How to smock girls' dresses

Written by michelle powell-smith
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Smocking is, essentially, embroidery on pleated fabric. The stitches are worked over the top third of each pleat, allowing the pleating to retain some amount of elasticity. Both traditional smocking stitches and surface embroidery stitches may be used, and designs for girls' smocked dresses can be geometric or pictorial. Styles of smocked dresses vary; however the basics of smocking a girl's dress does not.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Pleater with needles
  • Steam iron and ironing board
  • Cotton or cotton blend broadcloth fabric
  • Upholstery thread in a contrasting colour
  • Cotton embroidery floss
  • Hand embroidery needles, preferably no. 7 or no. 9 darners
  • Smocking design
  • Girl's smocked dress pattern

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  1. 1

    Prewash and iron your fabric. Cut your dress front or smocked insert panel according to your girl's smocked dress pattern instructions.

  2. 2

    Set up your pleater with the correct number of needles for your smocking plate. Thread each needle with a very long length of upholstery thread, approximately 1 yard longer than your fabric. Beginners should avoid designs that require more than a single pass through the pleater. Roll your fabric around the roller or dowel on your pleater.

  3. 3

    Work carefully and slowly to pleat your fabric. If you do not have a pleater, many heirloom sewing shops will pleat fabric for you or you can buy kits that include pleated fabric to make girls' smocked dresses. Gather the fabric along the pleating threads to the desired measurement and tie off the threads two at a time on each side.

  4. 4

    Start your smocking in the middle of the row using three strands of embroidery floss and a small, sharp needle. If you are right-handed, you will smock left to right. If you are left-handed, right to left. Work from the centre outward and tie off your embroidery floss. Turn your work upside down and work again from the centre to the edge.

  5. 5

    Work cable stitches by starting with a single stitch over two pleats in the centre of your smocked dress panel. Work down cables with the thread above the needle and up cables with the embroidery thread below the needle. Alternate up and down cables across the row. Cable stitches commonly border smocked designs and make up the entirety of picture smocked patterns. Outline stitch is worked in much the same way as cable stitch; however, the thread remains above or below the needle and does not alternate.

  6. 6

    Work vertical stitches like baby wave and trellis according to your pattern. Baby wave stitches begin with a stitch over two pleats. Instead of being an even horizontal stitch, the next stitch is on the diagonal, moving over a pleat or more and down half a row to a row depending upon the pattern. Another stitch over two pleats is at the bottom of the wave before it comes back up a row. Trellis stitch is quite similar; however, several small stitches take the place of one large baby wave stitch and it will cover several pleats before moving back up to the original row.

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