In today’s post: Learn how to turn pre-smocked fabric into an adorable sundress.
Every year when I see pre-smocked fabric hitting the fabric stores I know it’s summer. Smocked sundresses are so cute, and they are amazingly easy to sew. In fact, if you aren’t worried about adding straps, you can make one by sewing just one seam! Check out my one seam maxi dress right here.
However, when it comes to a dress for an active little girl, straps are pretty much a necessity. Today’s sewing tutorial shows you how to add ruffled straps to a smocked sundress.
Note as of June 2020: I purchased this fabric last summer at Jo-Ann. When I visited my local Jo-Ann last week they only had a few bolts left of last year’s pre-smocked fabric left in their clearance section. I asked an employee who said they haven’t gotten any new summer fabric in this year – possibly due to supply line back ups. So it might be harder to find this fabric right now, but hopefully it will be back soon! I have also seen smocked fabric at Walmart and other craft stores in the past, so it might be worth looking around when you are out OR bookmarking this tutorial for later.
This is what pre-smocked fabric looks like. It’s made with a cotton blend fabric that does not stretch. However, the top portion of the fabric is gathered up with elastic thread, which make the top panel stretchy. The bottom of the fabric ends up about twice as wide as the top, which makes for a really cute, easy to sew sundress.
Because the fabric is all gathered at the top, it can be hard to cut straight. Measure as much as you need along the smocked (gathered) edge of the fabric and cut straight down through it. When you cut through the last gathered stitch, straighten the fabric back out and carefully cut straight down from there. You can also rip the bottom portion of the fabric – it should tear in a straight line.
How much smocked fabric will I need?
To find out how much fabric you need to make a smocked sundress, measure the child you are sewing for around the chest, just under the arms. That measurement is the length of fabric you need to make the DRESS. You will also need an additional 1/4 yard – or 9 inches – of smocked fabric to make the STRAPS. Finally, because this fabric is cotton and will probably shrink a bit, I would add 3-4 inches to the total length just to make sure you don’t end up short.
Chest measurement + 9 inches for straps + 3 inches for shrinkage = total length of smocked fabric to buy
NOTE: If you like, you may also make the ruffled straps out of a contrast fabric instead of using additional smocked fabric. Purchase 1/4 yard or a fat quarter of additional fabric to make the straps.
NOTE #2: The strap pattern I’m including in this post was mean for a size 10 dress, but it should be fairly easy to adjust for smaller or larger sizes. In fact, if you are making one size smaller or larger you shouldn’t need to adjust it at all. If you are making the dress for a teen or adult, cut the straps and ruffles a few inches longer than shown. And if you are making it for a few sizes smaller, just print the pattern slightly smaller (maybe 90% or so).
Download the straps pattern
Click here to download the pattern for the ruffled straps. Print it out at 100% or full size and be sure the test square measures 1 inch. This is what the pattern looks like:
How to Make a Smocked Sundress
Wash and dry your fabric before you begin.
Begin by measuring the person you are sewing for around the chest, just under the arms. This measurement is how much of the smocked fabric you will use for the dress. Measure along the gathered side of the fabric and cut at that measurement.
Then fold the smocked fabric in half with right sides together, and sew the two raw edges together with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, as shown by the dots below. If you have a serger I would use it for this seam; if not, sew with a straight seam and then finish the seam allowance with a zigzag so it doesn’t fray. This will become the center back seam of the dress.
Try the dress on. Because it can be hard to measure this fabric, the dress may be too roomy at this point, and you may need to take up to an inch out of the back seam. The good news is that once you’ve gotten the fit right, the main part of the dress is done!
How to make straps for the sundress
Now we’ll make the straps. On each of the two strap pieces, fold in the long edges 1/4 inch and press. Then fold the strap in half lengthwise and press again.
On each ruffle piece, turn the curved edge in 1/4 inch twice and press, then sew to hem.
Along the straight edge of each ruffle piece, sew two rows of gathering stitches.
Pull on the bobbin threads of the gathering stitches to gather up the straight edge of the ruffle. Gather it until the ruffle measures about 9 inches in width, and be sure to evenly distribute the gathers.
Next, sandwich the gathered edge of a ruffle in between the two layers of a strap, as shown below. Place the ruffle so it’s about an inch away from one short edge of the strap (in my photo it’s about two inches away, but 1 inch would be better). Place the ruffle so that the gathering stitches you sewed are completely covered by the strap, and pin well.
Then sew the strap to itself, close to the edge. This will close up the strap and secure the ruffle into it.
Now it’s time to try the dress on again and figure out where you want the straps to sit. Make sure the seam is going down the center back of the dress. I chose to have the straps criss cross in the back of the dress. Pin the strap placement in the front and back of the dress, making sure straps are equal distances away from the center back seam.
I sewed the straps to the dress using a straight stitch that follows the existing gathering stitches on the dress fabric. I sewed across each strap along two rows of stitching, then trimmed the excess.
At this point, all that’s left is to hem the dress.