I have now made two Summerlin dresses, and two Two Summer Sundresses (pattern available on Ravelry). Both patterns are free, and are very similar: a simple knitted bodice and a gathered woven fabric skirt. There are definitely differences, though.
First off, Summerlin is much better written. The two sisters who make up Kathryn Ivy have been knitting for a while, and that shows in the pattern instructions. Natalie Larson, the designer for Two Summer Sundress, had only been knitting for a year when she wrote hers. Two Summer isn’t hard to follow, it’s just not as polished, and the sewing instructions are seriously lacking. I do a lot of sewing, so I didn’t need them (and if I did, I could have just substituted the instructions from Summerlin), but for someone who isn’t a seamstress, they might be confusing.
Summerlin is knit from the mostly-garter-stitch straps down to a v-neck bodice (knit mostly in stockinette), then you use the backwards-loop method to cast on extra stitches for the garter stitch empire-waistband. The straps are sewn down to the back of the bodice, a button is added to the end of the waistband, and you make a buttonloop for it. The instructions are written with definite stitch counts for each size [“Repeat last two rows until you have 15 (17, 19, 21, 23) sts.”].
I don’t think backwards-loop looks as bad as some people do, but I do think it’s unwieldy for such a large number of stitches. Other than that, the waistband is stable. It lies flat, and provides a good strong place for attaching the skirt.
The straps, however, stretch. Badly. I need to take pictures of the first dress I did (which was, admittedly, in a bad yarn for this project). It’s cotton, and garter stitch. They’re going to stretch. I hoped they wouldn’t stretch quite so much as they did (even in the better yarn for this project). Combined with the v-neck, the dress was more revealing than I would care to wear, as an adult, and was far too mature for the little girls (ages 1 — 5) intended to wear it. I tied a ribbon around the straps in the back to keep it from falling down so much in the front. Another problem with the straps is that, while they don’t curl at the edges, they do fold in half lengthwise (row 1, k; row 2, k2, p1, k2). That line of knit stitches down the center kills them. Sewing grosgrain ribbon to the back of the straps stops both the stretching, and the folding, but is not part of the original pattern.
The instructions for sewing the skirt are really good. One thing I recommend (and this goes for Two Summer, also), is to sew the basting (long) stitches that you use for gathering in two segments, each covering half of the upper edge of the skirt. Then, divide the skirt and bodice into four even sections, and gather the fabric one section at a time and match it to the bodice. That way you know you have it divided evenly, and you aren’t trying to pull the thread through the entire upper edge of the skirt.
The Two Summer Sundress is knit from the empire-waistband (with a yarn-over buttonhole) up, with a square neckline and garter stitch straps with two yarn-over buttonholes each. You sew a button to the end of the waistband, and one each at points about midway between the center back and the side. The straps are adjustable so it can be worn longer (hence the name) — with the straps criss-crossed for the first year, and straight the second. The instructions give a total number of stitches to be cast on for each size, and a length for the straps, but after that, you have to do a little math (“Bind off 25% of your total stitches.”). It’s never more than figuring out 25% or 50%, so it isn’t difficult, and this also makes it easier to substitute different yarns, or to make the bodice at a different gauge. Another thing with Two Summer is that after you’ve knit it, you sew ribbon (I recommend grosgrain) to the straps and the waistband, which keeps the straps from stretching, and adds stability to the waistband for the buttons. It also allows you to cover the edge of the gathered fabric (which looks neat, and keeps the fabric from unraveling), and any yarn ends that you didn’t feel like weaving in anymore (you *do* still need to weave them in a little, though).
I hate yarnover buttonholes. They are just too stretchy and not neat-looking enough for me. I’m not real crazy about doing loops for buttons, either, so I don’t know which I really prefer. With the Two Summers I’ve made, I stopped the ribbon backing before the buttonholes (on both the straps and the waistband), because I thought it would be a pain to try to line up buttonholes sewn into the ribbon with the yarnovers. If I make another, I’m going to try doing just that, and probably at least tack them together. It will look better (to me, at least), and the ribbon won’t stretch the way the yarnover will, so the buttons should stay buttoned better. I think shank buttons are better (for either dress, really) than sew-through buttons. On Two Summer, the buttonholes are really too thick for a 1/2″ sew-through button.
I think the waistband would be better in garter stitch, instead of mostly stockinette, or at the very least, do four rows of garter stitch, two rows of stockinette, then another four rows of garter. As it is (three rows of garter, five of stockinette, and three of garter, I think), it rolls. The ribbon backing stops it from doing that, but sewing it on is a bit of a pain because, well, it rolls. I also think it makes more sense when you cast off for the ends of the waistband to cast off 25% of the stitches, then knit to the end. On the next row, cast off 25% of the stitches purlwise, then continue with the bodice stitches. That way you don’t have to break yarn and reattach.
Another thing I did with the waistband was I cast on four extra stitches, so the buttonhole could overlap the button without the fabric of the skirt having to overlap. [So when I cast off the waistband stitches, I actually cast off (# of stitches cast on – 4) x 25%, k to end, next row cast off (# of stitches cast on – 4) x 25% + 4.]
The instructions for the decreases on the bodice say to do your ssk or k2tog right at the edges, and I prefer the way it looks doing k2, ssk, k to last four stitches, k2tog, k2. I think the edge is cleaner that way.
Then there’s the straps. According to the instructions, the straps are four sts wide. I think five would be better. There’s less chance of the ribbon showing along the edges that way. I have not successfully sewn the ribbon to the straps without the straps getting skewed. It happens a little on the waistband, too, but it’s not nearly as bad. I strongly recommend taking the sewing slow and having both sides of the strap pinned to the ribbon, although this can be a pain if the pins are long (the pins along the side you sew second might get in the way of sewing the first side). I haven’t actually tried that yet, but I think that should help.
Overalll, they’ve both got their good points and their bad points. Personally, I like Two Summer Sundress better. It has a square neckline, it’s knit from the bottom up instead of needing all those stitches cast on for the waistband, and the instructions are easily adaptable for other yarns. Any problems I have with Summerlin are easily enough fixed, though. Turn it around and knit it from the bottom up, then add ribbons to the straps and waistband for stability.