Smocked dresses instantly remind me of my childhood. My mother was always smocking dresses for me and my sister. Every special occasion was marked by the arrival of a new masterpiece: violin performances and eisteddfods, the annual Mildura show, and sometimes even Christmas and birthdays. It was always exciting when mum brought out the smocking ‘machine’ – a mysterious contraption that seemed to be capable of miracles, as the fabric went in one end taut and smooth and came out the other with perfect pleats, ready for mum to work her magic.
Aside from the nostalgia, I’ve discovered that I find the act of smocking quite relaxing and addictive. I’ve only made a few things so far, but they have been fun to do, and surprisingly speedy (relatively speaking). Two Christmasses ago, mum got me my very own smocking machine – she bought it off an old lady who didn’t have use for it any more (I think her eyesight may have been failing) – when mum told her it was for her daughter, she was thrilled that it was going to a young person who was keen to learn and carry on the tradition.
I’ve only been able to use the machine once so far, but I’d love to get it out again soon. I was planning to make a dress for Little Miss A’s 2nd birthday. I was on track for it too – all I had left were the buttonholes when my sewing machine decided to cark it. Six weeks passed while I waited for it to be repaired – needless (and needle-less!) to say the birthday came and went and it was a while before I got back into the swing of things and managed to finish off the dress.
Vogue 9177 is my first attempt at a Bishop dress. This basically meant that the front and backs are sewn to the arms prior to putting it through the pleating machine. There is a fair amount of fabric involved and I was worried that it would be tricky and fiddly and that it wouldn’t go through smoothly – especially through the French seams- but, I was pleasantly surprised with the results, especially as it was my first foray into using the contraption.
Here’s a picture of the unpleated dress, with the sleeves attached to the front and backs. So much fabric for such a little garment! It gets all rolled up on a piece of dowell, ready to be put through the pleating machine.
Here’s the dress going through the pleating machine. Magic!
After the fabric is pleated, it needs to be ‘blocked’ on an ironing board and steamed into shape. This was the most fiddly part of the whole process..
After it’s been steamed and blocked for a day or so, it’s time for the fun part! Smocking!
The pattern came with instructions and a design for the actual smocking stitches, which meant that I didn’t have to think too hard about making up a pattern. I am slightly annoyed that I didn’t centre the design properly, even though, as you can see, I started in the centre of the garment! It doesn’t really matter, and I don’t think you can really tell, but the fact that I failed to figure this out prior to starting really bugs me. Next time!
I decided to keep the dress simple and just use plain white embroidery floss for the whole thing. I vaguely toyed with the idea of using red instead, but the lady at the local sewing shop told me that would look tacky, so I stuck to my original vision.
I have to say, it would have been helpful if the pattern included instructions for using a smocking machine as well as the method of picking up stitches by hand. I had to consult online and a few reference books (thanks mum!) to work out the order and method for pulling up the pleats on the smocking machine.
I also think that without the additional diagrams and instructions I found in reference books, the instructions that accompanied the pattern would have been a little too vague, at times, to follow properly.
The satisfying thing about making a Bishop dress is that, once the embroidery is complete, there really isn’t that much extra sewing to do before you have a completed garment! Just a neck binding, sleeve binding, side seams, hem and buttonholes and buttons and that’s it!
Little Miss A has only worn this dress on two occasions so far. It’s pretty cute on her, and it’s nice and roomy and comfortable, which means I can layer up with singlets and spencers if the weather is a little chilly. I made the shorter length, and I was surprised by how short it really was – I ended up having a very small hem. Next time I’ll do the longer version to rectify that problem.
This was actually a test garment to practice on before I hacked into some luscious Liberty fabric (wool and cotton blend) that I purchased with a smocked dress in mind. I’m thinking I should make it in the next size up and put it away for next year – she probably doesn’t need that many ‘party dresses’ at this stage.
All in all, I’m pleased with the result. I reckon I’ll be using this pattern again – I’ll definitely be doing the short-sleeved version at some point for a summer dress.