Girl's Shirred Sundress Tutorial

Here is a sundress that I recently made for my daughter, who is five. Normally, I design and make bags. When I try other things, I usually follow other people's tutorials, not write my own. However, I posted this on my Facebook page and people asked for a tute. Since people are the boss, here it goes. :)

Here is a picture of the finished product. Might as well start with what it will look like so we have something to get excited about. Don't be intimidated by the fancy shirring. It's a neat little trick, I promise, and there will be lots of pictures. However, you have to be OK with eye-balling things and non-exact measurements. You know, like a recipe that says a pinch of this and a dash of that. Which, to be honest, always makes me slightly nervous, but it'll work out, you'll see.

First things first. Find some fabric you like and buy it. I have 1 yard of the red fabric, which will be our main dress fabric, and 1/4 yard of the white fabric which will be for the straps. If you want the dress and straps to be the same, buy 1 1/4 yard of one fabric. You will also need:

- one spool of elastic thread

- regular all purpose thread to match

- a ruler or sewing/knitting gauge

- an iron and ironing board

- straight pins

- scissors

-rotary cutter/mat and staight edge

- washing machine and dryer

- turning tool (or chopsticks or dowel or pencil)

- small child (as a model!)

Step 1: Wash and dry your fabrics. This is important....don't skip it...did you wash it? OK, you can go on. 

Step 2: Preparing your sewing machine. You will need to load your bobbin with elastic thread. Elastic thread comes in spools, like ordinary thread. It may be in the notions aisle at your local craft store. It's less that $2.00 a spool, which is great. I've made two dresses so far with  my spool and probably have enough left over to make a third. The thing to remember with elastic thread is that you HAND-wind it. Stick it through the hole of your bobbin like you normally would, and then just pick it up and wind it until it's full. Don't stretch it as you wind it, and no, it will not lay perfectly smooth. If you're feeling anxious, here is the blog that I looked at to figure it out: One tip: Even though you do not pull the elastic thread tight when you are winding it, you need to load it like regular thread because there needs to be tension on the thread to make it do its thing.

The top of your machine just gets regular thread that will work for the colors in your fabric.

Step 3: Getting ready to shir. Take your main fabric piece and fold it selvage end to selvage end and lightly press the fold. (The selvage is the edge of the fabric where the printed pattern ends and there is usually a white stripe) Trim off one frayed end of the fabric. If you are using all one color, cut off an additional 1/4 yard piece for the straps and set aside.

Next, open the fabric up to its full width, and set it down on your ironing board with the wrong side up. For a 5T dress, I used the entire width of the fabric. If you are making this dress for a smaller child, you won't need as much fabric. A good rule of thumb is to wrap the width of the fabric about 1 1/2 times around your child. Trim off any excess from the selvage end.

With the wrong side up, turn the cut edge down 1/4 inch and press along the entire width of the fabric. A sewing/knitter gauge works well for this step.

Turn the same edge down again, an inch this time, and iron again.

Step 4: Start Shirring. Make sure your elastic thread bobbin is in your machine. Use regular multi-purpose thread in the top. Using a normal stitch length and with the right side of the fabric facing up, sew from one selvage end of the fabric to the other, close to the edge of the first fold you made. This catches your raw edges and starts the shirring process. You'll notice it won't make your fabric all bunchy and hard to sew - which is a relief!

Keep making rows, about 1/4" apart. Use the side of your presser foot as a guide.

It's starting to pucker slightly. You're getting excited, I just know it!

Just keep shirring, just keep shirring....make sure you hold the fabric flat as it passes under the foot.

In fact, keep going until the shirring section measures 6".  Again, this made sense for a 5 year old. If you think it needs more or less, go for it!

Step 5: Making the body of the dress. With right sides together, line up the selvage edges of the fabric. You might want to trim all the strings from the rows of shirring. It'll be kind of messy otherwise. Pin the edges together and sew, using a 1/2" seam.

You'll want to finish off the raw edges too, so that when you wash your dress the raw edges don't unravel. To do this, you could use an overcasting foot. This is what mine looks like. Switch your regular foot for an overcast foot and select the overcasting stitch of your choice. Then sew the raw edge. Or you can use a serger if you're into that sort of thing. And if your eyes just glazed over, just zigzag stitch the raw edge with you regular foot and be done. No worries!

So profesh!

Step 6: Make magic! Here is the fun part. Go throw that dress as it is (whoops, remove the pins first!) into a load of laundry. Yes, I'm serious. Yes, it's OK. And yes, I did wipe down my washer before taking this picture.

Step 7: Go check Facebook, take a nap, make yourself a cup of coffee whilst you're waiting. Or....I guess...we could make the straps. OK, step 7 revised: Make the straps. Take that 1/4 yard of contrasting fabric, or the reserved 1/4 yard you cut off the main dress fabric if you're using that, and match selvage edges together and trim. Then, with the fabric still folded, cut 2 strips that are 2 1/2 inches wide.

Cut 4 straps from the 2 strips. Each one should measure 2 1/2" by 14" long.

If you used the overcasting foot, change it back to your regular foot. Fold each strap piece along the long edge with right sides together and sew, using a 3/8" seam.

Trim the seam allowance a bit, being careful not to snip any of your stitches.

Press the seam open. Repeat seam, trim, press for all four straps.

Now, sew across one short end. Do this for all four straps.

Turn each strap right side out. Use a turning tool, like the one below. This little gadget can change your life if you sew a lot of straps. If you don't have one, use a chopstick, a pencil, or a small dowel - whatever you have on hand. Gently push the corners out fully.

Once each strap is turned right side out, press each one, with the seam in the middle.

Fold the open end of each strap over 2 times, 1/4" each time. Press each fold.

Sew along the creased edge, up one short side, across the top and back down the other short side, backtacking at the beginning and end. It'll make a little rectangle. Repeat for each strap.

Look who's out of the dryer!

Step 8: Attach the straps. Coax your dress model into your sewing room with candy. (Sometimes you have to!) I had to lure mine, my daughter,  away from her scooter, hence the helmet straps. Hold the dress up to your model and have her hold it in place. Eyeball where each strap should be and pin it into place. If you're sewing for a child who won't sit still for this part, it might be best to hold it there, but then pin it from a safe distance. Just a suggestion.

While you have her there, you might want to mark your length as well. I marked mine at her knee.

Here is the strap pinning action from the wrong side of the dress. I just lined the finished off end (the one without the stitched rectangle) of the strap up with the first row of shirring stitches. Makes everything even. Do this for all 4 straps.

Sew all 4 straps on through the little ruffle above the shirring. I just made another little rectangle like so. Nice and snug.

Step 9: Finish the bottom hem. Lay the dress flat on your cutting surface with the seam at the edge facing you. Smooth the fabric down and line up your cutter so that the pin you used to mark your length is at 0, and your cutter is a 1 1/2". Cut across the width of the dress.

Turn the dress inside out. Fold the raw edge you just cut down 1/4" and press. Couldn't find my gauge for this pic. It was under piles and piles. Enter handy dandy ruler! Continue pressing all the way around the dress.

Fold the edge down again, making the fold 1" wide. Press all the way around the dress again.

Sew around the dress, close to the first fold.

Turn the dress right side out and stitch once again, close to the bottom. Your dress is done! You'll just have to tie the straps into bows once it's being worn. Custom fit!

Step 10: Take a picture of your finished project and let me see! I'd love to hear if you made this dress and if you found the tutorial easy to follow. It's my first, but hopefully not my last :). If you do wind up using it and posting it somewhere, I would really love it if you linked your blog, pin, post, whatever - back to this original tutorial. Thanks so much!


Pam Spears said…
This is such a cute idea I had to try it, although I haven't made a garment in years. Any suggestions for stap placement when the recipient isn't available to try it on? My granddaughter lives in another state.
Pam Spears said…
Oops, that's "strap" placement.
Hi there. I would have someone who is there with her measure in from her underarm to where they think the straps should lay. Do this front and back. Then, holding the dress so that the seam is at the side, measure in from your dress underarm front and back and place the straps there. The nice thing about these straps is that you can adjust them by tying so even if they are not placed perfectly, they should still work. Good luck!
Pam Spears said…
Thanks! Finished the dress today, it's adorable. This was a fun and new-to-me technique, really enjoyed it. Would love to take a class at Tangle with you sometime, just kind of a long drive (Montrose.)
Oh good! Glad it worked out. I've been on vacation for a few weeks and just saw this comment. It would be fun if you could take a class sometime! But I totally get not wanting to drive all the way up from Montrose. About to post a new tutorial though, so check back for sure. :)

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