Thursday, May 26, 2011

~Smocked Sundress~

Now Playing: Save Me San Francisco by Train

picture from

Tools and Materials

3/4 yard of 45-inch-wide lightweight woven fabric, pre-washed
(Any fabric that is lightweight enough to yield to the elastic thread will work. Quilting cottons, gauzes, lighter linens, chambrays, and shirting weights are all ideal.)
All-purpose thread to match fabric
Elastic thread wound around an extra bobbin
Water-soluble fabric-marking pen
Transparent quilter's ruler
Measuring tape
2 yards of spaghetti strap, bias tape (sewn closed), or ribbon for ties, cut into four equal lengths
Sewing pins

Smocked Sundress How-To
1. With the fabric wrong-side up, turn and press the top raw edge 1/4 inch to the wrong side, and then turn and press this edge again 1/4 inch to the wrong side. Do not sew this folded edge yet; the pressed lines will be important guides later on. Unfold the edge, and lay the fabric flat.
2. Mark smocking lines: With the fabric right-side up, use a water-soluble pen and quilter's ruler to draw six straight lines, each 1/2 inch apart, across the fabric's width, beginning 1 inch below the edge with the pressed creases.
3. Loosely wind elastic thread around sewing machine bobbin. With elastic thread in bobbin and coordinating thread on top, sew, with fabric right-side up, along the marked lines to create 6 rows of elasticized smocking. Backstitch at the beginning and end of each row, and cut thread before starting a new row.
4. Spray smocked panel with water until stitches are generously dampened. With a very hot steam iron, press the smocked area flat. The stitches should shrink up nicely, and the pen marks should disappear.
5. With a measuring tape, take the chest measurement of the child you're sewing for, and mark a line at this measurement from top of dress to hem. Secure elastic threads by stitching across them at the line with a short, closely spaced straight stitch. Trim off the excess portion of the panel.
6. Fold the smocked panel in half with right sides together, and align the raw edges. Sew along these edges to create a tube. Turn right side out, press seam flat (with seam allowances to one side), and topstitch the seam allowance in place by stitching 1/4 inch from the seam. This seam is the center back of the dress.
7. Without stretching the smocking, measure 2 inches from the center back seam in each direction, and mark with a water-soluble pen. Then measure 6 inches from each marked point toward the center front of the dress, and mark two more points.
8. Turn under the dress's top edge along the pressed creases, tucking the end of one strap underneath the folded edge at each marked point. Fold the strap up against the folded edge and pin in place. Edge-stitch the entire folded edge, securing the straps in place. Knot the ends of the straps to finish them.
9. Determine the dress's hem length by measuring the wearer from her underarm to just below her knee, and add 1 inch to this measurement. Trim the dress to this length. Turn and press the bottom edge 1/4 inch to the wrong side, then turn and press again 3/4 inch to the wrong side. Edge-stitch the double-fold to finish the hem, backstitching at the beginning and end.

ResourcesSpecial thanks to Heather Ross for sharing this project. Heather Ross fabrics by Free Spirit, which were given to our studio audience, are available at and Purl Patchwork. All other tools and materials are available at sewing and fabric stores. Special thanks to STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books for giving copies of Heather's book, "Weekend Sewing: More than 40 Projects and Ideas for Inspired Stitching," to our studio audience.

I'm a sewer-wannabe (not a waste receptacle, but a person that sews).  I have the desire to create items such as quilts, couture dresses, felted items, purses and my kids pajamas.  Sure I've sewn before.  I've made a few easy-sew items (or at least it says so on the package) thanks to my own two hands and my Riccar sewing machine. 

I have thread dreams of making just about anything that I want.  I often say to myself, " Self, why pay those ridiculous prices?   I could easily make that."   In reality I wonder how long it would take me to get there?  A year or two?  Never? 

As I was flipping through Vogue, I had one of those previously mentioned moments.   I've cut out about a dozen or so pictures of models robed in various high-end designers.  I needed a little inspiration to get me going for these next few months of sewing projects.   

I certainly don't think that I'm going to whip-up items at my sewing machine like I do in my kitchen, but a girl can dream right? My intent is to get to the point where I'm comfortable making the more advanced articles of clothing such as a dress or something of that nature. Nothing too fancy, just something sewn by my own pure relentless will.  It just feels so good willing something into creation.  Maybe one day it will become easy enough to feel as if I've been on the job for years?

Until then, I'm secretly hoping that my great-great-grandmother has stuck around long enough to haunt me at my sewing machine for some extra good luck.  Hey, as a newbie I'm not picky about who helps me.  I am excited to find out that my friend Louis and I are going to start sewing together soon.  Until then, I'm ready to start channeling. *winks*

Photo Gallery

Here is the fabric that I chose for Sarah's dress.
I'm folding over the corners.  This will be the top of the dress.
I could not find anything that was long and straight enough to create a straight edge.  I had to get creative.  This mirror worked very well as a guide.  My flimsy tape measure just wasn't cutting it for me.  I would mark the line and step.  It looked more like a negative slope that some economist would analyze rather than what I was looking for.  I wanted more of a line mimicking the horizon. 
This is what the smocking looks like.  This was all new to me but apparently the elastic thread goes in the bobbin and regular thread stays on top and you sew as usual.  Voila!   

*Let me just add a little not here.  I almost lost my eye at the tail end of the whole smocking thing.  Ben came into the room and was looking over my shoulder. All of the sudden it sounded like some gun went off.  BAM! I reached quickly for my left eye and screamed.  Ben freaked out.  The needle to the sewing machine broke off and flew at my eye.  I will share what I posted on facebook that day. 

"I have a love-hate relationship with sewing. I'm convinced that there is some secret vendetta against me in the sewing world. The needle to my sewing machine just busted off and flew into my eye. Freaky! What a day it has been. I'm grateful for tomorrow...if it will have me (I'm wondering at this point,lol). My fingers are STILL recovering from the stinging nettle incident earlier today too!"
After the smocking was finished I ironed it to make it more scrunchy.
I needed to take Sarah's chest measurement.  I found a website that explains how to take the proper chest measurement for kids at  This a great website because it also tells you how to accurately measure the neck, sleeves, etc. 
I went back to the sewing machine to finish the dress.  Most of my difficulty with sewing is in the mechanical problems that my machine creates for me.  Uggghhh!  My machine broke!  Yes, that's right, kaput.  It had the nerve to break on me after firing off a needle at my eyeball!  So, the project sat for a few days until blessed Ben went to the Sew n' Vac to get a new part for the machine.
TADA! Once the part was in I finished up the dress in no time.  Sarah totally loved her new dress. 
This vintage picture reminds me of Sarah in a few years.  You can tell how happy the little girl is to have a handmade dress from Mom.
Sarah is a natural model.  I told her to say cheese but she had a  better idea.
Sarah, it was worth every second that I swore at my machine, was almost brought to tears, nearly lost my left eye and threw my own version of an adult temper tantrum. You go girl!

~Until next time, "May your bobbins always be full." -Author Unknown~

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