Sewing Blog

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.

Once you’ve mastered shirring, you’ll want to use it again and again. There are plenty of other similar sewing techniques, and you can learn how to master all of them in 40 Techniques Every Sewer Should Know with Gail Yellen. From buttonholes to closures and sleeves, you’ll learn sewing techniques that you’ll use for dozens of projects in the future.

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Are you already a shirring expert? Any tips for our shirring beginners?


Ellen Ranck Hoel

Thanks! After 50 years of sewing, I may get brave and try this!

Ellen Ranck Hoel

Thanks! After 50 years of sewing, I may get brave and try this!

Leanne Reidlinger

Thanks Ashley, this looks worth trying.
I was wondering, will the hot steam/iron work as well with man made fabrics such as challis or silkies?

Liz Carter

Brilliant! Can’t believe I have been so cautious about using shirring before. The trick with the steam iron is just magic – can anyone explain why it gathers up when you steam it? This technique was the finishing touch to the PJ bottoms (fine lawn cotton) that I ran up this afternoon waiting for the storms to pass. Thank you!!


Hi. Ive bought a sundress from a highstreet store with a shirred band around the bust. It only covers half my bust though- i can rarely get a dress to fit my boobs 🙁 Anyhow, im wondering if theres a way to alter it. Can i (someone more skilled) sew on an extra panel of shirred bust band? If so what would i use to do it? Or should i just carry on tbe shirring downwards and effectively shorten the whole dress bt doing so (which id rather not do). Or do i just give up and try making my own dress from scratch? Thanks in advance for all your wisdom x


I’m wondering if you have a utube on how to tighten loose sleeve bands on a knitted garment.?

Pauline Bell

My mum was a freehand tailor. She never use meauring tape. I use to admire her by looking at the person and sew and the fittings would be perfect. Now I have come to know how to use elastic thread which is a milestone ahievement to me. I am a workingmother, recently I have started to sew my two daughters clothes, simple pattern. It is a very satisfying feeling to see your own piece of work. Thanks for this article it is resourceful

Harriet Wakatama

I cant wait to try this…thanks

Alison Okang

Thank you so much for posting this! I have been trying for ages to learn how to use shirting elastic, giving up each time after one or two rows as the elastic didn’t seem to pull in enough.
I’m so excited to try this again now following all your invaluable advise, and also pinching a tip from Liz Carter above who mentions shirring the bottom of some PJ’s!
Happy Sewing! Xxx

Anne Russell

hi, looking to add some cotton leaves onto a leotard around the neck, leotard is stretchy, any suggestions as need the leaves need to be stretcy too.


Tami Thurston

I just discovered(the hard way) to be carefull what thread to use. I normally use those cones of thread from that major sewing store. I’ve never had the thread melt before but it seems that using the amount of steam necessary to gather can melt polyester thread. I’m not getting to upset since today’s project is shorts and if you’re looking that close at my butt the new out have another problem.


Hi what thread do you suggest to use as it’s normally polyester I use and I wanted to give this a go


Thank you l shirred 35 years ago l know something was missing the iron cheers

Cindy Yates

Help I’m trying this and the elastic thread in the bobbin is bunching up badly. I’m very new at sewing and don’t understand my machine very well.


Hi! I know this is late but maybe will help. Try using machine to load bobbin with elastic thread. I had the same problem as you & this solved the problem! mb


I am thinking of using shirring in the sides of a cotton shift dress I am about to make. I was thinking of inserting a small section down the side seam. Has anyone tried that?
Would it be possible to shirr a section about 3 inches wide?

Susan Celestin

I purchased cotton fabric and was going to make some sundresses for my grandchildren and their baby dolls. I read the blogs. I watched U-tube. I hand wound the bobbin with elastic thread. The tension looks right (straight thread for elastic on back and stitching on top looks right). Problem: the fabric does not gather. I have tried all types of fabric. Even some very light weight crepe fabric. it doesn’t gather. I am really disappointed and don’t know what’s wrong. Any suggestions? If I pull the top strings it does pleat nicely but it doesn’t stretch. No stretch. Looks like a poly flanders dress.

Julia Ahuir

Hi Susan Celestin …. I am so not an experienced sewer but love it love it love it and try to learn as much as I can from YouTube etc … now I discovered that shirring success depends on the type of sewing machine you have. I have a Brother and the bobbin tension on Brother machines (all of the models? I don’t know but on mine definitely) has to be adjusted in the bobbin holder (PITA ‘cos means I have to take the bobbin holder out each time I swap from ordinary sewing to shirring and tighten a screw on the bobbin case /holder to the tightest it will go) and then you must increase your thread tension to the highest it will go .. and then it should be great … and when you’ve done: ‘hover’ STEAM over the fabric and you can hear the fabric hiss , literally!! Just don’t forget to loosen the bobbin screw back to the ordinary sewing tension … a bit of guess work involved unless you have counted the number of times you turned the screw when n you were tightening it to shirr .. but that comes very quickly with practise. Also I stretch a LITTLE bit the elastic thread as I am winding it onto the bobbin by hand … and make sure the bobbin thread is properly inserted into the bobbin case .. it’s not EXACTLY the same as inserting ordinary thread … so I hope I’ve helped!


I found tightening my bobbin case actually made my problems worse. I have a 7-year-old standard Janome and found the bobbin case was just too tight to pull the elastic thread through. Tightening it made it impossible. I loosened mine off two turns of the screw (had to find a tiny flat head screw driver because the ones supplied with my machine were way too thick – suited only for the bigger screws that hold the needle plate in etc. Screwdrivers from mobile phone repair kits are perfect.). This allowed the elastic to pull through the spring casing tightly but comfortably. I threaded the elastic on to the bobbin using the machine winder on the slowest speed whilst keeping the elastic taut, but not stretched. Used the basic straight stitch on the longest setting and hit perfection first go on some poly cotton.
If you’re still not winning with a tighter casing try giving your thread a little more breathing room and achieving the tightness through the way the bobbin is wound instead. Hope that helps someone 🙂


Also, I marked around the screw with white pen and drew a little line with a fine red permanent marker on top of that which lined up with the slot in the top of the screw. Turning the screw however many times and positioning it in line with this made it easier to return to it’s normal setting as I knew exactly how many rotations to do, right down to the mm. Hope that makes sense!

Natasha Lea

I have shirred a tube top (I am in my twenties, don’t laugh) just recently and now that the fashion if it has come back into fashion in Australian boutique stores, I am no determined to make another tube top in a gingham fabric and add on to it some shoulder puff sleeves or shirred off the soulder sleeves, plus a little pair of shirred waistband cotton shorts to match! this article is very helpful for others, i also it is a case of EXPERIMENT, like some light fabrics don’t work. I found basic, then cotton / seersucker material to work best!

Joy kremler

The steps as described were perfect! Even down to the tension adjustment. I have been sewing for 40 years but never felt brave enough to tackle shirring. Thank you for making it so easy.


Thank you so much for the tips.
Been struggling with it and check various blogs but no one showed what shirring looked like from behind so I didn’t know what was wrong.
Found your tips and realised my tension was too loose.
I was about to give up and disappoint my client but your tip saved my project.


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