Today is the fifth and final lesson in our Smocking 101 lessons! I just want to thank Jan SO much for taking the time to explain all of these smocking lessons for those who are wanting so badly to learn how to do it. Today Jan explains some of the basic smocking stitches which make up the majority of smock plates. After today, you should feel confident in how to pleat your fabric, what types of fabric, floss and needles to use, and now you will know how to start stitching! If you missed any of the Smocking 101 series posts, click on the Learning with Laura tab at the bottom of this post or on the left side of the blog.
Basic Smocking Stitches
By Jan Boyd
Cable Stitch and Baby Waves
First of all I have to say, I am by no means an expert. Just know that I love smocking and I want to share what I’ve learned over the years with you. You’ll be hooked in no time at all!
In your pleated insert or dress front, you will have hills and valleys. The pleats are the hills and between are the valleys. First thing in smocking is finding the center. I’ve found it easiest to count every 10 pleats and mark with a straight pin.
All the pleats are counted and marked with pins. Divide the number of pleats by 2 and that will give you your center. In the above photo I happened to have 175 pleats. It doesn’t matter if you count from the left or the right. As I am a leftie, I always start on the right hand side when I’m counting.
With the number of pleats not an even number, I’ve marked the very last pleat on the left to remind myself not to stitch on that pleat. As the top of the insert, I’ve stitched through two pleats to mark my center. I always use a floss color different from the fabric color for marking the center. After marking the center, remove the pins. You are now ready to start smocking. Yay, my favorite part!
The first stitch we will learn is a cable stitch. I think it is the most basic stitch and one you will use all the time. I use this one for most back-smocking, which is simply smocking on the back. Cable stitches are used to keep the pleats together for picture smocking and for the picture smocking itself.
Step 1: I’ve brought the needle up through the valley between the center two pleats. You want to either stitch above the pleater threads or below. Notice in the above photo I’m stitching below the pleater thread. This is Row 1. I don’t stitch on the top holding row, except when I’m back-smocking. That I will do just to keep the pleats together. It makes it easier for adding in piping; but that is a future tutorial. It also keeps the pleats straighter for me.
*Note on floss: You can use whatever cotton or silk you like. In this tutorial I’m using 3 strands. For more delicate looking smocking on batiste, use 2 strands and for picture smocking I use at least 4. Strip out the threads so they are not twisted around each other. It allows for better coverage and looks nicer. I will never say to pick out any stitches, but sometimes you will find you have stitched incorrectly. I say if you are happy with it, then that’s what is important. I’m not the smocking police.
All the photos will show that I’m stitching in left-handed stitching. Just reverse for right-handed use.
Step 2: Insert the needle in the pleat to the right. If you are right-handed go the opposite direction.
Step 3: Insert the needle in the pleat to the left. (Right-handed stitchers will stitch to the right.) And this entire row we will have the stitches sit below the pleater thread. Try to keep the needle parallel to the pleater thread. It will also make a nicer stitch. When you pull the floss; don’t pull it so tight that it distorts the pleats. It will have a bear of a time getting your needle into the pleat on the next row. Think of the pleat as your best friend, too tight and it will hurt. Just tight enough to hold the pleats together. Not so loose as to have a loop of thread. You’ll notice the floss is under in the photo, this is an under cable.
In the next step, you’ll see the floss already wants to go up, which is just where you want it to be as you now want to stitch an over cable. You can continue with cables all the way across if you’d like to practice. You will notice an “under/over/under/over” pattern emerging. This is just the exact thing you want for a row of cable stitches.
*Note: if you stitch through the pleater thread, it makes it a little more difficult to remove them when you are done smocking. They will come out, it will just be harder to remove them.
Step 4: The next stitch is a baby wave. First thing to remember is the floss wants to go down and get in the way. We will be stitching about ½ way between row 1 and 2. When heading down, move your floss up out of the way.
Step 5: Stitch an under cable.
Step 6: I’ve stitched 3 cable stitches. It’s easy to put different stitch combos together to get the pattern you want. In this next stitch, you’ll want to move the floss down out of the way. Go up to row 1 in the next pleat and take a stitch. Continue with the combination of (3 cables, wave stitch, 3 cables, wave stitch) across.
It will look something like this: ᴖᴗᴖ\ᴗᴖᴗ/ᴖᴗᴖ\
Step 7: I’ve gone all the way across my insert with two rows of the same stitch combination. Turn the insert upside down and continue in the same pattern of stitches. Just remember to stay above the pleater thread on this row. This is also a mirror image of the previous row. The next photo will be easier to see the stitches. After stitching across with the white, I realized I really wanted to use baby pink. So I commence with ripping out all the white. It makes it much easier using a metal crochet hook.
The top and bottom holding rows are cable stitched. And those thread tails are where I stopped and started a new piece of floss.
Sorry this photo is a little blurry. But for some accent stitches, we will do “bar stitches”. Instead of stitching through just one pleat, pass your needle through two pleats. Do this twice just above pleater thread #4. When done with these two stitches, poke your needle to the back and move up to row 3 ½ and two pleats to the left. This is shown in the next photo.
This is a view of what the back of the row will look like.
Have fun and keep smocking!
Jan Boyd is an incredibly talented smocker who has created many cover/sample garments for Ellie Inspired patterns. She also has an Etsy shop where she sells her beautiful clothing: Princess Designs by Jan; or you can find her on her Facebook page: Princess Designs By Jan.