Monday, April 14, 2014

"Spring Smock-Along"-Picture Smocking Part 1

Spring brings not only flowers outdoors, but a desire to sew and smock all kinds of cute clothing!
I'm re-posting my series on smocking tutorials since I have changed blogging platforms and many of my links take you to ......nothing!!!  Now, you should be able to find the tutorials!!!!

Recently I have seen picture smocking on many facebook style auctions.  You know the ones I'm talking about?  Picture smocking requires "stacking" cable stitches to create a picture.  Since I loved to color as a child (you may still catch me coloring) picture smocking affords me to "color" with  thread.

Picture smocking can be done on bishops (around the neck and shoulders)

or an insert (inset) that is placed into a garment.

To begin, select one of many picture smocking "plates" (short for template) available from many designers, available online or from specialty sewing stores.

Then have your 100% cotton fabric pleated with the number of rows required for your intended project.  I prefer the stability of broadcloth for picture smocking.


For my  selection, I need 9 rows of gathering threads pleated.  Always make sure you have a "holding row" at the top and bottom of your insert.  Then you have the actual rows that make the picture smocking.  My pattern has an "H" for holding on the very top row and the row 9 serves as the second "holding row".


"Blocking" your insert is required prior to smocking to insure the piece will fit into your garment correctly!  You don't want to spend the time it takes to smock only to discover the insert has been squeezed tightly by your stitches and is too little to be sewn into your garment.:(

Next, scrunch all the pleats over to the left hand side (make sure there is a knot holding all the threads together)  pulling on the top and bottom of the insert to "straighten" any puckers.  Hold your steam iron over the insert and steam the pleats.  DO NOT IRON THE PLEATS!!!  Let this dry.

You need to make sure you're smocking on the "right" side of the insert.  Since broadcloth is essentially the same on both sides this doesn't create a problem with the fabric.  However, there is a "right" and "wrong" side to the pleating.  In order to stitch into each pleat while smocking you want as much of the pleat to be above the gathering thread as possible.  So....look at both sides of your insert.  The stitches that are longest are on the wrong side.  "Wrong is Long"  Notice that on the pleats, there is little room to take a "bite" of fabric with your needle while smocking.

Notice here that the stitches are shorter and therefore, this is the "right" side.  The pleats give you more room to take a stitch when pulled together.

After the insert is completely dry, you are ready to pull the gathering threads from the left side away from the fabric and snip off the knot.

I use the blocking board that can be purchased from Martha Pullen's website.  When I first started smocking, however, I used a bulletin board that had been covered with muslin and a grid that had been covered with contact paper.

Make sure to line up the left edge of the fabric so that it is square.  Secure with several pins.

Stretch the pleats out from the left side.

Measure the seam allowance.  My particular garment pattern requires 1 3/4 inch seam allowance in order for the insert to fit into the clothing I'm planning on making.  So I use a seam guide to find that width and notice which pleat lines up with that required 1 3/4 inch allowance.

Using a straight pin, (I've also used a seam ripper only to break my gathering threads so I don't suggest this method :( pull each row out gently along the same pleat all the way down the left side.  It should look like this....

Now you will take 2 of the tails and tie and overhand knot.

Using your right hand on the right side of the fabric, gently pull the top two gathering threads through the fabric until the first knot is "seated" right against the left first pleat.

This is a properly "seated" knot.  :)  Continue all the way down the left side.  If you have an odd number of rows (as I do in this particular design) just tie the last 3 together.  (When I pleat my inserts, I use one color-pink in this case- for the top holding row, all the smocked rows are orange and the bottom holding row is blue to help me while picture smocking)

Now it is time to count the pleats.  I use one color of (white) pins across the top of my insert and count out 10 pleats at a time and mark them with my pins.

Write this number down or put it into your handy cell phone calculator!

Look at your template to make sure you have enough pleats to cover the smocking design.


This particular design calls for a total of 162 pleats.  I have more than enough to cover that!  (I will use only the amount required since I'm making a small 6 mos size garment, if I make something bigger I like to leave extra pleats on each side to cover a larger chest area)

After dividing 162 pleats by 2 I get 81 which is the center of my smocking design.  So now I recount the white pins by 10's until I get to 80 then add the 1 pleat and mark it with a blue pin.  Take a safety pin and secure it on the center pleat.

  Determine the width your insert needs to be by consulting the pattern.  The pattern I'm using has a "blocking guide" to give me the width the insert needs to be to fit into the garment properly.

My project needs to be 12inches wide so I'll stretch out the right side of the insert on my board to the 12 inch mark.  Make sure that the edges are square and pin into place.

Repeat the measuring process used with the left side to determine where to pull out your gathering threads so you can tie off the right side. Since my project requires 162 pleats total, I'm going to be sure I have 81 pleats from center to right side in order to have enough pleats for my design. Do the same for your required number of pleats, depending on which smocking template you selected.   (As mentioned before, if you have extra on BOTH sides for a larger insert, it is ok unless it is too big for the blocking guide so refer to your pattern)  Again, I will use the 1 3/4 " seam allowance called for in my pattern.

Repeat the process for pulling out the threads up to the pleat at the end of your measurement.  Use a pin and go down the entire length of the pleat pulling out the gathering threads.
(see above pic like we did on the left side)

 Now remove all the white pins across the top of the insert and mark the center pleat top and bottom with a water soluble fabric pen.  Slide the pleats over gently using your fingernails or a wide toothed comb.  (Be careful if you have colored nail polish on!) Put your marked center of the insert in the middle of your measurement.  In my case 12 inches wide divided in half is 6, so I put my safety pinned center pleat on 6 inches.

Pin the insert at the top and bottom, making sure the center pleat is straight and squared.  Continue to adjust the pleats from the left side to the center .

Now it is time to tie off the right side.  I take a pin and secure it to the right side of the last pleat required for my design in between the first two gathering rows.  On the right side I tie a square knot using the pin for leverage to make sure I get the knot "seated" securely on the right side of that last pleat.

Continue down the right side in two's, remembering to tie an odd number of rows by using the tail of the gathering row above it.

I promise we are almost through!  Now give the gathering threads a "haircut" to about an inch within the knots on both sides.

The last step in the blocking process is to adjust the pleats with your fingernails getting them straight and no puckers, then spray starch the insert while it is still pinned to the board.

Let it dry completely and then you'll be ready to smock!
Join me on a  Spring Smock-along ---Part 2 coming next!

Smooth Smocking,

😉--updated 6/28/17 without the use of pictures using a particular smocking design that was removed at the request of the smocking designer.  Please comment if you have questions and I'll try to help!


  1. I love you tutorial, I haven't smocked in years, so this is a great refresher course. Thank you

  2. Thanks for the comments. When I moved from one platform to another, the pictures didn't move with it. I have neglected to add the pictures to that post. Check the blog again, I just added the part 2 complete with pictures! Let me know if this helps your smocking endeavor !

  3. Hola,tengo muchos años buscando un buen tutorial,muchas gracias y que Dios te bendiga...

  4. I so appreciate this tutorial! Very well explained.

  5. lo hare practico ....hare mi primer trabajo, gracias