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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Different Types of Smocking

Smocking, in its various forms, is being seen in a lot of fashion today, not just little girl's dresses. I have seen several stitchers discover smocking and creatively apply it to their clothing. Personally, I am on a quest to employ more English smocking into my own "adult" clothing. It can be such a creative technique and is definitely underserved for us "big people."

Todays post is about this because I think there is some confusion out there about what smocking is, and what types of smocking there are. Hopefully, I can shed a little light on the subject so here goes.

Counterchange Smocking: This was the first smocking I ever attempted, some 4 years ago. Yup, I have been smocking four years. I wish I had attempted it much earlier but seems I needed the inspiration of grandchildren to motivate me.
Counterchange consists of fabric that is either gingham, striped, a tiny repeat, or lovingly hand marked by the stitcher. I say lovingly because it requires that a horde of teeny dots be marked if you are going that route. The dot making is how one goes about doing counterchange smocking on a solid fabric. The corners of the gingham squares, or the stripe edges, or the repeating pattern are picked up with needle and thread in a specific pattern. This can be either a geometric repeating design or something more figurative. The more figurative looks require a "plate" or design to follow. Counterchange goes fast, is easy, and gives great results out of the box. I definitely would recommend it as an introduction to smocking.

Next is Canadian Smocking, aka Lattice Smocking, aka American smocking, aka North American Smocking . Did you or your Mom make pillows for the couch from patterns, Simplicity I think, that were "smocked"? These had large repetitive folds of fabric in lovely patterns that were made by making those dots again, but nowhere near as close. The dots were then stitched on in a pattern and pulled up to make a three dimensional design. Gosh I remember those pillows! Here you can learn how to revive that craft from the sixties, that is if you really want to. ( tongue in cheek.)

On to Italian Smocking, aka Italian shirring: Talented bloggista Birgitte shows an example of Italian smocking on her blog. She references Collette Wolf's tome, "The Art of Fabric Manipulation" and works up her sample in silk chiffon. Moto brave, heh? The way Birgitte and Wolf smock, a pattern is followed by making running stitches on flat fabric which are then pulled up to make this incredible surface texture. The way I've learned to do this was on already pleated fabric, as in pleated on a pleater, and then working the stitches of the pattern thru the pleats. This is how Australian Smocking and Embroidery teaches it also. In this method the holding threads are then pulled out and the pattern is formed. The end result is the same. In both methods you are stitching a pattern of stitches that pull. In Wolf's method, pulling the threads makes the texture. In the method I know releasing the threads makes the marvelous texture. This is like going to the same place with two ways to get there. It is a gorgeous textural technique, either way.

Next is Picture Smocking: Ahhhh, the elusive. The people I know who do this the best are those stitchers that just dove into it, not knowing that they were getting into something difficult. Then there are the rest of us. We know picture smocking is difficult and we keep trying but it just seems to take a long time to master. What's to master? Everything, of course, but mostly how to stack cables. Picture smocking is just what it's name implies, smocked fabric with stitching that is pictorial. It could be little bunnies, boats, flowers, ballerinas, you name it. Just about anything can be turned into picture smocking. It is doggone cute. You won't see it on more traditional clothing for children. This is the fun stuff. You use picture smocking when you want to make your little boy a longall with fire trucks on it. Picture smocking is stitched onto pleated fabric once again but the pictures come from stacked cables. And it is not easy to stack cables. You need to get them smooth to look right and there are all sorts of tricks to do that. I am not that good at it, but I keep trying. Slowly I am getting better, very slowly.

And last but not the least is my favorite and what I really enjoy doing, and that is English Smocking. English smocking is worked on pleated fabric. The fabric can be pleated by hand with the aid of something called Knotts Dots or it can be pleated in a pleater, as I have often shown on this blog. Once the fabric is pleated stitches are applied, gathering up tiny parts of the pleats in a pattern that makes a geometric design. I just love this type of stitchery. It is repetitive but not too much so. It makes a great texture, and it gives the opportunity for some great color interaction between the stitches and the fabric. If you click on any of the smocked garments in the Pattern Review widget on the right there will be closeups of geometric English smocking in the reviews. The archives here are full of them also.

I hope you have enjoyed this broad overview of smocking and what it is and isn't. There are subdivisions of these types as well, but these terms and styles are what most stitchers are familiar with. ..............Bunny


  1. Thanks Bunny! Very enlightening! Now I'm going to spend some time looking at all the examples more closely!

  2. Oh my dios haces nido de abejas... eso tengo muchos años que no lo bordo... aprendi sola con una revista... y es tan delicado... de alli me quedo la aficcion al punto bullion... o rococo...
    Entendi muy bien tu mensaje.. Garcias por visitar mi blog, a lo que llegue de la barbacoa que tengo hoy voy a revisar todo tu blog... que veo cosas maravillosas...
    besos hasta mas luego

  3. Thanks, Bunny. This is so interesting. I've always wanted to try smocking.

  4. Glad you all have found it informative. Y Nela, gracias por visitar my blog y dejar su comentario. Es un placer conocer alquien encantado del coser como yo. Espero que disfrutes de mis otras "posts."

  5. siii me encanta todo... y es que se me esta ocurriendo algo.... cuanto desearia tener tiempooo... me encantan tods tus trabajos...

  6. I don't know if you ever come back to old posts, to read comments, or if there is some type of indicator that lets you know when someone comments on you blog, but . . .I started (I've done NONE in the past few years) smocking aprox 20 years go when my first dd was born. You've explained the various types of smocking very well. But you'd be surprised at how lovely (well, at least back in the day) No. American smocking can be on a garmentt. I can't remember who it was that put it on cuffs or a bodice, but it was very nice done in velvet. And the counterchange smocking sure does bring back memories. The picture of it here was done by my fellow (former) guild member Anne Hallay. I'll never forget how excited she was when she was about to publish her booklet, and teach at Martha Pullen's school. My favorite form is also English smocking. And I agree that stacking cables is HARD!!! I never did accomplish picture smocking.

  7. Thank you so much! I found this as one of the only sites to explain various forms of smocking. I've mentioned your site in my recent post and am about to go investigate the rest of your blog. Thanks so much (it is a shame one of the pictures in this particular post is no longer showing).

  8. Glad you were able to understand my explanations, Shell. I am off to check out your blog. By the way, I have my blog set up to be notified about any new comment, no matter how old the post. Thanks for commenting and welcome to the blog!

  9. все о науке

  10. I teach medieval smocking, pleatwork with embroidery, in the medieval re-enactment group the SCA. You should google smocked aprons or medieval smocking, for most inspiration


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