Gathering Threads

Bin There, Done That

Posted by on Oct 03 2011, in Pattern review, Smocking

You know those sewing projects that seem like a good idea when you start out?

The ones you’ll be able to sew up quickly?  Use up some stash, try a cute new pattern and knock off another to-do on the list?

That won’t take a lot of fiddling or squidging or would-you-just-lay-flat-you-stupid-piece-of…because they’re just so simple a monkey could sew them?

But that somehow, midway through, turn into one of those hair-yanking, toss it all, will it ever be finished frustrations?


This dress is one of those.

Looks pretty innocuous, right?  It’s “Abigail” from Cheryl Lohmann’s “Smocking” and from the picture in this little book, it seemed awfully adorable.   Sewing it up though was anything but adorable.

It came as close as anything I’ve sewn in the past few years to being a binner because from the get-go, everything was a challenge and it shouldn’t be.  IT’S A SLEEVELESS SUNDRESS!!!

I can sew a sleeveless sundress – when the pattern actually works, which this one didn’t on so many levels.  Now I don’t expect perfection.  Almost every pattern has a few areas I tweak as I sew or that I have to work around.   It happens.  But when the entire pattern is nothing but sew arounds, my patience evaporates at an incredible rate.

First off, there’s no clear blocking guide or explicit measurement like “block to 11 3/4”.  You just have to guess how wide you need to block the finished smocking to. OK.  I’m good at math.  I can do that.  So I measured the top yoke, added in the width of the armscye and blocked it to that number.  Next, there was no guide fro cutting out the armscyes.  I’m assuming they just wanted me to fold the facing pattern piece in half but why?   Why not include the actual blocking guide and save all the confusion?  And what about seam allowances during blocking?  Included?  Excluded?  No idea, so I made up a guide as best I could figure and as I’m sure you’ve all experienced, guessing never comes out well.

But I forged ahead, stretched that smocking as wide as I dared, attached the piping, gathered the back skirt, seamed the sides and put on the front yoke, just like the instructions told me to.

The results weren’t pretty.

The straps were so short that when I put it on Stanley there was a 2 1/2″ gap between the top of the front yoke and the end of the straps.  I said a very rude word and stomped off to bed.

The next morning, I came up with an ugly but workable solution.  I folded out the front yoke and simply drew in a new neckline.  This added 2″ to the front and with a bit of tugging, I could finally get the straps to meet the front yoke.   Of course, since I’d already pressed it, I ended up with a nice permanent fold line right across the chest but screw it.  I wasn’t binning a handsmocked dress.

I folded the yoke in half vertically so it would be symmetrical and cut out my oh-so-exact new front yoke lines.  Then I cut another rectangle, made more piping and sewed the whole thing together.

Here are the results and all I can say is I hope the little girl I made this for moves around a lot.   Galloping horses and what have you.

The armscyes are tiny and ill-fitting.  They’re just not big enough.  They pull and ride up even now.

The chest is so tiny – it’s more like a size 2 in circumference, and any resemblance to a size 4 is entirely accidental.  And you can see how much I stretched that smocking – lots of nice bubbles present from being overly stretched.  🙁  And it’s still too narrow.

The dress is so long that I ended up consulting my Aldrich for sizing, cutting off three inches, making a 1″ tuck and a 5″ hem.  And it’s still tea length.

The armhole facings are skimpy and insufficient.  I had to catch stitch them down, just to stop them from rolling up.  A full front lining would have been much better, or deeper facings at the least.  Just one more thing that made me go grrrr…

So for the first time ever, I am giving a pattern a DNS rating.

In other words, don’t sew this pattern.  The instructions are lacking, the pattern pieces don’t even have grain lines and the fit is so bad that it will not work without major modifications.  Save your time and your effort for something that actually goes together well.

The smocking plates included in the book are quite cute, so the book isn’t a total loss but the pattern I sewed was so badly done that I won’t even bother testing the other one, which also has some nice lines.  I’m just not willing to waste my time to find out that it too is created from such skewed blocks.  *stomp, stomp, stomp*


  • Chris

    The back yoke is way too short. You must lengthen it till the seam line is even with the end of smocking in front.
    This is not usually covered in the instructions, but it is still something that needs to be done.

  • I totally agree about the back yoke length. Unfortunately, that important info wasn’t written down in the instructions: hence the frustration. 🙂

  • Chris

    It never is! It’s one of those things you just have to know before you sew.
    I really don’t understand why instructions are not written correctly.

  • Catherine L

    Hi Clare,
    I love your blog. Years ago I was in my local SAGA chapter and one of our members had this book and actually made the sundress from it. She wasn’t one of our best sewers and I don’t remember her mentioning any problems. I do remember the back being smocked also. That would balance out the dress, since the back yoke does not extend down to the bottom of the smocking. My 11-year-old was looking at the pictures and thought the dress was really cute. I don’t know what your fabric situation is, but, if it were me…I would rip the entire back off the dress and cut out a new back yoke. Use another pattern to determine how wide the back should be and be sure to make it long enough to meet the bottom of the smocking. You could also lengthen the straps to make the armhole bigger. You could re-use the back skirt, just cut off the top of it to make it the right length. All of this is assuming you have enough of the red stripe to do a new back yoke.

  • Claire

    Thanks, Catherine. Sadly, I didn’t have any more of the red stripe. It was this wonderful red glazed chintz cotton. Gorgeous stuff but it was the end of a bolt and I only had enough to squeeze out the pattern and leave tippets for mice, as Beatrix Potter would say. It is a cute dress, it’s just so many things are missing that I can’t bring myself to do all the fixes I’d have to do to make it work. One day, I might draft a pattern using the same principles. Item #1034 on the to-do list 🙂

  • Catherine L

    That is too bad about the fabric–it is beautiful and the whole red and white dress with the buttons on the smocking is beautiful. I like re-drafting patterns to suit my whims and needs. There is a great book by Nancy Zieman: The Busy Woman’s Fitting Book. I’ve used this extensively in redrafting children’s patterns.