Girls Cotton Dress with Shirring & Ruffles - Easy Tutorial. Get ready for Summer!

If you live in the UK you'll wonder why on earth I'm posting a tutorial for a summer dress. Forget April showers, we've had torrential downpours! But we're now into May and it's officially summer, so get prepared for the sunshine by making your little angel a shirred summer dress.

The idea for this project came from my niece, when I asked if she'd like a dress for her doll, she replied she'd like one for herself, thank you very much....nobody's fool this girl!

So I came up with this idea, which uses very simple pattern pieces and some nifty techniques to jazz it up. Shirring and gathering look great on light-weight cottons and are surprisingly easy to do.

Read on for a (photo heavy) tutorial...

I used a lightweight summer cotton print for this project, which I showed you in this stash post a few months ago.

Gather your supplies together, I used a yard and a half of 45" wide cotton fabric - pre-washed and ironed (1.5m x115cm wide fabric), elastic thread, normal thread and that 70's favourite ...ric-rac trim.

The measurements I'm using were for a petite 7 year old, obviously scale my measurements up or down to fit your particular child. The dress is quite forgiving in that the shoulder straps are adjustable. Just adjust the length & width of the main body pieces if you need to.

Cut the following pieces;
Dress body: 26" x 20"  (66cm x 50cm) cut 2
Frill:  38" x 5" (96cm x 13cm) cut 2
Straps:  38" x 1" (96cm x 2.5cm) cut 2
Front placket trim: 8" x 1.5"  (15cm x3.5cm) cut 1

Just be aware that with main dress pieces, the larger measurement is actually the dress width which will be gathered in by the shirring, the smaller measurement is the dress length.

At this point I ironed a narrow hem along the long edge of each frill piece, obviously you can hem the dress at the end of the project, but I found it easier to press the hem into place before the fabric is all ruffled up.


Make the gathered ruffle for the bottom of the dress.
For those who don't know how to gather this the method I use. Take one of the frill pieces and sew 2 parallel rows of long straight stitch along the long edge of fabric, fairly close to the edge of the fabric, taking care not cross the lines of stitching over each other. (Do not secure your stitches at the beginning or end).

You can see in the photo above I've left long end threads.

By pulling the two top threads the fabric will begin to pucker up. Continue pulling and gathering from each end of the frill, spacing the gathers evenly until the frill is the same width as the dress piece (approx 26" in my example). Repeat with the second frill piece.

With right sides together, pin the frill to the dress piece, spacing the gathers evenly and securing the end threads of the gather in a knot to stop it 'de-gathering' (I think I've just made that word up....)

Sew the frill piece to the dress piece with a normal length straight stitch, taking care to keep the gathering stitches within the seam allowance, otherwise you will be able to see them from the right side of the dress. Neaten the raw edges to stop fraying (I used a zig zag stitch). Repeat for the other dress piece and frill.

I seem to be missing a photo here so apologies! You should now have 2 (wide) dress pieces, each with a gathered frill. With right sides together sew down one side seam. Press open the seam and neaten the raw edges. You should now have one large wide dress piece.

Neaten the top edge of the dress bodice by turning, pressing and stitching a narrow hem. It's easier to do this step now before you start shirring.


OK at this stage we're going to start shirring the bodice of the dress. This was my first attempt and it was surprisingly easy. I followed this excellent tutorial from Ruffles and Stuff.

Firstly hand wind the elastic thread onto your bobbin, do not pull it tight while winding, you just need to have slight tension.
Now, not everyone does this step but I did, slightly loosen the bobbin casing to allow the thick elastic thread to pass through, I loosened the tiny screw on the casing by a quarter turn. **you must remember to tighten the screw to normal position afterwards!** Insert the bobbin into your machine, and thread the top of your machine with normal thread.

With the fabric right side up sew a straight line a couple of millimetres below the 'hemmed' bodice top, right across the whole dress width.

And this is what you should have on the wrong side of the fabric. Do not worry if the fabric doesn't seem very gathered, the more lines you stitch the more the fabric gathers up. And repeat, sewing parallel lines, the closer the lines are together the more gathered the fabric will become. I guess'timated mine at approx 1cm apart, using my sewing foot to guide me.

You will probably need to refill your bobbin a few times as you go along. Also ensure all the loose ends are backstitched or knotted so the shirring doesn't unravel.

Continue shirring until you have the desired bodice length, I stopped after about 5 inches. You can see now why it was better to turn and stitch the top edge of the bodice before shirring, it would be very difficult to try and neaten that edge afterwards!

With right sides together fold the dress in half and sew the remaining side seam, matching the hemmed top, ruffle seam and hemmed bottom.

Turn the dress right side out, and smile! It should now look like this.

If you can bare to tear yourself away from your gorgeous shirring, turn your attention back to the bottom of the dress, which needs hemming. If you remember I pressed the hem in place already so this just needs stitching now. (Make sure you rewind your bobbin with normal thread and tighten the screw on the bobbin casing if you need to).

Add the ric-rac trim to the bottom hem edge, I attached the trim from the wrong side with a straight stitch, so so it's just peeping out on the right side.

Take the placket piece and fold in half lengthways right sides together, sew making a point at the folded end and leaving top end open. Trim the edges and turn right sides out, poking the point out. Pin to the dress front as above, tucking the raw edges of the open end inside the placket. Top stitch around the placket.

Take the shoulder strap pieces and press a narrow hem along each long edge, then fold in half and press. Top stitch the open side, you can also fold the short raw edge under and stitch. 
(There's no way you can stitch and turn these tiny tubes, you'll have to stop stitch).

Stitch the shoulder straps to the dress, two at the front, two at the back.

All that remains is to add some decorative buttons to the placket, I don't have a photo for this step as my niece wanted to choose the buttons herself, and I'm pleased to say she chose a very tasteful set of white heart buttons.

It's always good to let your client have creative input!

(Please note: tutorial for personal use only, not for resale)


That's a sweet little dress, thank you for taking the time to do a tutorial. When mine were little and wore these sort of dresses we put a jumper/long sleeved t-shirt underneath....bad weather didn't stop us from wearing pretty dresses!
Wag Doll said…
Thanks HM, yes would look great with a long sleeved white Tshirt, and much more practical for this weather! x
annyvials said…
loving the dress and thanks for the shirring tutorial. I've wondered for a long time about that and it doesn't look too difficult. Your neice is a lucky girl.
Wag Doll said…
Thanks annyvials, it was my first attempt at shirring and it was surprisingly easy :-) x
lucy said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jill said…
What a beautiful dress - and a wonderful tutorial too!

Thanks for linking to a Round Tuit!
Hope you have a fabulous week!
Jill @ Creating my way to Success
The combination of shirring and a ruffle makes for a very girlie and pretty dress!!! Love the fabric you've used. After my first time shirring, I wondered why it took me so long to try it. Your tutorial is great. I would love for you to share this at our ongoing linky that's just for Girls' Dresses...
Wag Doll said…
Thank you Jill x
Wag Doll said…
Thank you Pam! And thnaaks for your offer to link up, I have added the dress & am following your blog, it's great! There are some gorgeous makes on there! x
Hi Bridget, I've featured your shirred dress today...
Wag Doll said…
Aw wow thanks Pam! I've added your lovely button to my sidebar. xx
blissfulsewing said…
What a pretty dress, who wouldn’t love it!
T.J. said…
Why do you cut the body fabric into two, rather than using one large piece?
Unknown said…
I absolutely love this dress! I may have to have an attempt at one now so that there is one fit for wearing by the summer. Thank you.
Grannykatzpaw said…
perfect for my grans age 2 an 12 and thanks for the great tutorials all my sewing books make it look like a bad dream to make the shirring

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