smocking with shirring elasticSmocking with shirring elastic can be done on a standard sewing machine and is unbelievably quick and easy.  It gives you an attractive stretchy gathered panel or line.  These days it’s mostly used on children’s clothes but I have found it great on my women’s clothing for a bit of detail and to give clothes a closer fit that moves comfortably with your body. 

Here’s how you do it:

  • You don’t need any special attachments or feet, just some shirring elastic (elastic thread) and an empty bobbin. Wind the elastic onto your bobbin by hand – you can stretch it out a little as you wind, but not too tight. Pull your end thread through in the normal way and load your bobbin into the machine. The top thread on your machine should be just normal cotton, not elastic.
  • Mark your lines onto the fabric with tailors chalk and a ruler. (If you are making the Everyday Chic Dress, the lines are marked onto the pattern in a rectangle shape – copy these onto your fabric.) Your markings have to be on the RIGHT side of your fabric.
  • When you put your fabric into the machine, the right side of fabric needs to be facing upwards as this side will get the cotton, and your shirring elastic, which is a little unsightly, will be on the inside.bobbin
  • Set your stitch length to long – you get more gather this way.
  • As you start, you will need to anchor your elastic or it will just slide out. So, start with a couple of backwards and forwards stitches. Sew a normal straight stitch and you will see that the fabric gathers as is goes through the machine.
  • If you are doing a square panel (as I have done in the Everyday Chic dress), when you get to the end of the line, just pause with your needle down, lift your foot, turn the fabric 90 degrees, foot back down and continue, exactly as you would do in normal sewing.
  • You will see that your first line of elastic doesn’t gather that much due to the resistance of the fabric but as you build up a few lines of it it becomes more densely gathered. As you are sewing your second line, it’s easy to get the 2 lines parallel by using the markers on your sewing machine. Your fabric will be gathered by now so you need to pull your fabric out gently to flatten it a little as it goes through.
  • When you get to the end of your line or panel, you will need to anchor the elastic again with a few backwards / forwards stitches. All done!