I particularly love craft passed down through generations; every time I use my grandmother’s heavy green metal sewing machine, I imagine channeling the DIY genes through my fingertips. Heather Ross’s vibrant book, Weekend Sewing, not only inspires blissful projects like hostess aprons, garden gloves, and baby bloomers, but it also focuses on taking time out of the daily grind to relish the simple joys of sewing. For this week’s How-Tuesday project, we’re sharing Heather’s Smocked Sundress along with some useful tips for sewing with children. You can download the PDF here or follow along below, courtesy of STC Craft/A Melanie Falick Book.
As a child, I lived with my mom and twin sister in a one-room schoolhouse in the mountains of Northern Vermont. My daily routine was guided by the light and the seasons because — aside from school — there really was nowhere else to be. Our property was bordered by a rushing river that tumbled into a tall waterfall and ended in a deep and perfect swimming hole. Whenever we could, my sister and I would swim and explore the woods and orchards around our house, but when the long, dark winters drove us inside, we would spend countless hours executing elaborate craft projects.
These days, I live in New York City, a place that is ruled by the clock. My life as an artist and designer of fabric and clothing requires me to be accessible, punctual, and dressed appropriately (which means shoes, even in the summertime!). From Monday morning through Friday afternoon, my life is generally about deadlines and timelines and bottom lines. Often, it is only during weekends and holidays — and those few work days when I sneak away and play hooky — that I can take time out to sew for pure pleasure. I think of this as “weekend sewing.” Logical as it may seem, for me weekend sewing is not limited to Saturday and Sunday. Rather, I consider it to be any time I am able to immerse so fully in the joy of sewing that I lose track of time and even myself, just like I did as a child. It is my hope that with Weekend Sewing, this book, I will inspire you to steal some time from your busy life for this simple joy — whether sewing for you is a newfound passion or a lifelong friend.
Sewing with Children
In my home studio, I keep a small basket filled with wool scraps, buttons, and various trims. If young guests express an interest in sewing, I help them make a small stuffed toy to take home.
Children aged 5 and up can learn the basics of sewing using simplified tools: try threading embroidery thread through the large eye of a plastic children’s sewing needle (these are not too sharp and are easy for small hands to grasp), and practice making simple stitches together on scraps cut from an old sweater. When a child has mastered a basic running stitch and expresses a desire to sew seams more quickly than can be managed by hand, they are ready to be introduced to a sewing machine.
In recent years, a good number of children’s sewing machines have become available. Try www.hearthsong.com for wonderful new sewing machines (not toys; these are real machines!) and projects designed for kids. Many people collect vintage children’s sewing machines, which are beautiful and fun to use. Some of these vintage machines are operated by hand crank, which can be a bit tedious but gives good control over speed. It can be fun to work together on a hand-crank machine, with one person cranking the wheel while the other guides the fabric.
My students at Purl Patchwork in New York City love this dress, in part, I’m sure, because it only takes an hour or so to make. (I actually whipped one up on the morning of my wedding for my cousin’s daughter to wear as my flower girl.) The real beauty of this dress is its shape and fit. It’s a great summer standby — casual made in quilting cotton and a little dressier made in linen or printed chiffon. It will fit for more summers than most cotton dresses, due to its stretchy nature and the fact that, in a pinch, it can work as a skirt. You can also extend its life by making it with shoulder straps that tie and can be easily adjusted or by leaving off the straps on the back of this dress, then tying the front straps, halter-style, around the wearer’s neck.
Fits 12 months-size 4 (instructions are given for 12-month size, with measurements for size 4 included in parentheses)
3/4 yard of 45″-wide quilting cotton or lightweight woven fabric, pre-washed (fabric should be lightweight enough to yield to elastic thread)
All-purpose thread to match fabric
Elastic thread wound around an extra bobbin
Water-soluble fabric-marking pen
Transparent quilter’s ruler or straightedge
2 yards of spaghetti strap, bias tape (sewn closed), or ribbon for ties, cut into four equal lengths
1. Press Fabric’s Top Edge
With the fabric wrong side up, turn and press the top raw edge 1/4″ to the wrong side, and then turn and press this edge again 1/4″ to the wrong side. Do not sew this folded edge yet; the pressed lines will be important guides later on. Unfold this edge, and lay the fabric flat.
2. Mark Smocking Lines
With the fabric right side up, use the water-soluble pen and the quilter’s ruler or straightedge to draw six (eight) straight lines, each 1/2″ apart, across the fabric’s width, beginning 1″ below the fabric’s top edge.
3. Sew Smocking
With elastic thread in your bobbin and the fabric right side up, sew along your marked lines to create six (eight) rows of elasticized smocking. Backstitch or lockstitch at the beginning and end of each row to secure the stitching, and cut the thread before starting each new row. Now you have a panel with elastic smocking across the top.
4. Measure and Trim Smocked Panel
Using a spray bottle filled with water, generously dampen your “smocked” stitches. With a very hot iron set on steam and cotton, press the smocked area flat. You’ll notice that the elastic “shrinks up” nicely and that your water-soluble pen marks disappear.
Using a measuring tape, take the chest measurement of the child you’re sewing for, and with a water-soluble marker, mark the line from top of dress to hem. Before cutting the panel, secure the elastic threads by stitching across them at your chest measurement with a short, closely spaced straight stitch. Then trim off the marked, excess portion of your panel.
5. Sew and Turn Smocked Panel
Fold the smocked panel with the fabric’s right sides together, align the cut edges, and sew these edges together with a medium-width and -length zigzag stitch.
Turn panel right side out, press seam flat (with the seam allowances pressed to one side), and topstitch the seam allowances in place by stitching 1/4″ from the seam. This seam now marks the center back of your dress.
6. Mark Strap Positions
Without stretching the smocking, measure 2″ from the center-back seam in each direction, and mark these two points with your water-soluble pen. Then measure 6″ from each marked point toward the center front of the dress, and mark two more points. These points mark where you’ll attach the sundress’s four straps.
Turn under the dress’s top edge along the pressed creases, tucking the end of one strap underneath the folded edge at each marked point. Fold each strap up, as shown, and press the strap in place before edge-stitching the entire folded edge and the straps in place. Knot the other end of the straps to finish them.
7. Hem Dress
Determine the dress’s hem length by measuring the wearer from her underarm to just below her knee, and add 1″ to this measurement for the hem itself. Measure and trim the dress to this length. Turn and press the dress’s bottom raw edge 1/4″ to the wrong side, and then turn and press this edge again, this time 3/4″ to the wrong side. Finally edge-stitch the double-fold to finish your hem, backstitching at the beginning and end of your stitching.
Think this dress would be just as cute for Mom? Find the adult version of this pattern on Heather’s blog! Thanks to Heather Ross and the good folks at Stewart Tabori & Chang for sharing this project with us.