Back in a time when we could leave the house, hug our friends and celebrate special occasions with events… (literally just before the lockdown happened) we threw a celebration of the newest addition to our family with what we call a “welcome to the world party”. We have made the choice not to christen our children so instead throw a party that brings everyone we love together to celebrate the new life that’s arrived and for us to be able to thank them all for their support with helping us navigate the tricky road that is parenthood (especially in those early days) by supplying cake and bubbles.

Of course, when you’re the one being celebrated you most definitely need a special outfit to wear. I toyed with a few different romper ideas before deciding that it was going to be a dress… something with a traditional feel but a modern twist.  Simplicity 1205 is a lovely baby dress pattern with several different collar and sleeve variations plus a smocked section option… and this just seemed the perfect way for me to bring in a really lovely traditional element.

This Art Gallery cotton fabric leapt off the screen at me, just beautiful colours, a lovely spring vibe with a print the right size for a 4 month old to be able to carry (I find too large a print on such a tiny garment can look quite heavy). The pattern calls for a contrast fabric to accompany it, and there are lots of colours from this print that you could pick but I went for this beautiful mustard/gold colour and it matches wonderfully. Both these cotton fabrics have such a lovely weight and feel to them, and are of a beautiful quality.

The majority of the pieces for the dress are cut from the patterned fabric, I used the contrast for the lower bodice and the collar. (Of course there is no reason why you can’t create your own variation on which pieces are patterned and which solid).

The smocking instructions in this pattern are given for a polka dot smocking. The idea for this is that you bring the spots together to create little flowers. So they give a large pattern piece for you to cut out and smock which you then cut the front lower bodice piece from once the fabric has been smocked. I didn’t have (or want) a spot fabric for this panel but couldn’t see any reason why I couldn’t smock this section using another method and then cut out this piece in the same manner… and I was right. The only thing to consider is that because you’ll be cutting the smocked fabric, each stitch needs to be secured so that when cut the whole thing doesn’t unravel.

Hand smocking is a laborious but joyously satisfying task. Because the section that needed the smocking isn’t very big it’s a great pattern to consider trying out smocking with. (There is of course no reason why you couldn’t machine smock this piece, it just wasn’t the effect I was going for on this occasion)

The smocking technique I used is called honeycomb smocking and the first thing needed is to mark your fabric so you know where each stitch needs to be. I used a pencil to draw a 1cm grid on the back of the fabric. (A pencil is not the best choice, but my erasable pens had run out… there are some great pens available that either erase when washed or with time that I would recommend for this job). It is really important to get these markings done accurately, you’ll get a much better finish if you put the time into this. (If you look closely at the picture of my finished smocking below you’ll see the bottom line isn’t exactly right, I managed to fix it as I was sewing the pieces together but it would have just been easier had my markings not created this)

The idea behind honeycomb smocking is to bring 2 of the vertical lines that are side by side together and secure every other horizontal point with a stitch, off setting the points in the next vertical line. (It sounds more complicated than it is I promise… the pictures below should make more sense of that if that explanation was confusing).

Now because the pattern calls for cutting this piece of fabric after smocking it, I secured each stitch as a knot. I worked my way across the grid I had drawn, checking whether I had smocked enough against the pattern piece I needed to cut from it so I didn’t spend time smocking more than I needed. I then pressed the newly smocked fabric well before pinning the pattern piece to it and cutting it to size. Once done you can then treat it just like a normal piece of fabric.

Sewing the dress together is a straightforward process. Firstly connecting the lower and upper bodice sections and then the front and back at the shoulders to create the bodice. You’ll do this twice, once for the outer and once for the lining. I used the same fabrics for the lining as I for the outer (referred to as self lining, I tend to do this when I have sufficient outer fabric as you get a really nice clean finish at the neckline and armhole edges). I made up the collar pieces and gathered the sleeves as instructed before sewing these to the outer bodice. These then get sandwiched inside as the bodice lining is sewn to the outer along the neck and armhole edges. Once turned the right way out this leaves you with a really neat looking bodice that gets attached to the skirt before a zip is inserted down the back.

I found the pattern to be really generous on the length, its all too common to find dresses can be very short but this is not something I found to be a problem with this pattern.

To say I was thrilled with the final outcome of this dress would be an understatement. It was repeatedly complimented on at the party and she seemed to be very comfortable in it (an important factor in babywear). It brought all the modern and traditional elements together as I had hoped it would, and I’m considering using this pattern again to create a dress for her for my brother’s wedding later this year… because in different fabrics it’s going to look really different.