Smocking is a needlework technique in which fabric is stitched together to make three dimensional details. Learn one stitch with this smocking tutorial.
Hey y’all, today I’m sharing a tutorial for a beaded and smocked stitch. I used this diy stitching method to sew the top of this dress that I up cycled from a t-shirt.
Note that there are two major types of smocking that involve different techniques. The first type is English smocking. It involves pleating fabric and then adding embroidery to the pleats. You might see cable stitch, trellis, diamond and honeycomb stitch patterns in that type of smocking. English smocking is what many think of as traditional hand smocking.
You can get close to a an English smocking pleated smocked look by shirring with elastic thread, which is shown in this tutorial. But that’s not truly smocking, it just looks similar.
The other type of smocking shown in this post is referred to as American smocking, Canadian smocking, and North American smocking. It is a method of decoratively stitching fabric so that it creates three dimensional details. These can range from pleats to geometric and even floral smocking as I show in this post. It’s another way to add some beautiful hand details to your garments.
I used this beaded floral smocking stitch on the Fields of Gold Dress.
The art of smocking requires hand sewing and lots of time and patience, but it’s not particularly difficult. And I didn’t invent it, in fact there are other tutorials on the internet that you can find. Another advantage of both kinds of smocking is that it gathers the fabric in, so that property of the stitch can contribute to style lines. You can use it on bodices and let the dress flow out below. Smocking can also be used this way on necklines, cuffs, and waistbands.
To sew this smocking stitch you’ll need your fabric, a washable marking tool, a ruler, needle and thread and beads. Note that even if you sew this stitch with elastic thread and/or on stretch fabric, it will not retain that elasticity. Some smocking stitches can be sewn and still stretch. However the beading on this one makes it non-stretchy. If you would like to skip the beads, you can still sew this stitch with embroidery floss and have that stitch show at the center of each flower. I just used regular all purpose thread to stitch.
Video of Beaded Smocking Stitch
You can see a quick video demonstration of the beaded smocking stitch below or on YouTube here, and I have more details on this specific dress and how I stitched it below the video. I show a few repeats on the first row of stitching.
Written Smocked Dress Instructions
I started with a size XL men’s cotton t-shirt. First, you mark out a grid of dots, these are where you will place your stitches. I just used washable Crayola marker for this. Note that if you use a thicker fabric you’d likely want to space your grid dots further apart. And with a thin fabrics and smaller beads your can make a smaller grid pattern.
2. Next, thread your needle. You will take a stitch at each of 4 dots in the order numbered in the picture. When you take the stitch, go from the outside of the dot at an angle toward the center of the square, like you were going to make part of an X with your needle. Then take a fifth stitch in the same place as the first stitch.
3. Pull the thread. You can see the flower shape starting to form. I found it useful to use a knitting needle to smooth out the folds and make sure this was really like a 4 petal flower.
4. Pinch the petals together like so and take another stitch across the middle
5. Now string a bead, and stitch across the middle and down through the back (direction indicated by arrow). Turn the fabric over and knot the thread on the back.
6. Cut the thread and repeat many, many times.
Tips for Successful Stitching
I also found it useful to use my knitting needle to smooth out the petals between flowers as I went. Sometimes when you pull the thread the petal gets stuck on the wrong side, so I would use the knitting needle to poke the fold up on the right side.
If you’re doing this on a garment, I suggest you not cut the pattern out until AFTER you’ve smocked – as you can see from my grid, this shrunk an XL shirt down to fit a size 6 girl. You lose about 1/2″ of both length and width for every one of these flowers you make, so purchase a lot more width and length than normal when buying your fabric and planning your design. That way the finished item can still fit.