Watermelon Smock

comments: 99


PATTERN: Bishop dress from the amazing Nancy Malitz (but all wonkiness, lack of direction-following, and general laziness [sadly] mine)
FABRIC: Cotton polka dot from Mill End Store

Thank you for all of your great comments for Andy's quilt! He was so pleased (and flattered) to read them. I am going to see if I can get him to write a post about his experience. You can imagine that he had a few things to say. The things he says about sewing while sewing crack me up. I need to write them down but I am to busy re-threading needles and filling bobbins for him. I was out on Sunday, one of the days he was sewing, and he admitted that if the bobbin had run out he would've been done for the day. I love it.

Oh, sewing. I am thinking about sewing a lot. I am learning so much. All of these little dresses — to be honest, I had already made seven or eight before I'd even started showing them off — they are teaching me so much. It's been a long time since I've sewn a gathered sleeve cap into an arm's eye, for instance. My first few were a disaster. I've made four Bishops but I just learned over the weekend from one of my books about exactly how to use a "Bishop guide," which helps you determine how to spread out the pleats evenly around the circumference of the neck. I think this dress has too much fullness in the front, and not enough in the back, and I'm guessing that's why the sleeves seem a bit pitched forward: I don't have the pleats spread evenly around the circumference? (I don't know where to get one of those guides but I'm on the hunt today.) And I didn't know that my machine could do a blind hem stitch. GLORY DAY. How did I not know this? Because I never really read the manual. Because I couldn't find the manual. Then I found it in the "special place." Where I put it so I wouldn't lose it. And there it was: blind hem stitch. No more doing hems by hand. And looking at this picture I see now what Nancy meant in the directions when she talked about "straightening the hemline." Oh, that. Got it. So much to learn. It feels so good to learn new things, especially when I should've learned them a long time ago. Aparently, now that I'm wrapping up the book, where I boss people around constantly and tell them to do things like follow the instructions, or read the appendix, I've decided that none of these directives apply to me.

Nowhere has this been more apparent than when I try to smock something. I went from sheer terror to total carelessness in a matter of pleats. The more I started to understand that contemporary smocking is almost synonymous with "heirloom sewing" (which I still think is kind of ironic, given the smock's rustic origins as a laborer's garment), the more my right eye started twitching, and I started looking for a way around. I mean, of course it makes sense to do things right (yadda yadda), since you're going to put so much time into the smocking (and let me just say that preparing something to be smocked also takes a ton of work, even if you are cutting corners the way I do). But, gulp. I sheepishly admit that I don't think heirloom is my style, in anything. Actually, my style is sort of like this: If I like doing it, I'll do it. If I don't like doing it, I probably won't do it. My preferences are totally a la carte, and rarely converge in the same garment. So, smocking something by hand on teeny tiny pleats? I'LL DO IT! I love it. Don't try to stop me. Pulling threads to make sure pieces are cut on the grain, and making French seams, or even pinking seam allowances, or (goodness forbid) basting something? Oh, dear. Oh, no. Apparently, my tolerance for those things is almost zilch. Naturally, I reserve my energies for the parts of things that I enjoy and I try to get away with doing as little as humanly possible on the parts I don't.

So thus it is that I can't be bothered to, you know, cut things straight, or, read the actual directions, or transfer the markings, or go out and buy thread that actually matches the fabric. Phooey! No. I'm on vacation! (Apparently. Even though I never am.) (Apparently also my favorite part of "sewing" seems to be the picking out of the fabric and the pattern more than any of the actual sewing itself, since I have a stack of fabric-and-patterns two feet high.)

I'm exaggerating a little, of course. All of those things are actually important. You learn that the hard way over and over again, and I know better. When you're supposed to match notches, for instance, and you can't find either of them. That's a moment when you go, "Oh. I guess I should've taken the four-tenths of a milisecond to actually snip the notches. Since I'm now sitting here for fifteen minutes ripping this thing out because I guessed and it's totally uneven." Enough of those moments and you are never too lazy to snip the notches again. (I've also run fabric through the pleater on what I thought was only a "slight" angle off-grain, and came out with a dress that was totally shaped like a parallelogram.) Doing the Right Things must eventually just become automatic, since the frocks come out pretty well, often enough. When they don't, I just think of someone one day saying, "Oh, Mommy is so funny — look, she put the sleeves on backwards again!" (I am reminded of an afternoon at the pool, twenty years ago now, with my art professor and her little girl: She'd put her own bathing suit on backwards, but was so excited to get into the water that she [smiling from ear to ear] came racing out of the locker room and jumped right in, and the suit stayed that way until adult swim. I honestly don't think she even noticed.)


I realize that I might also just be making excuses for being a sewing hedonist. I know I still have so much to learn, and so much to practice. But I just keep trying to convince myself that not all smocking can be perfect or precious, or made to be kept through the ages. I'm going for quantity here. She'll need lots, because when I think "smock" the first thing that comes to mind is "painting smock," and I hope all of these dresses are worn (and worn out) with a paintbrush/strained carrots/mud pie in hand. I really do.


I love the yellow smocking and the gorgeous button.
Your daughter will be the best-dressed miss in town. Lucky girl. Have to say, if they were big enough I'd wear most of them myself!

To quote a Shirley Temple song, "I wanna make mud pies! In fact, I'd like to be a mess. I wanna make mud pies! I know that I'd find happiness. If I got jam on my fingers, chocolate on my face, and molasses all over my dress!"
Can I come and play, too? When everybody's ready?

what a sweet post! i loved it. i do think you should teach andy how to fill a bobbin, it's so easy! and on my basic machine it's fun. i chuckled over your comments about "silly mommy" putting sleeves on backwards. many years ago i got into a pajama pants sewing kick for my daughter. one day i found a pattern for dad size pants so i made my hubby a pair of sweat pants. super easy i thought as i rushed through piecing it together and sewing them up. well, in my rush to finish and my "i know what i am doing" mindset, i sewed the inset pockets facing the same direction. so one side faces correctly and the other is facing backwards when you put the pants on. and...the crotch is nearly to his knees! well, my husband loves these pants...he wears them just about everyday. they are his "any day, any way" pants. i once asked him why he likes these silly failure pants so much. his reply? because my wife made them for me with love. and yes, my 23 year old daughter still wears the pj pants i made her. hers are pocket free. it's all in the love, baby!

We've never met, but I can't tell you how happy I feel that one day soon, there will be someone calling you "Mommy". And she'll have the world's best toddler wardrobe.

I LOVE this dress - it looks as though you pulled it out of a cedar chest from an old abandoned cottage in a fairy tale wood :) And I do believe that Andy needs a sidewinder (http://www.planetpatchwork.com/sidewinder.htm) :)

Ruth Hower says: March 09, 2010 at 12:44 PM

You just have no idea what a delight it is for me to see and read about what you're doing! This is another beautiful dress, and you've done another great job with it. I love the fabric - I wonder how smocking by hand without pleating would work - the way you would do with gingham checks!?! Keep up the good work, Alicia - and I truly empathize with Andy - I detest filling and changing bobbins when all I want to do is continue to sew. Aren't you a lucky gal to have such a sweet guy!!! Keeping you both in my prayers!!!

Catherine says: March 09, 2010 at 12:45 PM

LOVE this color! Beautiful little dress!

Great post! You are such a hoot. And your little smocked number is gorgeous. And your little girl is going to be so lucky and well dressed! It's great to see you having so much fun.

A bishop's collar on a baby dress is my ultimate favorite thing. THAT is beautiful.

So maybe for Andy's birthday you can get him one of those bobbin winders that run off the machine and he won't have to figure out how to do it on the machine. I used to slap it all together but have to admit i am always happier with the outcome when I take time to mark notches and baste...sigh.

This little dress is perfect for eating watermelon and spitting seeds... unless she will be too tiny to even have teeth when she wears it! What size is it, toddler? Smaller? I can't tell but it sure is cute!

I put sleeves in backwards. Once. They were pure misery to wear. I've never done it since, LOL.

Julie G. in Iowa says: March 09, 2010 at 01:27 PM

This post made me laugh. I can just see you and Andy comparing sewing 'notes' and shortcuts. As for me and sewing - I'm all for shortcuts!
And 3 cheers to painting, carrots, and mud! -Julie G.

I shared the "little patches" post with my husband and I really hope Andy writes about his sewing experience...my husband would secretly like reading it. And about those beautiful dresses you've made with love...the love part is all that really matters. Your daughter will love them. My daughter always squeals in disbelief when she sees a dress that I've made for her "is that for me?" Imperfections go unnoticed, but the time & love you took to make it will always be treasured by the ones you hold dearest.

Dear Alicia, Lovely dresses! I'm so excited for you and Andy. I loved sewing for my daughter when she was little, oh, how I wished I'd have taken more photos of those darling dresses! Looks like you have a Pfaff machine (from pic w/Andy) like me, isn't the blind foot fab? I too, learn the hard way by not reading all the directions. For similarity read about my crochet epiphany here: http://annielizabeth.blogspot.com/2010/02/crochet-epiphany.html

My suggestion in dresses for your little one, is short dress/tops over matching bloomers until she is walking well. Crawling with longer dresses will frustrate her by getting in the way of her ability to get around as her knees will just get stuck in the fabric and may pull the stitches out at the bodice like what happened to my daughter (again I learned the hard way, hee, hee) You can always leave a deep hem and let it out when she is walking. Keep up the fashion show we're soooo enjoying it!

Alicia, I just want to let you know how much I adore these dresses! You're doing such a beautiful job.

love the dots...l.o.v.e. them...and the smocking is heavenly. I just hope (for your sake) you don't get a tom-boy who requires overalls and flannel shirts!!!

You did a wonderful job! So sweet..I love the name you chose for it.

One of the little outfits I kept for a keepsake for my girls was a little white jumper with pink, yellow, and green smocking. It is so precious to me...:)

Troy Louise says: March 09, 2010 at 03:17 PM

I love your sweet dress, oh how I would like to try smocking. You really picked it up quickly. My mother was so picky about the cutting out & I hated it. Most of my things came out fine because I "did it my way." Keep up the great work & tell Andy that I hate that bobbin winding so get the new bobbin winding thingamajig - works great!

Alicia and Andy, I'm just catching up on blog posts after an absence, and I am so thrilled to hear your news! It's taken me a while to get back to the reason for all of your sewing -- I started with today's post and worked my way back to Feb. 22! For some time I've been reading and thinking "Oh, a friend/relative has a new baby," but NO! You're awaiting your own lovely little angel and I could not be happier for you! What a blessed child you will have when she arrives.

Rebecca Clark says: March 09, 2010 at 03:27 PM

When I look at the dresses you are making for your little girl, I see a Mothers love. I still remember the dresses my Mama used to make for me. I also remember her having to make matching bloomers because I liked to hang from the monkey bars at grade school. Keep on sewing.

I love this post. I sew exactly the same way...I haven't made anything this gorgeous though! Your daughter will have an incredible wardrobe!

You'll never notice the imperfections once she's wearing them! You'll be the only one who knows they are there. I'm so excited for you- as an adoptive mama myself I know how it feels to be waiting for an indefinite amount of time, and also how once you are matched you'll forget all about it! Your daughter will always know that you loved her even before she was born.

A woman after my own heart! There is a pillowcase tutorial going on over at the "You Go Girl" blog, and in my excitement at finding flour sack prints for $1.87 per yard at the quilt shop, I forgot to get thread. Now I'm chomping at the bit to start my project, but I'm going to have to wait until Saturday when I can get back to the store. Since these are my first ones and I may give them to my mom for Mother's Day if they turn out, I want to use the right thread. The tutorial includes a crocheted lace edging, and I'm picturing all kinds of vintage-y projects in my future if I like doing this!

Your approach to sewing sounds VERY familiar! So you're not alone. :)

Beautiful smock.

Just wanted to say how happy I am for you and Andy! Can't wait to see you guys at the park and on walks around the neighborhood. We're the ones with two little girls with uneven hemlines. :)

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.