Have you seen Deer and Doe’s new Fall-Winter patterns? I immediately had to have the Cardamome dress. – it went straight onto my Autumn/Winter Wardrobe wish list. I loved the bib, the cuffs and the cinched waist, plus pockets- who can resist pockets? But I must admit, I was a touch intimidated – I’ve never ever tried smocking before and this pattern has a difficulty rating of 4/5.
I had the perfect fabric in my stash: 3 meters of some burgundy/merlot affair I picked up at the Walthamstow Market in June (from Sainsbury Man). To be honest I haven’t a clue what kind of fabric it is, it’s lovely and smooth, has a nice drape and frays like crazy. Anyway I figured that I had enough of it to give the dress a go and work out the kinks – and hopefully have a wearable dress as I love the color.
Because I was a little intimidated I decided to do just one step each evening – I also decided to be fastidious in noting down what I’d do differently next time (which I’ve included here).
On Monday night I cut out my pieces. As I am making version A (with 3/4 sleeves) that’s 13 pieces to cut out and it took a very long time. Note to self: I need new fabric scissors!
Step 1: The bib.
On Tuesday I set myself the task of the bib. The instructions are quite straight forward but I’ve made a few notes as to how to do it better next time: As my notches on both the front bodice and the bib where on the very edge of my fabric (and therefore hidden when I over lapped the bid and bodice) it was a bit fiddly to find the exact right placement. The back went just fine.
Next time I’ll put a little mark 5/8″ in from the edge where the notches are – that way placement should be easier. As I had to fiddle around with the bib placement on the bodice, I somehow messed up the gathers. They got a bit lost and one side look like an accidental snag. But I think that refining my technique for overlapping the two pieces will remove this problem next time. I’m already dreaming of versions of the dress that have contrasting fabric for the bib, or use piping around the edges…
On Wednesday evening, instead of moving onto the smocking, my inner perfectionist reared her head and insisted I un-stitch and redo the front gathers. Once side came out brilliantly, the other despite redoing it several time, still didn’t quite work. There went Wednesday…
Step 2: The Smocking
Eeek. Something brand new. Not only have I never sewn smocking, I don’t think I’ve owned an item of clothing with smocking for 20 years. I decided Thursday would be my dedicated smocking evening.
First thing I did was google “smocking” because the instructions just say Stitch a smocking row….Stretch your elastic thread along the fabric, and trap it in a zigzag stitch. Now is the second sentence the how to stitch a smocking row? I tried this on some scraps and while it sorta worked, I wasn’t entirely convinced.
Hence the googling, where I learned two things: 1st that I wasn’t actually about to “smock” my dress, I was “shirring” with elasticated thread. 2nd that I could actually thread my bobbin with the elasticated thread, and sew a medium length straight stitch. This worked much better on my practice run and ultimately what I did on the bodice front and back. I was pretty impressed when it actually worked!
Step 3: The skirt
Although the smocking took less time than I thought it would, I decided to leave the skirt for Friday evening. It was at this point that I realized that perhaps the fabric had to much drape as my pocket facing and pocket didn’t really fit well with each other, suggesting that I’d managed to distort the fabric at some point. I have since realised, once its all done that pocket could be deeper as there’s not that much room actually in the pocket.
Other than that, the skirt came together quite well, I was particularly pleased that the smocking lined up well! Though it felt funny to sew my hem while there was still so much to do on the dress. I’m use to that being the last step – but my hem is very nice. Maybe there’s something to be said for not doing your hem last and rushing to finish the dress as you run out the door.
Step 4: The collar
Well the collar was straightforward and all but I didn’t do a very nice job. This fabric wiggles quite a bit which made it hard to be terribly accurate. As a result when attaching the collar stand to the neckline I made caught the back bib in one or two places – but these are conveniently hidden by the collar. Then catastrophe! I ran out of thread – one whole brand new bobbin gone. Where did it go? I really don’t know. Then I realized the next step was buttons (which I’d yet to buy). I went through my button stash but didn’t have either the right ones or enough of the ones I did want. Gahhhhh.
So I had to get dress and actually leave the house. But I did get some great satin polyester buttons which match brilliantly. They’re buttons I’ve used on a few shirts and I love the matte effect. Because my collar stand was a bit skewify the button/button hole placement was a bit wonky especially the top one.
Step 5: The Sleeves
And finally this morning I turned to the last step – the sleeves! It was a good thing I started this step fresh as reading the instructions, looking at my pieces, reading the instruction again, I was baffled by how to fold the placket sides and turn them. So I had a break. I had a coffee. I googled the dress. I asked people’s advice on Facebook. And still nothing.
Then EUREKA struck. I honestly don’t know how to explain how to really do this step, except that you end up folding the sleeve placket to the side in a counter-intuitive way (at least its counter-intuitive for me). One my second sleeve I photo documented every step – in this slide show. One hurdle done.
Then I had to try to fold the inside top of the placket to for a triangle. Dear god: smote me now. This was so fiddly I practically sewed the skin of my fingers into a square (note NOT a triangle). The damn fabric kept sneaking out. I got there in the end, but the first side looks atrocious and the second one is only marginally better. But who is going to be looking at my elbow anyway right?
In the end I’m pretty pleased with myself – I learned a lot over this last week. Both sleeve plackets and smocking were brand new techniques I’ve never used. I think next time I’ll be able to do a much better job (and there will be a next time – I’m thinking forest green with contrasting piping). But for now, I’ve got a perfectly wearable dress which as long as no one looks too closely looks pretty good.