The Nap Dress Pattern & Tutorial
It's been a long while since my last post, but that doesn't mean I haven't been stitching away! Lately, I've been inspired by something called "the nap dress" -- a smocked dress so comfortable you can take a nap in it. The brand most synonymous with nap dresses is Hill House Home, which sells a variety of silhouettes. Probably because they're so beautiful, their limited edition prints sell out quickly -- so I decided to design my own!
Unable to find the perfect pattern, I drafted my own! As you can see above, I've sewn a number of these and the fit gets better each time. This is the first pattern I've ever drafted. Thankfully, most of the pattern pieces are rectangles, and much of the drafting was simply math. More good news -- this pattern only requires 3 yards of fabric (regardless of width).
Without further ado, here's the pattern! I'll do my best to link resources & tutorials for each of the techniques, and to note where modifications can be made (for fit & style). Again, this is the first pattern I've ever drafted, so let me know if I can clarify anything. For sizing reference, I'm 5'8" and typically around a size 6.
"The Christie" Nap Dress
Fabric Requirements: 3 yards of 45" or 60"
Notions: thread, elastic thread
BODICE: 65" wide x 21.5" height
PANEL 1: 86" wide x 10" height
PANEL 2: 108" wide x 11" height
STRAPS (2): 28" long x 7" wide
Here's a sample cutting layout for 3 yards of 45" fabric (not to scale):
Cutting the Straps
Before you begin sewing, you'll need to round the edges of your straps to around 4".
Stack the two straps so you can cut them at the same time and ensure they will be symmetric.
Fold the straps "hamburger-style" -- the folded fabric should be 7" width x 14" height (first photo from left, where I am using marble coasters as pattern weights).
Cut the fabric as shown -- the folded edge of the fabric should not be cut (second photo from left).
When you unfold the fabric, each strap should look like the the last photo -- around 4" wide at each edge (where it will connect to the bodice), tapered to 7" wide in the middle.
Cutting the Pocket
Let's talk pockets. I LOVE pockets and pretty much refuse to make dresses without them -- it's one of the reasons I started sewing in the first place! However, not every garment is destined to have pockets *sob*. There's a reason that many commercially available nap dresses don't have them. Well, two reasons.
Construction wise, the bodice is created from a single piece of fabric and thus only has one vertical seam. As pockets are typically hidden in side seams, this means that it is easy to add a single pocket, but not very straightforward to add a second pocket.
Functionality wise, the elastic thread that creates the shirring effect (making the bodice fitted) is not super strong. In general, this is great! It means that even though the dress is fitted, the elastic doesn't feel tight, and the dress is extremely comfortable. But for pockets, this is bad news. This means that any weight in the pocket will strain the elastic, pulling it away from the body and making it appear less fitted.
For these reasons, I make my nap dresses with a single pocket in the side seam. I never carry my phone in this pocket, as it weighs too much and messes with the fit of the garment. However, I find that the pocket is still useful for lighter items, such as masks, keys, and chapstick. It's also great for Alanis Morissette vibes -- who doesn't love having one hand in their pocket?
This is all to say that my pattern only includes one pocket, and it's not super useful in practice. I don't have a pattern piece, but you want something with this general shape. The most important things are that the two pocket pieces are symmetric, and large enough to fit your hand + seam allowances (and maybe a mask).If you prefer to have a pattern piece, this tutorial has one that you can download.
Notes on fit
This pattern was drafted to fit me, but it should be fairly easy to modify it to fit you. The key thing that will need to be modified is the width of the bodice. Most shirring tutorials recommend cutting the fabric 1.5 - 2x your bust measurement. I've found that what works best for me are bodice widths between 60" and 65". In other words, between 1.6 - 1.8x my bust measurement.
Unfortunately, shirring (the technique used to gather the bodice) varies by sewing machine and fabric, so it will likely take some playing around with to get the right bodice width and machine settings. However, once you know what bodice width works best, it's easy to whip up a bunch of these dresses.
Because the straps are also shirred, their final length will also vary by sewing machine and fabric. I've found that what works best for me are strap lengths between 26" and 28". This measurement doesn't vary as much between dress sizes, so you'll likely be fine with any measurement within that range.
If your bodice is much narrower or wider than mine, you may want to adjust the middle panel of the dress to better distribute the gathers between seams. This is super easy and simply math! Because we have 3 yards of fabric (108"), that is the width of our bottom panel (panel 2). The width of the middle panel should be halfway between the bodice width and the max width (108"). Here's the math I used for the initial pattern:
108" max width - 65" bodice width = 43"
43" / 2 = 21.5"
65" bodice width + 21.5" = 86.5"
I rounded down, as this dress does not require precision (which is a great thing!).
Step 1. Hem the top edge of the bodice (1")
You can hem however you'd like. What I like to do is fold the fabric the width of the hem (1") and press. Next, I fold again so that the raw edge of the fabric meets the crease I just created. Finally, I stitch close to the inside edge, creating my hem.
Step 2. Shirr top 7" of the bodice, starting 1" below hemmed edge
I only learned how to shirr fabric ~3 weeks ago when I sewed my first nap dress. If I can learn how to shirr, you can too! Here are a few tutorials that helped me.
The basic idea is that you replace your bobbin thread with elastic thread, making sure that the tension of this thread is greater than the tension of your top thread. As you sew parallel lines, the elastic constricts, causing the shirring effect.
There are a couple of different ways to ensure that the tension of the bobbin (elastic) thread is greater than the tension of your top thread: (1) increase bobbin tension, (2) decrease top thread tension, and (3) manually create tension by stretching the elastic thread on the bobbin. I couldn't figure out how to adjust my bobbin tension, so I decreased my top thread tension and stretched the elastic thread while winding my bobbin. The trickiest part will be figuring out your ideal machine settings. Here are mine, for reference:
STITCH LENGTH: 4.5
TENSION (top thread): 2.0
I use approximately 1/2" spacing between rows of shirring, and found 7" to be the ideal length.
I am by no means an expert on this technique, so I highly recommend checking out some tutorials (those linked above or others online). Here are some tips:
Make sure that the fabric lays flat wherever you are stitching (see first photo, above). This means that you will need to stretch previously stitched rows as you are sewing new ones.
To keep rows consistently spaced, I align the previous row with the edge of my presser foot (see first photo, above). This works out to be slightly less than 1/2" spacing, but that's okay! This technique is super forgiving to variations (so don't stress too much).
If my bobbin (elastic) thread runs out in the middle of a row, I simply replace / rewind the bobbin and continue sewing, making sure to securely knot the two ends (see second photo, above).
At this point, I like to sew closed the shirred portion of the bodice and test for fit. This was especially important for my first couple of nap dresses, where I was experimenting with various bodice widths (and sometimes needed to start over with a wider piece of fabric). I typically close with a 5/8" seam, but this can easily be adjusted for fit.
As you can see in the photos below, I leave the bottom portion of the seam open (below the shirring). This makes it easier to attach the skirt and add the pocket.
If you were hoping to create a strapless top instead of a dress -- congrats, you're done! Simply close the rest of the seam and hem the bottom edge.
Step 3. Narrow hem long edges of straps
Again, you can hem however you'd like. Here's a tutorial for creating a professional looking narrow hem.
I typically hem the same way that I hemmed the top edge of the bodice (Step 1). I create a narrow fold (3/8" or 1/2") and press. Next, I fold again so that the raw edge of the fabric meets the crease I just created. Finally, I stitch close to the inside edge, creating my narrow hem.
Step 4. Shirr 1.5" of strap, starting 1" from inside (straight) edge
Using the same technique and machine settings as before (Step 2), shirr ~1.5" of each strap, starting 1" from inside (straight) edge. With ~1/2" spacing between rows, this is four parallel rows for each strap.
The photo on the right shows both straps -- one before shirring, and the other after shirring.
Step 5. Sew straps to bodice
Another benefit of closing the shirred portion of the bodice is that you can try on the garment and mark where the straps should attach.
With wrong sides together, pin the strap to the bodice, aligning the raw edge of the strap with the hem of the bodice (first photo, below).
Stitch the two pieces together, sewing close to the first row of shirring and stretching the elastic to ensure the bodice fabric lays flat where sewn (second photo, below).
Fold the strap over this new seam and top-stitch the strap in place near the hem, making sure to catch the raw edge (third photo, below).
I repeat this process for each attachment point -- twice per strap for a grand total of four times.
Step 6. Gather top edge of panel 2, sew to bottom edge of panel 1 in a 5/8" seam
If you've never gathered fabric before, here's a great tutorial. Like shirring, it's a technique to create small ruffles in the fabric. However, there's no elastic, meaning that the fabric will not have any stretch.
The basic idea is to stitch inside the seam allowance with a long stitch length, leaving excess thread at each end. Once stitched, you can pull on the loose ends to uniformly create ruffles throughout the fabric. You'll want to gather the fabric until it is the same length as the panel it will be sewn to -- in this case, the width of panel 1 (86"). Then, you can simply pin the two edges and stitch!
Note: if you'd like to accentuate the panels with ruffles, narrow hem each long edge before gathering. Then, stitch the panels together with wrong sides together. It feels totally wrong, but it looks great! If you'd like more subtle seams, you can leave the edges raw and sew in the usual fashion -- right sides together.
From left to right: subtle seams (right sides together), ruffled seams (narrow hem + wrong sides together), technique for creating ruffled seams (narrow hem + wrong sides together).
Step 7. Gather top edge of panel 1, sew to bottom edge of bodice in a 5/8" seam
Repeat the previous step to gather the top edge of panel 1 and attach it to the bottom edge of the bodice.
Step 8. Add pocket to side seam and close in a 5/8" seam
With right sides together, pin pocket to side opening of dress, aligning raw edges (left photo, below).
Stitch in a 3/8" seam.
Press pocket away from the dress, pressing the seam allowance towards the pocket.
Repeat on the other side with the other pocket piece.
With right sides together, pin the dress closed, aligning raw edges and pocket pieces (middle photo, below).
In one continuous stitch, close the side seam, pivoting at the top and bottom of the pocket (right photo, below).
If you need further guidance, here's a tutorial for adding pockets to side seams.
Step 9. Hem dress (1")
Hem the bottom edge of your dress, and congrats -- you're done!