Honeycomb Smocked Sundress

on August 5 | in Sewing Tutorials + Patterns | by | with 14 Comments

An from Straight Grain showed us how to make her sweet Bubble Skirt early this year. Today she’s back with a Honeycomb Smocked Sundress in a variety of sizes. The dress would be sweet for sunny days or even layered over a t-shirt in the fall. Learn more about An in her introduction and be sure to look around Straight Grain, where you’ll find some great patterns and tutorials and beautiful Belgian style.

Love the look? Check out our Pintuck Pillow Tutorial.

NOTE: By complete coincidence, one of the Super Online Sewing Match contestants used this technique on her It’s a Cinch Tote, which she submitted for Round Three yesterday! Check out Nicole’s bag (and all the other entries) here

Hi everyone! I’m so happy to be sharing a new tutorial here at Sew Mama Sew. A few weeks ago, I made a little sundress with honeycomb smocking. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been working on a tutorial for making this dress in different sizes. While the dress might look complicated to some, it is actually very simple, and no exceptional sewing skills are needed. You can finish a dress like this in 2 to 3 hours.

The dress is made out of one rectangle of fabric, so no patterns are needed. It closes with a blind zipper in the back, but you can also close it with buttons– just add some more seam allowance on both sides of the panel (for the blind zipper 1 cm– or 3/8″– is included on each side.

This dress works well with different types of fabric, as long as they are not to heavy (avoid canvas, home decor fabric, etc.) and do not stretch (forget knits). I used a midweight fabric from one of my favorite designers, Jay-Cyn for Birch fabrics. This organic fabric is called Stamp Stripe Pool, and is part of their beautiful upcoming Eiko line. The handmade yellow buttons are from Fulton & Co.

But let’s turn to the tutorial now. The dress can be made in the 14 simple steps below:

Honeycomb Smocked Sundress

1. The dress is made out of one simple rectangular panel of fabric. First, let’s calculate how wide and long this panel needs to be.

Width: Measure your child’s chest. Open this Honeycomb Tables PDF, in which you can find a table with the measurements needed for different chest sizes. Column A shows the chest size of the finished dress; column B shows the width of the panel which is needed to make the dress in this size. Two important points here: Column A displays the size of the finished dress; no ease is included. In order to provide for ease, do not just add some extra centimeters/inches yourself; rather, go a (few) size(s) up in the table. So if, for instance, your child’s chest measures 47 cm, you might want to make the 484 or 49.8 cm dress, rather than the 47 cm one. Also, in order to have a perfectly symmetrical dress, it is important that you pick a measurement from the table, don’t go for ‘in between’ sizes.

Length: Add 4 cm (1.5″) to the desired length of the finished dress excluding the straps (so, the desired length measured from the armpit down, not from the shoulders down).

2. Cut the rectangle, and serge the side edges. With tailor’s chalk or an erasable marker, draw a parallel line 3 cm (1.2″) from the top edge. Draw three more parallel lines, each 3 cm (1.2″) apart. If you would like to have a wider band of smocking (e.g., for taller sizes), you might want to draw an additional one. Drawing four lines will result in a band of smocking which is about 9 cm (3.6″) high; drawing five lines will result in one of 12 cm (4.8″).

3. Mark the top edge and lowest line at every 2.8 cm (1 inch). These marks indicate where the folds will be; connect each top one with the corresponding bottom one with tailor’s chalk or an erasable marker (or alternatively, connect them by ironing the pleats).
For the convenience of those of you who use the metric system (centimeters), the PDF also includes a column with mulitples of 2.8 to make it easier to make the marks.

4. Now, let’s start sewing the pleats. Each pleat is sewn at 0.7 cm (1/4″); on most machines, this will correspond to foot width (how convenient is that?!). Fold the fabric on the first vertical line, and stitch all the way from the top edge of the rectangle to the lowest line you drew in Step 2. Secure your thread with a double backstitch.

5. After you’ve stitched the first two pleats, it is best to do a little test to make sure that your pleats have the perfect width. If you fold the two pleats towards each other, they should just touch. If they overlap, your pleats are too wide, and you will need to stitch a bit closer to the edge. If there is a space between them, your pleats are too narrow, and you should stitch a bit further from the edge.

6. Once you stitched all the pleats, you should end up with with something like this:

7. Now comes the fun part: creating the honeycombs. Start with a backstitch at the beginning of the top line you drew in Step 2. Keep stitching until you almost reach the first pleat. Fold this pleat upwards, and continue stitching until you reach the next pleat. This pleat will be folded downwards. Continue stitching, and keep alternating between folding the pleats upwards and downwards. When you reach the edge of the back, backstitch.

8. For the next row, you use the same method, except that the first pleat will be folded downwards (instead of upwards), the second one upwards (instead of downwards), and so on.

9. After you have stitched all rows in this alternating fashion, secure the pleats at the top edge by running a stitch line near the edge. Important: Here, you will not change the direction of the pleats.

10. Now, we can install the hidden zipper. Turn the zipper with the right side down, and pin the part which is now on your left hand side, onto the right side of the back panel. The top of the zipper stop should be at 2 cm (3/4″) from the top edge of the panel.

Install your zipper foot. Open the teeth of the zipper a bit, so you can stitch right next to them. Some brands (e.g, YKK) have a punctured line running right next to the teeth. This is where your needle should go in. Stitch the zipper from top to bottom, regularly checking if your needle is still going in right next to the teeth. Cut off any threads so they cannot get caught in the zipper.

Try to close the zipper; if you can’t, it means you stitched too closely to the teeth and have to start over again.

11. Next, we will stitch the other part of the zipper to the left side of the panel. You will take the exact same steps as you did for the right piece. Take your time to ensure you place the zipper the right way. Make sure that the distance between the zipper stop and the first line of stitches is exactly the same on both sides of the back; if not, your lines will not continue nicely across the zipper.

Once the zipper is installed, you can close the seam underneath the zipper.

12. Now, cut off the top of the zipper tape, at 1 cm (3/8″) above the top of the zipper stop. Push the top of the zipper tape sideways a bit, and secure it with a few stitches.

13. Next, fold the top in by 1 cm (3/8″), press, and fold again by 1 cm (3/8″). Stitch at foot width (0.7 cm or 1/4″). Use the same steps to finish the hem of the dress.

14. Finally, make and attach the straps. The possibilities are endless here: you can use single straps like I did, or use double ones which you tie with a little bow on the shoulders; you can have the straps cross at the back, and so on. I embellished the straps with some bright little buttons (these are purely decorative, not functional).


This post is sponsored by Fabricworm, where you can find Birch Organic Fabrics including the Stamp Stripe Pool used in the Honeycomb Smocked Sundress. (Part of the lovely Eiko line at Fabricworm.)

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14 Responses to Honeycomb Smocked Sundress

  1. That’s wonderful to hear, Sumé!

  2. Sumé says:

    Oh my….just made this for my 5 yr old and it looks amazing!! Cannot believe that I did it!! Thank you SO much for sharing this!!

  3. Oh, that’s a difficult one. Depends on whether the kid likes to wear rather tight clothes or not; whether you want to leave room for growth, and so on. But generally, I’d say that an inch (circ.) is the minimum.
    Tip: I don’t know if you get a chance to see the girls before you start on your project, but if you do, it could be useful to, rather than measuring their chest with a tape measure, use a strip of fabric; put it around their chest to determine the ideal chest width of the finished dress.

    Happy sewing 🙂

  4. Thanks Sherri! It washes up without any problems. Ironing is a bit more challenging, but I found that just briefly going into each honeycomb with the tip of your iron does the job.

  5. Hi Erin,

    Good question! The length of the zipper depends on the size you make, and how chunky your kid is (bigger kids will need to pull it open further to get into it). That being said, a zipper of about half the length of the finished dress should be more than long enough.


  6. Erin says:

    So, what length zipper is needed? It describes sewing the zipper to the honeycomb part, but that is it. Is the zipper just the length of the honeycomb section and you’re supposed to sew the rest of the fabric together or does the zipper go all the way to the bottom? Am I reading it wrong and completely missing this part in the tutorial? I was hoping there was a picture of the back of the dress to see if I could figure it out from there, but to no avail.

  7. Sherri says:

    I was wondering how much ease to give? I’d like to make this dress for my two nieces – 3 and 4 years old. Since I don’t have any kids of my own, I don’t know what would be best. Any thoughts?

  8. This is really pretty! I saw a throw pillow like this the other day and was trying to sort out how to make it – now I know! Thanks! One question – since it is used for a dress, does it wash up well? Thanks!

  9. Vesna says:

    Ok. Got it! 🙂

    Thank you so much

  10. Hi Vesna, that’s a good observation! The idea is that, if you use inches, you make a mark every inch, not every 2,8 cm. I designed the tutorial in such a way that it would have workable dimensions for both users of cm as of inches. It also has to do with the fact that “presser foot width” refers to 7mm in the metric system, while users of inches speak of 1/4″ (while 7 mm is actually 0.28 inch, not 0.25).
    Anyway, the point is that, indeed, the markings are slightly further apart for those who use cm. But the calculations in the entire table (e.g. also the dimensions of the panel) take this difference into account.
    So you can work with inches or centimeters, whatever you prefer; the only thing which is IMPORTANT is that you are consistent: if you want to make a mark every inch, you need to consult into the IN INCHES table of the pdf for the measurements of the panel; if you want to make a mark every 2.8 cm, you need to use the IN CM table in the pdf.

  11. Vesna says:


    I have a question. 🙂 I use metric system, but I find it hard to mark exactly on 2,8 cm, so I guessed to use inches, but now I’m confused. If I use inches, I will have marks on every 2,54cm, since 1inch=2,54cm, won’t I?
    I’m sorry if you find these questions unnecessary, but I would really like to sew this wonderful dress for my girl.

    Greetings, Vesna

  12. Esther F. says:

    Very very cute, and also doable!
    Thanks for the tutorial!

  13. Zandra says:

    I’ve read a tutorial on how to do shockin smocking but I’ve never seen it used on clothing. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful tutorial. I’m totally making one for my sweet Maggie:)

  14. Elisa says:

    I always wondered how to do smocking like this and just thought all smocking had to be done by hand. This looks so pretty…and easy! Thank you!

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