85F3CE96-2B73-4819-B350-FD64F4FBC6D4 .Quiltscapes.: Shall We Gather ~ Smocking!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Shall We Gather ~ Smocking!

I love this adorable vintage needlework technique.

The following is a tutorial originally posted at Riley Blake Designs' Cutting Corners in January of 2014.  Due to a web host change, this tutorial is no longer available on that site, so I'm re-vitalizing and reposting here at Quiltscapes.  (I'll probably need to do the same for the remaining 38 tutorials in the upcoming months, so stay tuned!)
Used before elastic was ever invented, smocking is a simple embroidery method to gather fabric into a decorative pattern at cuffs, necklines, bodices and so on.  The tucks and pleats allow the fabric to stretch. 

Let's get started with our "Smockery"!  It's easy to try and easy to learn.  Especially if you use Gingham.  Grab a scrap of cotton gingham fabric, with the square checks spaced at least 1/2" to 1" wide.  If you can't readily find gingham, try using a print with a regular, evenly-spaced pattern such as Swiss dots, so you don't have to mark your fabric.  Otherwise, plot out a grid on the right side of your fabric using a ruler and removable marking instrument.  Then all you need is a wide-eye needle, some floss and a pair of scissors, and you're ready to go!
Practice on a small swatch of gingham print, twice as wide as your desired width, then add an extra 2" to 4" around the edges of your work area.    
Here's a little demo to get going.  Working on one row at a time, we'll make little pleats at the horizontal arrows, and allow the floss to glide beneath the fabric at the vertical arrows.   It will all make sense with the pictures!

  Use perle cotton or two strands of embroidery floss.
Tie a knot in one end.  
Bring thread up at your starting point.  

Take a tiny stitch where your thread came up to anchor the stitch.  
Do NOT skip this step.

Travel horizontally to the LEFT corner of the square, and take another tiny stitch.

Take 1 to 2 more whip stitches, catching both corners.  There's your first tuck.

Next, take the needle back down just to the side of the stitches you made,
then travel under the fabric and bring your needle out at the next point.

Use the following diagram  to see how to travel with your stitches.  

I am right-handed, so it's easier for me to work from right to left as I stitch.
If left-handed, work in the reverse from left to right.
Here's how a few stitches should look.  
See the lovely little triangle-shaped pleats you've started?

 Just keep repeating the process.

Remember, Horizontal stitches are pulled, and always out front.
Vertical stitches are relaxed, and always travel behind. 
If you try to travel horizontally, you may have a whole new pattern,
but you will also have lots of exposed threads on the back = snags.

That's better.

Smocking will not reduce the length by much, but it will reduce the width by about half.  Now, if only I had cut this strip long enough, it would have made a cute headband!

Let's demonstrate again:
Travel vertically to the next corner, and bring the thread out to the right side.  
Thread should be relaxed, not pulled when you travel up or down.

Take a tiny stitch.

Travel horizontally to the next corner, and take another tiny stitch...

...then tighten to form the pleat.
Take one or two more whip stitches in the same holes to secure.

Travel vertically to the next corner by taking the needle through to the back. 
Remember, do NOT tighten the stitch.  

And repeat the process.

Tie a knot when you get to the end of your thread, then lace up and keep going until you get to the end of your project.  See how it forms the secondary pattern between the two rows we worked on?  We've just made two passes and it created another set of tucks between the rows (white triangles).

Three Rows.  Remember, we're only working on every other row.
See?  Simple.  Looks way more complicated than it really is.


OK!  Now that you've mastered the technique, go make something SWEET! 

Find the pattern for this adorable, sweet, simple smocked apron on my Craftsy store HERE.

Gingham Love!  ♥  Hope you enjoyed this tutorial!  It's just one of several vintage-y techniques I've enjoyed exploring.  So much to learn, so much to do...  There's always something cooking here at Quiltscapes, and I'll be all set in my "little old lady" apron, LOL! Stop by again soon!


  1. That looks wonderful. Thanks for the tutorial.

  2. what a very good tutorial, I have not smocked for a long time the last time I did any I covered balls with smocking for tree decorations maybe it is time to have another go have lots of smocking dots somewhere but not sure where. Looking forward to seeing more tutorials from you


So glad you stopped by for a visit!

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