I have an explicit picture of shirring in my mind. It is that of rows and rows of gathers on the public side of a garment created by the use of elastic thread on the inside. I have been told this is not entirely correct. That shirring is multiple rows of gathers formed by either drawn threads, elastic or the shirring foot of a sewing machine. For the purpose of this blog post, I’m going to stick with my personal vision which limits shirring to elastic thread. Usually purchased on a spool like this:
The elastic thread can be used at the sewing machine by winding it on a bobbin. It can be used at the serger by threading through one of the loopers. This disadvantage of the serger is that you must work on an edge. With the sewing machine, you can stitch that elastic anywhere; even making circles, waves and other shapes. Until you run out of elastic thread on the bobbin. I don’t care for using it at the SM, because I do run out of thread amazingly soon and winding is a chore. I’ve yet to meet the machine that will satisfactorily wind elastic thread on the bobbin. Oh sure, I can thread it up and start the winding, but the thread is too tightly wound and often breaks (for me at least.) Long ago I ditched shirring for gathering with clear elastic. I was contemplating my next project, Otto 2/2010 #14 which contains shirring details, and decided to give shirring a go at my Cover Stitch Machine.
I’m going to just flat tell you that shirring at the CS is remarkably easy. I threaded the elastic through the looper. I like to start with my thread tails above the plate and to the rear of the foot. Too many times I’ve made messes (at all 3 machines SM, Serger and CS) because I didn’t control those threads to start with. Trying to pull up the elastic thread through the plate was head scratching. Normally I make one stitch in air and draw my stiletto under the foot from front to back which pulls up the looper thread. Not so with the elastic thread. It did not want to pop up. I resorted to using a “spyder” which is small scrap of fabric most quilters are intimately familiar with. The spyder is used to take the first one or two stitches before starting the real work. At the end, the spyder is clipped off from the beginning and placed back under the needle for a final 2-3 stitches. Eventually the spyder gathers so many hairs of cut threads it starts looking like a spider, the animal. I was pleased that the issue was so easy to solve. You may not even give the beginning threads any consideration. That’s OK. The elastic thread does grab and stitch immediately.
I left my tensions for the needles at 3 but changed the looper to Zero and the stitch length to 4. My differential is mostly set at the dot between .5 and 1. That seems to work most of the time and did for shirring.
My sample is a scrap from the intended project. It is a light weight cotton voile. This is an old fabric and should be 100% cotton, however it resists wrinkling which has me questioning exactly how old it is and how much cotton it does contain. On my sample, I tried shirring with both needles and then a single needle.
4 lines of stitching and I said “I like the double needle best.” I started my test for my project with a fresh scrap of fabric 10″ long 4″ wide. But that begins another post.
I could have done more testing. For example, I set the looper tension at zero. I could have tested by leaving the elastic thread out of the tension disc or threading through only 1 hole at the top. I used a stitch length of 4 because I believe the longer stitch gives the greatest gathering. But that’s a setting that could have been worked with. I used regular serger thread in the needles. What would have happened if I changed to wooly nylon? The CPX models have a Thread Tensioning System which I left at off. If that was engaged, how would the gathers look? While I love experimenting, I also am happy to reach desired results with little effort. I found what I wanted with 4 quick rows of stitching and declared testing done-for-today.
One issue that should be addressed is the tendency of the elastic thread to snap back and into the looper area when the elastic thread is cut at the end of the row of stitching
Sometimes even pulling the thread out 10 inches didn’t help. I’d cut the thread and it would snap and hide. I avoided the snap-and-hide routine, by pulling excess the thread into the looper area
and then cutting the threads. It was an extra step I wish I didn’t need to do, but much better to take the time, open the door and pull the thread down into the looper area instead of rethreading and for me, using the spyder to pull up the elastic thread.
My completed shirring project will be posted tomorrow.
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