Smocking- An Easy To Follow Guide For Starters

Smocking – Learn How To Do Smocking Embroidery

Have you ever been fascinated by the smocking done on girl’s dresses? It is one of the traditional kinds of embroidery that is a bit more difficult than other embroidery forms, but it looks classy on girls’ dresses. When I began to learn how to smock, I discovered that it is not as difficult as it appears.

With a few simple steps and basic guidelines, you can easily learn this classic embroidery skill. In this guide, I’ve summed up all the information “on how to smock” to make it easier for beginners. So if you wonder how to do smocking, here is an easy-to-follow guide for starters.

What Is The Best Fabric For Smocking?

For smocking, you should look for a fabric with a smooth surface and even weave. Therefore I prefer cotton and silk since these fabrics are light to medium weight and have a stable weave that gathers excellently in pleats. You can also use varieties of cotton and silk, like linen lawn or voile.
Additionally, if you’re a beginner, you should go with printed fabrics, preferably checked fabric. This kind of even print works for you as a guide on how and where to pleat the fabric and makes the marking process super easy for beginners.

What Is The Best Thread For Smocking?

Regular embroidery threads can be used for smocking. If you are smocking cotton or any variety of cotton, you should get a cotton embroidery thread. Also, silk fabrics should be smocked with silk thread.
To give a thicker look to the smoked fabric, getting a thread with more strands is recommended. For example, 2 ply cotton floss threads can be separated into six individual strands. You can also go with pearl cotton thread since it gives a beautiful sheen effect to the design.

How Much Fabric Is Needed For Smocking?

As a general rule of thumb, you need three times the fabric as the width of the final piece of the cloth. For example, if you want to prepare a 15-inch smacked panel, you would require a 45-inch cloth. However, if you don’t have that much extra fabric, you can manage it by keeping the stitches slack and wide. Also, if you are using an extra thin fabric and want to do a detailed smocking with narrow pallets, you may need 4 0r five times wider cloth than the final width.

How To Do Smocking?

Here is an excellent video to understand the concepts of smoking. Below you can find the basic steps for smocking.


  • For a perfectly smoked piece of cloth, it is important to prepare the cloth for embroidery.
  • Prewash the fabric with clean water or mild soap to clear the possibility of shrinking after smocking.
  • Wait until the fabric is completely dry, and then press the fabric to remove any wrinkles and blemishes.
  • To stabilize the fabric, add light and fusible interfacing. A well-interfaced fabric will hold the pleats evenly, giving you better control over the cloth.


You can cut the fabric before and after smocking the fabric. Many people prefer smocking the large piece of fabric and then cutting it into a shirt or frock shape. Since this is a smocking tutorial for beginners, I will recommend you cut the fabric before smocking. It will be easier for newbies to handle the small piece of fabric. Cut the piece of fabric three times larger than the width of the final panel.


Marking is the process in which you put marks on the fabrics in a grid pattern. These dots will guide you where to position the pleats. In the beginning, I would recommend you to go with wide pleats since it will be easier for you to practice the stitches.

You can mark the fabric in rectangular grids using a scale and pencil. The rows are marked slightly longer than column marks. In the beginning, you can mark the grid measuring 1×2.5 inches. Leave extra fabric on each side and then start marking on the wrong side of the work. Also, I recommend you getting a checked fabric. It will make your measurement easier and more accurate.

If you are not good at measurements or just want to go with an easier or more convenient option, you can use transfer paper. You can get a transfer paper having dots printed on its back. You can get the transfer power in any grid size. This is how you can use transfer paper for marking grids on the fabric.

  • Cut the transfer paper exactly of the size of the panel you are going to smock.
  • Place the fabric wrong side up on the iron table.
  • Then place the transfer paper with the wrong side up and right side down on the fabric.
  • Iron both pieces together and marking will be transferred to the wrong side of your fabric.

Gathering The Fabric

You gather the fabric through the stitching. There are many techniques used to sew marked smocking pleats. In this step, you need to make running stitches through markers. Knot the thread and make the running stitches through the dots. You should weave in a way that it appears as a short stitch at the dot and a long stitch between the dots.

  • Never pull the thread at any point in this process.
  • Always leave a 4-inch hanging thread at the end of each row.
  • The next step is to gather the fabric by pulling the hanging threads at the end of each row.
  • The fabric will remain only 11/3 rd to the initial width.
  • Your fabric is ready for embroidery.

Basic Rules Of Smocking

  • Always look at the gathering thread while making embroidery stitches. The gathering thread will work as a guide to make your patterns neat and synchronized.
  • While making embroidery stitches, the embroidery thread gets tangled or caught in gathering stitches. Be careful while making embroidery stitches to avoid this situation.
  • Always mark the center points on the fabric to make symmetrical designs.
  • Leave the fabric from all sides for seam allowance. Otherwise, start embroidery from the third pleat for seam allowance.

Smocking Embroidery Stitches For Beginners

Once you are done with fabric gathering, the next step is the embroidery on the smocked panel. Here are the basic stitches you can easily learn.

Outline Or Stem Stitch

Outline or stem stitch is one of the easiest and my most favorite stitches. Follow these steps to make this stitch.

  • Take a thread of any color and knot the thread. Suppose you are working from left to right.
  • Bring the thread up from the back of the left most pleat.
  • Then move to the next pleat and stitch through this pleat from right to left, slightly upward.
  • Then again, bring the needle from the left side of the second pleat.
  • Now move to the third pleat and stitch through it from right to left at a slightly upward angle.
  • Keep repeating this step until you join all the pleats together.
  • If you want to do stem stitch, just stitch at a slightly downward angle.

Cable Stitch

  • Cable is the simplest embroidery stitch you can use over the smocked piece of fabric.
  • While stitching from left to right, bring the needle up from the first pleat.
  • Keep the needle horizontal while stitching Cable stitch.
  • Make the alternative stitches above and below the needle.
  • Move from one pleat to another and repeat the same process.
  • You can make a double cable stitch by making two rows of cable stitch next to each other.

Wheat Stitch

  • You can combine outline and stem stitch to make a Wheat Stitch.
  • Make the outline stitch in the first step.
  • In the second step, the stem stitch just below the outline stitch.
  • Then just beneath this stitch, make the outline stitch and then a stem next to it. Follow this pattern till the end, and you will get a wheat-like pattern.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you do smocking on a sewing machine?

Yes, you can smock on a sewing machine. Although traditional smocking is done with hands, you can use the sewing machine to stitch the pleats. If you have a grip on smocking, you can use the sewing machine to gather the fabric and to do embroidery on the smocked panel. While you are at it, you can also have a look to understand the Grainline of Fabric and polish your sewing skills even better.

What is hand smocking?

Hand smocking is a traditional embroidery technique that you use to create fullness in the fabric. You gather the fabric in pleats to make stretchable and combine it with other embroidery stitches for decoration.

Wrapping Up

In this guide, I’ve tried to explain the answers like how to smock or how to smock with a hand. These questions generally pop up in the beginner’s mind. Also, in this guide, I’ve added all the smocking instructions, and by following these instructions, you can easily learn how to smock a fabric.

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