How to Smock by Hand

    by Rianne Clarke-Martin

    About the Author

    Rianne Clarke-Martin started writing in 2006. She has written for, and also for WNSR radio. Clarke has a Bachelor of Arts in media studies from The New School, and learned fashion-accessories design at the Fitness Institute of Technology.


    Hand smocking is gathering a series of pleats into a pattern with stitches. It's a type of embroidery that adds a handmade touch to your project. There are two types of smocking: regular and English. Regular smocking is marked on the right side of the fabric, while English is marked on the wrong side. English smocking is easier for beginners because you pre-gather the fabric. Smocking stitches are worked from one dot to the next, so it's important that you mark them accurately if you're doing a precise pattern.

    Things You'll Need

    • Lightweight fabric
    • Chalk marking pencil
    • Ruler
    • Heat transfer smocking grid
    • Iron
    • Needle
    • Thread

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    Choose a lightweight fabric such as cotton for your project. The width should be two to three times your desired finished width. The actual finished width depends on the tension of your stitches and the space between your marked dots.

    Mark the fabric. Use the marking pencil or a heat-transferred smocking grid to place dots on the wrong side of the fabric. The space between dots should be from 1/4 to 3/8 inch, and the space between rows of dots should be from 3/8 to 1/2 inch. If you want less gathering, increase the space between the dots.

    Pre-gather the fabric. On the right side of the fabric, put the needle in the fabric in the seam allowance next to the top row of dots. Tie a small knot to anchor the thread. Sew a running stitch across the fabric, with the visible part of the stitch over and not through the marked dots. At the end of the row, exit the fabric, leaving a loose 8-inch tail of thread. Repeat the running stitch in every row, and when all rows are finished, loosely tie the tails together.

    Pull the tails so that the fabric pleats evenly across the piece. If a pleat inverts, simply pull the top and bottom of the fabric to straighten the pleat. Continue to pull until the piece measures your desired width. Tie the tails loosely a second time to hold the width.

    Smock with a cable stitch. On the wrong side of the fabric, make a small knot to anchor the thread. Push the needle up so that it's at the left side of the first pre-gathered pleat. Float the thread across the valley so that it's on the right side of the second pleat. Push the needle through the pleat so that it comes out on the left side of the pleat below the thread. Float it across to the right side of the third pleat, and bring it up on the left side of the third pleat above the thread. Repeat the stitching pattern across the row. At the end of the row, push the needle through to the wrong side, and tie a small knot to finish.

    • If you're doing a large amount of smocking or are new to hand sewing, protect your finger with a metal thimble.
    • A water-soluble marker may be used, but first test it on a piece of the fabric to make sure that the marks can be removed.
    • Mark the fabric with the lightest possible pencil or heat transfer or the dots may show on the right side of the fabric.

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