Stitching Tips and Tricks

This site is about sharing years of experience in the field of sewing, hand embroidery, and lace making.  Hopefully the reader will find interesting tidbits of information and will want to revisit this site on a regular basis to see what is new at Ritohn Enterprises.

Regular Smocking vs. English Smocking

Smocking refers to the beautiful embroidery stitches used to decorate as well as gather fabric. The difference between regular smocking and English smocking is the method used to create the gathers and the embroidery.

Regular Smocking:

Traditionally, regular smocking is a type of embroidery that is used to decorate as well as gather fabric. Regular smocking is a one-step process: the embroidery stitches are worked over a grid of evenly spaced dots to create the gathers and the embroidery design at the same time. The dots and embroidery are on the right side of the fabric.

Smocking patterns with iron-on dots are commercially available. You can also create your own dots using the wonderful rulers and fabric marking pens that are available today. Another method is using pounce powder. The grid is drawn on a heavy cardboard. The corners of the grid squares are then pricked with a darning needle. The cardboard is placed over the right side of the fabric and pounce powder is dusted through the holes in the cardboard, transferring the dots to the fabric. Using this method is tricky because the powder can be accidentally brushed away before the design is completed if care is not taken while doing the smocking.

A woven checked gingham fabric may also be used for regular smocking as the squares are evenly spaced. The corners of each square substitute for the dots. Tiny stitches are taken in the corners of the squares to gather the fabric and create the embroidery patterns. Incidentally, when working on woven checked gingham, you can get a totally different result using the same sequence of stitches depending on which color of square is used to begin the pattern.

Word of caution:  if you are using checked gingham, be certain that it is woven checked gingham and not a printed check fabric. The printed checks may or may not be evenly spaced and more often than not, are not printed on the straight grain of the fabric.

English Smocking:

English smocking is the art of embellishing pre-gathered fabric with embroidery stitches on top of the gathered pleats. English smocking is a two-step process: first the fabric is gathered and then the embroidery stitches are worked over the pleats. There is more versatility in design and stitches when using English smocking rather than regular smocking. Any type of embroidery stitch may be reproduced over the pleats to create very interesting and beautiful designs. Ribbons may be woven through herringbone designs and bouillon roses may be added for pretty dimensional patterns. English smocking is very adaptable when creating a combination of smocking stitches on a single piece.

Pre-gathering the fabric may be done in several ways. Grid dots may be copied on the back side of the fabric and then smocked with a running stitch on the back to create pleats on the front of the fabric. Sometimes the dots are actually pleated on the back side to create the folds on the front of the fabric. This is referred to as back smocking.

Another method of pleating fabric is by using a machine called a smocking pleater (or smock gathering machine) to create fine even pleats in the fabric. The pleaters come in a variety of sizes and there are several good manufacturers on the market today. These pleaters have a series of crooked needles that are placed between rollers. The number of needles in the pleater varies with the size of the smocking pleater. When the fabric is passed through the rollers onto the needles, the fabric is pleated in neat, even pleats – perfect for English Smocking!

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