Smocking 2 : girls’ winter dresses in Liberty prints

Smocked dress in Liberty wool/cotton mix

Smocked child’s dress in Liberty fabric (wool/cotton mix)

As I got a little braver with smocking (and with my smocking machine now chomping through the fabric like a knife through butter) I thought I’d make daughters 1 & 2 a winter party dress each – I suppose No 1 would have been about 5 and a half years old and No 2 would have been about 4 at the time.

Girl's dress in Liberty fabric: detail of smocking

Girl’s dress in Liberty fabric: detail of smocking

I had always assumed that the fabric I used was Liberty varuna but now I think about it Liberty varuna was (is still) a fine pure wool in a simple weave which was (is) excellent for scarves, shawls, etc. The fabric I used is quite different, is clearly a wool/cotton mix and has the same twill weave as viyella – you can just make this out in the close up of the smocking in the photo above. (For info about viyella, see here .) But I can neither remember what this particular fabric was called nor find any online reference to something similar. If anyone has an inspiration about this, I would love to be enlightened. I also wanted to document what each Liberty print was called but have had no luck on this front either, so if anyone recognises them, I’d love to hear.

Child's dress in Liberty wool/cotton mix: back view

Child’s dress in Liberty wool/cotton mix: back view

Once the gathering is done, the smocking is fun – the more you do, the better you become (the white lattice work on the blue dress could definitely be improved). I had a bit of trouble with the bullion stitched roses at first until I discovered the trick is to use a milliner’s needle – the eye is about the same width as the needle itself  which means you can pull the needle through the coils of embroidery thread much more easily – and I stress the more easily bit, as it can still be a bit of a struggle. With an embroidery needle where the eye is much thicker than the rest of the needle, making bullion stitch is usually utterly disastrous and a recipe for an unhappy sewing session. This is definitely a case of happiness being having the right bit of equipment.

Child's dress in Liberty fabric (wool/cotton mix)

Smocked child’s dress in Liberty fabric (wool/cotton mix)

I think I must have decided not to add bullion roses on the smocking for the blue dress – either because making them for the pink dress had exhausted me or because daughter No 1 might have regarded them as a bit too sweet. Anyway, if you’re making clothes for your own children, it’s always good to make the details a bit distinctive, taking into account their different tastes. Both skirts have a deep pleat above the hem to give a bit of weight to the fabric so it hung better. I gave the pink dress a little cream viyella  collar, while I had a lace collar from Laura Ashley which went well on the blue dress. Both were fastened at the back with mother-of-pearl buttons. (I seem to have lost my photos of the smocking and the back of the blue dress but will add them when I get back home, being still on nanny duty).

Little Vogue pattern 1824 for girls' smocked dresses

Little Vogue pattern 1824 for girls’ smocked dresses

I used the Vogue pattern above for these dresses. The pattern comes with a sheet of transfer dots for smocking for those who don’t have a smocking machine. It’s no longer available in current pattern books but is usually easy to find on vintage pattern sites and well worth getting if you have a family of little girls and a desire to see them traditionally dressed.

Update 28 July 2014

I would love to hear from anybody should they know the name of the 2 Liberty fabric designs pictured below.

Vintage Liberty twill fabric in wool/cotton mix.

Vintage Liberty twill fabric in wool/cotton mix.

Vintage Liberty  twill fabric in wool/cotton mix

Vintage Liberty twill fabric in wool/cotton mix

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  1. Posted July 16, 2014 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

    I am sure Liberty of London would be happy to help you identify the prints, and would I imagine be very interested to see these lovely dresses too.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted July 16, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      That’s a really good idea – can’t think why I’d never really thought about that. When I get back home I’ll add close ups of the fabrics and ask Liberty to have a look a the blog. Thanks for being so clear headed. Brilliant!

      • Steph
        Posted July 17, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        Hi Mary ,

        Do you make and sell dresses like this ?? I’m looking for three beautiful smocking dresses all matching for my 3 girls and this style is perfect but I find it so hard to find people who can make them and in a price range I can afford.

        • Mary Addison
          Posted July 18, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

          Steph, I’m sorry but I can’t help you with the smocked dresses. I have a big commission which is taking longer than I’d hoped and I’m working hard to get it finished.
          Best of luck finding someone to do this for you.

  2. Posted July 16, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Hi Mary, thank you so much for visiting my blog….this is such a delightful post. I adore Liberty fabrics and also love smocking so it’s a win win for me…

    • Mary Addison
      Posted July 16, 2014 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      Glad you liked the post. I shall certainly be following your progress on your free spirited embroidery.

  3. Jane Mackay
    Posted July 17, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    Goodness, I made my daughters one and two dresses in the pink and red fabric. It was definitely Liberty, but I bought it in Grantham market so I never knew its full name. Those daughters are now 42 and 40 so your photographs have brought back happy memories. Do you know if anyone still makes Viyella or Viyella-type fabrics, I was just thinking the other day I’d like to make my grand-daughters some winter dresses in it?

    • Mary Addison
      Posted July 20, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

      The 2 daughters I made these for are in the early thirties – I suspect patterns didn’t change quickly all those years ago. I think I remember a local market in Nottinghamshire having Liberty offcuts if you were lucky. For more about Viyella/Clydella I refer you to my post on star quilts
      Very occasionally you can find similar fabrics in Liberty’s sales. Though, as I say in the star quilt post I always found they wore rather a lot in the wash – but that may be becauseI lived in a hard water area.

  4. Lydia Sage
    Posted July 20, 2014 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    These little dresses are just so pretty. Will I ever be a smocker too? Not today it seems as I have ‘flu…… Lovely work Mary and something to really treasure…

    • Mary Addison
      Posted July 20, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

      Do get better Lydia – when you’re ill even finding a needle feel like hard work.

  5. Jane Mackay
    Posted July 22, 2014 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    Thank-you for the information on Viyella and similar fabrics. It seems as if my plan for using these fabrics for patchwork was not a very good one even if I could find the stuff, so thank you for your hard-won advice.

  6. Penny Cross
    Posted July 26, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    These dresses, your biscuits, your writing, your family, your talents, your life – thank you for sharing them and allowing us to dip in although just the teensiest bit of envy does seem to creep into my soul when I do…

    • Mary Addison
      Posted July 26, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Please, please don’t. I’ve had my setbacks and problems but life is very good now. I am very blessed by my family and fortunate that blogging has given me great fulfilment without having to push myself forward or be competitive. Like Jane Brocket I love and value domesticity. To be frank it is blogging about things that helps me to put a bit more effort into finishing things, to researching ideas and then trying to express them. Much as I love to know others read my bog, I think I would do it as a record if only immediate family looked at it. There is also something very emotionally sustaining about making things. Thank you for saying such lovely things – your comments are greatly appreciated.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted July 26, 2014 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      P.S. We are about to have my grandson’s christening party here tomorrow and the garden looks a dried up mess – the lawn hasn’t been cut for 3 weeks and the grass is long and ragged. I also think a mouse must have died somewhere as there is a terrible smell in the house…I have also only just started smocking his christening rompers!!! Beds need to be made up for 5 tonight and a cake and biscuits are also to be done. Life is not perfect.

  7. Pamela Rigby
    Posted February 13, 2015 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Hello Mary, I have just come across your blog whilst searching for a Vogue pattern for a friend of mine in the US. Over there they tend to smock dresses with not as much depth as we do here so instead of getting a fitted more tailored look the dresses fan out much higher and look ‘ more fluffy’ if you know what I mean. I was trying to find the old Vogue pattern I have been using for 30 + years so she could make an ‘English’ smocked dress.
    Reading your piece about the fabric for that lovely winter dress, I recalled that Libert used to make a very similar fabric to Viyella ( in the’80’s when Tamsin was small) called Jubilee. I cannot recall whether it was a wool and cotton as the original Viyella was or not but a look into Liberty Archives might tell you. I still have some cut out for smocking for a couple of the little girls in our extended family.. I lived in London during the time my children were born and was often down at the Liberty store buying bits and pieces to make dresses.. When I moved north in 1982, the most enormous stash of Liberty fabrics came with me. Strangely before I was married, my father was stationed at RAF Brize Norton and I worked in Oxford doing the salaries for the City Council. It is a small world. I still make a few smocked dresses for people but as I am retired, not as many as I used to. Since my husband died I find it quite therapeutic. Your work is beautiful and I hope to read some more about it.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 14, 2015 at 1:34 am | Permalink

      Pamela, thanks for your comment and interesting information. You may well be right about Liberty’s version of viyella being called Jubilee. I think the 60sand 70s were a bit of a hey day for Liberty when they produced several different fabrics and many classic designs. Your stash of Liberty fabric sounds enviable. I was in Liberty’s today (well Friday) and although it looks beautiful (and there is more for the knitter than I remember in the past) it was in general disappointing and there was nothing I loved so much that I couldn’t resist buying.(Lots of very nice Tana Lawn designs but, except for the craft fabric nothing in a slightly heavier weight.)

  8. Pamela Rigby
    Posted February 13, 2015 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    P.S. Mary , Liberty fabric is very expensive these days but there are good sellers on eBay and also a shop in London called Shaukat where Tana Lawn can be bought at about half the price it is in Liberty’s itself. I still buy it and purr when I stroke it.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 14, 2015 at 1:41 am | Permalink

      I know Shaukat Pamela. You might also be interested in a comment from Debbie (at the bottom of the Gallery comments) who mentions a firm called Standfast and Barrack who have something to do with the printing of Liberty (and other) fabrics and who often sell fabric for about £7 per metre which didn’t quite meet the colour specifications.

  9. Pamela Rigby
    Posted February 15, 2015 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    Mary, thank you. I had not heard of those people but there is a little shop here in Sheffield run by a mam who used to have a market stall when I first moved up here in ’82 and he often has either Liberty ‘knock offs’ or maybe seconds. There is also a shop on EBay which sells Liberty prints in different colourways or old designs on lovely lawn for about £8 pm so I suspect they may well come from the place Debbie mentioned. Very few of us could afford the Liberty retail price these days. I think my daughter must have been born about the same time as your girls, I taught myself to smock in ’81 after she was born and have been doing it ever since. Alas my stash is no more. About three years ago my husband asked me if I was intending leaving all my Liberty fabrics to my friends in my will? His reasoning was that there was no way I could use it all. Eventually My stepson put it on eBay for me and I was astounded at the response. I had people from all over the world especially Australia andJapan ( where I learned that Liberty’s now have a factory producing old archived designs in special colourways. I sold every scrap. Then what did I do? Well I’m bound to admit I did buy some more as I couldn’t bear to be without any at all. I learned some. Very interesting things from the Japanese women. They are positively crazy about Liberty. I know that Liberty’s store is sadly no longer what it was. I know that they were in a very serious financial state a few years back and these days they don’t seem to be concentrating on fabric as much. I know that the money from the Japanese factory helped get them back on the road to recovery . I belong to some groups on Facebook that have many members who smock and make heirloom clothing. They are from all over the world but mainly in the Southern States of the US. The ladies in these groups make beautiful clothing for their children and grandchildren share all the photos and details and we all share our expertise with some of the new younger girls who want to learn to sew and smock. We have a little group of Brits, several older like me but a few younger ones and we are hoping to make it a separate group ( whilst staying in the other groups too )where we can help one another, share patterns and Destash excess fabric. They do all that in the US. We do need to get more younger girls interested to keep the art going. To say it is known as English Hand Smocking, we rely very much on the ladies in all our former colonies to keep it alive. You mentioned slightly heavier fabric than Tana Lawn. Last summer I bought some Liberty Art Fabrics on eBay which might be the weight you are looking for.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted February 19, 2015 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for your very interesting comment and for so much useful information. I bet the Liberty fabrics you sold were prettier than those available today! I’m not so taken with the designs of the Liberty craft fabric which I think is aimed at the quilting market. In the 70s Liberty produced a cotton called Country Cotton (I think) which was the same sort of weight but of much more sophisticated design – I have things I made in a fabulous chintz and I also have several metres of a very chic geometric design. It is so wonderful that you are sharing your smocking expertise, so that this craft will continue.

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