Hand Smocking Makes a Comeback!

Feb 18, 2013

I predicted a resurgence of hand smocking about a year ago---mostly to other members of the Stitch team. I said, " You know smocking isn't just for little girls' dresses any more!"


Smocked pillows
by Tanya Mauler


A twist on smocking
by Tanya Mauler

  Figure 1


    Figures 2 and 3

 

And I was serious--so serious that we ran an article last summer on smocking. We had some trouble finding modern images, but I went online and found a young woman from Brooklyn, Tanya Mauler,  who was hip and really into hand smocking and had posted pictures on flickr.

She had taken the art of hand smocking and incorporated it into everyday items like pillows and aprons. I was so excited!  To add to my excitement, Stitch contributor Charise Randell submitted TWO hand smocking projects, a scarf and a purse, for the Renaissance Woman section of Stitch Fall 2013. Now I call that a trend!

I was introduced to hand smocking in a couture embellishments course that I took at Fashion Institute of Technology, and I just fell in love with the technique, which is every bit as enjoyable as embroidery or beading. I hope you'll join me in its revival. I recommend you read "Smocking Tips + Techniques" in Stitch Summer 2012, but here is the quick scoop on how to hand smock:

Hand smocking requires a just few basic tools--fabric, needle, and thread. Lightweight woven fabrics such as linen and cotton are the easiest to gather and smock. The gathering or pleating step required before smocking can be done either by hand or machine. When gathering fabric by hand, the easiest method is the use of iron-on transfer dots, which place evenly spaced marks on the wrong side of the fabric that can then be gathered using a running stitch. Dots can also be done by hand. (figure 1)

Once the band of fabric is pleated, check it against the size of the pattern. Tighten or loosen the gathering threads as necessary. Tie the ends of the gathering threads in pairs using a sturdy square knot to secure your work. Rows of smocking stitches will be added at the top and bottom of the pleated band to further stabilize it, creating a canvas for more decorative stitches across the middle of the band.

Paying attention to where the thread lies in relation to the needle will result in stitches that lie neatly across the pleats. The outline stitch and the cable stitch are the two common stabilizing stitches used to begin most patterns. (figures 2 and 3) Think of the smocking stitch as a backstitch. Always work from left to right. Thread position is important. If you are working across rows, the thread follows the needle. If working from top to bottom, the thread is above the needle and if stitching from bottom to top, the thread is below the needle. When stitching, the needle is always kept parallel to the gathering threads. The "bite" or depth of the stitch taken across the pleat should also be kept at a uniform depth. Usually a third to one half of the pleat depth is picked up when stitching.

I hope you give hand smocking a try. And for a  resource that practically wrote the book on smocking, check out Sew Beautiful magazine.

Have you ever tried hand smocking? I would love to know that I'm not the only one!

Happy stitching!

.


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Comments

JeanPat wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 3:19 AM

I have been Hand Smocking since I had my first daughter in 1969 and have continued over the years with another daughter and all 8 grandchildren (4 boys, 4 girls) and now a great grandaughter. In Australia we have had a great Magazine called Australian Smocking and Embroidery. There were 100 issues of which I have over 90. Unfortunately, it is no longer published. Wish it was still in production. I would subscribe again. Regards, Jean Paternoster

CraftyWitch wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 4:38 AM

I once made a hand smocked Christmas wreath from a kit. I've wanted to do more smocking since then, but I think I'd really rather use a pleater than do the pleating by hand. Finding one of those things is not easy. I know of exactly one source, but I haven't had the money to spend and other crafts to take up my time.

Marquis2 wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 6:44 AM

Smocking by hand is alive and well. I've been a member of The Smocking Arts Guild of America for 30 years! Check it out. We do more than just smock little girl's dresses! I teach and design patterns for ladies, children and dolls and have found this art form so rewarding over the years. There are many thousands of women around the world who smock but do not belong to guilds.

On a sad note, the Grace L. Knott Smocking Supplies Company is about to close as Grace's grandson is planning to retire. The business has been around for over 75 years and an era is about to end. Check them out!

Sew Beautiful and A Needle Pulling Thread are the only current publications I am aware of which publish articles on smocking. Judith Marquis

Sarlordia wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 6:51 AM

I am currently applying hand smocking techniques to aluminum and copper screening for a light metal arts piece I am creating.

on Feb 18, 2013 6:58 AM

I am a self taught smocker.  I made my first dress for my daughter 37 years ago.  I also made and sold hand smocked dresses and gave lessons on smocking and French hand sewing.  The finished projects gave me a natural high.  Glad it is coming back in  vogue

on Feb 18, 2013 6:59 AM

I am a self taught smocker.  I made my first dress for my daughter 37 years ago.  I also made and sold hand smocked dresses and gave lessons on smocking and French hand sewing.  The finished projects gave me a natural high.  Glad it is coming back in  vogue.  The FlowerLady

playmisty4me wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 7:35 AM

I love smocking! My aunt made my sister and I matching smocked dresses for years growing up. I have made quite a few smocked baby outfits, but I recently used the technique on a handbag, and I get tons of compliments on it! I would love to make myself a garment one day.

sewjody wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 7:41 AM

What wonderful news that smocking is making a comeback!   I love smocking and have belonged to SAGA (Smocking Arts Guild of America) for many years.   It is another great resource for information on smocking.   By the way, your outline stitch above should show the needle horizontal to the pleating threads and not at an angle. Unless you are using a more modern interpretation of embroidery on pleats.   Thanks for letting folks know that smocking is still around and can be modern, hip and fun.

Sandylaura wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 7:56 AM

I taught myself to smock 13 years ago when my daughter was born,  I love smocking.  I have now moved from little girls dresses they look a bit silly on a 13 year old LOL.  I have made some beautiful smocked bags, pillow cases and Christmas ball decorations.

gre3chen wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 8:57 AM

Taught smocking for many years.  Add smocked pockets on tote bags to your list of fun things to do.  Also inserts purses  and an insert on a blouse sleeve (done the length of the sleeve so it does not add bulk.  I have some pictures, but not sure how to send them.

Gretchen Dent Rochester NY

MM Rose wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 9:09 AM

I bought a pleater to help me smock. I found I got more even pleats. The best teacher I ever had was Martha Pullen president of Sew Beautiful.  I am glad it is making a come back. It is wonderful these sewing crafts are not being lost.

bevweis wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 9:11 AM

Yes, I did learn English smocking many years ago, and now want to refresh my skills to smock for a baby granddaughter coming soon. How can I get access to the article you referred to in the Summer 2012 Stitch issue? Thanks!

Bev Weis

bevweis@gmail.com

lrichards550 wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 9:22 AM

How exciting it is to see your article regarding smocking by hand - it is indeed alive & well.  I have been a member of the Smocking Arts Guild of America for the past 28 years!  There are local chapters across the country for anyone interested in finding out more about hand smocking including mine in Tucson, AZ.  We all still love to smock for little girls, little boys & babies but we have a very strong interest in smocking for adults & home decor & many other things you might not even think of!  I know a gal who smocked the fabric for reupholstering the inside back of an antique chair - it is beyond incredible!!  We are not hiding behind closed doors, we smockers are everywhere!  Linda R.

Jmiya211 wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 9:31 AM

I have been smocking since my kids were small!!!!!  It is so very relaxing almost meditative.  Amazing what you can smock for texture or interest - think quilt!!

Lisa M- wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 9:39 AM

Smocking is indeed alive and well! I am also a member and the Regional Representative for the Northeast of the Smocking Arts Guild of America (SAGA). SAGA has chapters throughout the country as well as members at large if your readers are interested in learning more about smocking. We hold a national convention in the fall each year that offers  extensive classes and will be having a Needlearts Retreat in State College PA this April - there are still spots available. We have correspondence classes and teach yourself to smock pre-pleated kits if people are interested. Local chapters also usually have a pleater members can borrow if you don't want to use iron on dots. Check out our website at www.smocking.org as well as our pinterest page at www.pinterest.com/smockingarts for more information and to find a chapter near you.

Lisa Hawkes

on Feb 18, 2013 9:58 AM

I have been hand smocking for almost 20 years and am also a member of SAGA (Smocking Arts of America).

Instead of hand pleating (drawing up the dots), most Heirloom stores (as well as SAGA guilds) offer pleating services if you don't own your own pleater.

So happy that F&W has the copyrights to the  Australian Smocking and Embroidery magazines. However, I do not want my new issues of Sew Beautiful to be repeats of my old AS&E!

Terry Morris wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 10:12 AM

Great timing! A group of us are having a smocking get-together this Wednesday to learn how to use a smocking machine. I used to pretend-smock on gathered material back in the 60's on dresses for me in middle school. But having only boys for my own children I didn't keep it up.

Now I have a darling little niece AND the time to make pretty dresses for her.

on Feb 18, 2013 10:17 AM

i made a hand smock dress both of my daughters wore 40+ years ago and for  3 of  my 7grandchildern. My now almost 20 year old grandson got two rompers , cream color ponies on brown checked gingham and a tug boat pulling ships on blue micro checked gingham. Tow girls got smockked dresses and I've got to more dress cutout and ready to smocke - two rows done on one dress.  Ther twins they were intened for are alomost 14.  I am determined to finish them soon and put them back for future great grand daughters. I really enjoy doing it, just have many more pressing  projects in the line now!  Kathy

cdspitlr wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 10:37 AM

I've been smocking since my first child was born (a boy) in 1986 and have been a member of The Smocking Arts Guild for many years. They teach wonderful techniques!

MegSmocks wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 10:52 AM

It is wonderful to see smocking turning up in additional publications...especially since we have lost our beloved Australian Smocking & Arts and Creative Needle magazines.  I have been smocking for almost 29 years...still as passionate about it as when I began.  It is fun to see it popping up in RTW on adult and teen clothing....although I still love to make baby clothes the most.  :-)  

Check out SAGA (Smocking Arts Guild of America www.smocking.org)  .... great way to meet additonal smockers, find out about classes & shopping for supplies.  At the annual design show of SAGA we have seen some fun unusual pieces... smocked shoes, a rooster, hen, hat... creative non tradional items.  Also SAGA puts out a great guild magazine with projects and wonderful information too.  

fiddlinfan wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 10:54 AM

Yes!  Several years ago I hand smocked a couple of dresses for my baby girl.  I really loved how it looked and enjoyed embroidery type stitching without having to use a hoop.  I had planned to continue the craft, but somewhere along the path of life, I lost my momentum.  Thank you for writing about it as a reminder.  Perhaps I can start it up again.

on Feb 18, 2013 11:05 AM

I hand-smocked several dresses for my daughter in the mid 1970s, no pleater.  I think the dots were from an iron-on transfer, but the pleats were created by hand.  I enjoy all forms of handwork, and while I know I will love creating dresses for her, I don't see smocked dresses as being part of my infant granddaughter's wardrobe.  They were back in the time of ironing and starching ... today's children have more comfortable garments, and less Mum-maintenance required.

mlente wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 11:19 AM

I love to do smocking.  I made several dresses for my daughter and granddaughter that were smocked.  It is fun to do and the results are beautiful to me.

lsencabaugh wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 11:55 AM

I have been smocking for many years - since my grown children were babies - and I am glad to see that it continues in popularity, maybe not always in the way I have known, but in other, modern adaptations.

lrichards550 wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 11:56 AM

Dear GumLeafDesigns - today's smocked children's clothing are as easy to care for as most other children's garments parents buy!  Unless the item is an heirloom sewn garment with vey delicate fabrics & laces, everything is machine washable & tumble dry!  The smocking is incredibly durable!  You can make everything from play clothes to party dresses that are wash & wear!  Give your new grandchild a real treasure & smock something for her!

Linda R

lorihb wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 12:01 PM

I smocked dresses for my two girls and a couple of infant outfits for my boys.  I broke down and bought a pleater and was extremely happy that I did.  My adult girls love their baby smocked dresses and are already planning that I make them for their someday children.  I loved smocking; it was so relaxing.  I can't wait to dust off the pleater.

cripskid wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 12:21 PM

I have done a little hand smocking years ago when my daughter was little.  I still have a precious little dress that a friend smocked for her when she was born which was 1963.  I should have passed it on to my daughter when her daughters were born but with the "throw away generation" that seems to abound, I figured I would never see it again.  It is tucked into my cedar chest and I hope she will be pleased someday to find it.  She always thought it was pretty neat when she would see it.

I didn't know they had Iron on transfer dots.  I need to check that out.

Thanks for bringing this art to the fore front.

Marge P

Dana Bradley wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 12:51 PM

When I was 16 yrs old we had a new addition to our family... I got a sister. I was so excited as I loved to sew. I made her many smocked dresses! I loved smocking! I even made one for myself.

Dana

Susanneb1144 wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 1:13 PM

As many have said, there are many of us who belong to SAGA, The Smocking Arts Guild of America.  We love smocking and other related needle arts!  Join us!!

Susanneb1144 wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 1:13 PM

As many have said, there are many of us who belong to SAGA, The Smocking Arts Guild of America.  We love smocking and other related needle arts!  Join us!!

vlhinton wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 1:13 PM

Mrs. Mondani taught the campfire girls to smock in sixth grade.  We made aprons for our mothers.  Then fifteen years later I made a pillow, now I can't remember how to smock, the kind that makes designs, not the kind that you embroider on top of the pleats.

sew8353 wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 1:18 PM

Love to smock. I find it very relaxing and the possibilities are endless.

Capi Cohen wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 1:31 PM

There are smockers everywhere...there is a guild in Chattanooga and you can get information about it at www.smocking .org.  We love having people come and learn

Capi Cohen wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 1:31 PM

There are smockers everywhere...there is a guild in Chattanooga and you can get information about it at www.smocking .org.  We love having people come and learn

dsclement wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 3:11 PM

I've been smocking for 28 years, since the birth of my first daughter.  After both of my girls grew out of smocking, I started a business teaching smocking and selling fabrics and notions for smocking. I'm still in business and my smocking classes stay full. I now have a new granddaughter to smock for yippee!!!!!!!  I'm loving that people, young and old, are getting back into sewing and smocking. It is a true art and I have found that sewing is cheaper than therapy haha.  BTW I'm also a member of Piedmont Smocker's Guild in Greensboro, NC.

dsclement wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 3:11 PM

I've been smocking for 28 years, since the birth of my first daughter.  After both of my girls grew out of smocking, I started a business teaching smocking and selling fabrics and notions for smocking. I'm still in business and my smocking classes stay full. I now have a new granddaughter to smock for yippee!!!!!!!  I'm loving that people, young and old, are getting back into sewing and smocking. It is a true art and I have found that sewing is cheaper than therapy haha.  BTW I'm also a member of Piedmont Smocker's Guild in Greensboro, NC.

cemy wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 6:21 PM

I learned to smock 41 years ago using 1/4"  gingham. Using the cornes of the squares instead of dots allows you to concentrate on the embroidery until you learn the basics.

J Sandusky wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 7:43 PM

My Mother taught me hand smocking back in the late 50's and early 60's.  

I made pillows and aprons out of gingham using the squares instead of making dots.  Then I had my daughter in  '64 and made smocked Bishop dresses for her!

I learned recently from the Piecework Magazine that using gingham squares to make a smocking pattern is called "Depression Lace"  It was a very interesting article.

i now have a pleater to make the pleating job easier.

SareenaE wrote
on Feb 18, 2013 9:53 PM

I grew up in England, where we were taught to sew and knit in school. I remember learning to smock when I was about 10 years old. We did our smocking on gingham fabric, which is a great way to learn, because it has built-in markings. Now that I think of it, you could also use dotted swiss fabric in a similar way.

sbganske wrote
on Feb 19, 2013 6:36 AM

The Smocking Arts Guild of America has been helping members learn to smock for 34 years! We have 105 local chapters across the United States that offer instruction, collaboration and friends who share a love for Smocking and Embroidery.  For those not located near a chapter we offer Websmockers and regional and national classes.

Our website, www.smocking.org offers a selection of kits with instructions for all levels of smocking, and correspondence coursed taught by the same outstanding teachers present at our schools.  Your membership in the Smocking Arts Guild of America offers you access to the best teachers, and a complimentary magazine filled with projects, free smocking plates and great tips. ~Shirley Ganske

Jinkie wrote
on Feb 19, 2013 7:57 PM

I have been smocking for over 30 years.  I have used smocking to provide details on pillows, purses, Christmas stockings, etc.  I have long promoted smocking as an art form to be used in many disciplines.  I teach smocking and share with my students that they need to be creative and use the art in new and fun ways.  It may be an old art form, but everything old is new again.  Additional resources for those interested in learning more about smocking can go to the SAGA website.  

karenquilt wrote
on Feb 20, 2013 1:44 AM

My mother-ini-law made a couple of beautifully smocked dresses for my two daughters when they were young. They are in their 40s now but I still have those dresses. She also made a sleeveless  tunic-like pinafore for each of them. She used striped fabric and then embroidered a wide variety of embroidery stitches down every other stripe of the fabric and up over the shoulder but only part way down the back. Then she lined the tunic. I was astounded that someone would take so much time to make something  like that for a child to wear. Well, I did let them wear them a couple of times but I was so afraid they would spill something on them. I recently found an usual quilt with a lovely woman appilqued on each block. She is tall and willowy. the skirt on her outfit and the sleeves are embellished with embroidery. I have never seen another one like it. You can see the quilt here on my blog. I'd love to know what ethnic group the outfit represents. Ii have a lot of theories. karenquilt.blogspot.com/.../dutch-or-hungarian-young-woman.html

april1963 wrote
on Feb 20, 2013 7:17 AM

I learned to hand smock in 1987 when I was expecting my first little girl.  Smocked so much I had to purchase my own pleater.  I find smocking so soothing and relaxing, now pleating the material is a different story.  lol

Joner wrote
on Feb 20, 2013 1:15 PM

I may try smocking.  My mother-in-law was from the Czech republic and did beautiful smocking, but I never had a chance to learn from her.

AmberStitch wrote
on Feb 21, 2013 9:20 AM

Wow! Thanks for all your posts and we will certainly continue to have modern projects in Stitch that include hand-smocking!

on Feb 25, 2013 8:14 AM

I agree that smocking is a fabulous embellishment technique not just for children's clothing. I have used smocking on everything from bridal bodices and headpieces to home-dec pillows, doll clothes, purses, tote bags and smocked crazy patch! And altho I started as a hand smocker, I took the technique to the sewing machine and created smocking stitches by machine! No end to how smocking can be used.

Deb Yedziniak

on Jun 26, 2013 2:34 PM

Love hand-smocking.  Wish I could find a source to do the initial pleating.  I bought a pleater, but have not been sucessful with it.