Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Smocking Map on Dots

Some time ago I did
smocking on gingham, using the checks as a natural grid for spacing the stitches and forming pleats. That eventually became a sundress, and I liked it enough to want to keep doing it. So some smocking practice this week, this time on dots. In that first smocking tutorial, I sketched out some smocking stitches and patterns. If you already know how to smock, or have been lucky enough to have someone show you where exactly to poke the needle in and out of the fabric, you'll find those sketches easy to follow. If you are new to smocking, though, it is trickier to position the stitches so that they are regular and even, especially if the fabric is already all scrunched up in pleats.

I normally stitch and pleat as I smock, adjusting the tension as I go. But last night as I was smocking and spacing out, I suddenly and quite by accident found a way to smock faster and illustrate in less diagrams what the smocking stitches look like. After congratulating myself with, "Well, look what you invented because of sheer laziness! The First Ever Smocking Map!!!!" I realized that this is very likely how everyone already does it, except me. Ah, well.

Anyway, I am sharing this because it is such an immediately visual thing, and I am such a sucker for visual aids. It's a teacher curse.

So here it is - A Smocking Map!
Looks like regular old running stitch, you say? Where are the pleats? And why is everything so flat? How is this smocking?

This, skeptical people, is Smocking: Pre-Tension. (Geddit - Pre-tension? Pretension? Hahahahaha! Hit me on the head, someone.) Ahem, you know, like how you gather fabric by sewing a long straight stitch and then pulling it into folds?

Hypothesis: If all the stitches are executed before pulling the fabric into pleats, then it is
  1. easier to poke the needle in and out of the right places to get an even pattern.
  2. easier to teach smocking to other people.
  3. more fun for lazy people.

Awful hypothesis aside, here is how it works:

Step 1

You thread a needle with a very long thread and knot it about 2" from the end (this is to tie thread ends together later). Then you poke it through the first dot in your pattern.

Step 2

You sew the row(s) of stitches - see the tutorial for sketches or just follow the map. With the fabric flat, you can more easily count the dots and ensure the stitches are evenly spaced and correctly positioned. When you get to the end of your rows, remove the needle but do not knot off the thread. Thread the needle with thread of a different color and begin a different-colored row of stitches.

Here is a sequence for the 3rd and 4th rows of honeycomb stitch, sewn right to left (the 1st and 2nd rows were sewn left to right):

And here's a sequence for the wave stitch, also sewn right to left, and directly under a pair of rows of cable stitch:

Here is a picture of the stitched piece of fabric, pre-pleated, with a pleated version above it for width comparison:

Step 3

Start pulling the thread, stitch by stitch, to form the pleats as you tighten the stitches. You can adjust the tension as you like it:

The top pair of rows of cable stitch (blue):

The first pair of rows of honeycomb stitch (white)

The second pair of rows of honeycomb stitch (white)

The next pair of rows of cable stitch (blue)

The row of wave stitch to form the hearts (blue):

Here is the pleated smocking panel- quite untidy, because I didn't take the time to really manipulate the pleats nicely.

Also, I was experimenting with the spacing of the stitches among the dots and I didn't like the widely-spaced honeycomb rows as much as the more closely spaced ones here:

If you had actually ironed the fabric into pleats before stitching, you'd get much sharper and more regular pleats. I always realize this on hindsight, of course. That's what I get for spacing out.

P.S. Did you notice how many shades of blue/teal/whatever that same fabric is in different photos? Note to self: do not experiment with camera settings as if you knew how to operate a camera.


  1. Wow that looks so beautiful, thanks for the tutorial

  2. Brilliant! This has been on my list of things to try, so thanks for telling us how. My daughter wears a smocked top made in the early 70's for my sister and I'd like to make one for my children to wear and pass on to their children. It seems I'm going fabric shopping tomorrow....

  3. now that is cool. you make it look so easy.

  4. Hmmm...nice try, but smocking still scares me! Although, this makes it less so.

    Woah! You're so right about the camera shading! If you didn't say anything, I would never have known!

    Very cool, though, and I'll have to buy some dotted fabric to try it out. Maybe today, since ikat blog days are always good ones :D

  5. I read this post because you make me laugh, not because I have any intention of trying smocking. I love smocking and buy it when I see it. Maybe I could learn with a teacher next to me. . . but in the meantime, I just love your puns and self-deprecatory manner.

    And, is that a pocket for something or just The Example? It's very pretty.

  6. Your "smocking map" does a fantastic job of differentiating b/w shirring and smocking - my circa 1970's sewing guides illustrate in black/white/orange detail couldn't even hope to achieve!!


  7. Very nifty! Thank you for the further explanation.

  8. Such a good tutorial! Thank you. I'm still trying to find the right moment to experiment with a smocked checked dress following your previous tutorial! Before the summer is out I will do so.

  9. Thank you SO much. I wore smocked dresses when I was little and have always wanted to do it but the only person I know who knew how has a smocking machine and made it sound like I needed one to do it. I lOVE this method. I can't wait to smock!

  10. Hi, Thank you for this! Makes it look easy! But I do have a question - what are the widths of the smocking before and after tensioning, please? I'm going to try it to make a dress for my little girl.

    1. Anonymous: I don't know. You'll need to mark out one side of the dress (e.g. the left side seam and armscye) and not cut the right side until the smocking is done. Perhaps someone else knows?

  11. wow beautiful. Always i use to think about smocking now I got the Idea. I will try soon as posible.thanx.Pushpa

  12. Thank You soo much for this post on smocking I have just started to take an another interest in it,and I love this tutorial.Bless you so easy to understand

  13. fun! Now I want to go do some smocking. I've done cheater smocking with zigzagging over elastic thread.

  14. I have bought Grace Knotts book on smocking & am still in a quandry how to get the pleats perfect. I have to try this method!! Love it.

  15. I love to smock and I love this, would love to see the finished product ( dress?) that is what intimidates me

    1. Anonymous: this was made into a pocket for a pocket quilt. Here it is: http://www.ikatbag.com/2010/12/pocketful-of-sky-summary-and-giveaway.html


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