Smock-a-rama

Last year, I bought a book with cute clothes for kids, each with some kind of smocking. I’ve flipped through it several times, admiring the clothes, but had never really paid much attention to the instructions. I figured I’d read all that once I was ready to do some smocking. This past week I finally got around to it (have you noticed a theme here on my projects? It seems like that year buffer in between an interest in a new craft and the actual execution of it is my modus operandi).

Despite all the gorgeous projects included in the book, I had something else in mind. Both of my girls needed new summer nightgowns with certain criteria to fulfill:

  • Very long
  • Roomy enough to pull their legs up underneath
  • Pretty

Smocking seemed to fit the bill to give them that roominess that they wanted, with the added bonus of also being pretty. Awhile back, I had bought a twin-sized gingham sheet in an indeterminate shade of red. Or pink. Salmon? Originally, I was going to make a dress out of it for Rana , but for some reason she deemed it “too boyish.” I debated for a couple weeks whether to buy different fabric for their nightgowns or just use the sheet. In the end, frugality won out. Plus, 1/4 inch gingham is ideal for a smocking project and makes for a minimum of work for me (also a theme here. Apparently I’m a lazy procrastinator). See, for all of you uninitiated in the ways of smocking, the first step requires marking lines of dots onto the fabric. Lots of dots. Teeny tiny dots spaced 1/4 inch apart. They do make iron-on transfer paper with these little dots, but I don’t have any and I hear that stores still prefer money rather than wampum or beaver pelts or cake (running low on the first two, but I can bake a cake! Now I have an interesting image of me on the street corner with a sign, “Will bake for fabric.”) So you can see just how good this sheet was looking to me now, regardless of Rana’s opinion. In lieu of tiny dots, the corners of my gingham checks would serve the same purpose.

I settled down with my pretty book and realized after a few minutes that the authors make the assumption that anyone purchasing their book already has a rudimentary knowledge of smocking. Well… I didn’t. Internet to the rescue! I found this lady’s blog and she very helpfully detailed every step needed to get me started.

The first step is putting in the pleating threads.

Row, row, rows of thread

For some reason, this took me a long time, as in, several days. It’s really not hard; I must have gotten interrupted a lot, which is not unusual with a 5, 3, and 1 year old. I’ve already completed this step on Granota’s nightgown and it only took me a couple of hours last night. Maybe I’m just that much better now.

Once all those threads are in, the next step is to pull them and make the fabric pleat up.

Pleated... or is it?

At first glance, this looks ok. The fabric is all bunched up, right? Except, that it’s not supposed to be bunched up. It’s supposed to be pleated. Nice, even pleats that stick up on the right side. But the right side looks just like the back.

Not the desired effect

It was almost right! I was so close! Close enough not to realize – newbie that I am – that it really wasn’t close enough. I ignorantly carried on with the actual smocking. I used the book for this — one of the patterns seemed simple enough for me to do on this Inaugural Voyage into the Realm of Smocking.

Looks pretty good so far, aside from the fact that the picture quality looks like it was taken twenty years ago. Grainy!

That top line of dark pink stitching is supposed to be the stabilizing line. You’ll see in a minute how well that worked out. It was at about this point in the green stitching that I realized how horrible my “pleating” was. I could never tell which bump to stitch in, so I just guessed. And you’ll see how well that one worked, too.

Once I got in all my decorative stitches, I cut loose the black pleating threads and instantly knew that we had a problem. Instead of staying nicely pleated bunched up, the fabric exploded. Oh, did I mention that when you smock a garment, you have to cut the fabric three times the width of the finished piece? Without proper smocking holding it into place, this nightgown was going to be much, much roomier than any of us had expected. Rana and Granota could have worn it together!

Ka-boom!

Note the decided lack of pleats or bunching. My nice green zigzag stitches are all distorted and the dark pink may as well not have even been there for all the good it did. Rana tried it on and the front dipped down halfway to her belly. In a horrified stage whisper, she hissed at me, “People are gonna see my boobs!” I did some emergency smocking (with her still in it, much to her annoyance) to pull in some of the slack so that she could wear it to bed last night. We never did get it quite high enough, but we were both tired, so agreed that it was good enough for sleeping and sent her to bed. I think what I’m going to have to do is put in a permanent pleating thread on the inside to hold it all together.

Finished nightgown, still in need of more smocking

This is what crafting fearlessly is all about! I wouldn’t call this a complete failure because, in the end, I did produce a wearable garment with interesting decoration, even if it wasn’t quite what it “should” have been. And besides that, I learned a lot just from the experience. As I mentioned above, I’ve put in the pleating threads on Granota’s nightgown, so I am going to take extra special care in making sure that the pleats turn out right this time. And once those are right, the rest of it should just follow! If not, then I guess we’ll get another installment of Things JenGren Learned While Attempting to Smock.

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6 thoughts on “Smock-a-rama

  1. Pingback: Smockapalooza « Two Frogs and a Grasshopper

  2. Don’t worry. my first smocking attempt was much, much worse… 🙂 It will never, ever see light of day.

    An easy tip to help with the wavy top line. If you add an extra gathering row above and below your smocking, you’ll find that the pleats are much better behaved and don’t pucker as much. It’s called a holding row and it makes a big difference in how the finished embroidery looks.

    And if the pleats are getting a little wonky after you’ve drawn them up, try steaming them with an iron then pulling them sharply up and down. Often, this will help set the pleats and make them less bubbly.

      • Depends on how the top row is going to be finished, but yes, generally it’s left in place until the binding is sewn down on the first pass. It keeps the pleats straight during construction. Then you can remove it and finish the binding (by hand, by machine etc) as the pattern directs.

        Also, to avoid the big ol’ stretch out, try and put your smocking stitches a little deeper – about half way down the pleat – not right at the top. If you’ve got that little bit of extra bite, the smocking won’t go ‘poof’ and spring out of shape when you remove the gathering threads. It’ll actually be springy and elastic like.

      • You make so much sense! 😀 Thanks for the help! It might be a little while before I get to another smocking project, but I’m coming back to read your tips (and your blog, too!) when I do! Thanks again.

  3. Pingback: Another jam session | Two Frogs and a Grasshopper

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