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Smocked Sundress




This adorable smocked sundress is a perfect project for a summer weekend. The finished dress fits 12 months to size 4.

Resources: Special thanks to Heather Ross for sharing this project. Heather Ross fabrics by Free Spirit are available at and Purl Patchwork. All other tools and materials are available at sewing and fabric stores.


  • 3/4 yard of 45-inch-wide lightweight woven fabric, pre-washed (Any fabric that is lightweight enough to yield to the elastic thread will work. Quilting cottons, gauzes, lighter linens, chambrays, and shirting weights are all ideal.)
  • Scissors
  • Iron
  • All-purpose thread to match fabric
  • Elastic thread wound around an extra bobbin
  • Water-soluble fabric-marking pen
  • Transparent quilter's ruler
  • Measuring tape
  • 2 yards of spaghetti strap, bias tape (sewn closed), or ribbon for ties, cut into four equal lengths
  • Sewing pins


  1. Step 1

    With the fabric wrong-side up, turn and press the top raw edge 1/4 inch to the wrong side, and then turn and press this edge again 1/4 inch to the wrong side. Do not sew this folded edge yet; the pressed lines will be important guides later on. Unfold the edge, and lay the fabric flat.

  2. Step 2

    Mark smocking lines: With the fabric right-side up, use a water-soluble pen and quilter's ruler to draw six straight lines, each 1/2 inch apart, across the fabric's width, beginning 1 inch below the edge with the pressed creases.

  3. Step 3

    Loosely wind elastic thread around sewing machine bobbin. With elastic thread in bobbin and coordinating thread on top, sew, with fabric right-side up, along the marked lines to create 6 rows of elasticized smocking. Backstitch at the beginning and end of each row, and cut thread before starting a new row.

  4. Step 4

    Spray smocked panel with water until stitches are generously dampened. With a very hot steam iron, press the smocked area flat. The stitches should shrink up nicely, and the pen marks should disappear.

  5. Step 5

    With a measuring tape, take the chest measurement of the child you're sewing for, and mark a line at this measurement from top of dress to hem. Secure elastic threads by stitching across them at the line with a short, closely spaced straight stitch. Trim off the excess portion of the panel.

  6. Step 6

    Fold the smocked panel in half with right sides together, and align the raw edges. Sew along these edges to create a tube. Turn right side out, press seam flat (with seam allowances to one side), and topstitch the seam allowance in place by stitching 1/4 inch from the seam. This seam is the center back of the dress.

  7. Step 7

    Without stretching the smocking, measure 2 inches from the center back seam in each direction, and mark with a water-soluble pen. Then measure 6 inches from each marked point toward the center front of the dress, and mark two more points.

  8. Step 8

    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 the strap up against the folded edge and pin in place. Edge-stitch the entire folded edge, securing the straps in place. Knot the ends of the straps to finish them.

  9. Step 9

    Determine the dress's hem length by measuring the wearer from her underarm to just below her knee, and add 1 inch to this measurement. Trim the dress to this length. Turn and press the bottom edge 1/4 inch to the wrong side, then turn and press again 3/4 inch to the wrong side. Edge-stitch the double-fold to finish the hem, backstitching at the beginning and end.

The Martha Stewart Show, May 2009



Reviews (54)

  • papaececi 9 Jul, 2012

    I made this yesterday for my 18 month old and it is adorable and a nice quick sew. After reading the comments here I was worried about the elastic thread in the bobbin. I have a Singer Confidence, but one of the older models. After playing around with the elastic thread on a scrap piece of cloth, I found that it worked best with the tension at the +1 setting -- on the autotension setting it just looped up in the back. I added a ruffle at the bottom to dress it up a bit and it was perfect.

  • emmasyaya 3 Jul, 2012

    just made my third one of these for my granddaughter - so easy, and a perfect little-girl dress! (i only wish that i had known how to make these when my daughters were little.)

  • DamicaandSam Starnes 27 Jun, 2012

    I loved this pattern. I watched the video and read the directions and the video seemed like it was missing steps. So I exclusively followed the written directions. I made 3 dresses and a top using those directions. My kids love them. This is an easy fun project and the dress is so beautiful. It better than buying the smocking for 19.95 that's for sure!

  • Rita Kontny 9 Jun, 2012

    I love the pattern but did notice the video directions do not all correspond with the written directions. I made a small sample using the written directions and everything turned out perfectly however. It is a darling sun dress!!

  • shecreatesitall 12 Sep, 2011

    I sewed a dress for my little girl just like this! Check out my tutorial-

  • meemsterof6 26 Jun, 2011

    Thanks Skykid. Glad to hear someone else is having problems. I have a Babylock Ellegante. I watched the video again after posting this and I still couldn't figure out what went wrong. Guess I will try your method of pulling the elastic thread to pucker it up but that sure adds time to the process, doesn't it?

  • skykid 26 Jun, 2011

    Meemsterof6, I had the same problem. I did some research online and it seems to be common. It's got something to do with what type of machine u use. i have Brother CS6000i and I think it's one of the models that doesn't handle elastic thread well. I end up using 0 tension and 4.0 foot length, then manually pulled the thread to create smock.

  • meemsterof6 24 Jun, 2011

    I am having trouble with the elastic thread bobbin. I have tried winding it by hand, winding it by machine, adjusting the stitch length up and down, all to no avail. The elastic thread loops up underneath and when I steam it dry, nothing happens to the fabric--it doesn't shrink up. Does anyone have any suggestions?

  • sewnola 4 Apr, 2011

    I LOVE this project. I made this dress for my 5 year old this weekend. She wears a 6X or 7. Just a suggestion, if you are making for a child who is a little taller or bigger than 4T, you may want to add a couple extra rows of smocking. I added two extra rows and it was perfect. This was so much fun and quick satisfaction. It took only about 1.5 hrs from start to finish. SEW CUTE!

  • 1maggie 23 Jan, 2011

    I love to sew. I love sewing and giving gifts. I especially love to sew for friends and their children. It is so rewarding to see the little ones enjoy wearing what I have created for them. I have an old Singer sewing machine. The reverse doesn't work anymore, but I just turn the material and continue sewing. Thanks for inspiring me.

  • LetiLaFlaca 22 Jul, 2010

    To Fairportcarole-- I was looking for dresses similar to the ones made here...and I came across this video on tells you step by step what to do. :)

  • MrsTener 14 Jul, 2010

    how to you mak it fit a 7 yr

  • Monicook 12 Jul, 2010

    I had so much fun making this dress for my 9 yr old daughter and it tuned out beautiful and only took a few hours to make. Thanks Heather and Martha for sharing.

  • emmasyaya 27 Jun, 2010

    fast, easy, and adorable! i whipped one of these dresses up for my granddaughter this afternoon, and had no problems at all. my only complaint is that i didn't have this set of directions when my daughters were little!!

  • leighleigh812 18 Jun, 2010

    I love this project because the outcome is adorable and simple to make. My daughter loves it! Thank you Martha! You are so creative.

  • Menesez 16 Jun, 2010

    Here is the link for the printable pattern.

  • Menesez 16 Jun, 2010

    @ Fairportcarole, the Mendocino fabric is out-of-print and hard to find. I found a pattern from Heather Ross for a similar sundress on-line, search "mendocino sundress". Good luck!

  • fairportcarole 15 Jun, 2010

    I would love to make this dress in an adult size. Does anyone know where I can find the pattern? The link to the website has expired. The pattern is Mendocino sundress.

  • keyhole 12 Jun, 2010

    I remember making these as a kid. We used to measure the panel before stitching the elastic thread, eliminating Martha's step 5. We would start with a piece of fabric 1 1/2 times the chest measurement.
    We did hand wind the bobbin as SheilaKatus says. And purplevette is also right that's not real smocking but more like a tube top. My mom used to smock clothes for us as kids and it's much more involved than this project.

  • purplevette 11 Jun, 2010

    TAHT is NOT real smocking!!!!!!!!

  • SheilaKatus 11 Jun, 2010

    Emmasyaya: If you watch the video they wind the bobbin by hand. :-)

  • SheilaKatus 11 Jun, 2010

    Emmasyaya: If you watch the video they wind the bobbin by hand. :-)

  • SheilaKatus 11 Jun, 2010

    emmasyaya if you watch the video they wind the bobbin by hand with the elastic thread.

  • emmasyaya 11 Jun, 2010

    lillianmargaret: read step 3...six lines of stitching.

    i can't wait to make one of these for my granddaughter!! my only question has to do with winding the bobbin with elastic thread: the directions say to loosely wind the thread on the bobbin. is this done by hand, or should there be a tension control on my bobbin-winder? (i've been sewing for 40 years, but i'm still a novice!)

  • bownut 11 Jun, 2010

    I thought it was kind of funny when I received this in my inbox, and I just finished making one of these this morning. Here is my version: top is finished with serged rolled hem. I four six-inch wide pieces of 45" width sewn together to make the dress 24" long. Makes a bigger size. I lined my foot along the stiching but had my needle sewing on the left side to easily create the lines of stiching without having to draw them out.

  • Lillianmargaret 11 Jun, 2010

    this does not tell you but one row of 6 and then sew across back stitching before and after... but it does not tell you how far down to make additional places, smocking isnt just one ine of stitching?????

  • 1fancinan 11 Jun, 2010

    I did a dress for each of my grand nieces. One worked like a charm according to directions, The other did not shirr like the other. It may have been the material I used which was a lighter weight. Want to try it again.

  • happy2cook 4 May, 2010

    Finally completed... I want to thank all you ladies for your input without it I would have gone nuts trying to figure it out. I switch to a metal bobbin and it worked great. . I also have a Brother machine. My two precious Grand Daughters (Skylar and Sabrina) loved the dresses and want more. I have learned so much from watching Martha on TV and going to her Web sight.

  • bobbinlady 23 Apr, 2010

    I have a Brother Machine, kept trying and trying, finally, I wound the bobbin very tight, it worked!

  • simplicityLeAnne 17 Apr, 2010

    Sorry! I meant to type I set my tension to the TIGHTEST setting.

  • simplicityLeAnne 17 Apr, 2010

    I shirr all the time with my Singer that has a plastic bobbin. I do this by winding the bobbin by hand with the elastic thread, without stretching it. Then I load my bobbin and bring up the bobbin thread before I start to sew. Then I set my tension to the LOWEST setting. I also hold the tails of my top thread and bobbin before starting to sew. I haven't had any problems. I know there is a curve, but just be patient and keep trying.

  • meeka 16 Apr, 2010

    I have noticed a lot of people saying their machines won't shirr when winding the bobbin loosely. I too had the same problem, so I tried doing the opposite and wound the bobbin tightly. Worked great on my machine!

  • squigglytwigs 7 Apr, 2010

    We enjoy shirring at our house. It's not hard and most, if not all, machines/bobbins will do it, but there is a learning curve. You need to practice and find your machine's best shirring tension/stitch length. Write down the original settings so you can return to them. Then practice on scrap until you get the look you want. Then write down the shirring settings so you'll have them for other projects.
    Don't give up. This is a very useful technique to know.

  • knittergrrl 6 Apr, 2010

    For your width: try 1 1/2 her chest width. Do a "test" dress first! Get some cute cheap material, or cut up an old sheet. I use "elastic sewing thread." It comes on a finger-length spool in either black or white; it's about 1mm or so thick. You kind of have to stretch the material a little: practice until you get what you like --or-- you can zigzag stitch over the elastic (with reg. thread: think "casing") and pull until the gathers are the way you like, then stitch it down!

  • pricey1 5 Apr, 2010

    exactly waht kind of elastic thread is recommended for this project.. i have tried and tried and can not get this to come out or to shrink! up! It looks like a total mess!
    help me!!

  • happy2cook 4 Mar, 2010

    I want to make this smock for my grand daughter I have all he materials. Do I measure her chest to know how wide it needs to be. I was very anxious to purchase Heathers book. Went on The feedback on this book was terrible with purchasers saying that most of her weekend projects had the wrong measurements and they were very disappointed in the book and had wasted good and expensive material. I decided not to purchase.

  • happy2cook 4 Mar, 2010

    I want to make this smock for my grand daughter I have all he materials. Do I measure her chest to know how wide it needs to be. I was very anxious to purchase Heathers book. Went on The feedback on this book was terrible with purchasers saying that most of her weekend projects had the wrong measurements and they were very disappointed in the book and had wasted good and expensive material. I decided not to purchase.

  • happy2cook 4 Mar, 2010

    I want to make this smock for my grand daughter I have all he materials. Do I measure her chest to know how wide it needs to be. I was very anxious to purchase Heathers book. Went on The feedback on this book was terrible with purchasers saying that most of her weekend projects had the wrong measurements and they were very disappointed in the book and had wasted good and expensive material. I decided not to purchase.

  • thatkellygirl 1 Sep, 2009

    I made one and it is soooo cute! I love this idea. I always wondered about how this was done and now I know! Great project.

  • salopez 26 Jul, 2009

    What I did to get the shirring to work on my brother is that i switched to metal bobbins and I increased the lower thread tension by turning the little screw on the bobbin case to the right. It took a bit of playing around to get the right tension, but once I got it it worked magically!

  • k1rstn 17 Jul, 2009

    I was so excited to see this project. I got all of my supplies and sat down today. Two hours later and I'm STILL trying to get the shirring process right. The thread keeps bunching underneath... tried everything... I guess I'll just buy mine pre-made! :(

  • mdbm 2 Jul, 2009

    I have a Brother with plastic bobbins. What worked for me was winding the elastic a little bit tighter.

  • TeachMeThat 12 Jun, 2009

    I also have an older Singer with metal bobbins and a new Brother embroidery machine with plastic bobbins. Since I've never tried shirring or smocking, I called our local Brother dealer about using elastic thread. The associate said that machines using plastic bobbins will not work well with elastic thread, but machines with metal bobbins work better because the metal bobbins fit looser in the machine and have more "play". I will only be trying this on my old Singer :)

  • trbohio 9 Jun, 2009

    I tried this on my newer Brother machine and despite following the direcetions and all the suggestions, it did not work. I tried on my old Singer and it worked beautifully. I don't know why, perhaps the difference in how the bobbins work. I do know that I will be making more of these on the old Singer.

  • DENISEIRENE 1 Jun, 2009

    help i tried everything to get the dress to smock and it won't
    please help!

  • SewLisa 1 Jun, 2009

    I fill my iron with water and use the squirt button to soak my fabric before I iron it. I've made 2 skirts already and my 7 year old and 4 year old are loving them. They are so cute with tank tops and flip flops

  • VictoriaElizabethQOC 29 May, 2009

    Try setting your machine to a basting stitch.

    You can also try filling your iron with water and blasting steam over your shirred stitches. This should cause it to shrink up.

  • mjacks78 27 May, 2009

    I am unable to get the fabric to smock very much at all. I'm confused.

  • patscott 27 May, 2009

    I cant get it to smock. I am doing as the instructions say. What am i doing wrong. Please help!!

  • scarletmama 25 May, 2009

    very cute sundress but it is shirred not smocked

  • scarletmama 25 May, 2009

    Very cute

  • creativekait 20 May, 2009

    You can get the adult pattern for free here:

  • lhami 20 May, 2009

    Does anyone know how much material you would need to make this in an adult size?

  • littlefarm 19 May, 2009

    I have to get this book! What a cute and easy summer project!