Smocking is a method of shaping a straight piece of fabric into clothing. The smocking stitches gather the fabric at the upper part of a dress between the armholes and allow the skirt to flare. Smocking is done in two steps, pleating and smocking. The first step makes even pleats to allow the decorative embroidery, called smocking, to be worked in an even pattern across the bodice. Use an even weave fabric. It is essential that the fabric be cut and pleated straight.
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Things you need
- Muslin or other even weave cotton fabric
- Smocking dots transfer
- Steam iron
- Sewing needle
- Embroidery needle
- Embroidery thread
Measure and cut a rectangle 35 cm (14 inches) wider than you want the bodice and 62.5 cm (25 inches) long. Lay the rectangle on an ironing surface and press with a steam iron. Cut the smocking dots transfer an even number of rows to equal about 5 cm (2 inches) deep and the width of the rectangle minus 10 cm (4 inches). Centre the smocking dots on the right side of the fabric starting 2.5 cm (1 inch) below the top edge and leaving 5 cm (2 inches) free on each side. Iron the dots on.
Thread the cotton into the sewing needle. Take small stitches under each dot in the top row. Pull the thread through the fabric and smooth the fabric out. Cut the thread, leaving a 15 cm (6 inch) tail. Repeat for each row of dots.
Pull the top pleating thread to gather the fabric to 30 cm (12 inches) less than you started with. Repeat with the rest of the pleating threads.
Hold the top of the fabric and gently pull the bottom of the fabric to form even pleats all the way across the width. Pick up the first and second pleating thread and tie a knot to keep the pleats in place. Tie the rest of the pleating threads in pairs as you did the first two.
Thread two or three strands of embroidery thread into the embroidery needle. Knot the end of the thread and bring the needle up from the back of the fabric to the left of the top left dot. Pass the needle down at the right side of the dot and back up to where you started. Take a small stitch from right to left under the second dot in the first row and under the first dot just below the first stitch. Pull the thread taut enough to hold the two pleats in place.
Pass the needle to the back of the fabric to the right of the second dot just below the first stitch and bring it up to the left of the second dot in the second row. Embroider the second and third pleat in the second row together as you did the first and second pleat in the first row.
Pass the needle to the back of the fabric and bring it up to the left of the third dot in the first row. Continue across in this honeycomb pattern.
Work the remainder of the rows in pairs as you did the first two rows.
Lay the bodice pattern on the smocked rectangle, cut out the armholes and trim the bottom edge if necessary. Sew the garment together following the pattern instructions.
Tips and warnings
- If you don't have smocking dots transfers, mark the fabric in a grid using a ruler and tailor chalk. Draw an even number of horizontal rows across the fabric 1.2 cm (1/2 inches) apart starting 2.5 cm (1 inch) below the top edge. Draw an even number of vertical rows spaced 6 mm (1/4 inches) apart. Take small stitches through each intersecting line to pleat the fabric.
- Make a practice swatch to get a feel for the process.
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