Sewing with elastic thread

A technique that I really love for sewing maternity wear is shirring with elastic thread.

You’ve probably noticed it in little girls clothing a lot, and perhaps in the back of women’s dresses. It’s a wonderful technique as it not only looks cute, but allows a lot of “give” and shape in your clothing.

Want to learn how to do it?

Here’s what you do:

1) Start with some elastic thread and an empty bobbin

2) Take the elastic thread and wind the bobbin by hand. Make sure that you don’t wind it too loosely or too lightly, you do not want to stretch the thread as you wind.

3) Once you are done winding, put the bobbin in the machine as you ordinarily would. Set your machine to straight stitch, and the longest stitch length you have.

4) Mark on your fabric where you would like your lines of shirring to be. I used tailors chalk.

5) Now the first row.  The important thing to remember is to sew on the right side of the fabric (ie outside of the garment) as you want the elastic thread to be concealed inside. You may notice it doesn’t gather up as much as you would expect initially, don’t worry about that, that’s part of the process and we’ll fix it later. Just make sure that it has gathered up a bit and that there is a little bit of stretch in the stitches.

6) Continue sewing the next rows of shirring, and make sure that you flatten out the fabric as you sew the consecutive rows.

7) There are two ways you can begin and end off your stitches. You can either tie off the ends of the thread (this is the most secure method) or you can simply backstitch (this isn’t as secure, but often works just as well, and is quicker)

To tie off the stitches, simply thread your loose end through a needle, and push it through to the other side. Then tie a knot (or two or three if you’re paranoid like me)

It should look like this from the outside now:

8) Once you have sewn all rows of shirring then it’s time to tighten up that elastic! Turn your fabric the wrong way round, so that the elastic thread is now facing upwards. Spray the fabric & elastic with water, and then iron over the top it. This helps the elastic recover a bit and tightens up those rows of shirring. (it’s my favourite part!)

**Note** If you have trouble (ie it isn’t gathering at all or if there isn’t stretch in the stitches) then you may need to adjust your machines tension, or flip your bobbin around to be in the bobbin casing the other way. Some machines settings need a little tweaking before it works properly!


I hope you enjoyed learning about shirring, because I’ll be back soon with a tutorial using this technique!! XOXO


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  1. says

    Wow. I never thought it would be so incredibly easy. I have no need for maternity clothes (we decided our last was our last) but this will be incredible for clothing for myself and my daughter. Thank you!

  2. says

    I have been postponing reading this tutorial because I was afraid it would be too difficult for me. I am all ready to go buy some elastic thread and get to work! Thanks for making such a clear tutorial!

    • says

      Oh, but I have a question…
      Is the top thread elastic as well? Or just the thread coming from the bobbin?
      (I am guessing just the bobbin thread, but just want to be sure, common sense and my novice sewing brain are often in competition.)

  3. says

    I’ve tried hand-winding but the only way my machine will even pick the thread up is if it’s wound by the machine. And even then, no matter what I do it does not bunch up. It just looks like a sloppy stitch on the wrong side (elastic side). I’ve tried messing with the tension of both the machine and the bobbin, stitch length, everything. I’ve gone through half a spool of the dang elastic thread and I just don’t know what the hell else to do. I’ve got like 4 projects that I want to do with shirring but I guess my Bernina cannot do it unless you can give me some kind of help. I’m so frustrated I’ve been reduced to near tears on the 3 separate times I’ve attempted it and I’m not sure it’s the hormones anymore! it’s infuriating!

  4. says

    wow thankyou sooo much, i’ve been sewing for a few years but have always been terrified of how to sew with elastic threading,i had never seen a tutorial that made it so clear and simple sounding.

  5. says

    Thanks so much for this tutorial. Although I see smocking on a daily basis (I’m a technical designer), I have never dabbled in it. Something about elastic was always tricky but this tutorial makes it less scary looking.

  6. Vanessa says

    I have always wanted to try using elastic thread but never could find a good tutorial for it. So thank you for opening new doors.

    I am also going to post this to if you don’t mind. I would love to share it.

  7. Barnheartbabe says

    How much will the elastic shirring snug up? Ive got some re-fitting going on of some too big maternity clothes that ive stashed and want to elastic shirr the back of a shirt but am afraid of doing too much.

    Btw, i went to vote, but it was a day too late. Best of luck!

  8. says

    Wow that looks perfect! Thank you for the elastic thread tutorial. Cant wait to try elastic thread / elastic yarn myself. I found a special TF Thread in a shop nearby which I will use for my project. Wish me luck ;)

  9. LJBerry says

    Love this tip about the elastic thread. I’ve always wanted to sew with it but couldn’t figure out how to get it to work for me till I found this website and this tip. Thank you for sharing!

  10. arina says

    If you have trouble using elastic thread, You can also use shirring elastic.
    You can just sew that on the fabric using normal a thread.

  11. says

    A fascinating discussion is worth comment.

    I do believe that you should publish more on this topic, it may not
    be a taboo matter but generally people do not discuss such issues.
    To the next! Kind regards!!

  12. Carrie says

    I thought I would comment here since I am a new commer to the thread and I know that others will be reading through too.

    A lot of the newer machines you can machine wind the bobbin, you just can’t wind it around your machine to do it. You have to hand do the tension between the spool and the bobbin on your machine. You don’t want to pull the elastic really, you just want an even pressure to keep it from getting loopy, you machine will put too much tension on the thread and it will wind on stretched out.

  13. says

    Excellent blog! Do yoou have any suggestions for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own website soon but
    I’m a liytle lost on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for
    a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m totally overwhelmed ..
    Any recommendations? Thanks!


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