Smocking on the collar of a sixteenth
is an embroidery
technique used to gather fabric
so that it can stretch. Before elastic
, smocking was commonly used in cuffs
, and necklines
in garments where buttons
were undesirable. Smocking developed in
England and has been practiced since the Middle Ages and is unusual among embroidery
methods in that it was often worn by laborers.
embroidery styles are purely decorative and represented status
symbols. Smocking was practical for garments to be both form
fitting and flexible, hence its name derives from smock
a farmer's work shirt. Smocking was used most extensively in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Smocking requires lightweight fabric with a stable weave that
gathers well. Cotton
are typical fiber choices, often in lawn
. Smocking is
worked on a crewel embroidery
in cotton or silk thread and normally
requires three times the width of initial material as the finished
item will have. Historically, smocking was also worked in pique
, crepe de Chine
. According to Good
Housekeeping: The Illustrated Book of Needlecrafts
, "Any type
of fabric can be smocked if it is supple enough to be
Fabric can be gathered into pleats in a variety of ways.
Early smocking, or gauging, was done by hand. Some embroiderers
also made their own guides using cardboard and an embroidery
marking pencil. By 1880, iron-on transfer dots were available and
advertised in magazines such as Weldon's. The iron on transfers
places evenly spaced dots onto the wrong side of the fabric, which
were then pleated using a regular running stitch.
Since the early 1950s, pleating machines have been available to
home smockers. Using gears and specialty pleater needles, the
fabric is forced through the gears and onto the threaded needles.
Pleating machines are typically offered in 16-row, 24-row and
32-row widths. Manufacturers include Read and Amanda Jane.
Typically, variations are done as an art form on clothing or on
fabric which is mounted in picture frames for hanging on the
- English smocking is a historic technique of
sewing the embroidery over pleats already sewn into the
- North American smocking is an alternate
technique in which the pleats are gathered and formed in the fabric
by the smocking stitch-work itself.
- Lattice smocking involves stitching from the
back side of the fabric, creating unique effects in the pleats and
appearance, and is particularly good for heavier fabrics like
Smocking refers to work done before a garment is assembled. It
usually involves reducing the dimensions of a piece of fabric to
one-third of its original width, although changes are sometimes
lesser with thick fabrics. Individual smocking stitches also vary
considerably in tightness, so embroiderers usually work a sampler
for practice and reference when
they begin to learn smocking.
Traditional hand smocking begins with marking smocking
in a grid pattern on the wrong side of the fabric and
gathering it with temporary running
. These stitches are anchored on each end in a manner
that facilitates later removal and are analogous to basting stitches
. Then a row of cable stitching
stabilizes the top and bottom
of the working area.
Smocking may be done in many sophisticated patterns.Standard hand
smocking stitches are:
A. Cable stitch
: a tight stitch of double rows
that joins alternating columns of gathers.
B. Stem stitch
: a tight stitch with minimum
flexibility that joins two columns of gathers at a time in single
overlapping rows with a downward slope.
C. Outline stitch
: similar to the stem stitch but
with an upward slope.
D. Cable flowerette
: a set of gathers worked in
three rows of stitches across four columns of gathers. Often
organized in diagonally arranged sets of flowerettes for loose
E. Wave stitch
: a medium density pattern that
alternately employs tight horizontal stitches and loose diagonal
F. Honeycomb stitch
: a medium density variant on
the cable stitch that double stitches each set of gathers and
provides more spacing between them, with an intervening diagonal
stitch concealed on the reverse side of the fabric.
G. Surface honeycomb stitch
: a tight variant on
the honeycomb stitch and the wave stitch with the diagonal stitch
visible, but spanning only one gather instead of a gather and a
H. Trellis stitch
: a medium density pattern that
uses stem stitches and outine stitches to form diamond-shaped
I. Vandyke stitch
: a tight variant on the surface
honeycomb stitch that wraps diagonal stitches in the opposite
J. Bullion stitch
: a complex knotted stitch that
joins several gathers in a single stitch. Organized similarly to
- Smocker's knot: (not depicted) a simple
knotted stitch used to finish work
with a thread or for decorative purposes.
- Reader's Digest, p. 160.
- Good Housekeeping, p. 146.
- Reader's Digest, pp. 160–161.
- Gilman, Elizabeth Hale, Things Girls Like to Do
(1917). Accessed 5 January 2008.
- Reader's Digest, pp. 161–162.
- Smocking Guild of America glossary (accessed 5 January 2008).
- Reader's Digest, p. 163.
- Reader's Digest, p. 164.
- Reader's Digest, p. 165.
- Reader's Digest, p. 166.
- Reader's Digest, p. 167.
- Reader's Digest, p. 168.
- Reader's Digest, p. 169.
- The Reader's Digest Association, Complete Guide to
Embroidery Stitches, Pleasantville, New York: Marabout, 2004.
- Ed. Cecilia K. Toth, Good Housekeeping: The Illustrated
Book of Needlecrafts, New York: Hearst Books, 1994. ISBN