Vintage Sewing

1940S Shirring

September 6, 2013

Ok ladies. I know there are alot of very skillfull sewists over here. I am working on a 1940s dress wich requires shirring like in the photo but I don’t know how to do this this neat (though it was a very common back in the day). Anyone who can help out with a tutorial or something?



  1. Hey Audrey,

    This doesn’t look like shirring to me but just 4 rows of gathering stitches to me; similar to the rows of basting-gathers you would do at the top of a sleeve cap.

    If you mark precisely your start and end points, you should be able to get parallel rows of stitching done which would yield lovely gathers like the bodice image. You pull your ends (from the right side) to the inside and tie them in knots to secure.

    Good luck! This is a lovely inspiration image.

  2. I pulled out my Better Homes and Gardens Sewing Book (c)1961 to see what it said. The only actual mention of “shirring” was for the waist of a skirt. It claimed that the fabric would be too much to do on machine, so to do it by hand.

    “Gathering by hand: Knot the thread. Use a running stitch and take stitches that are the same length on both sides of the fabric. Be sure to catch the lining in the stitching. Make at least two rows of running stitch [in parallel – so each dotted line is aligned with the next row]. Draw the fabric together to form even gathers. Shirr to the amount figured for each panel [they mean only gather as much as you allotted fabric for]. Finish the end of a panel with a backstitch. Shirr one panel at a time since this is easier to handle and size.”

    They also list a different technique called “Gauging” which has a slightly different effect. There you need at least three rows of hand stitches, but you have long stitches on the right side of the fabric and short ones on the wrong side (as opposed to equal length). “The fullness will lie in narrow folds, the top of the skirt will be smooth.”

    Does that help? It’s a small enough section that a bit of hand work shouldn’t be too cumbersome.

  3. “Shirring” has only relatively recently come to mean rows gathered by elastic thread. As others have indicated, historically shirring was rows evenly gathered on regular thread. Dea’s instructions for this are good.

    Gauging was usually done only at an edge – it’s a way to pull up fabric that looks sort of like gathering, but you can pull in an enormous circumference and it stays very neat. It was very popular in the 1840s and ’50s for controlling those huge skirts into small waists. It was also used in the Elizabethan period (1500s).

    1. I’d never heard of Gauging so I included it. Thanks for the info! I’ll write it into my book so I have that in the future. 😛

  4. I recently did thus for the first time on a dress from Gerties New book for better Sewing. It worked well. You use elastic thread in the bobbin and sew straight lines about 1/4 inch apart. Then steam with a hot iron to create shirring. Be sure to hand wind the elastic thread on the bobbin and stretching a little as you wind it.
    Good luck.

  5. Thank you all, I got it done 😉 I’ve used Zilredlo’s advice for it, as it is a 40s dress with original rayon I dond’t want to use elasticated thread.

  6. When I have used this detail in costumes, I have employed Zireldo’s technique & backed it with a little folded ‘patch’, handstiched to the back to stop any undue stress on the gathering stitches.
    I saw this in a vintage crepe garment & have used it on a couple of occassions, because costumes often come under additional stress due to dance numbers & quick changes & the stitching will break quite easily.

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