I learned about the cute velvet smock that became the subject of this tutorial while scrolling through my Instagram feed. A couple of people I follow mentioned the dress, a partnership between H&M and Vampire’s Wife, and lamented the fact that it had sold out as fast as it was released. I headed to H&M to check out the dress, curious about how it had disappeared from all virtual shelves almost immediately. The dress was indeed very cute. So cute that if it were available, I would have bought it.
The dress would have been perfect for a holiday party or a NYE celebration—thing is, there would be no holiday parties or NYE celebrations. Los Angeles is in the middle of a stay-at-home order. All gatherings have been banned. Traveling back home to see my family or back East to visit my partner’s folks was not even a consideration. We were staying in and staying safe—me, my partner, and our cat. But why not stay safe and fabulous, right? It was in this spirit that I decided to recreate the velvet smock.
I used my the Plantain T-shirt pattern as the basis for the smock. Is there anything that the Plantain cannot do? And it is a FREE pattern! After picking the main part of the project, I went in search of all of the other pieces: the bishop sleeves, the sleeve cuffs, and the ruffles. My pattern ended up with five pieces: dress front, dress back, sleeve, cuff, and ruffle. The original smock has a bust dart, so I also had to find a way to add a bust dart to the Plantain pattern.
I cannot tell if the velvet used for the smock is woven or knit. I chose knit because I wanted to look fabulous without sacrificing comfort. Knit is also much more forgiving when it comes to fitting. This velvet is 80% Polyester and 20% Lycra Spandex. It is very slinky and slightly see-through when stretched beyond its limits. It has a nice drape but enough body to give the dress some structure.
I started with a Plantain size 46, the largest size available when I downloaded the pattern many years ago. The pattern size range has been expanded, and the largest size is now a size 52. I added 1/2 inch to the side seams because when I sewed my muslin, the area around the bust felt a bit tight. With the extra inch and an FBA, the fit is much, MUCH better.
Here are the tutorials I used when working on the pattern pieces:
Add Bust Dart to Pattern
Olive+S‘s How to Add a Bust Dart to a Dartless Pattern
SewingJulie‘s Pattern Tutorial: Bishop Sleeve
Annika Victoria‘s How to Make a Bishop Sleeve Top (starts at minute 3:48)
SewDaily‘s Bishop Sleeve Sewing Tutorial for Knits
Kirilee Cosplay‘s How to Make Puff Sleeves
Dresspatternmaking’s Puff Sleeves
Handling the Creeping
Velvet is a finicky fabric, difficult to cut and infamous for creeping—a delightfully funny name for the horror that it is when the layers being stitched do not stay even. This velvet wins the Creeping Award. It shifted every which way, pretty much refusing the stay put. It took basting every single seam and using a walking foot to get the layers to stay even. I’ve had my Juki for more than five years, and I had NEVER used its walking foot until I started this project. I am so glad I did!
Working with velvet? Basting is your best friend!
The walking foot is a presser foot with a set of feed dogs that move the top layer of fabric at the same rate that the machine’s feed dogs move the bottom layer of fabric. This prevents puckering, crushing, and—you guessed it—creeping! My walking foot came with my machine, but you can easily find one that is compatible with yours.
A walking foot helps prevent fabric puckering, crushing, and creeping. It helps the top layer move at the same pace as the bottom because the foot has a set of feed dogs pushing the fabric forward.
The body sewed like a T-shirt. I started with the bust darts (that I added using the Oliver+S tutorial) using a longer straight stitch. As usual, I used twill tape to stabilize the shoulder seams. Because the original Plantain neckline was too low, I raised the front neckline by two inches. I did not use a neckband, opting to finish the neckline by serging the raw edge, folding it over, and sewing. I basted the side seams before running them through the machine using the walking foot. Once I tried the body, it turned out too lose. I took the sides in, and it fit perfectly!
Sleeves and Cuffs
Once the body fit like I wanted it, it was time to add the sleeves. I used the original long sleeve pattern as the basis for the puff bishop sleeves. I used the spread-and-slash technique for both the puffy sleeve cap and bishop sleeves. I started with copying the long sleeve pattern piece for the Plantain. Then, I measured from my wrist to determine the height of the cuff. Five inches looked about right.
I transferred the measurement to the pattern, split the cuff from the sleeve and added a 1/2″ seam allowance. The cuff is created when the pattern piece is folded, so I copied the cuff pattern piece to another paper and used the original to mirror the cuff. This created the final cuff piece. I made sure to mark the placement of the buttons on the cuff pieces.
To get the sleeve to fit into the cuff, I used the strings from the gathering rows and tied them around the sleeve hem. It made everything much easier and tidier when fitting the sleeve into the much narrower cuff.
I wanted the bishop sleeve to drape over the cuff; to get this effect, I added two inches to the bottom of the sleeve. I did two spread-and-slash passes, one for the sleeve cap and the other for the bishop effect. I guess I could have done both changes at the same time, but working on each at a time gave me more control of the adjustments.
The original dress has four buttons on each cuff. I had six of these beautiful vintage mother-of-pearl buttons, so each cuff got three. I sewed the buttons once the cuffs had been assembled. Having marked their placement once I cut the cuff pieces made sewing them much easier.
I cut four ruffle panels. The velvet is stretchy, and I was afraid that the weight of the ruffles would drag the dress down, but the dress held its own. Each ruffle is made up of two sewn panels finished by serging and folding over the top and bottom edges. I used three rows of basting stitches when gathering to give me more control of the gathers. To attach the the ruffles to the outside of the dress, I sewed a basting line in a light color two inches above the hem. I lined the top of the ruffles to this guide to make everything nice and straight.
The Pussy Bow
I did not think the bow was necessary. If you want to add a bow, here is a great tutorial from the Curvy Sewing Collective to guide you.
The Sew-It-Yourself Velvet Smock
This project was a labor of love. It took a lot of my sewing time because of all the details for each component. The basting took forever, and there was a lot of unpicking (including realizing that one of the cuffs was sewn in the wrong direction). I wore it for a couple of hours for Xmas Eve, and I don’t know when I will wear it again. But it looks SO good! I am proud of pushing through the frustration and the many hours to finish what is the fanciest dress I have ever sewn.