Shirr Genius: 7 Essential Waistband Shirring Tips for Beginners

Have you tried shirring yet? Shirring is a magical technique for sewing texture that takes a regular piece of fabric and shrinks it up, giving it elasticity. It’s great for skirt waists, shirt hems and even entire bodices!

But shirring for the first time is no walk in the park. The first time I tried shirring, it did not go well. To make sure none of you pull out your hair like I did, I’m sharing a few shirring tips to help troubleshoot your first attempt.

Let these shirring tips guide you through your first time for a stress-free sewing experience!

Shirring a waist

Shirred-waist skirt

Tip #1: Consider fabric weight.

Test out shirring on a couple of different fabric weights and you might notice that the lighter the fabric, the better the shirring. Light cotton like voile will shrink up more than, say, a quilting cotton. Fabrics like corduroy, wool, and other heavyweights won’t shirr at all. Stick with the lightest fabric you can find.

Shirring: winding the bobbin

Wind the bobbin by hand

Tip #2: Mind the bobbin.

When you’re shirring,  you’ll wind the bobbin with the elastic thread and load the top thread as you normally would. Do not use your machine to wind the bobbin. Instead, wind the bobbin carefully by hand without pulling tightly on the elastic. Then just insert the bobbin into the machine as usual!

Good shirring tension when sewing

Good tension on the wrong side of the skirt

Tip #3: Aim for perfect tension.

You might have to adjust your tension when shirring. Test your shirring on a scrap piece of fabric, then examine the back. Are the stitches too loose? Then you need to tighten your tension.

Check out the loose, crazy stitches in the photo below. This is what my shirring looked like when I kept the tension at 2, the usual place I’d leave it for sewing with cotton fabric.

Loose shirring tension in sewing

Too-loose tension on the wrong side of the skirt

Notice how the thread isn’t holding down the elastic. Some of the threads are changing directions and going a little crazy. This is a sign of tension that’s too loose. I turned my tension dial up to 4 to solve the problem. Remember: tension varies depending on your sewing machine, so what works for mine may not work for yours.

Tip #4: Ensure even spacing.

Take the extra time to mark your shirring lines with chalk or another fabric marker before you begin shirring. Sure, you could use your sewing machine’s needle plate to measure, but stitching along a marked line is much simpler.

Tip #5: Adjust stitch length as needed.

When shirring, I usually make the stitch length just a little longer than usual — around 3.5-4 on my Viking machine. This helps the fabric pull in even more for shirring. Experiment to see what works on your machine.

Before and after ironing shirring

Tip #6: Don’t doubt the iron.

The iron is the magic trick in shirring. The first time I tried shirring, I didn’t think the stitches were stretchy enough. Then came the ironing step.

Turn on that steam. Hold your iron very lightly over your shirred stitches and watch them magically shrink up. Don’t iron back and forth like you normally would. Just place the iron over the stitches lightly and watch the magic happen.

Tip #7: Don’t give up after the first row of stitches.

When I first tried shirring, I made the mistake of just sewing one line of stitches. I noticed those stitches weren’t too tight, so I kept messing with the tension and trying again. My mistake? The first line of stitching is never super stretchy. Add a few more rows of stitches to it and notice if that makes a difference.

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One Response to “Shirr Genius: 7 Essential Waistband Shirring Tips for Beginners”
  1. julie borland
    julie borland

    Fantastic! followed your instructions to a T and it worked perfectly first time. thank you!