Add Dimension to Your Quilt With Shirring; The Basics

March 27, 2009


I have been exploring the technique of shirring, how it can add dimension to plain fabric and how it can be used in quilt tops. In this first post about shirring I’d like to share with you the basics of shirring. In later posts I will share some variations and creative uses of shirring and some options on inserting shirring into the quilt top.

Shirring is a decorative gathering of fabric made by drawing up the fabric along two or more parallel lines of stitching. The gathering creates rolling hills and valleys across the stitching. The amount of fabric gathered determines the fullness of the gathering; slight, moderate or generous.

The first step of shirring is to determine the finished size of the area to be shirred. Also, the amount of fullness desired in the gathering should be decided. To estimate the length of fabric needed before shirring multiply the finished size times 1 1/2 for slight fullness, times 2 for moderate fullness or times 3 or more for generous fullness. Then add length needed for any seam allowances or hems.

I made 2 samples with a 6” x 6” finished size, the first one with slight fullness and the second with generous fullness. For my first sample I multiplied 6 times 1.5 and added 1/2” for hem so the length was 10”. For the second sample I multiplied 6 times 3 and added 1/2” for seam allowances and came up with a length of 18 1/2”.

In shirring you will also loose some of the width of the fabric when the fabric is gathered. The more generous the fullness the more width is lost. So I would recommend cutting the width an extra 1/2” or so and trimming it after gathering, if needed. I cut my samples 7” wide; 6” finished size plus 1/2” for two seam allowances plus 1/2” for loss due to gathering.

IMG_4192Layout your shirring pattern on the back of the fabric with your favorite marking tool. The layout of shirring lines can be pretty much whatever you want it to be. In a later post I will explore some design options. But one thing to keep in mind now is that if you want the shirring to extend into a seam allowance the last row of shirring should be included inside the seam allowance.

Stitching for the gathering can be made by hand or by machine. Leave a tail of thread at each end of the stitching so you can knot it securely. After stitching the rows you will push the fabric along the rows of stitching to achieve the required size. I found that pinning one end of the stitching to a work surface made the gathering more manageable. At the pinned end of the stitching pull the bobbin thread to the top and knot it with the top thread. Maybe even double or triple knot them as I found a single knot of polyester thread would slip.


After one end of the stitching line is pinned to a work surface and the threads are knotted, hold one of the threads at the other end of the stitching and push the fabric along the thread gathering it up until the fabric is the desired size. Knot the remaining threads when the desired size is achieved.


Adjust the gathers evenly, or unevenly if that is your desired effect. The shirring can be set by pinning the piece to a flat surface and holding a steam iron above the fabric. This last picture shows my two samples, the one on the right having slight fullness and the one on the left having generous fullness.  In my next post on shirring I will look at ways to stabilize the shirring. 


Aren’t both of these examples interesting? Wouldn’t they look nice as alternating patches in a four patch block? How would you use these patches?



  1. They look great. I’ve been playing with an idea to add a pleated border to a quilt that I will work on again if I ever finihs the log cabin!

  2. I’m not sure about using it in a quilt, althought I might just have to try it. Brings back lots of memories of making clothes for my daughter, who is 35 now.

  3. Just found your blog (through Vicki W (Fields in Fiber). you have a wonderful blog and I’ve bookmarked you on Google Reader.

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