Have you ever seen a smocked cushion (or bag, or hat, or - you get the picture) and thought "How do they do that"? You're not alone, and this tutorial will teach you how it's done. It's a simple process - no magic required. If you can sew a button, then you are more than qualified to do North American (Canadian) smocking.
We're going to work through a modified version of the traditional lattice weave smocking pattern that was derived from the world of origami tessellations. This pattern can be folded flat on paper, but the fabric gives it a 3D texture and curvature. It can be used as a border or a full panel, like the one below, and would add interesting texture to any garment or accessory.
- Fabric: cotton solids or gingham are good for a first project; you want a medium-heavy weight
- Thread: any non-stretch thread will work; match the color to your fabric
- Needle: sharp but not too sharp, eye large enough to double thread
- Scissors: to cut the thread
- Fabric pen/marker/chalk: mark on the back and make sure it's not visible on the front
- Light table/projector/window: more details later
- Rotary cutter/fabric scissors
- Cutting mat (if using rotary cutter)
- Fray check (if fabric is prone to fraying)
- Printed pattern: download pdf pattern here and print at home
Next, let's talk about transfer methods to get the pattern on the fabric. I'll list methods in the order I recommend them.
- Light table: my method of choice, but hard to use on dark fabrics
- Projector: many sewists now use projectors to transfer their patterns instead of paper patterns
- Cricut fabric marker: would work well for small projects; requires extreme precision in moving the fabric to new sections
- Window: taping the pattern to a window gives you a diy vertical light table
- Poke holes in the pattern at the dots to make your own stencil
- Get a dot grid stencil and count out the dot locations
- Order a custom stencil of the pattern (not available, but let me know if you're interested!)
Let's get down to business! Using your method of choice from the list above, start transferring your pattern onto the back side of your fabric.
See how I mark the dots with tick marks that cut across the connecting lines. This increases accuracy by helping me see exactly where the point should be.
Depending on the size of your piece, you may need to move your pattern and re-align the fabric to continue tracing. Check out the video below for how that should look.
Once you've finished tracing as much as you need, it's time to cut the edges.
You want to leave enough space on the edges so you can sew the piece into whatever you're using it for. This is also the time to put fray check on the edges if you need it. If you do, wait for the fray check to dry (15-20 min) before continuing.
Next, you're going to thread your needle. You may not think you need instructions on this, but hear me out. I've got a cool trick that will save you a lot of time and suffering later.
Double your thread and tie a knot (loop around your first finger once and roll the overlap towards the end of your finger, then tighten), then run your fingers along the thread from the knotted ends to the middle. Thread the middle loop through the eye of your needle, then pull through enough to put the pointy end of the needle through the loop (see above). Pull tight.
Now you have a removable needle on doubled thread! Cool, right? I learned this trick from Adrienne Sack when she first taught me to smock and I've been using it ever since.
Now, let's get on with the smocking.
Pick a point to start (any marked point), and put your needle through the fabric slightly before the point, and bring it back up slightly after. You should have only a few threads from the fabric on the needle, but more than one and preferably threads in both directions. This is what I call "picking up the point".
Pull your needle all the way through until the knot at the end of the thread stops at the point you picked up. Next, pick up the second point in that group (the one connected with a line in the pattern to your first one) and pull through until those two points meet. Next, tie a knot around your original knot to make sure that those two points in the fabric stay together.
This is the basic idea of smocking - you bring points in the fabric together in the back, and that makes a pattern on the front.
Now we do the same thing with the next group of points. "But, wait!" you say, "We didn't cut the thread! We don't have a knot at the end to stop us!"
That's fine - when you pick up the first point in the next group, simply loop the thread coming from the last knot around the needle so that it makes a knot when you pull tight. Be careful on this step to leave as much thread between the two groups as there is distance in the fabric. If the thread is too tight, it'll pull the points closer together and distort the pattern.
Then we carry on as before. The rhythm of a group is as follows:
- First point: pick it up, tie a knot, pull through
- Last point: pick it up, pull through, tie a knot
When you tie a knot for the last point in a group, I always pass the needle under the incoming thread, loop it once or twice, and then pull through. This makes a loop through all the points in a group and keeps them closer together.
If you're running low on thread or want to switch to a different part of the pattern, simply snip your thread, leaving a small tail, after a knot that finishes a group.
Once you've finished stitching all the groups together, flip your piece over and rearrange any layers that look out of place. Your piece is now ready to be included in bigger projects or to be enjoyed as it is!
Bonus tip: if you're stitching other patterns and the groups have more than two points, then the first and last points act exactly the same as in this pattern. For the point(s) in the middle, simply pick them up and pull through.