Guess what I finished a few days ago?
The Pirate Fairy costume! I am so excited to share how I did it and I’ll have some tutorials for you next week. But before I get into the actual costume-making, I have to write about another topic: shirring.
Shirring is a favorite technique of mine! It involves using elastic thread on your bobbin instead of regular thread, and it gathers your fabric and gives stretch to whatever you’re making.
The awesomeness of shirring cannot be overstated! I used it on my daughter’s Cinderella dress last Halloween and it made the dress easy to put on and take off. And because shirring made the top of the dress stretchy, she’s been able to wear the dress all year, despite having grown.
I used shirring quite a bit on the Pirate Fairy costume. If you’ve never shirred before, you should definitely give it a try! It looks fancy (and scary) but it isn’t difficult once you’ve figured it out.
If you’re really anxious about shirring or you just can’t figure it out on your machine (some machines make it more difficult), never fear. I’m including non-shirring techniques in the costume tutorial that will have a similar effect.
Ready to learn?
Shirring is simple. It seems really intimidating and scary at first, but it isn’t nearly as difficult as you might think.
All you need (aside from your regular sewing equipment) is elastic thread! This can be found at just about any sewing store (in the elastic section, not in the thread section).
Once you’ve got your elastic thread, you are going to wind it on your bobbin. I recommend that you wind it by hand. The elastic thread needs to be loose on the bobbin—there shouldn’t be any tension or pulling/stretching of the thread. I have actually wound my bobbin this way:
By putting a pencil through the elastic thread case and then using the machine to loosely wind it. However, I don’t really recommend this for beginners. Sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn’t. It really is better to just do it by hand—it won’t take as long as you might think because the elastic thread is much thicker than regular thread. Wind it so that it is on the bobbin evenly and without stretching the elastic thread (but don’t wind it so loose that it is falling off the bobbin).
Once your bobbin is threaded, it’s time to put it in your machine! This, for me, is usually the hardest part. If you haven’t already, thread your needle as you normally would.
I have a Singer Curvy with an “automatic” threader. It makes it really easy to thread my machine normally, but it doesn’t work for the bobbin when using elastic thread.
Your elastic thread needs to be threaded the same way your bobbin thread is. See that little groove where the arrow is pointing? The elastic thread must go through that groove and then up and around where the bobbin thread normally goes. If it doesn’t go through that groove, it won’t work.
This is how it works on my machine. Normally the bobbin thread gets clipped (there’s a little blade) up at the top of the plate and then my machine picks it up on its own, but that doesn’t work with the elastic thread. I have to manually pull it through myself. What I do is pull the elastic thread through up to the point where it normally gets clipped at the top of the plate, but instead of pulling it so that the blade cuts it, I just let it sit there. Then I bring my needle down using the hand wheel on the side.
Continuing to use my hand wheel, the needle goes all the way down, the top thread catches the bobbin (elastic) thread and then the needles starts coming back up.
At this point, I always need to help things along a bit. See where the arrow is pointing in the above picture? If you look closely, you can see the elastic thread there. But it won’t come up through on its own. What I do is pull up on the top thread so that the elastic thread starts to come through.
Then I use my seam-ripper (or sometimes a pin) to help bring the elastic through the rest of the way. When the elastic starts to peek through, it is in a little loop. I put my seam-ripper through the loop and pull upward so that the thread comes through more. Once it is out a decent amount, I just pull it the rest of the way out with my fingers.
Ta-da! Once your machine is threaded, you’re ready to sew!
Now, this is how it works on my machine. I understand that it is different on different machines, particularly Brothers. I’ll link some extra resources for you at the bottom of this post!
You sew just about like you would with any other garment. Depending on your project, you may want to have hemmed your fabric already (this is just an example, so I didn’t hem mine). I prefer to make my stitch length longer when I shirr. I don’t put it on the very longest length (a basting stitch), but I’ll put it close to that.
I always backstitch at the beginning and end of each row and it seems to hold the elastic thread in place just fine. Other people do it differently (see links at the bottom of this post).
This is how it looks after one row.
Once you’ve finished the first row, start stitching a second row about 1/2 – 1/4 inch away from the first. The closer your rows, the more gathered your fabric will be. Now, a lot of people recommend that you gently stretch your fabric out (the part that has already been shirred) as you go. I personally don’t ever worry about doing this, but you might want to consider it, especially if you feel like your fabric is bunching/gathering unevenly.
And this is how it looks after quite a few rows!
These are the ends of the rows. You can see the backstitching. You can also see how my rows are a bit uneven. That is one of the great things about shirring: it is very forgiving! No one will ever notice your mistakes.
One last thing I want to show you: See that last row there? The one that is all squiggly? That is how it looks when your tension isn’t right. I’ve found this happens on my machine for one of two reasons: my bobbin thread isn’t wound correctly (usually it is too tight) or it isn’t threaded correctly.
Once you’re done shirring your fabric, you can press it lightly to get it to gather (and then stretch) even more. It’s pretty cool to watch! Just set your iron to the steam setting, gently put it on your fabric and press the steam button. You’ll see it scrunch up right away.
And that’s it! Once you can shirr, you can do anything! Well, maybe not anything, but there is a whole new world of sewing open to you!
There are lots of other bloggers who have already addressed shirring, and probably way better than I have. If you want more information, you should check them out!
Ashley over at Make It and Love It has a fantastic shirring tutorial with an amazing Troubleshooting section.
Rae from Made by Rae also has a great tutorial. She recommends a different thread which I haven’t tried, but I hope to soon (they don’t carry it where I normally shop).
Here’s a post from Grosgrain Fabulous about shirring with a Brother.
And there you have it!
I shirred the back of the Pirate Fairy corset so it would be totally adjustable! Tight enough to stay put, but stretchy enough to not be uncomfortable.
And yet she is the saddest Pirate Fairy you’ve ever seen! Sad because she has no wings. I had the worst time getting any pictures of her in her new dress-up outfit. Hopefully we can remedy that and take some better pictures for you to see next week.
Until then, have fun shirring!