November 6, 2015

Girl's Smocked Dress Sew-Along #4: Smocking the bodice fabric

You're back! Glad to have you here. As we continue our BurdaStyle Girl's Smocked Dress (08/2015 #137), let's take a moment to get really excited about today's episode. This is it, y'all. Music swells; sparklers ignite; a million balloons fall from the ceiling. It's time ... to ... smock!

If you've never smocked before, that's okay. This is my first time, too! We're in this together. Below, I'll share some tips I learned from making mistakes in this first attempt. I encourage you to 'fess up in the comments, as well, so we can learn from each other.

Prepare the fabric for smocking

Cut out the piece to be smocked: Let's go back to the instructions in the magazine. Find the "cutting out" section. As you can see, piece "b" is a long rectangle of fabric that will be smocked. 

You know about grainlines, right? For the purposes of this pattern, the width measurement aligns with the fabric width. In other words, the smocked piece is going to be longer than it is tall, when it is finally installed in the garment. None of this matters if you're using a solid fabric, or one whose print is the same whether it's right side up or upside down. But it's good to know, especially if the print on your fabric is one-way directional, or if the fabric has a nap.

In my case, size 116 (6x US), the rectangle is 9 1/4 inches long by 32 inches wide. 

Mark a grid of dots: All along the fabric, minus a margin of about one inch, use a washable fabric marker to lay down a grid of dots spaced 3/8" or 1/2" apart. For ny thick flannel, I spaced the dots at 1/2".

As I mentioned in the first post, one of my many dirty little secrets is that I used Crayola washable markers to make these dots. Is the hair rising on the back of your neck? Are you breaking out in a sweat? Sorry. If you prefer, you can use a water soluble marking pen made specifically for fabric, such as Clover's water soluble marker.

Smock it, baby!

We'll be smocking in the honeycomb pattern, an excellent technique for beginning smockers. Or, choose any other pattern you want; don't let me stop you. 

How to smock: Because the excellent ladies and gentlemen of the Internet have already created a happy abundance of smocking tutorials, I won't re-invent the wheel here. Instead, check out these how-to guides:

Inspiration: Enjoy a few stunning examples of expert smocking to whet your appetite. Ooooh. Ahhhhhh.

Smocking the flannel for this BurdaStyle garment: Here's a mini visual tutorial showing my efforts on this fabric. For in-depth instructions, visit the links above.

Push the needle through the fabric from the back. Pull the thread through to the front.

From the front, take a "bite" of fabric in the dot to the right of the original dot.

Push the needle back through the original dot, a little to the side of the first stitch. Pull tightly through all stitches. Then repeat the process on the dot below the second dot (down and right - "southeast" of the original dot). Repeat across all rows.

Here's how the smocking looks on the flannel fabric for the dress.

And here's the entire piece, smocked throughout. This started out as 32" wide. Now it's about as wide as the front bodice pattern piece, plus seam allowances on the sides.

After viewing those smocking tutorials above, you can plainly see mine is not the job of a professional smocker. Like I said, this was my first attempt at smocking. It took about 3 hours.

What I learned (and you will too)

  • Match the level of fussiness to the project: Even with its unevenness and "rustic" nature, I'm going to use this smocking in the dress. It's a casual flannel kid's dress, made for romping and play. If this were a more formal project, such as a main character's movie costume or a christening gown, I'd probably make a few more attempts and improve my skills before diving into the actual fashion fabric. 
  • Don't get cocky: The idea of a contrasting turquoise thread against the fuchsia fabric looked good in my head. In the hands of an adept smocker, the flawless piece would glimmer with lovely contrasting stitches. But for a beginner, perhaps I should have picked a thread that matched the fabric, to help camouflage any errors. 
  • Flannel has its own set of issues: I knew this going in. The beautiful examples in the links above tend to use finer fabrics that play nicely with crisp smocking techniques. On the other hand, the BurdaStyle pattern recommends flannel for a laid-back, boho vibe. If you pick flannel, just be resigned to the idea that your smocking is not going to look like the beauties at the inspo links. That's fine!

What about you:— how did your smocking turn out? How long did it take? Did you use a contrasting thread, or a color that matched your fabric? Let me know in the comments.

Next time, we will embellish and construct the pockets in the skirt.

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