Sunday, April 11, 2010

Smocked Sundress in Gingham

So this is what happened to the smocking.

As a habit, I don't enjoy making an entire garment
out of a single print/patterned fabric. Even in
gingham. It's a bit..... much. Just for fun this
time, however, I thought I'd see how much
variation I could get out of just that checked pattern.

Cut on the bias, the checks make a nice trim:

More of the contrast bias pattern on the pocket.

The smocking turns the checks into stripes and triangles.

This back button placket turned out to be unnecessary.
The smocking was stretchy enough to not need
any extra ease or opening at the back.

Bearing in mind Emily's growth spurts, I made it very roomy.
She's going to grow out of it by the end of summer anyway -
her other dresses have all lasted about three months each.

Too lazy to do embroidery on the bottom hem, so cheated
and used satin ric-rac. Can't get any more old-fashioned
than an entire dress of gingham with ric-rac, can it?

Since you asked, here are some sketches and in-the-process
photos of the smocking stitches. Auntie Laura showed
me how to begin and how to knot off, and how to do the
cable stitch. Then she sent me off to do the rest myself.
Our family is like that - we're very "Go figure it out yourself!
How else will you learn?"
Painful but effective.

But I'm going to be a little more indulgent, and show you.

There are many ways to do smocking, of course.
You could invest in a pleating machine, or iron
evenly-spaced pleats, or baste pleats beforehand.
Or buy transfer dots and put dots on your solid fabric
so you know where to stitch. Gingham or polka dot
fabric already has a ready-made natural grid so you
can just start stitching. The pleats may not be as
crisp as linen but I don't mind. At any rate, this is
an easy fabric for free-hand smocking practice.

I used only three very basic stitches, as I mentioned in the earlier post.

1 The cable stitch - a foundation stitch right at the top of the pattern to form the pleats. The stitches are close together vertically and horizontally. Other stitches are added in rows below the foundation stitch.

This is one row of cable stitches, sewn left to right

and this is the second row of cable stitches sewn
under the first, and stitched right to left.

2 The wave stitch- a loose stitch used to hold groups (in this case, 3) of pleats together:

3 The honeycomb stitch - very like the cable stitch but alternating, and farther apart vertically.
Often it is prettiest with deep pleats, but I did these
these across single shallow pleats, to play with the
pattern of checks. This is one row (sewn left to right)
of honeycomb stitches I did in black thread to
show the needle placement and poor tension (too tight)
Note also that the pleats above them, lacking a
foundation stitch, are atrocious.

These are three (very short) rows of honeycomb stitches -
the second row was sewn right to left and this third row
is again sewn left to right. The tension in the bottom row
is better and the pattern of triangles is beginning to form.

I also used two very basic embroidery stitches
(the French knot and lazy daisy stitch):

You can combine them in any number of ways to
make different patterns. Here are sketches of the yoke pattern

and the pocket pattern:
(Note how the tops of the pleats are sewn (by machine)
in place once the smocking is completed.

And this is how I got started:
  1. Measure the wearer and get a dress pattern - either draft or buy one.
  2. Roughly lay out the pattern on the fabric as shown to make sure everything fits within the fabric but do not cut anything out. (Ignore the eerily displaced words "the front pattern" next to the sketch - they mean nothing, but I couldn't get rid of them).
  3. Mark the outline of the left side and top of the front pattern (shown in bold line). This is so you know where to begin smocking.
  4. Remove all the pattern pieces and start smocking.

Here is that outline you marked. Begin half an inch (roughly_ from the top and from the left edge of the sewing line. The half inch is the sewing allowance for adding the bias tape and yoke later.
Once the smocking is done, sew shut the pleats
at the top of the smocking, and sew up the dress.


  1. Adorable sundress. So cute!!! You did a great job. My Grandmother used to do this kind of smocking on her aprons. Love & blessings from NC!

  2. It's so cute and summer-y! (Is that a real word? - sorry!) I love the gingham and the ric rac and the smocking!

  3. Thanks for sharing all that information. The dress is relly beautiful. Hopefully this one will last her a long time....I'm off to get some gingham...

  4. Hi Lier,
    just wanted to drop you a quick note and say how much I enjoy your blog. I've only recently discovered it, and really enjoy reading about your creations. I never thought I could do smocking, but thanks for your clear instructions - I might give it a try!


  5. Gorgeous smocking. Gingham is where I learnt it. Again did it after 13 years for my daughter. And rediscovered it. HAven't got around to stitching it though. Marvel at your ability to do so much at the same time.

  6. thank you so much for this! I've been wanting to sew a couple of smocked gingham dresses for my girls, but was completely lost. this is perfect :)

  7. Oh! It's super duper cute. Just fantastic detail with smocking and I love the added touch of smocking on the pockets. My mother used to make me smocked dresses and I loved them dearly even as a small child.

  8. Nicely done! So cute and so retro, I bet this becomes one of your little one's favorite dresses!

  9. You are an amazingly talented person! Thank-you for the info... I'd love to give it a try.

  10. You did a beautiful job. My mom showed me how to smock and I appreciate the dresses she makes for my daughter so much more.

  11. Absolutely adorable! My mom smocks with a pleating machine - either way, it's amazing what patience and a "little" handstitching can accomplish!!! I love the smocking detail on the pocket too - perfect touch.

  12. This is lovely! Thank you, also, for the smocking instructions. Not sure when I'll make the time to try it, but it's definitely on my list...

  13. this is sooooo cute, I love to try this... can't wait...

  14. Such a cute little dress! I've been making sun dresses for my girls. I have always wanted to do a smocked top. I still own a dress my mother made for me with hand smocking.

    thanks for the tutorial/directions!

  15. What a beautiful little dress!! And what a fortunate daughter to have a mother willing to make it. You did an excellent job, and thank you so much for the tutorial. Very generous!!

  16. Very cute! Reminds of the detailed sewing my Mother did 50 years ago on twin dresses many times over for my sister and I.

  17. Absolutely darling--your work is impeccable and your photos are great too. Love this!

  18. I've been trying to get my nerve up to smock... and you come along and show me how to do it with your clear explanation and photos! I am so pleased! Think I can REALLY do this! Thanks so much!

  19. I love your design! My home economics teacher was giving us a project on smocking, and I was searching for projects when I stumbled upon yours. Once I saw the finished product, I think I'm gonna like smocking. This is my first time doing so, and you gave some procedures on how to do the stitches. Thank you!! x ((:

  20. This is just precious!!!

  21. I'm playing with the idea of making smocked sleeveless tops for my boys. How much extra did you add to the pattern to account for the pleats the smocking creates? It looks like it should be about doubled, but in your pattern layout, the front yoke and the front dress panel have the same width at the top.

  22. @hand-sewer
    It's very inexact, unfortunately. The final width of the smocked portion depends, among other factors, upon how tightly you pull the threads in the smocking design. If you look at the sketches in the tutorial, you can see that I marked out the left armscye and left the entire piece of fabric (it was 45" wide) uncut and smocked the yoke portion. Only when the smocking was close to completed did I lay the dress pattern over the now-pleated fabric and determine where the right armscye should go. And when the smocking was totally completed, I then applied scissors to the fabric for the first time, to cut out the dress. The dress is one entire piece of fabric. The yoke is demarcated from the lower portion of the dress by the presence/absence of smocking only; there is no horizontal chest seam.

  23. Thanks! That was in your post all along and my brain just couldn't parse it for some reason...sorry! I'm going to take the plunge and I'll link you to my shirts when I finish them. I've only ever smocked ribbons before, so I'm excited! (Since I haven't mentioned it yet, I LOVE your blog. I just read through your ENTIRE archive and bookmarked all my favorite project ideas. I'll probably be commenting on more old posts over the summer.)

  24. 2 words for you, Lier. Amazing, interesting.....discovered your blog this morning and can't stop reading it!!! So tempted to learn sewing already!

  25. very cute pattern n smoking looks amezing with it gr8!!!!!!!

  26. This is just BEAUTIFUL!!! I love it!!! Hope you don't mind, but I'm pinning this...

  27. This is such a great tutorial - thank you. I have been looking for a SIMPLE way to make my first smocked dress for my daughter and don't want to buy an expensive pleat machine (yet) or attempt something super extensive (i.e. that I would get 30% in and then have it up on the shelf ever after)...after combing the internet, your tut looks the closest to what I'm after - where the smocking is a beautiful garnish on a beautiful but simple dress (i.e. not the entire bodice, etc.)...because I'm so new to this, do you know of any patterns that I can buy that have a simple enough smocking element to be reasonable to accomplish by a newbie and completely by hand? I don't mind paying...I am just worried about "eyeballing" it my first how you guestimated where to put the other armhole per your comment above.

    Thanks in advance for any advice, Deb

    1. Deb, I don't sew with commercial patterns at all, so I have no clue what's available to buy. I'm so sorry. Ironically, this sundress is one of the projects in this book:

      and they turned my "pattern" into a paper pattern that is included in the book. If you're interested in the other 100+ projects as well, you could invest in it.

  28. Great tutorial. I've got a book that just shows the honeycomb stitches. I didn't realise I needed the cable stitch....that explains why my sample looked like your example wihtout a foundation stitch.

  29. Hello from Uruguay. Congratulations on all that is on your page. It is very useful for me. Thank you.

  30. Esta hermoso el vestido,lo voy a tratar de hacer,y sobre todo fresco y delicado....gracuas por mostrar estas bellezas

  31. I love the smocking and you made it look so easy. Thank-you for sharing this.

  32. Thank you for sharing this with me. Reading your tutorials makes my morning feel like I am having a cuppa with a group of friends while crafting. Thank you for the feeling of friendship of common interests.

  33. Your unconditional sharing of the process is charming. Feel motivated to go back to sewing. Thanx


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