Upcycle Project of Questionable Outcome. Bah.

Things don’t always work out around here. This time it started with a lightweight knit shirt of mine that had seen better days.

I took a scissors to it, without any real plan, and cut off the neck binding and the sleeves.

I used my serger around the neck hole and then started shirring (this is the elastic thread sewing technique wildly popular of late, used in my Baby Sunsuit Tutorial* and you can learn how to do it herehere, here, and here). As you can plainly see, the elastic thread was tighter for some of the rows and looser for others. Nobody knows why. I had planned to serge the arm hole-sleeve thingys but now I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble.

I have a love-hate relationship with shirring. For me it’s the unpredictability, the not-knowing. Just how tight or loose will it be today? Will I have to pull the whole thing out three times before it cinches up the way I want it? It seems so be easy for everyone else (Shannon just posted an adorable shirred dress here), and on the days that it DOES work for me, it seems like the most brilliant sewing technique of All Time.

I think this upcycle concept definitely has potential, just not sure this dress is a keeper. I am going to have to try it again with another t-shirt, maybe one with a smaller neck hole (this one had a pretty big v-neck) and fewer rows of shirring. I’d love to know if you try it. The success of this particular garment — which was intended to be a little summer dress for Clementine — has yet to be seen. It may have to become a nighty (code for: not willing to let it be seen in public). We’ll just have to see what it looks like once it’s on her cute little self.

Have you had success or failure with shirring? You may vent if need be. I’m just sayin, I hear you, and I get it.

*Am working on a rehaul of that tutorial right now. There’s some wonkiness with the bottom snap panel that needs to be addressed, STAT. And Clementine needs another one for summer!

41 thoughts on “Upcycle Project of Questionable Outcome. Bah.

  1. What if you cut off the current shirring and the sleeves so it's basically a tube, re shir (?) around the top part and toss on some ribbons for ties? It could still be a nightgown. Love your blog!

  2. Ha ha! I just looked at the link to Shannon's dress and it's a much nicer version of what I just suggested. Note to self: look at links before commenting.

  3. I didn't check your shirring tute links so I don't know if this method is one of them, but for me, I find it easier to control the elastic if I sew over it with tiny ZZ stitches, instead of putting it in the bobbin. This way, you can pull it as tight or loose as you want. I show how I do this at the bottom of this review, here.

    That's a great idea to upcycle an old tee, though!

  4. I absolutely LOVE that you show your goofs too sometimes! :) We can't always make exactly what we are thinking when we start out. Mistakes are a part of learning.

  5. I agree with the other Kristin – either chop off the top and make a simple toddler sundress, or make a few more edits and call it a nightgown for C! I'm still scared of shirring with my Brother. I know it can be done, but…I haven't tried to figure it out yet.

  6. I hate shirring!!!!! I have a crazy old sewing machine that has a drop in bobbin and no matter what I do, I can't get it to work. Which is totally frustrating because it would make so many things so cute. I actually had plans for a similar upcycle, but to shir around the top and make it a tube top of sorts, but add straps (cuz I'm not all about a two year old wearing a tube top). I'm sorry it didn't work exactly how you wanted, but it does make me feel a bit better about my botched project :(

    • I had this problem, you don’t own a brother sewing machine by any chance do you?

      The trick to it working with drop in bobbins is to remove the bobbin case and tighten the screw. It should them shir with the best of them. You need to remember how many turns of the screw you made to put it back when finished or like I have purchase another bobbin case just for shiring.

  7. Here is my problem with upcycled or thrifted garments. For some reason (gulp) *I never want to wear them*. Am I a snob? I don't feel any aversion to other thrifted/repurposed things, only the wearable ones. I just don't know.

  8. Everyone makes shirring sound so easy and fun, but I have failed every time I have tried. It seems like I just ruin fabric and waste my time. I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one! I guess misery really does like company :)

  9. I utterly fail at shirring — my machines (old Singer and new Babylock) do not do it, at all — and so I feel your frustration. I'll be pleased once it falls off the sewing blog radar and I can get on with elastic casings again.

  10. I love the ease of shirring, and the look and everything… but it doesn't really work on my machine (that's like 30 years old with a drop-in bobbin). It's WAY too tight every time. I can't do any shirring around the neck at all. I wish I could do it better because I'd use it ALL the time!

  11. Thanks for blogging this! I’m an experienced sewer and have even smocked – but I’ve never attempted shirring because my mental image was pretty much exactly this dress. I’ve really been tempted, though… So I think I might try with the reader advice to hand-wind the bobbin or zig-zag over.

  12. I tried shirring once and I think it came out too tight. Gonna take it out and try some of the suggestions others have mentioned.

  13. I tried shirring twice. The first time it came out perfectly. The second time, after re-trying it endlessly, it just wouldn't shir. And I couldn't figure out why. That was the last time I tried shirring. Not worth the frustration.

  14. I have had geat luck winding my bobbim with the elastic thread on my brother machine. It uses a drop in bobbin so the hand winding doesn't work for me.

  15. Totally agree…it is so unpredictable. However, I agree with Annie above. I have gotten some decent results when I hand wind the bobbin so the elastic thread sits loosely on the bobbin. That being said – the only wearable garmets I have successfully whirred have been for my 2 year old daughter! The fit for a ladies top is way to unpredictable!

  16. I just made two rompers using your tutorial. Both of them turned out great! I attribute it to your tutorial though, not my shirring abilities.
    Can I also say that I don't care for the work shir? It sounds like you're supposed to be saying shear or sure and it just doesn't make sense in the context…just sayin'.

  17. Thanks for the link luv Rae! I have to say, I have been petrified of shirring since last summer and finally, just finally gave it a go. It must have been my lucky day cause it worked and my machine is the devil in disguise and chews everything but it likes elastic thread. I played around with my tension alot and that seemed to help get just the right amount of shirring.

    Don't give up guys..it really is fun and if I can do it..you guys can do it. Trust me.

  18. Try ironing the shirring with some steam – not pressing down too hard just letting the steam do its thing. Washing it can also help.

  19. Oh have I tried shirring. I have managed to make it work a bit on a knit fabric but not with woven. I've tried everything I could find about it online but couldn't seem to make it work. Very frustrating. I'm pretty sure I'll try it again, as I keep seeing blogs where they say how easy it is. Better do it when no one else is around. :)

  20. I've made a few shirred dresses for my daughter and I loved how they turned out. The last two that I made shirred SO SO different than the first two! It was totally frustrating. I ended up cutting the finished project apart and taking out four inches and sewing it back together. I don't know if the inconsistences are to blame on the rubber trees the elastic comes from or the cotton the fabric comes from.(just kidding, I know it's not real rubber!) Maybe this year's cotton/rubber crop was stunted and now we all have to suffer. Here are my latest shirring projects. http://pinksuedeshoe.com/2011/06/10/new-summer-dresses/ And after I washed it twice to make sure that was all the more it was going to shirr, and the superflous four inches were removed, and I think they turned out pretty cute indeed.

  21. I bought a Singer Sewing Machine two years ago and I took the free training that comes with it (I live in Argentina by the way, so it might be different in different countries) Anyways, I was told there that nowadays the elastic thread is not as good as it used to be, so you don't wound the bobbin with it. You just hold it with the presser and little-zig zag stitch it. You then guide it with your fingers and pull more or less as you wish. (I hope I explained it right… don't know the exact words in english). BTW… I LOVE your blog, and since it is winter in my country, I will be doing the Dragon slippers for my 1 year old girl (probably not Dragon-like) as soon as I get some free time.

  22. Have you steamed it yet? Mine always looks like that until I steam it and it shrinks up like magic.

    I think it is that the elastic gets stretched out during bobbin winding/sewing, and it needs steaming to bounce back…

  23. I'm cracking up about this because I was going to attempt to do something similar with a shirt for my daughter for July 4th. I'm having second thoughts now…maybe I'll just stick with the skirt!

  24. The first few times I tried shirring it was soooo easy, like magic. It was fun! I was using an old Singer Featherweight. I have since sold that machine and upgraded (??) to a new machine and shirring isn't quite so easy. I have found that the thread quality makes a big difference! I bought the ginormous spool of elastic thread that Heather Ross recommended on her blog, and it works really well. But my machine hates all other brands! Luckily I now have a lifetime supply of good elastic thread :) I wish I would have kept that Featherweight around just for shirring and top stitching, the stitch quality was aaahh-mazing!

  25. I done shirring and it turned out fantastic but my rows were not as close as the ones you did on this tee.
    I hand-wrapped my bobbin and tightened up the tension. I have two brands of elastic thread and one makes a tighter shirring – so brand of thread makes a difference here.
    Some of the commenters had some seriously great ideas to make it come out the way you want it to.

  26. I'm like you – mixed results. My latest shrring projects have given me a good 2 out of three, so I am soldiering on.

  27. I just upcycled a short summer dress of mine into a long, flowy dress for my almost 6 year old. I took in the straps about three inches, then shirred around the armholes once, then shirred around the neck a couple times. It actually turned out really well.

    I shirr tonnes of my t-shirts or old dress shirts that way for my daughter. I usually have to rip out sections as they don't turn out like I originally imagine, but I'm getting better.

  28. I’ve tried shirring twice now, on skirts. They both turned out beautifully, but too big. It’s pretty frustrating. I’m a beginner, though, so I just figured it was beginner’s bad luck…nice to know that it’s troublesome for others too. I may try again at some point, but right now I just don’t have the money to continue wasting fabric and thread.

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