be, plus about an inch for hemming. Since I was trying for a size 4, I just used the whole width of the fabric, minus the selvage edge. I can't remember how long I made it. You'll also need two rectangles for the sleeves. I believe mine are 12 x 4 inches.

Now on the sides of the dress, place the right sides together and sew up the length of the dress. I used my serger, but if you don't have one, then you'll want to finished the edges somehow. One way is to sew your seam allowance with a straight stitch and then zigzag close to the edge to finish it. Or use an over locking stitch.

Once you have it sewn into a tube, hem the top and the bottom edges all the way around. I just use a rolled hem and eyeball it.

Hem both long sides of both sleeves. Then finish the short raw edge. I serged mine, but zigzagging would work, or you could do another rolled hem.

I don't have any pictures of the shirring, but here's a basic run down.

1. You need elastic thread. My shopping options are Walmart and a local quilting store. I was able to find it with the notions at the quilting store.

2. Hand wind the elastic thread onto the bobbin, making sure not to stretch it at all. Use whatever matching thread you want on top.

3. Turn your fabric right side up and start sewing your lines. I started pretty close to the top of the dress. Backstitch a couple of times to secure it and then sew all the around, stopping in the same spot that you started. Be sure that your elastic thread in on the wrong side of the fabric, underneath.

4. I used my pressure foot as a guide on how far apart to make the lines, so they were about 1/2" apart. I made 10 rows. Your first row should be gathered, but it won't look like it's gathered nearly enough. Keep going. The more rows you get, the more tightly it gathers.

5. Once you get all of your lines done, mist the shirred part with water and watch it shrink up. It is really cool!

After you've gotten the dress body done, turn your sleeves right side up and sew along each long side to gather them up. I sewed about 1/4" in to give it a little ruffle on the edge. Then mist them with water to shrink them up.

Now you'll need to sew them on. I eyeballed where they needed to go because I didn't have a model to test it on. I made my back straps a little closer together than the front and I think I like it that way.

Don't stretch the fabric out where the straps are going to attach. Pin them on and sew into place. Be sure to back stitch a few times on each edge to make them nice and secure.

And there you have it! One adorable little sundress. And one adorable little Whitney.


  1. This looks sooooo stinkin' easy and I've been needing some new dresses for my daughter, so I might just tackle this one! Thanks for the tutorial!
    (PS - This is MicheMommy from BBC)

  2. Adorable dress, and adorable model! :) I can't even tell you how much I love these dresses you're making! I can't wait to see how Whitney's turns out! You are so stinking talented, I'm so glad! :) Love ya!

  3. So stinkin cute! I'm going to have to make those for my cousin's little girls.

  4. So cute, but I too have a Brother sewing machine which I got because I liked my mom's Brother, so I may be out of luck. Well that and I'm sewing illiterate and would probably make a million and one mistakes.

  5. Hi Kathy! Cute dress...maybe someday I'll muster up the courage and make my dd a dress. And I have that same star on my wall! Great minds think alike..
    Cari (flowrmama)

  6. Just came across this the other day and am trying it out. I was wondering why the elastic thread should not be stretched. It doesn't seem like it would gather enough without stretching. I used my machine to wind the bobbin, so it is stretched.

    After sewing 9 rows (didn't have enough for 10, daughter {dd} is 9 and has a chest circumference of 26", so I used 53") it wasn't nearly gathered enough, so I misted it. It did shrink a little bit more, but still not enough. Misted until thoroughly damp, then put in dryer on medium heat--shrunk a bit more, still looks too big. [Paused in my typing to try it on dd. A little bit too big, but the sleeves will hold it up, I hope.

    I'd like to make more than one of these, so I might experiment with measurements. Any advice on shirring would be great...did you use normal thread tension, top & bottom? Normal stitch length?

  7. It's lovely! I might make one for my daughter and of course, for myself too!

    I wonder what Brother you're using? I first learnt to sew on a Brother LS 2125 and it handled elastic thread beautifully. The trick is to use the widest stitch length (basting stitch) and also unscrew your bobbin case screw a little to make it loose. Just do a little at a time while you test it out on scrap fabric. I was able to make beautiful products this way. I hope you find this useful.

    Thank you for sharing,