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  • Writer's pictureLonda

Londa’s Hints for Shirring with Elastic Thread


One of the most fun things to do in sewing is to ‘master’ your own sewing machine to ‘do fun stuff’!  I am constantly amazed at all the ‘authorities’ out there in magazines, on You-Tube, and blogs who post and write as if the way they have ‘figured it out’ and that works for them, on their machine will work for everyone.  NOT!!!!!  COUCHED ELASTIC THREAD – BOUND FOR FAILURE (IMHO)!

Both as you shop, ready-made clothing, and in deciding which of these techniques to use, BEWARE of couched elastic thread – which means it is laid on the wrong side, and zig-zagged over.  In my experience, this is BOUND to ‘pop’ loose creating un-shirred sections on your garment!  See the photo at the left.  I purchased this knit dress up at a bargain price due to this issue. Couching elastic thread DOES NOT WORK – at least in my humble opinion.

Pictured below is a garment I purchased where the elastic threads had ‘popped’, and it was this couched technique. Do you see just to the right of the seam, where there is no shirring?  That is because the elastic thread is popped loose from the seam line and it will only keep getting worse.  I had this happen to me – on the back of a romper I was making for my niece one time.  NOT a good idea. BUT you can fix it – read on.

‘Pooped’ elastic thread installation

FIX IT – by using that triple straight stretch stitch over the loose ends (that you excruciatingly hunt and pull over past the seam).  Make the stitch length SMALLer to really catch those elastic threads in the seam.  Then Zig-Zag over again where that stitching has come un-done.  NOT fun!

Elastic threads saved, and re-stitched securely in the side seam.

Triple Straight Stretch Stitch on BROTHER Quattro 3 – also found on most machines. It stitches forward 2 stitches, then back one.

Double zig zag stitch is very secure for re-couching the popped couching stitches that go over the elastic thread.

Be sure to adjust the length and width of this double zig zag stitch to duplicate what is shown on the garment originally.

Elastic Thread in the Bobbin

This is the technique with which I have the most experience.  I offer the following, having tested on both configurations of machines –

  1. drop-in horizontal riding bobbin like BROTHER, Babylock, Janome, Viking, Elna

  2. vertical bobbin in an auxillary case like Bernina, Pfaff, and lots of the less expensive machines

My testing on both types yielded the fact for me that the drop-in horizontal type worked the easiest.  The other is possible, of course, but I would recommend an additional bobbin case with which you can mess around with the screw that adjusts the clamp on the thread as it comes out of the case – which is the Bobbin Tension.  Just think of the screw as a clock face, and keep track of which way you turn it and how much…..

Everything is claimed out there on this technique:  wind by hand without stretching – with stretching – regular by machine same as regular bobbins….  I found the following:

This technique creates wonderful TEXTURE, but is not strong enough to stand the stress of being around a waist, over the bust, or a baby’s butt…  However, it DOES create wonderful texture.  See the photos below….

For topical decorative feature as in this ‘flower’ on my ‘Pat’ Top in Sensational Shirring Talking Pattern™ 

Lengthwise strips of knit texturized with elastic thread in the bobbin

.I found that winding the bobbin using the machine BUT NOT going through the ‘tension’ knob for bobbin winding worked the best on both types of machines.  Set any winding speed to low.  Place the elastic thread in your lap.  Secure thread around bobbin to start.  Guide the thread up and down the bobbin with slight tension between your thumb and forefinger.

Thread in your lap, wind directly to the bobbin with slight tension between fingers only as you guide the thread up and down the bobbin.

BRAND of ELASTIC THREAD MATTERS!!!!! When wound in the bobbin (read my full technique either in my Upscale Techniques/Nifty Necklines or Sensational Shirring or Creative Companions Talking Patterns™) or at my Elastic Thread Blog Post HERE.  A thick strand is what you want.  In the photo below,  the top is STRETCHRITE or SINGER brand, the bottom is (nothing else changed) – Dritz, which is skinner and I do NOT recommend. Do you see how much less it shirred the fabric sample?

FAtter Stretchrite or Singer Brand thread at the top works better than Dritz thread – skinnier – at the bottom. Nothing but the thread changed in this test.

THE Bobbin Thread MUST be caught in the Tension! In this case, all the smart auto features of a machine will work against you!  Pull up the thread through the throat plate hole the old-fashioned way, and make sure (on drop-in bobbins) that you see the bobbin thread going across the bobbin, from front lower to back upper as you see in the photo here.  Also – DO NOT use the auto thread-cutter when ending the stitchingSupporting the work with your fingers, raise the presser foot, and pull out the work, leaving a long strand of the elastic thread for successful sequential rows of stitching.

Correct way to start with elastic thread in drop-in bobbin system. 

CHAIN STITCH Application – look for this instead – where the elastic thread has been applied using a chain stitch machine!  This will last – the longest and the BEST!  HERE is a link to a BLOG with lots of details on this technique.  If you have a cover hem machine, or a serger that does a chain stitch – you’re all set to give this a whirl.  From my ‘play’ thus far, I know the thing is all in the tension – and my next session will be skipping some of the guides on the chain looper to reduce the tension on the elastic thread.

The chain stitch application looks like what you see here- upper left hand corner.

The BEST WAY?  YOUR Way!  Yep – that’s what I always say……. Take it all in – learn everywhere you can – then TEST THE TECHNIQUE!!!!

For even MORE ways to add figure-flattering shirring to your tops, I have it all waiting for you in my

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