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.


It looks fantastic. :)

I would never have dreamed from looking at all your beautiful work we are kindred spirits, but this post has confirmed it for me! When I was learning to sew, my sweet Mama would say "if it won't fit, just make it fit". I've found many applications for that wisdom through the years :)

Take care!

Wow! I cannot believe how quickly you have picked this up, it is amazing. It looks particularly impressive in that last picture x

Sweet dress! In checking your book column on this page I sighted Little House in the Big Woods. Boy, does that bring back wonderful memories. Having read it many times to myself and then to each of my 4 kids, I think that parts of it are etched in my memory. Enjoy it! Thank goodness, Laura did not let turning 60 stop her from trying something new! Write a novel...why not!

Susie Sears Taylor says: March 09, 2010 at 11:03 AM

Don't worry about uneven hemlines. The angel who will be wearing these cute dresses won't sit, stand or lie still enough for anyone to notice. AND the back being longer will afford more room for the diaper bottom which enlarges with moisture and aromatic solids being added. Oh joy!

When you said 'Why did I not learn this long ago', I think we learn something (anything) when we need to and then we also retain this knowledge and we also improve on it for our own particular project. This adorable little dress is my favorite so far but I'm sure you'll make me change my mind tomorrow.

Another beautiful dress. I just love the way you write. And I'm praying that the adoption process goes smoothly.

I, too , have a stack of patterns and fabric still not merged together - but someday! I love the little polkadots and yellow thread - it's like a nice strawberry girl with some sun bouncing off of her.

Looks fine to me -- and most kids are shaped like that anyways :)

I have so enjoyed all your sewing and smocking posts lately. My Mom, who passed away in 1999, was a smocking teacher so I have many of her creations. She made my daughter a lot of dresses which I still have along with smocked eggs, Easter basket and Christmas ornaments. I guess I need to do a smocking post!

Oh that made me laugh. I am a technical writer by trade and there are forests upon forests of instructions I do not read myself when sewing or knitting, even though I write instructions for a living. I race ahead, I sew, I make a huge mistake, go back, reread the directions, and then the lightbulb of DUH goes on. "Instructions, good. Haste, bad." Somehow it makes me feel better that you who are so talented do the same thing at times. You would never know it to look at your pieces. And the smocking! I might just be brave enough to try it, it is so wonderful.

So cute! Don't worry too much...the dress is just going to be a background for that sweet little face. No one is going to be checking your hems. And my kid absolutely mauls his clothing between eating and crawling and wash-wash-washing. Good thing your little one has a hefty supply!

Sending a smile and heart.
I just love reading your blog.

so.... so ! soooo ! WONDERFUL !
I love it !

LOL You describe sewing the way I do it! :) I call myself a "lazy sewer," only doing the parts I want, and sliding by or doing things the way I want on the others. I admit I am intrigued by smocking, but I haven't got up the nerve (or the time) to try it, yet.

That dress is so adorable, Alicia. Who cares if some things aren't perfect. I think the dress as a whole, made as lovingly as you made it, will be perfect for your little girl.

You crack me up, Alicia! Thanks for your honesty! I know I relate to you, though I have learned my lessons when sewing for sale!! Your little dresses are adorable and I enjoy reading about this process of loving your baby before she even comes! It's like pregnancy!

This one may be my favorite so far. All that smocking and a beautiful print! Great job.

What a great attitude about the clothes (prepared for all the little stains that little ones apply)!

My big sewing conundrum is getting set in sleeves to not pucker at the shoulder. Now that I have a little boy to sew for, accidental gathers just aren't an option. And it is something I have only gotten right a few times. If anyone has tips....please help!

You have the exact right attitude, which of course is so very near my own! Clothes are to be worn and enjoyed and that should include the process. I must admit--I'm a graduate of the school of slapdash--a rather infamous degree to say the least. But true--time has always made me learn from my mistakes.

I can't wait to see more of the lovely dressies you made for your little figlet of a girl.

I can't wait for the day we get to see your pictures of a wee girl in dresses stained with strained carrots and mud pies :)

The visions invoked by this post make it one of my favorites ever (right there next to the one with Andy at the sewing machine!)

I'm with you on the leaving out steps part. I always like to think they are optional. But are really not...

These tiny dresses are oh so lovely!

What better type of sewing is there than sewing hedonism? Love it

cupcake61 says: March 09, 2010 at 12:16 PM

You make me brave enough to TRY sewing....and I think I am like Andy...."oh no, what if a bobbin runs out?" I love you guys!

Your work is so careful and precise - I love seeing the things you make! And the smocking is so lovely!

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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