Adding Shirring to Tops or Dresses

Zara top with DIY Shirring Added to the Hem

Close-up of Zara top with DIY Shirring Added to Hem

Zara blouse with three rows of shirring added to the waistline. The shirring was formed with elastic thread with the rows spaced 0.5″ (13 mm) apart.

 

Tops and dresses that are full or boxy, lack a defined waist, or just need a slight change can be quickly altered with some shirring or smocking. To try this out yourself, you’ll need elastic sewing thread.

Hand-wind the elastic thread on your bobbin and use regular thread on top. Be sure to sew with the right side of the garment facing up so the elastic thread will be on the wrong side. If you’re sewing around the circumference of the garment, start and stop at one of the side seams (or both, especially if you think you may have to adjust the tightness of shirring). As you start and stop each row or each section of shirring, leave long thread ends and don’t backstitch. After you have finished shirring, and adjusted the fit if necessary, tie all the loose thread ends.

If you haven’t sewn with elastic thread before, practice sewing with it on some scrap fabric first to see how tightly you should wind it on the bobbin or if you need to adjust the tension on your machine. Keep in mind that the smocking will get tighter as additional rows are added.

Here are some ways to try this technique:

Add shirring at the bottom of the shirt (i.e., drop waist) for a blouson effect like I did with the Zara shirt and like these at Topshop and Urban Outfitters.

Add shirring at the natural waist or the empire waist of a dress or top like on this fine gauge sweater at Anthropologie, this Theory dress, and this C&C California tunic.

Add shirring to short flutter sleeves to turn them into puff sleeves like on this Urban Outfitters blouse.

Add a bit of shirring to the center front of a dress just under the bust like on this Vince sweater dress.

Retail Roundup: Smocked Tube Tops

Smocked Tube Top - Front

Links to Retail Examples of the DIY Smocked Tube Top

Lux Kyoto tube top, 21.5" long in printed jersey.
BCBG knit tube top, 19.5" long, also in printed jersey.
Juicy Couture smocked gauze babydoll top, 21" long in printed gauze with spaghetti straps and a bottom ruffle.
Hard Tail ruched peasant top, 26.5" long in voile with thick straps.

How to Make a Smocked Tube Top

Smocked Tube Top-Front
Smocked Tube Top-Back

Jersey knit tube top smocked at the bust with multiple rows of elastic thread. The circumference of the top (unshirred) is 8-9" (20-23 cm) larger than the bust measurement. The finished top is 21" (53 cm) long, including 4.5" (11 cm) of smocking at the bust, and hits below the hip.

Materials

  • Jersey knit or lightweight woven fabric
  • Elastic sewing thread

Instructions

Measuring and Cutting

    Cut 2 rectangles from your fabric as shown in Diagram 1. For the length, measure from above your bust down to your desired hemline, and add 1.5" (38 mm) for seam allowances. For example, I used a length of 22.5" (57 cm) for a tunic-length top; a regular shirt length would be about 17" (43 cm).

    Diagram 1

    Diagram 1

Sewing

  1. With right sides together, sew the side seams.
  2. Overcast or zig zag stitch the raw top edge (optional for jersey knits).
  3. Fold and pin the top edge 0.875" (22 mm) to the wrong side.
  4. Replace the thread on your bobbin with elastic sewing thread (you’ll have to hand-wind it on the bobbin). With the right side of the tube top facing up and starting at one of the side seams, sew 0.25" (6 mm) from the top folded edge around the circumference of the tube top, making sure to sew through both layers of fabric. See Diagram 2. When you start and stop the row of smocking, leave long thread ends and don’t backstitch.
  5. Tip: If you haven’t sewn with elastic thread before, practice sewing with it on some scrap fabric first to see how tightly you should wind the elastic thread on the bobbin. Keep in mind that the smocking will get tighter as additional rows are added.

     

    Diagram 2

    Diagram 2
  6. Start smocking the second row 0.5" (13 mm) below the first row of smocking, making sure to sew through both layers of fabric again.
  7. Continue sewing additional rows of smocking every 0.5" (13 mm). Start with about 10 rows, or about 4.5" (11 cm), of smocking and then try on the tube top to see if you want additional rows.
  8. If you need to adjust the fit after you have completed smocking, you can adjust the elastic thread ends for tightness (it can be difficult to do). After you have the fit right, tie the loose thread ends for each row of smocking.
  9. Hem the top (optional for jersey knits) by folding the hem edge 0.25" (6 mm) to the wrong side twice. See Diagram 3. Sew along the upper edge of the hem.
  10. Diagram 3

    Diagram 3