Sewing shirred summer dresses

Shirring is a very old technique.  I remember one Saturday afternoon, when I was 11 years old, walking up to a shop which had a rail filled with summer dresses handing from it.  There was a cardboard sign on the rail,  people required to sew from home, very easy sewing.  I was a very shy child, I very rarely spoke (I know that will be very difficult to believe for those of you who know me), however,  I convinced my mom to take me into the small old fashioned shop and ask the owner if I could be considered.  I hid behind my mom as she asked, just in case the lady told her no.    I still remember the way she looked at me when my mom asked on my behalf.   “Can you sew?” she asked, “oh yes” I replied, “I love sewing, I make lots of my clothes but I haven’t sewn with elastic before”.   “Oh, that’s easy” she responded, hearing my enthusiastic voice and looking into my face”.  She asked me if I had a sewing machine and again I quickly replied with pride, “yes, I use my grandmothers singer treadle sewing machine”.  The lady told me it was very simple to sew rows of shirring and  proceeded to explain.  To be honest, I can’t remember how much I got paid; this all happened way back in 1970.   I think it was about one shilling per dress.


She had already cut out the fabric, I was to hem the top and sew the rows of shirring.  She wanted to give me 2 pieces of fabric so that she could see the quality of my work,however I remember convincing her into giving me 6.  I lost all my shyness when it came to sewing.  She gave me a sample dress so that I could measure the length of the shirring and for me to see what the finished dress would look like.  Looking back she probably thought she had made a huge mistake.   I remember that moment being one of the happiest moments of my life.  I was going to be paid to do something that I absolutely loved!  I bundled the fabric into my mom’s shopping bag and excitedly walked home with her.  I thought I was going to burst with excitement.  Once home the sewing began and I rarely left the old treadle machine until the dresses were done.  Mom helped me to fold up the panels and we proudly took them back to the lady.  I remember she was surprised at the speed and neatness of my work.  She regularly gave me more panels to sew throughout the summer.

The design of those dresses is exactly the same design as the children’s dresses that I have been making for my grand daughter.  In fact it was making these dresses that reminded me of ‘my first job’.  I had made her these summer dresses since she was about 18 months old but I didn’t remember the story then.  It’s surprising what we remember as we get older.  I made my grand daughter the blue gingham cotton dress which she loved.  I asked

her if she would like another one and she told me she had had a blue one when she was a baby and it was her favourite dress.  It certainly was, my daughter had asked me to hide it one winter 2 years ago, as she had insisted on wearing it to preschool.  Not only was the summer dress inappropriate to wear on cold days it was also too tight for her  I had made it the previous year and she had grown out of it.

My daughter came to visit with my grand daughter last week.  My grand daughter had been poorly  at school and was sent home.  My daughter was asked not to take her back to school for 2 days.  As soon as she walked through the door there was a quick hello granny followed by can we sew today.  Of course you can sew a dress.  I cut out the exact same blue fabric that she had liked so much.  Explained to her how to hem the top of it and then explained how the shirring worked.  I threaded up the machine, set up the foot stool with the machine foot on it so that she could reach it and she started sewing.    My daughter spend the day sewing her own alterations whilst I worked on my own projects.  What a lovely day was had by the 3 of us.  Three generations of women working together from age 6 to age 60.

She has completed 3 rows of shirring.  Watch this space to see more information as she progresses with the dress.

If you would like to learn how sew shirring there is a course on Thursday 12th  July 2018.  You will make a child’s dress, however once you have learned the techniques there are many things you can make as shirring can be sewn in lots of places from dresses, skirts, sleeves, cushions as well as children’s wear.  For more information about the course click here 

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