I have always loved the look of smocking, and when I brought my new baby girl home almost 6yrs ago, my mother in law told me "I promise to show you how to use my pleating machine to make her little smocked dresses!" I was very excited, but scared all the same - I am one of the worst hand stitchers around (and the cali mums can probably all tell you how much I complain about sequin sewing and how slooooooow I am at it!). Well, it was never mentioned again and in those first few colicky months I hardly had time to sew, and then just as she started to sleep well, we started her on solids and her then unrealised food intolerance had me sleeping less than three hours a night and it was NOT the time to learn new tricks. Suddenly I was back at work, and she was such a big bubba that she quickly grew into little girl clothes, and I thought smocking was really just for babies and it would be too difficult to find patterns for her.
So when I saw the Ellie Inspired Smock Along previews being posted on her facebook page, and that the pattern went from size 1 all the way up to size 16, I thought now is the time! Especially since we were just working on an insert and then sewing it into a simple looking peasant dress, it took a little intimidation out of it. (If you're interested - there is still time to grab your pdf pattern/tutorial for just $4 while the SAL is still running)
I bought my fabric at Fabric Pixie, as there is quite a bit of fabric in this one I limited myself to sale prints only. I was delighted to find this Riley Blake Sidewalks print in their bargain bin (small floral in cream and starburst in blue) and may have also been tempted by a few other pretties while I was there! I used a plain broadcloth in cream for the insert, and took it to my mother in law's house to learn how to do the pleating.
I mostly followed the guide on Ellie Inspired, but had my mother in law there to help me get acquainted with Sally (Stanley Pleater). I went very slowly, terrified of breaking needles, but she wasn't so scary after all! And once I got home and started stitching, I found it very difficult to put my needle down. Once I got into a bit of a rhythm it was quite relaxing and I was a little sad that it was finished so soon!
Then it was onto blocking and the really scary bit of sewing in my insert. I haven't worked with micropiping before, so went very slowly to avoid wonkiness and I was a little anxious when it came to trimming the edges of my insert. I also discovered that not all pleaters are created equally and over ten rows of smocking, my insert was over an inch narrower than other SAL participants, and therefore didn't line up with my back bodice AT ALL! So I had to unpick my elastic casings, and trim the bodice back before redoing it all. Then it was onto all those ruffles. I did pick up my ruffle foot, still in it's pack from my birthday... in January... and promptly put it back down, deciding I had already pushed myself outside of my comfort zone enough for this project!
This dress took a lot more time than I had first expected (partially due to my trepidation at all the new skills), but I got there in the end, and the main thing, my princess LOVES it. As you can see, it fits her perfecty, and it was great to have the designer there to answer my questions as I went. So pleased Laura ran a sew-along to help me learn this beautiful craft.
Madelyn modeled for me straight after school (so excuse the messy hair) and refused to take it off, she even went and played with her DOLLS afterwards, so unheard of, so maybe it helped to bring her girly side out!
I also found a great stitching group at Country Bumpkin: Create In Stitch, and can't wait to start another smocking project. Apparently a doll version will be coming out soon, but I know I will want a bigger project, so in the meantime, I am eyeing off this one. Thinking of doing the sleeveless version for summer, with a smocked skirt and with the ruffles on the neckline. Now to find the right fabric!
Tricks to remember for next time:
- Use a highly contrasting thread for pleating the fabric on ALL rows, alternating two colours to help with row counting.
- Pleat with half rows if the design calls for it (I pleated my fabric in preparation before the smocking plate was released, and if you look closely you'll see those ribbon casing stitches aren't all exactly even as I had no half row to help me).
- Spray starch the insert after pleating, to help those pleats stay crisp and standing up straight while you smock. (Completely wet it and leave it to dry).
- If you really must pre-block, make the width about 1/2" to 1" less than what you want at the end - it's easier to stretch out after smocking than to squish it all up again as squishing will make your stitches looser and with lots of handling, it's bound to relax a little.
- Remember the post block makes all the difference, and it doesn't matter if the pleats shift a little while you smock as your stitches pull everything together and the blocking corrects any unevenness.
- Relax and enjoy it!