How to add elastic shirring to a garment

Want to add elastic shirring to a garment and looking for the best method? In this sewing tutorial I’ll show my favorite way to add elastic smocking, and it requires no special tools, just a sewing machine and elastic thread.

How this elastic shirring method works

What you do is sewing zigzag stitches over a thin elastic thread. Then you pull the thread to create a shirring/smock effect. The advantage of this method is that you have full control over the amount of gathers, compared to the method where the elastic thread is placed in the bobbin. Plus you won’t risk any bobbin jam or broken thread, which is always a chance when you place a foreign thread in a bobbin. So lets take a look!

Tutorial on how to sew elastic shirring

You’ll need

  • Good quality thin elastic thread (crappy thread wears down quickly and might break)
  • A sewing ruler or some other tool to gauge the rows

1. Set your machine on wider than normal zigzag stitch

Your stitch needs to be wide enough for the needle not not hit the elastic, even if you would slip a bit while holding the thread. Also leave a good amount of elastic at the edge and as an extra safety measure you can make a knot in the elastic before sewing.

2. Sew over the elastic

Start sewing over the elastic, using your thumb and index finger to keep the thread straight. Also make sure the the seam aligns with your chosen ruler. This takes some practice, since you have to keep track of both the ruler and the thread at the same time. But it will get easier after a while.

Once the first row is stitched, leave a good amount of extra thread that you will later pull. You can use this method both on the flat and when sewing on the round. For the peasant top I sewed on the round for a bulk free result.

3. Sew the next row using a ruler

Using a ruler, stitch the next row around 1 cm from the first one. I like to place the ruler attachment on the first row and use that as a guide.

Repeat for as many rows as you like. I would say a minimum of three is necessary to create a smocking effect.

4. Tie the strings on one side

If you haven’t already, tie the ends on one side. I tied all three together to make it easier, but a better way would have been tiying all three separately.

5. Now pull the strings

Pull the strings, distributing the gathers evenly.

6. Secure the elastic

Once your done, the safest way is to make three separate knots on the other side. However I wanted a 100% flat assembly so I sewed over all the strings, by sewing in the ditch in the side seam. I did loads of small stitches back and forth. This is not the safest way, but I’ve found that if I stitch enough it will hold up.

The end result! I did this under enormous time pressure, so I took some shortcuts this time, but I still think I ended up with a decent result. And if you take your time and measure carefully it will look even better! The pattern I used is Burda’s peasant top nr 8517 and here is the end result.


  • Denise
    June 23, 2017 at 4:58 pm

    Would you normally just thread the elastic up through the hole on the throat plate of your Bernina if you weren’t photographing for a tutorial? That’s what I use for gathering over a cord.

    • Johanna
      June 24, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Do you mean if I have it in the bobbin? Or is there another way to use the throat plate for the application? No, normally I just lay the elastic flat on the garment and zigzag over just like in the pics. I use the bobbin method sometimes, but I love the control that this way gives me.

  • PsychicSewerKathleen
    June 23, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    What a novel idea! I like it 🙂 I have a series of Creative Feet and one would be perfect for this technique in case you’re interested. They can fit all machines (if you have a Bernina there is an added attachment you would need which she has as well). The holes in the attachment would probably perfectly fit that thread elastic for the technique. I’d like to try this on a cuff or neckline!

    • Johanna
      June 24, 2017 at 2:21 pm

      Interesting, I could definitely up my presser foot game, my collection is very bare boned and conventional. And this attachment looks so good and not costly! Thank you for the tip

  • Myra
    June 24, 2017 at 12:00 am

    This is a really cool idea! Thank you so much for sharing…I will use the next time I need an application like this!

    • Johanna
      June 24, 2017 at 2:24 pm

      Definitely try it, it gives it so much control and doesn’t require tampering with the bobbin setting and stuff. I sometimes use the bobbin method too, but I prefer this one. And felt even more confident in the benefits of this method after I spoke to very knowledgeable sewing lady recently and she told me she used the same method 🙂

  • Adrianne
    June 24, 2017 at 2:36 pm

    Wow! Thanks for the tutorial Johanna. You achieved a very professional look, and now that you have broken it down I think I could actually do it. What brand of elastic thread did you use?

    • Johanna
      June 24, 2017 at 9:13 pm

      I used a blue thread from Stoff and Stil, can’t vouch for this one, but I was curious to see if it is good as comes in more colours than just black and white. But Prym elastic thread is a fave I can recommend!

  • Laurinda
    June 24, 2017 at 8:28 pm

    OOO- this is a MUCH better technique than winding a bobbin with elastic! Thanks for sharing it with us!

    • Johanna
      June 24, 2017 at 9:14 pm

      Yep, it really is much more hassle free in my opinion, there is zero risk for messing stuff up! But the bobbin version has it’s merits too

  • Ruth
    December 13, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    My old Bernina record 830 from the mid-1970’s has a foot with a hole in it so that you can thread the elastic through it and sew it with better control than if you were to try and hold it and also keep it in line as you sew. It even has a tutorial in the manual that gives instructions for this process. All I want is to be able to find the most effective way to anchor the elastic so that it doesn’t unravel. Your tip looks as if it would work well by sewing the ends down in the ditch of the side seam. I don’t like the bobbin method because I don’t want to interfere with the tension screw on my bobbin. I have also found that the elastic tends to stick when you are trying to make progress with the line of stitching.

  • knitbunnie
    September 13, 2021 at 3:23 am

    I made a dress for my daughter when she was 6 or 7, from a Burda Pattern, and this was how the pattern showed to do it. That daughter is 41 years old, and I’ve been doing it this way ever since. If you’re a little brave, you can wind embroidery floss or perl cotton around your bobbin, so the embroidery thread is on the front of the garment,, then stitch from the back side, just like your method, and when you look at it from the front, it looks a whole lot like smocking.

  • […] use this method quite often, especially if I´m doing several rows of shirring (check out the shirring/smocking tutorial to learn more about how to do this). It gives me maximum control and is done easily on a sewing […]


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