shirred back dress

i made this dress mid-summer and it feels kinda mean and cruel posting such a summery dress just as we’re moving into cooler weather… but hey, i’m right on time for southern hemisphere folks, yeah? i wanted this dress to be light, casual, and free of fussy details. i decided on a princess seamed bodice, thin adjustable straps, shirred back, and a lightly gathered skirt.

i fell in love with this fabric at my local fabric store, initially to make a dramatic maxi dress. i thought it would be perfect to swoosh around in on our summer Texas vacay, but i’m glad i ran out of time for that. it would have been fabulous, but highly impractical for much of anything else.

for my dress, i went back to an old pattern that features the princess seamed bodice i wanted (i’d go track down the pattern number, but it’s nothing special and i wouldn’t really recommend that specific pattern). i had already fit this pattern before (i’m so not linking to that old post, however i wore it during MMM), but i really didn’t trust past me’s fitting techniques so i started from scratch. one muslin was enough (yay!) so i threw out my old tracings and replaced them with my fresh fitting. so happy that past me traced to begin with! this pattern includs crazy amounts of ease, so this time i knew enough to pick a size based on the finished measurements instead of the size chart.

once i fit the bodice, i took the back panel and added a few inches since i would be shirring it. i also moved the zip to the side because i don’t like zips to run through the middle of shirring. to keep the upper edge of the bodice and the waist seam of the shirred panel stable, i use 1/4″ elastic to give me a nice clean edge. so, the first row of stitching from the top of the panel is done in regular thread, but allowing enough width to insert elastic between the shell and lining. from that row on, i shirr each row using elastic thread. then i leave enough space at the bottom of the panel so that once i attach the skirt, i can top stitch the waist SA towards the bodice, (creating a channel) and insert elastic later. i secure the elastic by stitching in the ditch between the back bodice pieces.

since my skirt is only lightly gathered, the bottom edge of the bodice where the skirt attaches is pretty much sewn without gathering (on the shirred part only)—the gathering comes once you insert elastic at the waist seam. clear as mud? sorry… if you have specific questions feel free to ask. 🙂

i waffled a bit about how to go about lining and/or underlining the rest of the bodice. in the end, i decided to underline the rest of the bodice pieces, and draft a facing to finish the upper edge. this worked out well and kept the bodice nice and lightweight. as i mentioned before, the skirt is only lightly gathered. i had plenty of fabric to work with, but i had to resist the urge to make a super full skirt. i tend to wear dresses with simpler skirts more often, plus it reduces the amount of bulk at the waist.


i decided to make adjustable straps since i always have a hard time deciding exactly how long to make them. i tend to fiddle with them forever and well—that’s annoying! this is also perfect if you have one shoulder higher than the other. much as i’d like to think i’m symmetrical, i’m sure i’m not! thin straps are far more likely to want to slip off the shoulders, so this is a great way of dealing with that.

long story short… i love how this dress came out and i managed to wear it several times this summer. actually i’m hoping to sneak in a few more wears since it looks really great with a jean jacket. word has it we may hit the low 80’s F over the weekend… fingers crossed!

—lisa g.

30 thoughts on “shirred back dress

  1. lilysageandco says:

    SO pretty. Nice work with the shirring. Past me tried shirring about three years ago but it didn’t want to happen. It works perfectly with this dress and that fabric. Such a clever skill.

  2. kristin says:

    oh it’s beautiful! perfect summer wedding / brunch dress, seems like it’d look adorable with a cardigan too. too bad you messed around with the pattern so much i can’t copy you!! 😉

    • lisa g says:

      thank you, it’s exactly ideal for those occasions! i know you could copy this look, i just have a way of making things sound more complicated than they really are… it’s a character flaw! 😉

  3. kathi giumentaro says:

    Love this dress. It’s so beautiful.
    I made my daughter a dress this summer and had to removed and reattach both strapes EVERY time she wore it. First they were too tight then too loose then they were uneven. I so wish I made them adjustable. I will difinately do this next time.

  4. dokucug says:

    Geez, I almost didn’t recognize you with your shorter hair! I thought you were your sister at first!!

    Such a pretty dress. I’m glad you got to wear it a few times, and you should definitely wear it a few more times with a denim jacket!

    • lisa g says:

      how funny! even though i chopped my hair a while back i hardly ever wear it down… i just can’t be bothered to make it look nice!

      i’ll definitely be pulling out this dress if we catch a warm day, thanks! 🙂

  5. poppykettle says:

    I never get tired of seeing gorgeous floral dresses – this one has such a lovely cross between modern and vintage. I’m guessing the shirring also makes it uber comfortable? All the benefits of a woven with the movement of a knit?

    • lisa g says:

      thanks, i do love the romantic quality of the fabric—delicate and feminine! the shirring does up the comfort level, which is why i reached for it so many times this summer. an expanding back panel is always a plus!

  6. Sandra J says:

    Fabulous dress. I have a RTW with exactly all those features, adjustable straps, shirring at back and a lightly gathered skirt (mainly at back) and I keep meaning to copy it – seeing your dress has inspired me and given we are heading into summer – yay!

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