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Elastic gathered bodice–how to make???

Clothdog | Posted in General Discussion on

I got a sundress in the Bahamas many years ago that has a puckered bodice; the puckering is done with many rows of elastic thread (I think). It is not a tube top–the bodice is sleeveless but has a slightly scooped neckline and armholes, and the fabric over the shoulders is also puckered, as is the bodice back fabric. I want to copy this dress before it dies, but can’t figure out how to do the elastic stuff. I am very challenged about figuring things out from the way they look–I do much better with an explanation, unfortunately–meaning I have to pester all of you for help. 🙂
Thanks to anyone who can help me on this one. And Happy New Year.


  1. nmog | | #1

    Those dresses are lovely, aren't they? While I am no expert (intermediate at best), I'm sure that the gathers are made by using elastic thread in the bobbin of your machine and then tightening it as needed. You might need to cut the dress apart or trace it to find out what the actuall pattern looks like before it's puckered.
    Perhaps you could google 'elastic thread' and see if you get more info. I'm sure that there are many other people here that know loads more about it, and I'm sure they'll be able to help you. They really know their stuff! Good luck!

    1. Clothdog | | #2

      Thanks! I will try that on some random fabric to see if I can make it work...!

    2. katina | | #3

      I used to make dresses like that for my daughters in the 70s. You wind shirring elastic on the bobbin by hand. Perhaps the best way for you would be to prepare the shirred fabric first and then cut out your bodice pieces.


  2. kellyinla | | #4

    Here's a link to one sewist's blog where she took lots of photos of her shirring technique -- I found this just by googling " shirring with elastic thread":


    The one thing I would add is steaming it.  After you've sewn your shirring lines (with the hand-wound elastic thread in the bobbin), hold your steam iron about 1/4 to 1/2" over the shirred fabric, and steam.  The shirred piece will immediately shrink up.  While I've never made a large piece, as for a blouse or dress, I've done lots of cuffs and a fabric belt this way.  I shirred the fabric first, steamed it, then treated it like knit ribbing, serging to join the edges into a circle then stretching it slightly to attach it to my unshirred fabric. 

    This is a really fun technique, especially the cuffs.  I've attached shirred cuffs to several fleece jackets, for myself and others, to match the trim or buttons or whatever on the jacket -- and these get LOTS of admiring comments.  If I knew how to insert a photo here, I would -- but you'll see enough on the link above.



    1. Clothdog | | #5

      That is just what I need! Thank you so much!

    2. jjgg | | #6

      thank you for posting this blog, I love when people post links to interesting blogs, I don't read many on a regular basis, but I like to bookmark them and check back now and again. Esp. sewing blogs, you never know what you can learn from them.

    3. MaryinColorado | | #7

      Thanks for the website, I checked out the tutorial and will give that a try for granddaughter tops for summer. 

      I made myself a tunic top last summer.  I used  a product called Stitch & Stretch by Stretchrite from Joannes or Hancocks, now they don't have it so will have to get it online.  It's elastic pleating tape that you sew along blue lines onto the flat fabric, then pull the gathering elastic.  Very easy and quick.  Mary

    4. CatPark | | #8

      Hi, Kellinla,

      Just read your question today, and wanted to add that I have shirred by a couple of methods. One, from Singer's 101 Sewing Secrets book, ISBN 0-86573-249-3, is by laying elastic thread onto marked shirring lines on wrong side of fabric and zigzagging over it just wide enough not to catch the elastic, leaving long tails on either side. Then after sewing the elastic over all the lines, pull elastic threads, two at a time each side to gather. Pin the seamlines together, try on garment, wrong side out and make sure gathering is as tight as you want it. Tie knots at end of rows, cut off tails.To gather evenly, hold all the elastic at ends and pull until fabric is flat, then release, and gathers will be even.

      The second method is easier, using a corded presser foot if you have one, by putting the elastic through the little hole so it feeds evenly and you don't have to guide it along the marked lines.

      In both cases, just remember not to stretch the elastic when sewing over it.

      A couple of other references that have alot of information on shirring are: Reader's Digest  New Complete Guide to Sewing, ISBN 0-7621-0420-1, and Encyclopedia of Sewing Machine Techniques, by Nancy Bednar, and JoAnn Pugh-Gannon, ISBN  13-978-4027-4293-4, or 1-4027-4293-2, not sure why two for that, maybe one is hardcover and the other softcover.

      Hope that helps!

      1. MaryinColorado | | #9

        That's a great tip to use the cord foot, thanks!  Mary

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