November 2, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #1: Welcome and supplies

Hello, sewists! Ready for a sew-along? For those not in the know, a sew-along is a multi-part series that walks you through a particular garment from start to finish. Each episode gives us a chance to look at things in detail, and we'll learn some new tricks as we go.

This time, we'll be making the Girl's Smocked Dress (#137) from BurdaStyle magazine. In the United States, the pattern is part of the the Fall 2015 issue. In the United Kingdom, look for the pattern in the August 2015 edition. Not a subscriber? Download the pattern from the BurdaStyle store: Girls Smocked Dress 08/2015 #137.

BurdaStyle Girl's Smocked Dress 08/2015 (#137 from Fall 2015 BurdaStyle U.S.). Source: BurdaStyle website

Here is a highly professional sketch of what I'll be making in this sew-along:

Ta-da!!!! Please, take all the time you need to recover from the blast of awe you are experiencing. 

I include this pathetic scrawl to make a point: visualizing your fabric choices, even in the most rudimentary of mock-ups, can make a big difference. See how the sleeves are the same fabric as the skirt? At first, they were going to be made in solid fuchsia, same as the smocked bodice. In my mind's eye, it looked great. But after a quick sketch, the design seemed too top-heavy. Back to the literal drawing board!

Let's learn something new

This is not a beginner's sew-along. I'm assuming you already have several notches on your sewing table, as it were. You already know how to make a muslin, adjust the fit, sew the fashion fabric, and finish the raw edges in some way.

In fact, because this is a simple dress for a child, we won't even be making a muslin or adjusting the fit. Feel free to do that anyway, if you like. I'm not your boss! But I rarely make muslins for children's clothing; their quotidian togs tend to be looser and more action-friendly, which means less fussy tailoring on this end.

Beyond the basics, a few tricks in this sew-along may be new to you:

  • Preparing a paper pattern from a printed BurdaStyle Magazine sheet
  • Adding 5/8" seam allowances to a pattern
  • Drafting an interior patch pocket with curved opening
  • Smocking large swath of cloth with a honeycomb stitch
  • Using a loop turner to create a tiny fabric tube for a button closure

This will be my first attempt at smocking, too, so we can laugh jovially at each other's attempts if they turn out wonky. It's a learning process. Hell, most people already think we're aliens for sewing our own clothes anyway; a little inept smocking here and there won't kill anybody.


Ready to get started? Here's what you'll need:

  • Fabric
    • All-one-fabric version: 1 1/8 yd (60" wide) or 1 3/4 yd (45" wide) fashion fabric
    • Or, contrast smocked bodice version: 1/2 yard (45" or 60" wide) for the smocked front bodice, and 1 1/2 yd (45" or 60") for contrasting sleeves, skirt, pockets, and back bodic
  • 1 1/2 yards Swedish tracing paper, wax paper, or whatever you prefer for paper pattern-tracing
  • 1 skein embroidery thread and needle for smocking
  • Washable fabric marker (shhh, I use a washable Crayola marker when the fabric is amenable)
  • 1 small button
  • 1 package single fold bias tape, or extra fabric for DIY bias tape

And a few optional items, if you already have 'em, or need an excuse to acquire 'em:
  • Loop turner, such as the Dritz Loop Turner
  • Rayon seam binding, such as Hug Snug
  • Contrasting thread for pocket embellishments

What fabrics did I pick?

I love using 100% cotton flannel in children's fall/winter clothing. It's a natural fiber, it's machine washable, it's breathable, it doesn't need to be ironed, and it's gentle on the skin. As a girl in the snowy Midwest, I had a wool scarf that was the most abominable scratchy* thing ever devised to torture a child with. Just thinking about it makes my skin prickle. As an adult, my skin is not sensitive to wool any more (yay!), but I try to choose fabrics for children's clothes that are extra soft and comfortable.

  • Smocked front bodice: 100% cotton flannel, fuchsia, from JoAnn
  • Skirt, sleeves, back bodice: 100% cotton flannel, fuchsia & grey zebra print, from JoAnn
  • Smocking: Janlynn DFN embroidery floss in #144, light turquoise
  • Bias tape: Wrights single fold bias tape in baby blue (from my existing supply)

100% cotton flannel solid and print, turquoise embroidery thread, baby blue bias tape

Ready to sew along with me? Gather your supplies. I'l wait here. 

In the next installment, we'll trace the paper pattern and make a choice about seam allowances. See you then!

* In researching wool sensitivity for this piece, I came across a Lifehacker technique to try: Make Wool Clothing Less Itchy with Glycerin or Vinegar. Truth or hogwash? Weigh in, readers!


  1. What's the deal with Swedish tracing paper? Can I just use regular paper?

  2. Great question. Use whatever works for you! You won't be horribly impeded if you use regular paper, and it's readily available.

    I like Swedish tracing paper because it is semi-transparent, and it can be folded and unfolded, over and over again. Regular paper might be a little too opaque to see the printed lines on the BurdaStyle pattern sheet, but maybe not for you. If it's not working out, you could also use wax paper, taped together into the correct size pieces. Use a permanent marker on it; regular pens or pencils don't work.

    I will do a separate post on the wonders of Swedish tracing paper, some time in the future!