Updated at: 27-05-2022 - By: Sienna Lewis

If you’re new to sewing and embroidery and feeling daunted by the sheer number of styles, techniques, and stitches to choose from, you’re not alone. Trying to figure out what’s what might be a little overwhelming. Even though it is the purpose of our visit.

Smocking, then, is… An important aspect of smocking is the creation of a piece of cloth that is extremely elastic by collecting the fabric into small, tight pleats. You can use a variety of smocking techniques to achieve distinct looks and designs, stretching back hundreds of years.

Even though it contains thread work, smocking is a more involved process than embroidery. Smocking is a method that allows you to create a variety of various fabric textures with only thread and elastics.

Learn more about smocking in this article, and how you may incorporate it into your sewing.

The History Of Smocking

The smocking technique itself has been around for a long time, although the term “smocking” was coined in England in the 1700s. Gathering a piece of fabric into pleats is what this technique is all about. The thread is then woven into the fabric to create a variety of patterns and effects. A smock is a section of the garment where the cloth is gathered, usually around the cuffs or the bodice.

What Is Smocking? - The Creative Folk

When smocking was first invented, it was primarily for the purpose of giving agricultural workers and tradesmen’s clothes greater volume so they could move around more easily. Artists, aristocrats, and even babies used it, and it was later adapted to a variety of dress designs for a variety of situations.

Smocking techniques were popular in early 20th-century women’s publications and sewing manuals, and they are still popular today. Smocking became a fashion staple in the 1970s, with new patterns and novel uses for the honeycomb stitch emerging in the 1940s and 1930s.

Smocking’s current popularity may be traced back to the 1970s, when it became popular in both high-end fashion and streetwear.

Smocking can be used to embellish the bust, sleeves, and waist of a garment, as well as to increase the volume of the garment. Fashion designers have used smocking for centuries because of the wide variety of styles and applications.

Smocking Techniques

Due to the fact that the majority of smocking is done by hand, it is frequently mistaken for an embroidery method. Regular dot patterns are used to mark stitches on the backside of the fabric.

The front side of the item is then stitched to create an even, consistent row of gathers. The smock can be decorated in a variety of ways using a variety of decorative stitches.

With smocking, the cloth takes on a three-dimensional appearance thanks to the threads holding it together in various places.

In some kinds of smocking, stitches can be clearly seen to produce exquisite embroidery-like designs and patterns over the entire piece of clothing, making it appear as if the fabric itself has been embroidered.

If you find smocking (also known as shirring) on trendy items nowadays, you’re definitely looking at a fake version. The pleated look of traditional smocking takes a long time to achieve, thus shirring is frequently used in its place.

With this method, pleats are created and held in place by sewing elastic rows over a piece of fabric. Stitches are often hidden by the irregular pleats in a shirred cloth.

All of the different smocking methods might be listed in a spreadsheet.

hat are out there, it’s probably not possible since there are so many variations of the technique from country to country (or in different areas of the same country). However, we can categorize smocking generally into English smocking, American smocking, and Canadian smocking.

1. English Smocking

Hats exist, but it’s unlikely that they can all be found because there are so many differences in the process from country to country (or in different areas of the same country). Although we can divide smocking into English smocking, American smocking and Canadian smocking, there are more subcategories.

There are two popular stitches for geometric smocking: cable and trellis threads. Two stitches can produce hundreds of different designs and variants.

The name “picture smocking” comes from the ability to embroider stacked cable threads on top of the tight pleats to create decorative elements (images). On 100% cotton, this technique is commonly used to produce a variety of patterns and scenes.

2. American Smocking

American smocking is typically done with gingham, striped, or gridded fabric to create the look of a solid piece of fabric. A vandyke or honeycomb stitch is used instead of pleats to form squares from the fabric. Contrast, fake, and direct smocking are some of the American adaptations of the traditional smocking technique.

Stitching the gingham with counterchange stitches alters the pattern more than the texture or stretch of the fabric. Stitching is used to create pleats in the fabric. It’s a much like smocking without the added stretch.

Mock smocking is a form of smocking in which fabric folds are created. In addition to honeycomb patterns, it does not add any stretch to the fabric, which makes it a popular choice.

Although the end result is comparable to that achieved with traditional English smocking, the process is unique in that it requires the use of gridded dot patterns on the top of the pleats. There are no pleats to pleat before using this method, which makes it easier to learn and apply in the long run.

3. Canadian Smocking

There are many methods of smocking in Canada that don’t include pre-pleating. Creating a three-dimensional impression on the front of the fabric is accomplished by first sketching a grid on the cloth’s back. Ironing would ruin the smocked fabric because of the final effect’s three-dimensionality.

Lattice smocking, fabric smocking, and reverse smocking are all examples of Canadian smocking.

On one side of the cloth, lattice smocking produces a lovely crossing design. After tracing diagonal lines on back of fabric, using stitches to hold the three-dimensional pattern in place is how this is accomplished

Smocking Fabric - Techniques and patterns (Beginner's guide) - Sew Guide

Although it may look like lattice smocking, the stitches used to make the “flowers” on the front side of the fabric are worked in patterns to create 3D effects.

The front of the cloth is smocked in a grid pattern to give it a three-dimensional appearance. Using this method of smocking, you will always need extra fabric to make a small piece of smock since the fabric will appear “crunched up.”

Patterns are created on both the front and back of the fabric using reverse smocking, which is smocking in reverse. It’s possible to describe it as “reversible.”

Which Fabric Is Best For Smocking?

Light or medium-weight fabric without any elasticity is commonly used for smocking. With smocking, the elastic fabric won’t be able to keep the textured design very well, making sewing problematic.

Smocking can be done with any fabric that has a smooth surface and an even weave, which makes it easy to work with and hold pleats. Cotton, linen, cotton blends and lightweight denim are all good choices for beginners because they are medium in weight.

Lightweight materials like as silk, satin, or poplin are good choices for more experienced sewers. It is occasionally necessary to use interfacing to give rigidity to lightweight fabrics in order to help the fabric hold pleats and increase the pattern’s prominence when sewn.

Using heavyweight fabrics for smocking is not ideal since they are difficult to sew, especially by hand, and the stitches must be extremely thick to keep the pleats in place.

The fabric will be “scrunched up” when you smock, so you’ll need three times as much fabric to begin with. For smocking styles that impart stretch to the fabric, this criterion is especially important.

When making a 10′′ × 10′′ smock, for example, you will need a piece of basic 30′′ x 30′′ fabric. Adding seam allowance to your clothing design will ensure you have enough fabric to complete the project.

Which Thread Is Best For Smocking?

Smocking is best done using embroidery thread, which has just the right weight to keep the pleats in place without being cumbersome to work with.

When selecting a thread for smocking, it’s a good idea to try to match the thread’s material to the fabric’s. Using silk threads with a silk cloth, for example, is a good illustration.

Keep in mind, though, that the pleats themselves are already regarded a design feature, so don’t overdo it with the colors of the thread while designing the smock’s pattern. With the correct smocking style, using only one or two colors and decorative stitches can look pretty lovely.

How Do You Do Smocking By Hand?

  1. Dots for smocking should be placed on the cloth, and enough material should be left for seam allowances.
  2. When marking the wrong side of the fabric, use a pencil and a ruler.
  3. Check to see if the rows are regularly spaced but longer than the columns, and if each stitch is directly under the stitch above them.
  4. Using a running stitch, sew the dots together.
  5. Leave the ends of each row of thread open.
  6. Retighten the pleats by tying the thread ends in a knot at each end.

What Are The Different Types Of Smocking?

Smocking can be done in a variety of ways:

  • Smocking uses the Trellis stitch, in which the stitches form diamonds.
  • The cable stitch is used in smocking for embellishment, and the stitches resemble chain links.
  • To prevent the pleats from separating during smocking, an outline stitch is used on top of the design.
  • The honeycomb stitch is the most stretchy for smocking.
  • While the trellis stitch may look similar to a diamond stitch, they are two different stitches.
  • The chevron stitch for smocking is one of the most visually appealing stitches.

To learn how to utilize ornamental stitches on a sewing machine, check out this tutorial.

What is backsmocking?

As with conventional smocking, you’ll work from the back of the fabric instead of the front. Again, the goal is to give the primary design a secondary texture.

What is applique smocking?

Sewing the decoration to the pleated cloth is called applique smocking. The herringbone stitch is a popular choice for this method.

How To Gather Fabric For Smocking?

Before you begin designing, you must ensure that your cloth has been pre-shrunk. If it hasn’t been pre-shrunk, it’s highly recommended that you wash it in warm water. Before you begin smocking, make sure your fabric hasn’t shrunk too much. Cotton, in particular, is prone to shrinking.

Some smocking techniques might further “shrink” the fabric, so if you don’t pre-shrink the cloth, your final product may be too small. Make sure that the final outfit fits you rather than a child, especially if it’s a smock for a dress or a shirt.

Smocking begins once you’ve pre-shrinked your fabric. Hand pleating, machine gathering, and pleating using a pleater are the most common methods.

1. Hand Pleating

The most archaic method is to use hand pleats. Smocking was done this way in the 1700s, and you can bet that it will require a lot of rigorous planning and a lot of time.

This step is all about tracing your pattern onto one side of the fabric so that you can use it as a guide when you begin stitching.

It’s much easier to do this with pre-made smocking patterns that are available in the market. To use as a guide for smocking, you can use these transfer sheets, which allow you to heat transfer pattern grids and dots from the page to the backside of the cloth.

In order to get the best results, you’ll need to select patterns that are compatible with the fabric you’re working with. To achieve shallow pleats in a finely woven cloth, apply a smocking design with smaller spacings. It’s possible that greater pleats could be beneficial to your cloth if it has a thicker weave.

2. Machine Gathering

Alternatively, you can use a sewing machine to gather fabric, but the resulting pleats will not be uniform. This means that the pleats will be uneven and you will have to correct them by hand to create a consistent sewing pattern.

To collect fabric with your sewing machine, use the longest stitch length allowed on your machine (about 5 millimeters) when using basting stitches as described above. Create the length of your pleats by sewing two parallel lines on your fabric. Each time, be sure to leave enough of thread tails so that we may pick it up afterwards.

For both lines you just sewed, ensure that one end of the stitch has been fastened. Before pulling the bobbin thread, be sure to use a delicate hand and avoid breaking the thread.

You can modify the pleats by pulling a small amount of each line at a time, making sure they are all the same length. This is the most time-consuming step, but you’ll be rewarded with perfectly symmetrical pleats at the end.

Faux smocking, also known as shirring, can be accomplished with multiple pieces of elastic and a sewing machine. Make sure the elastic is the correct length for the final piece of smock, then sew parallel lines of elastic across the cloth using a stretchy stitch (such as a zig-zag stitch).

The finished product will resemble a smock due to the parallel elastics, but it will have random pleats.

SMOCKING | How to Do Smocking the Easy Way | TREASURIE

3. Using A Pleater

Smocking pleats can be made with a variety of pleaters, all of which are capable of producing exactly equal folds.

Using a ruffler presser foot on your sewing machine, you can create even pleats without hand gathering and pleating (this one is our fave). For those who already own a sewing machine, this is an excellent option.

A manual pleater is also an option. These three pleaters come in three different sizes, making it easy to get the perfect pleats every time. The ultimate pleat size is determined by the pleater size, therefore be sure to order the pleater size that corresponds to the required pleat width.

You’ll need to use pins to assist keep the pleats in place because this is only a simple plastic tool for creating even “folds” in your fabric. Smocking pleats have never been easier to make, and anyone can do it with this simple method.

How Do You Do Smocking With A Sewing Machine?

  1. Using long straight stitches, sew parallel lines, and then tuck the threads under themselves.
  2. Tucks and gathered cloth should have their ends sewn to prevent them from unraveling.
  3. Stitch the cloth with your favorite decorative stitch or see your manual for its smocking instructions.
  4. Parallel stitch rows can be sewed across the gathers or between the gathering stitches.
  5. Remove the panels’ gathering stitches.

What Is The Purpose Of Smocking?


A smocked garment can be stretched without the need of elastic.


For example, smocking can be used to increase and control volume in sleeves, necklines, and shoulders according to the Textile Research Centre.


Smocking is a sort of decorative embroidery that is used to provide texture and dimension to garments. Also, if you’d like, you can use a different color thread.

How Hard Is It To Smock?

Smocking is a difficult technique to master, especially because it must be done entirely by hand. Even a smocking transfer can save you time, but you can also use a sewing machine.

You don’t have to mark and measure the dots on the fabric when using a smocking transfer. An iron is all that’s required to iron on your markings after cutting the transfer to fit your fabric.


And that’s all there is to it! Smocking in sewing is an embroidered technique in which the cloth is gathered.

In addition to being attractive, this can give the garment added fullness or elasticity in specific areas. Even if it isn’t the simplest procedure, beginners can receive a smocking transfer and configure their sewing machine properly rather than smocking by hand.