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!"
A twist on smocking
by Tanya Mauler
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!