Shirred Dress Tutorial

Shirred dress and shirred shirt
The other night I made myself a shirred top. And then last night I made another shirred dress for Isabelle so I thought I would take some pictures and show how it’s done, a tutorial! You can click on all the pictures to see them larger.


  • Fabric (I used less than 3/4 yard for Isabelle’s dress and probably less that 1 1/2 yards for my top. Look below at measuring to figure out how much you will need. )
  • Thread
  • Elastic Thread


The dress is simply two rectangles and the straps 4 rectangles. You can play around with the numbers to adjust how full the dress is or how long or short to make it into a top.

Cut 2 pieces for dress:
Width- Measure around chest right under armpit.
Length- Measure from armpit down to desired length then add 2 inches.

For marking- armpit down to where you want shirring to end.

Example: Isabelle is 18.5 inches around the chest and I wanted her dress to be 19 inches long so I ended up with 2 pieces at 19 x 21. My top actually came out fuller then I would have liked using the above formula. (See what I mean about playing with the numbers.) Next time I want it slimmer so I’ll reduce the width. I think I could have probably gone down a good 10 inches.

Now the straps. Again you can play with these numbers but don’t go too short or you won’t have anything to tie with. And don’t go too skinny because it’s harder to sew. 🙂

Cut 4 pieces for straps:
Width- Desired width of strap times 4.
Length- Measure up from the armpit to the top of your shoulder. Then add 10 inches to that. (Please double check this with your tape measure to see if it’s a comfortable length to tie with.)

Example: Isabelle’s straps were 14 x 1.5 and mine were 22 x 2. I wanted my straps a teensy bit wider.
Shirred dress tutorial - Cut pieces


1. I start with the strap pieces. You will do this with each of the 4 strap pieces. On one of the short sides I fold it up about 1/4 of an inch, wrong sides together (I iron all my folds). Then I fold the long side in half, wrong sides together. Open that up so you are left with a crease then fold the two edges of the long side to meet the crease you just made. And then fold once more so the edges are all inside.
Shirred dress tutorial - making straps
Sew to close. Highlighted in red for example.
Shirred dress tutorial - finished straps

2. Next we move onto the dress pieces. You want to edge finish one side of your rectangle, the side where you got your chest measurement. For Isabelle that was the 19 inch side. I just use a zig zag stitch all the way down. Do that to both pieces.
Shirred dress tutorial - finish the top edge of dress pieces

3. Next is the strap placement. It’s sort of worrisome doing the straps first but it seems to work. If you’re worried it might not, you can adjust my directions and add the straps last. You want the straps at 1/4 and 3/4 along your piece. So fold your dress piece in half, wrong sides together with the zig zag edge on top. Then fold again. Line up one strap along the fold on the right side of your fabric with the unfinished edge of the strap along the zig zag edge. I like the nice clean edge of the strap to be the one showing on the sides so the stitched sides are closer to the neck. Mark your strap at 5/8 inch down.
Shirred dress tutorial - placing the straps

4. Sew your strap to your dress piece by sewing a rectangle. Sew down to where your 5/8 inch mark is. Highlighted in red for example.
Shirred dress tutorial - sew strap down to dress piece
Repeat with the other 3 straps and you should have 2 dress pieces that look like this with the straps attached.
Shirred dress tutorial - sewed on straps

5. Next you sew the side seams right sides facing together using 5/8 inch seam allowance. Then finish the seams. Sew, mama, sew has a good post on seam finishes simplified. Shirred dress tutorial - sew side seams

6. Fold top edge with straps down 3/4 inch and iron.
Shirred dress tutorial - fold down and iron top edge

7. Fold hem up 1/2 inch and iron. Then fold again 3/4 inch and iron. Sew the hem. If you are making a top you might want to have a more narrow hem, at 1/4 and 1/4 inch. Just adjust the size of your piece accordingly.
Shirred dress tutorial - sew hem
Now you should have a tube like this.
Shirred dress tutorial - finished tube right before shirring

8. Now the shirring. This might take some playing with so try it on some test fabric first. Or if you’re impatient like me and you can’t figure out the shirring, you’ll just go ahead on the dress. And then when it doesn’t shirr tight enough you’ll end up gathering the shirring yourself. And you’ll think oh that’s not too bad, I can gather. But trust me. Shirring properly is faster than gathering and you use less elastic thread.

You’ll be using your regular thread in the needle and elastic thread in the bobbin. Hand wind the elastic thread onto the bobbin. Set your machine to a long stitch and looser than normal tension.

Now with the right side facing up sew 5/8 inch down from the top edge where your straps are around the tube. Do not backstitch at the beginning or end of this row. Then make sure you have enough elastic thread BEFORE cutting and then pull your top threads to the inside and tie knots in your threads.

Next, mark your shirring lines. I did mine 5/8 inch apart. And go down as far as you’d like your dress/top to be shirred. Or you can eyeball it like I did because I’m impatient.

Sew your shirring lines, holding the fabric taut so it doesn’t bunch up. The more lines of shirring, the tighter it should be.
Shirred dress tutorial - hold fabric taut while sewing shirring lines
All your elastic thread tied up in knots and trimmed. With Isabelle’s dress I had 5 lines of shirring. For my top I had 12.
Shirred dress tutorial - tie off threads
And yay you’re done!

*Update* a reader, Cynthia, writes that she found out that it’s hard to shirr with the new model sewing machines. She suggests maybe this link might help.

Shirred Dress for Isabelle
Shirred shirt for me
Hope that made sense. Let me know how it goes. I would love to see pictures if you used this tutorial and any changes you made or improvements.

35 thoughts on “Shirred Dress Tutorial

  1. Thanks for the tutorial with pics. I’ve always been nervous about shirring but maybe I should give it a try this spring for at least one of my girls dresses.

    By the way, I love the yellow fabric you used for your top.

  2. Hey, thank you verymuch for this tutorial! I’ll surely try it out and then I’ll show some pictures!

  3. that’s how you do it!! i’ve been wondering how! i had some premade shirred fabric that i found in the remnant bin at joann’s but i’m not fond of the fabric color/print. now i can try my own!

  4. it sounds like a perfect project for a beginner like me! I’m gonna try it later and send u some pics. 🙂

    Thank you very much for the tutorial! I always thot Isabelle’s shirred dresses were adorable.

  5. Love top!! It’s so positively Spring. With the weather turning cold again here in GA, anything sunny and warm looking is a sight for these eyes. All the warm weather plants I put in to pots have been overnighting in house to keep from being ruined. Yuck. So here’s to ever warm – ever lovely – CA!

  6. What a great tutorial! I love the step by step pictures, very nice! I want to try my hand at one of these, so cute!!!

  7. I tried this, but I could not seem to get the shirring tight enough. I tried messing with the tension and I tightened the thread on the bobbin, I even tried different stitch lengths. Any thoughts on what I may have done wrong? I ended up gathering mine, which worked fine because it was a baby dress, but I would not want to gather on a shirt for me…

  8. Hey Karen,

    Hope you come back and read this. I didn’t know how to contact you.

    Looks like you had the same problem as I did when I first tried shirring. I tried everything too. It probably means you have to have the thread on your bobbin even tighter. I’ve read that you can try winding it with your machine. But be careful to let it sit and loosen a little before you put it into the machine. See if that works.

  9. Kuky, thanks so much for this tutorial! I made a dress for my daughter this weekend and was amazed at how easy it was to make something so cute! Your instructions were very easy to follow. The only part that I found difficult was to get the bobbin wound tight enough. I would tug at it as I was winding the elastic thread, but as soon as I would let go of it after plopping it into the machine it would recoil a little. After the first line of shirring, I felt it was not tight enough, so I kept re-doing it. After about 3 tries, I decided to just go ahead with the other lines to see if it would get significantly tighter. Boy oh boy, you weren’t kidding when you said it would get tighter with more lines of shirring. By line 8 or 9, I had to use my whole body to keep the garment taut. LOL I ended up with an even 10 lines. My neighbor saw the dress, and needless to say, I am making one for her daughter and another for mine this weekend. 🙂 THANK YOU! I’ll e-mail you a pic of my daughter wearing her dress soon.

  10. These are JUST the instructions I was looking for, thanks so much! I’m trying to make skirt that I saw in Target and the top section (waist band) is shirred…..oh, I hope I can pull it off! Wish me luck!

  11. Thanks for this tutorial – it answered a lot of questions I had after seeing other blog posts and flickr photos of this technique.

    Your top and daughter’s dress are adorable! Thanks for sharing.

  12. i loved this! as soon as i saw it i went to work on one. they are so quick and easy! i have made 5 so far,one is posted on my blog. take a look youll be proud.

  13. Hi – your dresses / tops are beautiful! I’ve been practising shirring on a bit of scrap material and am just about getting the hang of it. I was just wondering about sizes though. Do you cur the width of the top exactly the same as your measurements, or do you need to cut the rectangle a bit wider to allow for the gathering? If so, how much wider would you need to cut? Thanks!

  14. Hi Sally,

    You cut two pieces the same as your measurements. That will be nice and full for a dress. You can reduce it for a top if you don’t want it too full.

  15. Thanks for the tutorial. I’m hoping to try to make a dress/top for my daughter soon.

  16. I can not wait to try this… I am printing some fabric and this was just what I wanted to do with it.

  17. I love your sewing works very much. Will drop-by often to admire those lovely FOs.

    Thanks for sharing.

  18. What a cute dress and blouse. I have been wanting to try this techneque, so I will save your instructions and give it a try.


  19. Hi there Kuky, Your tuitorial was just what I was looking for. Thankyou. I have had a practice and can’t wait to get started. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’m planning on making a couple of summer dresses, like a knee length version of the top you made with maybe some lace at the bottom or a frill.

    All the way from New Zealand


  20. Hi there, me again!! I’ve made my first shirred tube dress and thanks to your infomation its turned out pretty good. I have a question though. What sort of material do you recommend using. I’ve used a polyester/cotton mix, which is a shiney sort of material and I find the shirring slides around a bit. Would appreciate any hints or tips about this.


    Kuky says: Sorry I don’t really have an answer for you. I’ve only used cotton for this. It’s the only thing I have in my stash. 🙂 But I have a store bought shirred shirt that’s made with a knit and it’s very nice and comfy though I can’t say what it’s like to sew with.

  21. Thanks for the reply. I’ve noticed that the shiney material just seems to do that. Maybe you have to use another cotton. I made one out of Muslin today and it dosn’t slide so I guess its just the fabric. Another question though, do you tie up all the threads as you go along and do you tie up the cotton thread on the outside of the top/dress. Hope I’m not being a pain………cheers,

    Kuky says: No you’re not being a pain. Happy to help. 🙂 I tied up all the threads when I was done. And what I do with the cotton thread is using a hand sewing needle I bring them to the inside, knot them, then trim them.

  22. Thanks for the tutorials – I have made a top for my partner’s daughter’s birthday tomorrow using some seersucker I found cheap in an op shop. Think it was a blanket or something in a previous life!


    Only made a few modifications – added lace to the bottom and plaited the straps instead of doing tie-up ones.

    Also made the tiered skirt for my daughter from your tutorial:

    Great site, thank you.

    Kuky says: Oooh love the plaited straps!

  23. this is exacly what I was looking for Ia m going to try it tonight.. thank you so very much … I will let you know how mine turned out…..

  24. Yah – I just found this (via “30Days”). Thank you so much. I have been making shirring dresses for my daughter and have some cut out and ready for some other girls. And I am planning on making a skirt for myself. Up till now I have been pulling the elastic and hand gathering – and grrrr… Your way is so much quicker, easier, and fun. I like the sewing of the elastic, but hate the hand gathering bit.
    So, I’m off to experiement and get these dresses done! (Without breaking any more elastic!!).
    Thank you.

  25. Oh cool. I heard about using elastic thread to shir on a frugal forum and did a search and this tutorial came up. I am 27 wks pregnant and thought this would be a great and easy top to make that should still work w my growing tummy. I am having a girl and I may try to make a few tops or dresses for next summer-but will prob for a friend or two of mine’s daughters since she might be a tad young next yr for this to wear just yet.(She is due Oct 25)

  26. Kuky, thank you for a wonderful tutorial! I had just made a similar dress but with a curved hem. Thanks to your ideas, the next one will be even easier 🙂 I think I hand-wound the elastic too loosely; with a bit more tension applied it should shirr better (more closely). I have several pieces (scraps?) of cloth to use up this way. But because of different lengths and the way various fabrics drape, they will not look exactly the same. What a fun way to experiment and use up the stash 🙂 Yippee for Summer!

  27. i’m making one now! finally 🙂
    one question : the shirring part; is it that i gotto run my machine all around the top non stop in which the starting point also the ending point?

    thanks in advance!

  28. It’s been years since I last shirred anything and couldn’t quite remember how to do it.Thanks so much, you’ve refreshed my memory and now I’m all set to get going on my daughter’s dress.

Comments are closed.