Elastic thread shirring and French Seams, new and old favourites put together in one cute dress!(TUTORIAL)

I’ve always wondered what elastic thread was for.  It intrigued me but I had not idea what to use it on or how to use it.  Thank goodness for the internet.  I’ve read a couple of tutorials now on how to use it and one of it’s most popular uses is for making stretchy shirred tops/dresses.  They are so cute, and looked very easy to do.  Here are a couple of sites to give you an idea.  The possibilities are almost endless really, it depends on your creativity!

Your Fabric Place – this has pretty good instructions and photo’s of the actual process.
Kuky Ideas – this one shows a really cute dress/top idea.
ThreadBanger – and for those that need a video tutorial, ThreadBanger has an awesome video tut just for you!

And here’s mine.  My brother and his girlfriend are expecting their first baby this summer.  Not too long ago she had asked me about making her some dresses for the summer that would accommodate her growing belly.  I wanted to make something that was comfortable, uncomplicated but not tent like.  The idea of doing the elastic shirring for the top portion while leaving the bottom gathered and flowing seemed like a good option.  I found a really great remnant at work one night.  It was a black, grey and white striped rayon fabric, nice and light without being too see through.  It was about 1.5 meters by 1.5 meters (that’s 60″x60″ for you non metric folks).  I don’t think it’s really enough for a dress so I figured it would be a cute tunic top if it’s too short for a dress.  Originally I was just going to cut the piece in half and stitch the two rectangles together so the elastic shirring would make up the top of the dress and I would just have to do the two side seams and hem the top and bottom.

However, I needed to make sure that there was enough fabric to go around her baby bump, and I had to make sure the stripes were going up and down, so I cut the piece in half horizontally.  The one half would be the front of the skirt.  Then I cut the second piece in half.  One half would be the back of the skirt.  This last piece I cut in half once again to make the piece for the top.

dress diagram

These measurements are approximate.  Since my fabric was rayon I knew it would shrink some so I washed it first.  It depends on how your are going to use the shirring as to how much fabric you will use.  For a dress figure 2x your bust measurement (or hip or belly measurement, whichever is larger) and then the length from the top of your bust to where you want the dress to end, about 33 inches will give you a dress that goes just above the knee.  Again, this length will be different for different figures, the curvier you are, the more you may find you need for length.

Follow the instructions in one of the links above for sewing.

Here’s what I did, and this is where the french seams come in.  I stitched one side seam of the top using a french seam.  A french seam is a great finish, especially for those of you that may not have the luxury of a serger, or for those like me who have a serger that isn’t stitching properly at the moment.  It’s clean and sturdy, works great in most fabrics but is best in lighter weights and is ideal for sheer fabrics like organza and chiffons.

Colette Patterns and Hoppo Bumpo have pretty good tutorials on this.  Basically put your fabric wrong sides together, stitch a seam (3/8″ or 1cm is good), press flat, trim to about 1/4″ and flip fabric so right sides are together.  Press again and stitch your seam again, about 3/8″ or 1cm.  This encases the raw edge.  press and your done!  You can make this wider or narrower depending on the thickness of your fabric.

Once I had done the one side seam I hemmed the top edge by turning it under 1/4″ and then again 1/4″.  Then I hand wound the bobbin with elastic thread.  THIS IS IMPORTANT!  You must wind the bobbin so that there is no tension on the elastic.  I wondered why I couldn’t just do it with my handy bobbin winder or on the machine but quickly realized after putting the bobbin in the machine why this is important not to do.  When the bobbin is in the machine properly, you will find there is tension now on the elastic thread as it is coming out of the machine, which is what helps it to gather. If the thread is wound tightly on the bobbin it will either gather improperly or break the thread.  You will have to rewind your bobbin often, I only managed three passes with each bobbin, so if you have extras, wind them up to save time later.

Once your bobbin is in the machine (put it in just like you would if it were wound with regular thread), set your stitch length to the longest straight stitch.  Make sure your top thread is regular sewing thread.  Then stitch straight lines!  I started at the top just under the stitching line on the finished edge and spaced my lines about 1/2″ apart.  You can make them closer or farther apart, it depends on the look you are going for.  Be sure to leave tails at the end and not to trim them off too close.  When you are finished sewing your lines (i did a total of 17 lines) knot the ends of each row and trim off.

I then did another french seam.  When you trim this time, try not to cut the knots of the threads, I cut a few but I’m hoping the double stitching of the seam will have caught the elastic.  I then did french seams to finish the side seams of the skirt.  I hemmed the bottom and then did another french seam at the waist.  I had to gather the front section in order to fit properly.  Then all that is left is to press and add shoulder straps!

Here are some pictures.  I haven’t put straps on it yet.


Here’s what the inside looks like.


And some thoughts on this project.  I should have done more lines of shirring to take it right to the seam line, I think I can still add those in without too much difficulty. I also think it would be better to have a line of shirring right close to the top edge.

If at all possible, it is easiest to do this with as few seams as possible.

I may leave this strapless or make straps that need to be tied so that they can be tucked in for a strapless look or tied if straps are wanted.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by HansDietrich on November 9, 2009 at 7:01 am

    Glückwunsch zum neuen Blog!

  2. Posted by cuddlypersephone on February 25, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Just one word CUTE.

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