Daygown~Lessons Learned

Liberty daygown


LESSON:  Haste makes waste…or dissatisfaction with a rushed project.

After my idle hospital stay, I was desperate to stitch.  But I was restricted for another week from driving or using my sewing machine, specifically from using the foot pedal.   As soon as I was home, I grabbed up the supplies for the daygown that I had planned while hospitalized and rushed to cut it out and begin smocking.


daygown goods


Pleater use was allowed, but I could not sew up the shoulder seams.  Ah, but I had heard about seamless pleating.  That should work.

Frankly, this  restriction seemed a little ridiculous to me.  But I had to admit that my cardiologist probably knew more about the healing femoral artery than did I.  Somewhat begrudgingly, I followed his orders.

A United Nations of materials was assembled–rosebud Liberty of London tanna lawn, ivory Swiss batiste, tiny French lace edging, Madeira Cotona thread made of Egyptian cotton, and a Children’s Corner pattern from the US of A.  I couldn’t wait to get started.

On her blog, the Southern Matriarch has an excellent tutorial on seamless pleating.  I was pretty excited about this.   As Martha points out in her tutorial, with practice you can usually nestle tiny French seams successfully into the pleater groove 3 times out of four.  Invariably, the one big fat seam that shows is at the front.  In my world, her statistics are spot on.

After reading carefully, I followed her method 1 instructions and thought I was ready to smock.

Oops…not yet.  Houston, I had a problem.

I have pleated and smocked enough bishops to clothe most of the children in the deep South from birth to 3 years.  And like anything you do frequently, I have my own routine techniques which suit me—-except, of course, for the aforementioned shoulder seam issue.  But they conflicted with this seamless pleating technique.

I always use a 1/2″ seam allowance at the neckline, run a machine gathering stitch 3/8″ from the raw neck edge and have the first pleater thread at the seam line, 1/2″ below the raw edge.  That first pleating thread is back smocked.  I do that first.  But not this time, I guessed.

Now, I was stuck. Not only could I not use the sewing machine, but I couldn’t figure out how a gathering thread that jumped the space between the sleeves and body of the daygown could function?  When the seams were stitched, the gathering thread would be caught and the pleater thread for the backsmocking would also be trapped in the seam.

Like Scarlett O’Hara, I thought,  “Fiddle-dee-dee, I’ll just worry about that tamarra.”

The daygown was planned with an embroidered contrasting placket of ivory Swiss batiste.  So I could do the embroidery first!  Yes.  Did I mention that I was in a hurry to begin?

I pulled out my Belles and Beaus embroidery designs,  traced the flower and vine pattern onto the batiste, picked up a #11 John James needle and started stitching.   I’m not good at hand embroidery, but I do enjoy it.

Days passed with embroidering the placket, machine embroidering Halloween shirts for the grands and other back-to-life activities.  Finally, my no-sew restriction expired so the placket was sewn to the gown.  Too late, I realized that the flowers were disproportionately large!



jumbo embroidered flowers and vine


About the smocking…it seemed like there was a lot going on with the print, embroidery, contrasting binding and all.  So I kept it simple. The smocking is worked with two strands of  ivory DMC floss in a simple one-step 1/2 space wave pattern.   As usual, I smocked deeper in the front and back than on the shoulders.  The lace is pinstitched to the placket and sleeve edges.

Well, blah blah blah, I fear this post is tedious to read.  In summary I will just say that I ran my gathering thread along the top jumping the open spaces,  had to hand tie the thread on either end of each piece and finally I finished it.

The invisible seams are wonderful–every single one of them!– but I have to find a way to blend this new technique with my old methods.


invisible shoulder seam

invisible shoulder seam



This is not the gown I hoped it would be.  But my sweet daughter hopes to dress her baby girl in daygowns every day for the first 5 or 6 months.  So this is a change of clothes, it is smocked, it is Liberty and she will appreciate it.

I only have 2-2 1/2 months before this granddaughter joins the family, so I am way behind schedule. But next for the next project, I will take my time and have fewer regrets.

16 responses to “Daygown~Lessons Learned

  1. So, the only “mistake” that we can actually see on the finished product is the “jumbo” embroidery?! Don’t be silly! Anyway, who says that the flowers in the embroidery have to be the same size as the flowers in the fabric? This daygown is wonderful, and you should be proud of it!!

  2. Thanks for your comments, Jo. Of greater significance than the flower size mistake was not thinking this through. I was pleating away blissfully when I realized there was a problem with the gathering and pleating threads. There were so many “oops–what now?” situations. My goal was to whip up a simple, pretty project that would allow me to sit and smock peacefully. Instead, I was wondering how to resolve the next issue most of the time I was smocking.

  3. I have so many “oops-what now” moments that I thought oops-ing was a mandatory stage in sewing. ;P I tell the girls in my sewing class that if, heading into a project, they KNOW they’ll be using the seam ripper at some time or another, then it will help their attitude when they get to the ripping! And if the end product turns out well, then the process begins to fade in memory. Your end product is fabulous, so much better than just “a change of clothes!”

  4. The gown is lovely. I love it, jumbo embroidery and all!

  5. Love your sweet daygown. Once I learned the no-sew pleating method for bishops, I never sewed the seams again. I have pleated so many things on the night before leaving for a vacation or known sitting time at appointments, etc. It’s wonderful knowing that threading the sewing machine can wait!

  6. Janice, I loved every little thing about this gown! And I think it’s wonderful that your little grandchild will be dressed like this every day. Liberty of London fabric is a “win-win” proposition to begin with ; ), and I think the embroidery is just a matter of taste. If you had not pointed out the things you might have done differently, NO one would have noticed them. This is a fabulous little gown that will feel as good on, as it looks.

  7. Beckie took the words right out of my mouth on the seamless appearing seams. I prefer that method over wondering whether my tiny french seams will make it through the pleater (that’s probably just me). I especially liked the part about you clothing “most of the children in the deep South from birth to 3 years.” The Liberty of London tana lawn is gorgeous, and your embroidery is strikingly beautiful. Glad to see you back in the action!

  8. Thanks, Beckie and Connie. But could you give me some details–or better yet, post a tutorial on your blogs about smocking and constructing a seamlessly pleated bishop. When it’s time to bind the neck, I’m lost without the backsmocked seamline. Do you do that? If so, do you just pierce the surplus pleats that will be in the seam? And I also am heavily dependent on the machine gathering thread above the backsmocking. I’m a slow learner but I’d love to have a good sequence, rather than winging it.

  9. Thank you, Linda. I always feel obliged for “complete disclosure” about the things I make. Usually it meant I have learned something that I want to share—like use tiny embroidery designs on daygowns!

  10. I use the first holding row as the place for back smocking. I prefer to use DMC thread (two strands) to do this. (I wonder if your gathering row just plain got in the way.) I also hand baste the seams as close as possible underneath the pleats, and then use my zipper foot to stitch the seam secure, making sure that no pleats are caught. Then I do either a mock French seam or a Hong Kong finish, depending on my mood. The Serger is also an option. I learned this method from Nancy Malitz’ “Practically Perfect Pleating” correspondence course through the Smocking Arts Guild. I love the option of the correspondence course… I have one year to complete 5-10 lessons. I have email and phone access to the teacher. I can complete them in the privacy of my home with my children under foot, if I want to… The price is reasonable, working out to somewhere around $10 per lesson. This particular course gave me exposure to pleating the variety of fabrics we use in sewing for children, as well as techniques handed down from woman to woman such as this one.

  11. I’ll also add that I don’t think it matters whether you sew the seam before smocking or after, though I usually handle that before and Nancy Malitz recommends it. I have a UFO (shhhh, don’t tell anyone!) on which I did not sew the seams first. Similar to your “no sewing machine restriction”, I did this one while on strict bed rest prior to Ben’s birth. I just looked at it… I still need to sew the seams…it’s all smocked… I see no fat pleats and no problems as yet. I’ll be able to finish it without bothering the smocking. I hope this helps.

  12. Great tips for seamlessly pleated bishops, Connie! I’ll have to check those correspondence courses. They sound terrific!

  13. I need to check them out again too. It’s been a while since I’ve signed up…… just a busy few years. By the way, I won a coupon for Adorable Heirlooms in Michigan (a National Sewing Month drawing!). I’m dreaming of Liberty of London lawn. 😉

  14. This is so beautiful! Thanks for sharing! I am just learning to smock–hope I can make something this lovely someday.

  15. Wow! Great luck! I never win anything and so hardly ever enter drawings or contests. Wouldn’t it be nice to score some Liberty? Let us know what you end up with!

  16. Oh, Christy, smocking is one of the easier needlearts to learn. And it is so satisfying. I’m sure you will be making beautiful things starting now! You could easily smock this gown if you know the basic smocking stitches. Good luck to you. We love for you to share photos of your first projects. Let me know if I can help you in any way.

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