How to make smocked pillows

Updated June 13, 2017

Smocking pillows will give a plain piece of fabric some dimension and can be used in the bedroom or living room. Smocked pillows look good displayed alone, in a group of other smocked pillows or among a group of contrasting pillows. Smocking a pillow is an easy project to undertake when first learning the art. The project can usually be completed within one afternoon.


Measure the length and width of your pillow insert. Cut a square of fabric that is 2.5 cm (1 inch) wider and 2.5 cm (1 inch) longer than the size of your pillow insert. Cut another piece of fabric that is the same length as the first fabric square, but three times wider. This will be your smocking panel.

Draw rows and columns of dots that follow a grid pattern on the smocking panel. The dots will be evenly spaced at intervals chosen by you. A small pillow will look nice with a 6 mm (1/4 inch) grid; a larger pillow may need a 6 mm (1/4 inch) grid. This is a personal preference. Draw the dots on the right side of the smocking panel with the fabric pencil. The dots will cover the face of the smocking panel.

Thread your hand needle with a piece of thread that matches the colour of your smocking panel.

Insert the hand needle in the first dot from the underside of the fabric and pull the thread straight up through to the top side of the fabric. Make a small stitch under the second dot. Pull the fabric together.

Place the thread below the needle and make a small stitch under the third dot. Pull the fabric together. Place the thread above the needle and make a small stitch under the fourth dot. Continue until you reach the end of the row. Lock the thread by backstitching at the beginning and end of the rows. Keep the folds even. Continue this pattern until all rows are smocked.


Pin the smocked panel to the first fabric square place so the right sides are touching. Sew along 3 sides of the pillow. Backstitch at the end of each line to lock the thread in place.

Trim the seams and clip corners to decrease the fabric bulk. Turn the pillow right side out.

Place the pillow insert inside the cover. Turn the raw edges of the open seam under about 1.2 cm (1/2 inch). Sew the opening closed by hand with a whip stitch or small running stitch.


Use a cutting mat with a grid to help you mark your dots.


Do not use heavyweight upholstery fabric for smocking; choose lightweight cottons.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Pillow insert
  • Fabric
  • Scissors
  • Fabric pencil
  • Hand needle
  • Thread
  • Sewing machine
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About the Author

Jennifer Terry is program director for TriCounty Agency for Intellectual Disabilities. As a University of Alabama graduate, she holds a Masters in rehabilitation counseling and a Bachelor in psychology with an emphasis in child development. She also earned an Associate in business management and second Associate in computer information systems from Bevill State Community College. She holds a grant writing certificate from North Georgia College and State University.