Friday, June 24, 2011

Making a Shirred-Back Dress, Part Three: Stitching the Bodice and Skirt

Okay, home stretch! (Home shirr?) If you missed them, go back and read part one and part two.

This part is important because if your back bodice stretches, you want the back waistline seam to stretch too. If it doesn't stretch, your shirring won't be able to stretch at the waistline and that's no good! So it's just a simple process of elasticizing the seam.

First, gather your back skirt waistband by sewing a line of stitching with elastic thread still in the bobbin with a 1/2" seam allowance. This will help ease the skirt into the shirred bodice. (Note: I'm sewing shorts into my bodice below, but it's the same idea.) It doesn't matter which side the bobbin thread is on, since it will be hidden in the seam allowances. Steam it to shrink it up a bit more if needed.

Next, pin your back bodice to your skirt right sides together. Pin at one end and then stretch the bodice so you can pin it at the other end. Distribute evenly and pin throughout.

Sew by stretching the pieces to fit each other. You still have elastic thread in the bobbin. 

Press the seam allowances as usual. Now you have a stretchy seam!

Note: You can also do this by sewing the bodice and skirt together the tradtional way--in the round--you just have to switch from regular to elastic thread in the bobbin once you get to the back.

Note: For this romper, I used a side zipper, which didn't work very well since it rippled along the side seam . If you followed the instructions from part one, you'll have a center back zipper like the dress in the first photo. So attach each side of the skirt to the two back pieces separately, using the technique to elasticize the seam, and then insert the zipper using a centered application. Hand picking works well with the smocking.

That's it, friends. I hope you've enjoyed this series and will be making yourself many comfy sundresses. Please share the results!


  1. Loved the tutorial, Gertie! Thanks so much. It really sounds easy, and I bought some fabric last weekend to make a sundress - I must try this out! It just seems like it would be so comfy!
    Hubby going away for the weekend, I hope to be doing lots of sewing and blogging!!

  2. Great tutorial! I've only dabbled in shirring before, but I definitely be trying this out! Thanks Gertie!

  3. I the waistline seam is also elasticised, wouldn't it be possible to omit the zipper entirely? Juste wondering.
    And maybe I missed something, but at what point did you sew the zipper in? After shirring the backpiece?

    I've recently discovered how fun and easy shirring is, but the only dress I've made so far is basicaly a tube with lots of shirring near the top. I'm looking forward to using this technique in more elaborate projects.

  4. Thanks Gertie!
    Great tutorial - definitely a technique I have to try.
    Have a great weekend :D

  5. Gertie, this part of the tutorial explains why my stitches pop. Instead of using elastic thread to attach the bodice to the waistline, I used regular thread to sew the seam and when I put the garment on it stretched, causing the stitches to pop.

    Mystery solved! Thanks.


  6. Faustine, there's no added width to the skirt, so it won't stretch longer than your waist measurement. You wouldn't be able to get it over your shoulders or hips. The zipper goes in next, see my updated note in the post.

    Sewjourner, yay! Glad to be of help.

  7. Thank you so much for this tutorial! I have a couple of dresses from Anthropologie with shirring and I am so excited to be able to do that to my own dresses from any pattern. However, I did once make one of those little girl style dresses with shirring all around the top, and I remember being worried about finishing the seams so that the elastic doesn't pull out. What do you do with all the elastic ends in your side seams and center seam? I think I ended up using french seams to completely enclose the elastic tails, but that won't work on the zipper side. Did you backstitch while shirring? Or is sewing a normal vertical seam across the elastic tails enough to secure them? Thanks!!

  8. Thank you Gertie, that was a very interesting tutorial! Yet (as most interesting things, it seems) it leaves me with more questions than answers!

    I wanted to sew a chevron dress with a circle skirt this summer, and I imagined the dress without closures, since the top would be cut on the bias like a slip... Still, as I want it to be fitted, I considered adding panels of shirring on the back, the same way Sarai refashioned this dress :

    But with your technique, shirring seems to bring things to another level, with the altered pattern piece and the elasticized skirt! Do you think I can stick to my lazy method (as it is, this project is already very ambitous for my sewing skills), or is there something I hadn't anticipated with the original plan which will bring me even MORE troubles?

    Did someone here ever use the 'small player' shirring method too? I'd love to know!

  9. This was a great tutorial. I was always somewhat mystified by this process and thought if I made anything shirred I would have to find some fabric that was already shirred, locate a coordinating fabric for the rest of the dress, etc. You made a mysterious process look quite easy (and your nail color is nice too). I will be returning to these pages again and again.

  10. Great tutorial, you make it seem less daunting than I make it out to be in my head :)

    I was on craigslist and found this and thought of you:

    Vintage Patterns

  11. Hurray! I know what I'm sewing this weekend =)

  12. I love side zips on dresses. But I understand why it would ripple in this case. Couldn't I go VERY retro and use hook-and-eyes, instead?

    Great dress! I have to try one.

  13. thanks for the tutorial Gertie. I used this method on dresses in the past and found it to be a very comfortable way to fit summer dresses. Keeps those little gaps from showing during wear, particularly in a strapped or strapless sundress.

  14. I'm gonna try the shirred technique soon. And I've nominate you for the versatile blogger award. Check out my blog to see what to do now.

  15. awesome tutorial! I've always figured this couldn't be tough, but never had a clue how to do it. thank you.


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

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