Shall We Gather II ~ Smocking!

Posted by deonnstott on Monday, January 6th, 2014

Ready to try an adorable vintage needlework technique?

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"!  Grab a scrap of cotton gingham fabric, with the checks at least 3/8" to 1/2" wide, a wide-eye needle, some floss, glue stick and a pair of scissors, and you're ready to go!  
Instructor:  Deonn @ Quiltscapes
Supplies:  Practice on a small swatch of gingham print, or cut a 5" x 30" rectangle to make a headband.  Or jump right in with an adorable vintage-style gingham apron.  
Featuring red gingham Polka-Dot Stitches by Lori Holt for Riley Blake Designs
 Simple Smocked Apron:
    * 1-1/8 yards Gingham Check fabric
    * 3 yards rick-rack
    * DMC embroidery floss
    * Crewel Embroidery needles
    * Small pair of scissors
    * Glue Stick
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 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.

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.
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 floss = snags.
That's better.
Smocking will not reduce the length, 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!
 Large Cotton Gingham Basics by RBD Designers

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 again.

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. 
Two rows.  See how it forms the secondary pattern between the two rows we worked on?  

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


OK!  Now that we've mastered the technique, let's make something SWEET!

  18" to 22" x 42" rectangle for apron.
  2  ~  6" x width of fabric strips for ties.
  1  ~ 8-1/2" x 6" rectangle for pocket.

Measure to see how long you'd like your apron, about 18" to 22 " from waist to knee.  Cut it the width of fabric.  Remove selvages.  Round off the corners, if desired.  Round off corners of pocket if desired.

1)  Finish Edges.
Press top of apron under 1/2".  Tuck raw edge under fold and stitch.

Press sides and bottom of apron under 1/4". 
 Use a glue stick to glue-baste rick rack to the edges of apron.   
Trim rick- rack to size, and tuck raw edges under.  Edge-stitch in place. 

Finish pocket top edge as before.  Press under sides and bottom.  
You may want to pink the edges of the curves.  
Wait to finish until the smocking is complete on both the apron and the pocket.  
Then you can place the pocket right where you'd like it.

2)  Smocking
For the apron, measure 1" or so down from the top edge and side edges 
of the apron to begin smocking.  Work on one row at a time.  
Decide if you need two rows, three rows, or more.

For the pocket, measure down about 1" from the top,
then center a row or two of smocking,  about 3" wide.  
Put on a good movie, or watch Downton Abbey reruns 
while you take time to do your smocking.  It's a great take-along project...
3) Apron Ties
Fold apron ties in half lengthwise, right sides together.  
Stitch at a 45-degree angle for the bottom of the tie if desired,
then stitch up the long side.  
Trim the bottom, clip the corners and turn ties right side out. 
 I like to use a dull chopstick for turning.  PRESS. 
 Make a pleat in the unfinished edge, about the same width as your smocking.

Baste the pleat, then pin to the apron front, about 1/2" from the edge.

Zig-Zag to baste tie to apron.
Fold apron over raw edges, pin.

Stitch over the tie end to enclose the raw edges.  Backstitch at the beginning and ending.
This will form a final pleat on your apron.

4)  Pocket
Finish pocket edges by glue-basting the rick-rack.  
Pin pocket in place at a comfortable spot. 
Pull the outer corners inward.
 Edge-stitch pocket in place, backstitching at the beginning and ending.
Clip loose threads and your modern/vintage masterpiece is complete!

 Gingham Love!  ♥  Hope you enjoyed this tutorial!  It's just one of several vintage-y techniques I want to explore this year.  So much to learn, so much to do...  There's always something cooking over at Quiltscapes - I'd love for you to stop by!

Categories: Apparel, Sewing Basics


  1. Love this!
    by Tiffany
    January 06th, 2014 at 8:45 a.m.
  2. Riley Blake and smocking, two of my favorite things. See my blog for more smocking inspiration! maggieb!
    by maggieb!
    January 06th, 2014 at 11:49 a.m.
  3. I really love Smocking! I can't wait to try and make something using this method. Thank you for the beautiful instructions.
    by Marie
    January 06th, 2014 at 7:35 p.m.
  4. I don't know that I will ever do this, but it is very lovely. Wonderful tutorial Deonn.
    by charlotte
    January 07th, 2014 at 4:39 a.m.
  5. What a wonderful tutorial!!
    by Sigi
    January 08th, 2014 at 9:37 a.m.
  6. This is lovely to do I have done smocking myself it looks very pretty on little girls dresses its little old fashion on style but who cares it still a lovely thing to do! You can even do it when you make curtains it's called honeycomb it nice when it's hanging.
    by Elizabeth
    January 11th, 2014 at 10:26 a.m.
  7. Thanks a lot for this tutorial ! I'm gonna have to try this ! I remember my mum used to sew smoked dresses for me.
    by sabrina
    January 31st, 2014 at 1:49 p.m.
  8. This is great! Very well explained. NOW, I WANT TO TRY IT.
    by Nancy
    June 05th, 2014 at 8:44 p.m.
  9. I am doing some smocking this summer..this was an excellent reminder how to do are soooo good Deonn, thank you so much for this
    by Mdm Samm
    August 01st, 2014 at 9:27 a.m.
  10. Thank you for the excellent tutorial. making a dress for my granddaughter and using seed beads on each pleat.
    by Anne
    November 08th, 2014 at 7:33 p.m.
  11. brings back childhood memories for sure, now am going to start again as I have a granddaughter to sew for
    by antonette Lobo
    July 04th, 2015 at 5:34 p.m.
  12. Your instructions and illustrations are easy to follow. I working on cafe curtains for a Wizard of Oz theme. Smocking is perfect for the project. Cute!
    by Julie
    September 14th, 2015 at 8:29 a.m.

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