How to Make Shirred Bodices

Updated April 17, 2017

Gathered fabric along the neckline, waist or bust line adds dimension to any bodice silhouette. Sewing enthusiasts can implement gathering techniques, referred to as shirring, in a variety of garments, such as tops and dresses. This detail requires extra fabric to gather. By selecting a specific area of the bodice for the shirring detail in your design, you can adjust the pattern to accommodate the excess fabric. Sewing supplies, such as a gathering foot attachment and elastic thread, commonly used for smocking, facilitate shirring during stitching.

Measure the width of the bodice with a flexible tape measure. For example, if you are using the shirred detail below the bust line, measure the distance from side seam to side seam as the width measurement.

Multiply the width measurement from step 1 by two. For instance, if the width measures 18 inches from side seam to side seam, the shirring pattern needs to measure 36 inches for maximum gathers. If your bodice design has less shirring detail, divide the 18 inches in half. Add the extra 9 inches to the 18-inch width specification creating a shirring panel measuring 27 inches.

Draw your bodice pattern on pattern paper with drafting pencils according to your design. For example, if you are making a swing top with shirring below the bust line, the bodice pattern most likely consists of two separate patterns. The upper bodice, referred to as the yoke, and the bottom shirred panel. Use a ruler to define seams and a French-curve ruler for shaped areas, such as the armhole.

Mark the shirring placement with notches along the yoke's seam line with a felt pen. Notches are markings used on patterns for fabric alignment prior to stitching. For instance, if you want most of the shirring at the centre of the bust line seam, mark the placement. This step helps you distribute the shirring evenly along the seam line and prevents bunched gathers in unwanted areas.

Add ½-inch seam allowance to the patterns.

Cut out the patterns with scissors. Snip the marked notches with a notcher tool. If you do not have this sewing tool, cut a small slit for the notch placement. Do not cut beyond the seam allowance when cutting.

Pin the patterns with straight pins to the selected fabric. Transfer the notches and shirred position onto the fabric with tailor's chalk. Cut the fabric parts with fabric scissors.

Hand-wind the sewing machine's bobbin with elastic thread. This thread type, generally available in white or black at most sewing supply stores, has significant stretch. Do not pull the thread tightly while winding; you do not want to stretch the thread.

Thread the machine's sewing needle with polyester thread and insert the bobbin. Polyester thread has natural stretch, which results in ease for the shirred material.

Change the machine's stitch selector to a long stitch. Change the machine's straight stitch foot to the gathering foot. This attachment has a crimped shape with a centre hole. As you feed the fabric into the machine, the crimped attachment automatically gathers the material.

Stitch along the shirring seam of the bodice panel to create one stitched row, leaving a 4-inch thread tail at each end. Repeat this step by stitching another row, approximately ¼ inch apart. This process creates the shirring.

Pin the shirred panel to the bodice. You can adjust excess shirring in unwanted areas by slightly tugging at the thread tails and manually spacing the gathers.

Change the gathering foot attachment to the straight foot. If you stitch the yoke to the shirred panel with the gathering foot, the yoke gathers as well. Continue to stitch the bodice according to your design. If the stitched rows are exposed after construction, pull the thread tails gently to remove the stitches prior to wearing the shirred bodice.

Things You'll Need

  • Flexible tape measure
  • Pattern paper
  • Drafting pencils
  • Ruler
  • French-curve ruler
  • Felt pen
  • Scissors
  • Straight pins
  • Fabric scissors
  • Tailor's chalk
  • Elastic thread
  • Sewing machine
  • Polyester thread
  • Gathering foot attachment
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About the Author

Mercedes Valladares is the founder of M721Organics and has been an independent designer for over 15 years. Her work experience commenced during college with manufacturers based in New York and Hong Kong. Her education includes LIM College, International Fine Arts College and design certification from the Paris Fashion Institute. She produces eco-crafting videos and writes recycling articles online.