How to Make a Shirred (Gathered) Dress

How To Make A Shirred (Gathered) Dress - {The Ribbon Retreat}

The moment I looked at this fabric I thought it was so beautiful!  It is Lilyrose Gray by Free Spirit.  On a lot of the dresses I make, I usually use more than one fabric and add embellishments; however, I thought this fabric would be cute all on its own.  This dress is based off of your child’s measurements, so there is no need to buy a pattern.  This could also be a cute shirt paired with some leggings, or even a maxi dress.

Here is a list of the items used: Fabric, 48-50 inches of ribbon, coordinating thread, elastic thread, scissors or rotary cutter, pins, vanishing marker, and an iron.

Take the following measurements of your child:

*  Chest measurement (all the way around) — Double this measurement.  This will be the WIDTH.
*  Armpit to knee (or armpit to where you want the dress to fall) — Add 1 to 2 inches to this measurement.  This will be the LENGTH.

Cut your fabric.  My daughter is 10 months old and her measurements were 15″ x 15″.  So I cut the fabric to 30″ (width) x 17″ (length).

Hem the top width of the fabric.  This will be the top of the dress.  Use one of the following methods:

SERGER METHOD: Serge along the entire width.  Then fold the fabric over 1/2″ and sew the hem by lining the left edge of the presser foot with the serged edge as shown below.  Sew across.

SEWING MACHINE METHOD: Make a double fold by first folding over 1/4″, then folding over another 1/4″. Pin in place and sew the hem. (This method not pictured.)


Repeat with the bottom width of the fabric.  This will be the bottom of the dress.  OPTION: Make this hem wider as shown above, so that as the child grows, the hem can be let out.

Fold the fabric in half, raw edge to raw edge, with the right sides together.  Serge along the length, creating a fabric “tube”.  If using a sewing machine, stitch along the length, then zig zag stitch along the edge to give it a finishing touch.

Turn your fabric tube right side out. Adjust the fabric so that the seam is toward the back center as shown above.  All edges are finished.

Now is a good time to mark the center of your dress.  This needs to be done before the shirring so that you’ll know where the ribbon needs to be placed.  To find the center, fold the dress in half and make a small mark as shown above. Or, use a ruler.  The vanishing marker works GREAT for this step!    

 It’s SHIRRING time!!

Take your elastic thread and HAND WIND your bobbin.  Don’t stretch the thread as you wind.  Just loosely wrap it around.  Place the bobbin in your sewing machine just as you normally would.

This is the way your thread should look, and if it does, you are ready to shirr (this is a popular technique right now).  I was at the mall today and I couldn’t go into one store without seeing this technique.

Your tension should be about a 3, and stitch length medium.  Give it a try on a piece of scrap fabric first to be sure everything is working properly.  The fabric really starts to gather up after you’ve done a few rows.  Make sure you hold the fabric tight as you sew.

 Line the right edge of the presser foot with the stitching from your top hem.  Start at the seam in the back.  Backstitch 3 or 4 times to really secure the elastic.  Use the stitching from your top hem as your guide as you sew around the dress.  Continue sewing along that line until you see you are about to meet where you started.

In the picture above, the top row of stitching is the stitching from the hem.  The next line is the first row of shirring, and the third is where instead of meeting up with where you started, you spiral down and line the foot up with your first row of shirring instead of the hem line.   Always lining your foot up with the row above will make sure you get straight lines.  In the picture above I am about to finish my 2nd row of shirring.  I will continue following the row above it. This row will turn into my third row of shirring after I cross over the seam.  


This is what it looks like when you have done 5 rows of shirring.  I did one more row after this.  Don’t forget to pull the fabric tight as you are sewing.  You will have to pull tighter as you sew more rows.  When you are finishing your last row of shirring, backstitch on the row above right on the seam. Backstitch 3 or 4 times on your last row as well. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look perfect.  This technique is very forgiving.

You can make the shirring go down as far as you want.  I only did 6 rows, which ended up being around 2 inches long from the top of the hem.

Sewing machines are different, click here to see another way to shir fabric.

For the halter straps, I chose to use 1 1/2 inch white Double Ruffle ribbon.  On Double Ruffle ribbon there is a right side and a wrong side.  In the picture above, the left ribbon is the right side. You can see how the ruffle has a shine to it.  The right ribbon is the wrong side; it is not shiny.  If you use Double Ruffle ribbon or a ribbon with the print just on one side, you will want to be sure that the straps are both showing the right side. 

Create a right angle with both of the right sides facing up.

To do this, first find the center of your ribbon.  Fold one half of your ribbon at a right angle.  At this point one half of the ribbon’s right side is showing, and the other half the wrong side is showing (See illustration above). 

Now fold the half of the ribbon with the wrong side showing back up, creating a right angle with both right sides showing.  This is not hard at all it just gets a little wordy explaining it. 🙂 If you want to avoid dealing with right and wrong sided ribbon you can use solid grosgrain ribbon. With the solid grosgrain you will only have to fold it once into a right angle.

Sew a triangle on the fold.  I just held it together and sewed.  If you want to you could pin it first.

Using the center mark you made earlier as a guide, pin the right side of the ribbon an inch or two from the top of the wrong side of the fabric (inside of the dress).  

If you look closely you can see a square.  I stitched along the lines of the triangle I had already sewn and did the exact same thing to the other side, forming a square.  That tiny little print in the picture below says, “Don’t forget to backstich”. 🙂 That ended up microscopic.


This is what you should have now.  Almost done!

Do you notice a difference from this picture and the one above?  The difference is that I tightened up the shirring.  To do this you spray the shirring with water and iron it.  The elastic really shrinks up.  I love this part!  Now you are ready to put it on your little girl!  See how easy that was?  If you would like to make some bloomers to go with the dress, Smarty Pants is a great pattern!

How To Make A Shirred (Gathered) Dress - {The Ribbon Retreat}

I think she is pretty excited about her new dress! 🙂

How To Make A Shirred (Gathered) Dress - {The Ribbon Retreat}

Side view.

How To Make A Shirred (Gathered) Dress - {The Ribbon Retreat}

Back view.

I value and appreciate constructive comments.  If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them.  I will show you how to do those cute little yo yo flower clippies soon!  Thanks for veiwing our blog!

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  1. Nat
    Posted May 10, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi! I’m new to the Ribbon Retreat, but I am in love with it!! I love sewing! I just learned how to shirr, and made a dress almost exactly like this last week! One of my kiddos ran off with my elastic thread, so I ended up zig-zagging a casing over 1/4 inch elastic. I used three different colors of thread, and I really liked how it turned out. I also love how forgiving shirring is! Anyway, I love the dress, and your daughter is gorgeous!

    • Cherie
      Posted May 10, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      Hi Nat! Thanks for posting. I bet the dress you made was so cute! I love that you just went with it! That’s what I love about sewing is you can change things up and work with what you have.

  2. Carla
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Too stinkin cute!! I’ll have to give this one a try!!

  3. Linda
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I have got to try this. I keep forgetting to get elastic thread when I go to the craft store. I love the fabric you chose! 🙂

  4. Cherie
    Posted May 11, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi Linda, I hope you do try this! Let me know how it goes! We do carry the elastic thread. Why don’t you order it?! So much easier! 😉

  5. Linda
    Posted May 13, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Oh Cherie…
    Don’t tempt me! I get into so much trouble adding stuff to my cart. Haha. My husband may ban me from the site soon. 😉

  6. Becky
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Hi Cherie! I am fairly new to the blogging world, but not so new to The Ribbon Retreat! LOL! Anyway, I love this little dress and would love to try it out. I am not a seamstress, but I am embarking on a goal to learn. SO my question is…. the elastic thread is in the bobbin, but is it threaded through the sewing machine as well? Or is the elastic thread only in the bobbin, and use regular thread for the machine? In the pictures, it looks like it may be the latter. But any clarification you could give would be great. Thanks for your help, and for listening to a non-sewer!!! 😉

    • Cherie
      Posted June 6, 2011 at 2:08 am | Permalink

      Hi Becky! I’m so excited you are going to try something new! How fun! You use regular thread in your machine through your needle, and the elastic thread only in the bobbin. Let me know if this answered your question and if you have any more I am happy to help!

  7. Becky
    Posted June 7, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Cherie. You answered my question perfectly. Thanks for your help, and I will let you know if I have more questions. (very likely *wink*wink*)

  8. Posted July 3, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Wow.. That was so cute. Very nice dress. Thanks for sharing your skills, I wish I could also do one for my little sister. 😉

  9. Amanda
    Posted September 13, 2011 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Would it be possible to make these as a woman’s top? I don’t have any little girls to make them for but think it would make an awsome top. I don’t know much about sewing but I want to learn.

    • Cherie
      Posted September 15, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      Yes it is so possible! It would be really cute too! I would just 1 1/2x the fabric instead of doubling it. you don’t want it to be too full! Maybe I’ll have to make one!

  10. candace
    Posted January 28, 2012 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I just started sewing last fall. This looks very do-able, though. I am so excited about the elastic thread; cant wait to get started!

  11. Posted March 3, 2014 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    What a nice dress ! And the method is surely very considertive. I will use the serger to make my own dress in your way. Best wishes to you.

    • The Ribbon Retreat
      Posted March 3, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      Hi Tracy! Thank you so much for your comment! This dress is so cute and so fun! Thank you for sharing and for stopping by! Have a wonderful day! Michelle 🙂

  12. Posted June 10, 2015 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    Wow this is so cute)) Very nice dress. I have got to try this.

    • The Ribbon Retreat
      Posted June 18, 2015 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      Hi Amanda! Thank you so very much! I am so glad you love this fun dress. It is so cute, and I hope you have a chance to try making one soon! Have a great day! Michelle 🙂

  13. Posted September 1, 2015 at 6:35 am | Permalink

    Very lovely dresses. I liked them.

    • The Ribbon Retreat
      Posted September 16, 2015 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

      Hi Jenifer! Thank you so very much Jenifer! Have a wonderful day! Michelle 🙂

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