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Women’s Shirred Maxi Dress Tutorial

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How to shirr your own fabric to make a shirred maxi dress:

shirred maxi dress tutorial

(Looking for more free patterns? Be sure to check out my free patterns and tutorials page here.)

We have a vacation coming up in a few weeks, so I want to get a few new t-shirts and maxi dresses done to take on our trip. So far, I have finished this simple shirred maxi dress.  

It is a super simple project and I and wanted to share the tutorial with you.  

Recommended Fabric:

I personally prefer wearing and sewing with knits, so these directions are for knit fabric, but you could easily use Voile, a Rayon blend, or quilting cotton. For best results, the flowy-er the better.  My fabric was some sort of polyester spandex blend. Silky feeling, stretchy and flowy.  


how to shirr fabric for a maxi dress

Materials needed to make a shirred dress

  • 2 yards of  58 to 60-inch wide fabric.
  • Elastic thread
  • 1/4 inch wide regular elastic
  • Clear elastic (for gathering)
  • ruler, tape measure, ballpoint needle, and other basic sewing supplies

(New to working with knits?  Check out my knit sewing tips in this tutorial.)

Step 1: Get measurements and cut fabric:

Measurement A:  For the length of the bodice, measure from your armpit to where you want the shirring to end.  Add 3.25 inches to this measurement.

Measurement B:  For the width of the bodice: measure across the fullest part of your bust.  Add 10.5/12.5/14.5 (for small/med/large) inches to this measurement.

Measurement C:  For the dress length, measure from where the shirring will end to where you want the dress to end.  Add 1.75 inches to this measurement.

Cut fabric:

Cut the bodice to measurement A by measurement B.  (If you are using a 44 inch wide fabric, you may need to cut 2 bodice pieces and sew them together.)

Cut the skirt:  48 inches at the top and use a ruler to make a gradual A – line skirt, measuring 58 to 60 at the bottom.  (If you are using a 44 inch wide fabric, you will need to cut 2 skirts pieces and sew them together.)


Step 2:  Sewing and shirring the bodice

Put the 2 short edges of the bodice, right sides together and sew to create a tube.

To create the casing on the top of the bodice, fold the top edge over 3/4 an inch and press.  Sew along the edge about 1/2 inch down.  Leave a 1.5 inch opening for the elastic. (If using cotton, you will need to fold the fabric over 1/4 inch first and press for a finished edge.) 

Adding a small elastic casing ensures the top will stay in place.

Using elastic thread, start shirring the bodice.  Your shirring lines should be about 1/2 inch apart.  

Keep shirring around and around until you are about 2 inches from the bottom.  (For a more in-depth shirring tutorial, check out my post, Simple shirred sundress.)

Step 3:  Gathering and attaching the skirt.

Because the skirt needs to stretch over our hips or shoulders, we will gather the skirt with elastic.  (If you use the traditional method of gathering, the waist wouldn’t stretch and the stitches would pop.)

Use the bottom of the bodice as a guide for how long to cut the elastic.  (The elastic should be the width of the bodice.)

Sew the 2 ends of the elastic together with a tight zig-zag stitch.  

Use a pen to mark the elastic in 4 equal parts.  Do the same for the top of the skirt.  

Line up the pins and sew the elastic to the skirt, (about 1/2 inch down from the top edge) stretching the elastic from pin to pin.  

If you need more help with this method, you can see more photos and better instructions on my ruffled sundress tutorial,

Gathers so nicely…

Line up the bottom of the bodice with the top of the skirt, right sides together.  

Make sure to line up the gathered elastic in between the last two rows of shirring.  Use a longer than normal stitch length, and sew the two pieces together, stretching the elastic a bit as you sew.

Trim any excess fabric.

Finish the seam and press the seam edge facing up.

Step 4:  Adding elastic and hemming

Use a safety pin and thread the elastic through the casing.  Try on the dress and adjust the fit of the elastic.  Trim excess elastic, sew together with a tight zig-zag and close the casing.

Hem the bottom of the dress if desired.  (You should have about an extra half-inch to work with, so if you choose not to hem, you might need to trim the length.)

You are done!

I love this dress for date night, but I’m torn!  I can’t decide which sweater I prefer.  The black, white or denim.  Which look do you like better?

Let me know if you make a dress, I would love to see your result!  

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  1. Ann Lidslot says:


    I know the tide on this rolled out a million years ago or so, so here’s me disregarding that. From the pictures I think that the white one emphasize the “girls” a little bit, the denim gives you a tiny waist and the black would be great at a warm lazy day at the office. I live on a cold country where a lot is forgiven on a hot summer’s day. As it’s usually rather cold (hanging around 15-20 degrees Celsius or 60-70 Fahrenheit) we don’t have ACs in our offices or homes, so when it nice and warm you really need to dress for the occasion. We do have really good heating though. Usually all of us here have a nice 72 degrees indoors all winter long. Anyway As to black white or denim I would say it depends (I’ve had years of student loan payments to learn to say that. Sorry) on where you want to wear it. To go to lunch beachside on a Mediterranean beach, the white, to dinner at a more of a fine dinning joint in the same part of the world, the black. (Same if you’re visiting a church, mosque or a museum.) I’m not necessarily saying to a Michelin starred restaurant in the evening, but I think it could work there too if it’s summer. Going bar crawling in let’s say Spain the denim, absolutely. My favorite? The denim. It flatters you in all kinds of ways.

    Yours, Ann

  2. Thank you for the tutorial! It is so helpful for beginners like me.

    Sometimes the shirred fabric with elastic can be uncomfortable against my skin.
    I was wondering if there is a way to add a lining under the shirred portion of the dress?
    I’m not sure how I would measure this fabric or attach it since it won’t be shirred. I’ve been unable to find a tutorial on this topic.
    Any help you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

  3. I have a couple dresses like this. I usually wear the bodice around my waist (; as I don’t like strapless on me). I just signed up for your newsletter. I want to make something to wear over strapless or sleeveless dresses/tops. I’m thinking a collar with maybe 6″ down the front with buttons. The fabric would go over the shoulders with sleeves – short or longer sleeves. So basically a blouse cut off just under the armpits. Do you a pattern like that or a blouse pattern that would work cut off like that? I do plan to look through your back catalogue. With 10 years’ worth, that will take some time!
    I am about a 2XL on top so I think I would have to add 18.5″ around. Is that correct?

  4. Nataliya Garon says:

    Thank you, such a lovely dress and easy to make! Great idea for summer! I love the look with the black cardigan!

  5. Hi! This is super cute and I want to try it, but I'm wondering about measurement B. When you say measure across full bust do you mean all the way around & then add an additional 10-12 inches? That seems like so much! I am new to all this though so I just wanted to clarify. Thanks!


    1. Yes, 10 to 12 is what I recommend for a stretchy knit fabric. The very close-together shirring will really make the fabric tighten up. If you are using a thick fabric, It might be ok to subtract an inch or two. You just don't want it too tight! Good luck!

  6. Laura - Le pecionate says:

    HI! Great tutorial thanks! Do you think it is necessary to cut and sew separately bodice and skirt? I have a fabric with a beautiful drawing I would like o maintain vertically along the dress…
    Thanks anyway!
    Laura from Italy πŸ™‚

    1. I would probably be ok, though I have not tried it. You could try cutting the bodice a few inches wider. The closer together the rows of shirring are, the tighter the top will be. Then cut the skirt at at a-line angle.
      Good luck!

    2. Laura - Le pecionate says:

      Thanks Jamie! I'll let you know what I ended up doing πŸ˜›

  7. Great tutorial! Thanks for sharing. I like the black sweater the best. It gives a very sophisticated, finished look. The denim is good for a casual look. I think I don't like the white shrug is because it doesn't follow the sleek look of the dress. It looks bulky and throws the balance off. White might be a good color with the dress if the style was more like the black sweater.

    1. I completely agree and just what I was thinking. You used a much better choice of words so I’m glad you wrote first!

  8. Emily Thompson says:

    looks cute! I just finished a tunic for myself… need to blog about it. I don't sew for myself often enough :o) I still have yet to try elastic thread shirring… I've had the elastic for a couple years now… I guess I need a daughter :o) Emily @ nap-timecreations
    oh and I need to get you my guest post HTML… is the end of nest week okay?

  9. I love this dress!
    And I would prefer the white one. πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for sharing!


  10. Kristen D says:

    This looks so great! And easy! I think I'll try this soon!

  11. sew sweet vintage says:

    LOVE your dress! Pinning:) I gotta learn how to set my camera self timer! Your self portraits are great! I posted fabric flower refashion to Lovely Wednesday:)

  12. Miranda @ Someday Crafts says:

    Gorgeous dress! I agree with the black cardigan being the best choice. We'll be featuring this over at Someday Crafts tomorrow! πŸ™‚

  13. Elise@growcreative says:

    What a great tutorial! I love how your dress turned out πŸ™‚

  14. amy mayen says:

    I love your dress! I keep meaning to make myself, like…12 of them…I get hot so I like to wear them strapless! Your cardi is cute, that would be great for when it cools off some here:) either look great on you, you take fabulous pictures!

    1. White cardigan is best for Sunday morning church. Denim is best for a trip to get groceries. Black is best for a date / going out with friends. But really they are all pretty much interchangeable.

  15. Ditch the white. No 1 is the black, very flattering. The denim is okay for a more casual look. Thanks for sharing the directions.

  16. Love the black and the denim, not so much a fan of the white. It looks adorable!