How to Make Smocked Drapes

Written by wendy strain
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How to Make Smocked Drapes
Smocking is at home everywhere from the elegant drawing room to the cosy kitchen. (pinned pleats image by Adrian Hillman from

Smocking was introduced in the 13th or 14th century. According to the Highveld Smocker's Guild, the type of stitching used to create smocking indicated its geographical origin. Added designs indicated what the wearer did for a living. Over the centuries, this type of sewing drifted out of men's apparel and made its way into women's and children's fashion as well as home decor Drapery often makes use of smocking to attain an elegant, textured appearance.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Construction tape measure
  • Drapery rod with hanging hardware
  • Curtain hooks
  • Fabric
  • Scissors
  • Crewel sewing needle
  • Decorative cotton thread (your choice of colours to coordinate with your fabric)
  • Sewing machine
  • Cotton (colour to match your fabric)
  • Sewing pins
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Smocking tape
  • or
  • Tapestry cotton thread (colour to strongly contrast with your fabric)
  • Straight edge yard ruler or iron-on smocking dots
  • Tailor's chalk or fabric pen

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  1. 1

    Measure the width of the window. Add 3 inches to either side for total width and size of drapery rod needed.

  2. 2

    Hang the drapery rod and then measure the height. Measure from the rod to the point you want your drape to fall.

  3. 3

    Adjust your fabric measurements by adding 10 inches to the height for the bottom hem and 3 inches for the top hem. The width of the fabric will depend on several factors. To start, the finished drape should be at least twice as wide as your width measurement. Add 3 inches to either side for the hem. Dianne Durand in "Smocking" recommends adding 2½ inches to 3 inches for every inch of smocking. Finally, the fabric's weight will limit or demand pleats.

  1. 1

    Press a 1½ inch hem along each side of the fabric panel with the right side out. Fold this over again and press another 1½ inch hem enclosing the raw edge of the fabric inside the seam. Press a similar hem along the top and bottom of your fabric panel.

  2. 2

    Sew the top, bottom and side hems in place using matching thread

  3. 3

    Apply iron-on smocking dots about ¼-inch down from the top edge on the wrong side of the fabric following the manufacturer's instructions. To make your own dots, lay the fabric flat on a smooth, hard surface. Use your yard ruler and tailor's chalk to mark evenly-spaced stitch distances. Create at least three rows of markings.

  1. 1

    Attach the pull cords. If you have smocking tape, cut the tape slightly wider than the fabric panel, knot the pull cords on one end and sew the tape to the wrong side of the panel with a straight stitch at top and bottom. If you are hand-pleating, thread your crewel needle with the contrasting tapestry thread. At every dot or mark you've made, pick up the fabric covered by the dot on your thread. Start each row with a sturdy knot and complete each row with one long thread.

  2. 2

    Pull the unknotted end of the pull cords so that the fabric gathers along its length. Help guide the fabric until you reach the desired finished width. Knot the pull cords together. Make sure the pleats are evenly spaced.

  3. 3

    Set your iron to the hottest setting your fabric can withstand and steam if it will not cause fabric damage. Lay the pleated panel on the ironing board and cover it with a damp cloth. Hold the iron just over the damp cloth several seconds until the pleats are set.

  1. 1

    Thread the crewel needle with three strands of decorative thread. Determine the type of smocking stitch you want to use. Durand provides several examples of stitches in her book. One of the most basic stitches with a wide range of creativity is the trellis stitch.

  2. 2

    Push the needle up through the back of the first pleat at a point near the peak and at the level of the bottom pull cord. Push the needle through the second pleat angling from the side between the second and third pleats to the space between the second and first pleats. Keep the thread below the needle and pull taut. Repeat this process over the next four or five pleats, evenly spacing the stitches vertically so the last stitch is made at the level of the next pull cord. On this stitch, keep the thread above the needle. With the next stitch and next pleat, angle down to the starting pull cord. Repeat across the entire panel and between each level of pull cords.

  3. 3

    Remove the pull cords from the fabric panel and repress the smocking using the steaming technique described earlier. Insert curtain hooks along the pleats and hang on the drapery rod.

Tips and warnings

  • If you don't want your stitching to show, you can complete the smocking stages on the backside of the fabric using matching thread. The trellis stitch is still a strong stitch to use for this purpose. If you are using smocking tape, you can consider your smocking finished after you've knotted the pull cords and heat set the pleats.
  • Smocking is very detailed work and it is easy to make mistakes. Check your work often and take the time to pull out and replace incorrect stitches as you go as mistakes become very noticeable even from far distances.
  • Don't sew through the pull-cords when smocking with decorative thread or you will not be able to remove them later.

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