Learn to Shir with Patsy

Hack the back of the children's Patsy to have full-back shirring!

Adding a Shirred Back to the Patsy Party Dress (newborn to 12 years)

Shirring is a sewing technique that can be used to gather fabric, using elastic thread sewn in parallel rows. This is a great alternative to the elastic back found in the tutorial for the children’s Patsy Party dress.

In this tutorial we will be showing you how to adjust the Patsy Party dress bodice, so that it has a shirred back. The skirt/jumpsuit is sewn as per the original or add on pattern tutorial.

You will need:

Cutting your Bodice Pattern Pieces

We will be using the same bodice pattern pieces for the main fabric and lining, but we will be joining the center back and side back pieces together to create one back piece for shirring.

  1. Cut out the center front and side front main and lining bodice pieces as per the tutorial.
  2.  Place the center back piece on the fold. Place the side back piece directly next to the center back piece. Cut around both the center back and side back pieces. You will then have one long rectangular piece for the back of your dress. Repeat for your lining fabric.3. You should now have the following pieces cut out for the bodice:

Main fabric:

  • 1 x center front
  • 2 x side fronts
  • 1 x back piece

Lining fabric:

  • 1 x center front
  • 2 x side fronts
  • 1 x back piece

For Shirring Beginners

If you are new to shirring, first we need to prepare the bobbin. It is your bobbin that the shirring elastic goes into. You use regular thread on the top part of your sewing machine.

Take an empty bobbin and gently start winding the elastic around it by hand. Leave the end of the elastic hanging off and just hold it out of the way. Wind several times around the bobbin.

Once you have wound the elastic over itself a couple of times, you will find it secure enough that you can cut the trailing piece from the beginning off.

Continue to wind the rest of your bobbin with the elastic. Go gently and slowly, being careful not to pull or stretch the elastic as you wind.

Stop when the bobbin is about ¾ inch full so that the elastic doesn’t bulge out over the edge of the bobbin.

Put your bobbin into your machine as you would normally.

If you have a top loading machine, check that the elastic is running through the tension notch just like regular thread would. If it is not running through there you will find the elastic makes squiggly lines on the back of the fabric and it won’t gather nicely.

Continue to set your machine up as you normally would when you change your bobbin thread.

For most top-loading machines you will find it easier to get it all set up and put the bobbin cover on last, once the thread is up under the presser foot. If you have a side loading machine, just do things as you normally would.

Now practice, practice, practice.

Before you go any further, I highly recommend you test your shirring elastic by sewing a scrap of fabric to make sure it is set up how you want it.

On some sewing machines you will find your regular straight stitch will be fine. On some machines you will need to lengthen your stitch slightly. Not all the way, but just a little. Practice until you are happy with how your stitching looks.

Shirring Tip

Make sure to use a locking or back stitch at the beginning of each row. If you don’t do this, the elastic can slip out along the row and unravel your stitches.

If this is your first-time doing shirring, I also recommend you practice several rows of shirring on a scrap piece of fabric before you do your actual shirring on the garment. This is much easier than having to unpick it if you make a mistake!

NOTE – If you make a mistake, the easiest way to unpick shirring elastic is to snip through the elastic at the beginning right next to your locking stitch. Repeat at the other end. Then pull out enough elastic for you to get a hold of it with your fingers. Next, pull the elastic all the way through. The thread on the other side will just fall off once the elastic has been removed.

NOTE – Shirring elastic is much, much thicker than thread. This means your full bobbin won’t last as long as a typical bobbin. Please double check before starting each line of shirring that you will have enough elastic on your bobbin to complete that row.

STEP 1 – Back Bodice

While shirring can be done through two layers of fabric, we will be shirring the main and lining fabric separately for this tutorial. This will allow us to have a beautiful finish on both the outside and inside of the dress. Since we will be enclosing the elastic thread between the layers of fabric, there won’t be any scratchy elastic touching the skin and we will have happy and comfortable girls!

Take one of the back pieces you just made and make a line 5/8 inch down from the top edge using tailors chalk or a disappearing ink pen. This will be the guide for your first row of shirring. Starting ⅝ inch down, will mean that after the top edge is sewn together with a ½ inch seam allowance, your first row of shirring will end up about ⅛ inch from the top edge of the bodice.

Stitch a straight line all the way across the line you marked on your fabric. The right side will look like regular stitching; the back will have elastic on it so that it gathers the fabric.

Continue stitching more rows below the first one to give the ‘shirred’ effect. You can space your rows as close or as far apart as you wish.

We’ve created this look by spacing the shirred rows ¼ inch apart from each other. By doing the rows this distance apart, you can use the edge of your presser foot (or as a marking on your presser foot depending on the model) as a guide. Keep the previous row of shirring lined up with the edge of the foot as you sew, and you will get perfectly straight lines!

Keep sewing rows of shirring until you have about 1 inch of fabric left on the bottom of your back piece.

Once you’ve finished stitching your rows, press with a steam iron. This will make the shirring tighten up and gather more.

Repeat the shirring process for your main back piece.

STEP 2 – Completing the Bodice

Follow the original Patsy tutorial to sew the front of your bodice together, sewing the side front pieces to either side of the center front piece. Do this for both your main and lining fabrics.

Next, with the right sides together, stitch the shirred back main piece to the side front main pieces using a ½ inch seam allowance.

Repeat for the front bodice lining and back lining pieces.

Take your main bodice and pin the straps, right sides together. Baste in place.

Turn the main bodice so that it is wrong side out, and then place the bodice lining inside the main bodice.

Your bodices should now be right sides together.

Pin all around the top edge of the bodice. Since the back is gathered from our shirring, you may find it easier to stretch the fabric and then add a pin or clip.

Stitch all around the top edge using a ½ inch seam allowance. Your stitching should be about ⅛ inch above the first row of shirring.

Turn your bodice right side out and press.

STEP 3 – Attaching Main Bodice to Skirt/Jumpsuit

Turn your bodice wrong way out. Flip the lining up out the way and press a ½ inch seam allowance along the waist edge of your bodice lining. Again, it may be easier to press if you stretch the fabric as you go.

Choose the skirt you will be making from the Patsy Party dress pattern or the Add-on pack and construct the skirt/jumpsuit according to the pattern tutorial.

With the skirt/jumpsuit wrong side out and the bodice right side out, place the bodice inside the skirt, keeping the bodice lining flipped down and out the way. Matching the raw edges of the main bodice waist to the raw edges of the skirt/jumpsuit and pin in place. You may need to stretch out the shirring on the back to make it easier to pin them together.

The main bodice and skirt/jumpsuit should now be right sides together.

Stitch the main bodice to the skirt using a ½ inch seam allowance.

STEP 4 – Attaching Bodice Lining to Skirt/Jumpsuit

Flip the bodice up and the bodice lining up and over. The lining will be wrong sides together with the main bodice.

Pin the bodice lining to the skirt, all the way around the waist of the dress, catching the skirt seam allowance. The raw edges should all be hidden.

Use a slipstitch to sew the rest of the bodice lining to the skirt seam allowance, using the same technique as steps 6.1 to 6.2 in the pattern tutorial.

Follow step 7 from the main pattern tutorial to attach the straps.

Follow step 8 from the main pattern tutorial to hem the skirt or refer to the add on tutorial for hemming the add on options.

Hack the back of the children's Patsy to have full-back shirring!
AUTHOR BIO: Jennie Lindstrom

Author Bio

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