Sunday, 29 May 2011

"How to Shirr -- Two Ways"

Shirring (pronounced like Cher) is when you have rows of gathering. Although shirring can be done with ordinary thread so that it isn't stretchy, most of the time when people say shirring they mean with elastic thread called Shirring Elastic. It's thicker than regular thread and although it is usually sold in just black or white, it is available in many different colours (we sell it in our shop).

A lot of people on the Internet seem to have difficulty with shirring. The instructions just don't seem to work for them. At first they didn't work very well for me either (they do now and I'm not sure why). So I changed them a bit and now I have two ways to shirr.

Before you start
You have to wind the shirring elastic onto your bobbin by hand. It mustn't be slack or stretched too much. Just wind it comfortably and do so evenly so that it looks nice and neat on the bobbin.

A Note About Sewing Machine Types and Shirring
Front-loading sewing machines have higher bobbin tension than top-loading ones so if the shirring doesn't work on your top-loading sewing sewing machine, you may like to tighten it just a bit -- about an eighth or a quarter turn clockwise. If you are nervous about altering your bobbin tension, you might like to invest in an extra bobbin case. If you would rather do neither of these, try the second method of shirring below.

How to Shirr -- the Traditional Way
Backstitch at the beginning of your line of shirring to secure. Set your stitch length to its longest (more or less 5). Put your upper thread tension to the highest number which is usually 9. Sew the line of shirring and backstitch at the end. Repeat for as many rows as you would like. If it doesn't appear to have gathered very much, don't worry. Use a burst of steam from your iron and watch your shirring clench!

How to Shirr -- the Other Way
Backstitch at the beginning of your line of shirring to secure. Set your stitch length to its longest. REDUCE the upper thread tension by one digit compared to the usual tension for a seam. E.g. if your fabric usually takes a 4 to sew a successful seam of two layers of fabric, reduce it to 3 and shirr on the one layer of fabric. Backstitch at the end to secure. Use a burst of steam with your iron and watch your shirring tighten!

This way works because there is less hug on the shirring elastic, allowing it to recover more closely it's original size. Note: When you shirr the second way, you mustn't reduce the upper tension too much or you will get thread loops at the back of the fabric.

Why steam it? And what if I don't have a steam iron?
It makes your fabric more gathered and stretchier. If you don't have a steam iron (and you can get a travel one for under £15) you can put a damp (not wet) cloth such as a tea towel or dish cloth below your iron and hold your hot iron over it.

Which kinds of fabrics can be shirred?
Shirring works best with floppy fabrics. I don't think denim would shirr very well. I made two samples each of two fabrics: stretch moleskin, and viscose plaid. (They're not very tidy; I made them from scraps.) The first is a stretch woven and the latter is a loose weave fabric.  The samples on the right are the ones made using the traditional method of shirring, and the ones on the left were made in the second way. The latter are quite stretchy and stretch out to be nearly flat. The others (the traditional ones) don't stretch out to their original size.


You can make very pretty things with shirring and it so often seems to be in fashion. Maybe you could use it in some new way and start a trend! Be sure to put it on BurdaStyle so we can all see it!

Until next time, happy sewing!

Sabrina Wharton-Brown

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