How To Smock Fabric On A Sewing Machine: 2 Steps

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Last Updated on 1 year by Susan Mayrich

We simplified learning how to smock fabric on a sewing machine in two steps. This article will also talk about tips to make smocking much easier, even as a beginner. 

how to smock fabric on a sewing machine

But since smocking is essentially a technique of gathering fabric to allow stretch, we recommend reading about how to gather fabric with a sewing machine. Then, you can apply some methods in that tutorial for smocking.

Feel free also to browse our blog for other sewing techniques. 


How To Smock Fabric On A Sewing Machine Easily


Step 1. Fabric preparation

  • Mark your fabric on where you need to smock 
  • Use a yardstick and pencil to create dotted straight lines about half an inch apart on the material’s right side
  • Thread the sewing machine needle with a regular thread or that compatible with the fabric you’re smocking
  • Set up the sewing machine bobbin with an elastic thread, ensuring that there is no tension applied to the thread
  • Place the material under the walking foot right side up


Step 2. Sew with the sewing machine

  • Backstitch at the start and end of each row for added durability and security 
  • Sew across the fabric using the lines you made, but while holding the bobbin thread since it will stretch
  • The elastic thread should help the fabric to bunch up as it moves through the feed dogs
  • Rotate the material for 180 degrees to smock the next row and so forth
  • Refrain from pressing the pleats once done


Can You Do Smocking On A Sewing Machine?

It’s possible to do smocking on a sewing machine, even if your unit doesn’t have many decorative stitches often used for smocking. For example, you can use a zigzag stitch to recreate a diamond stitch or a stretch stitch to mimic a cable stitch. 

Here is a tutorial for making fast smocking stitches on a sewing machine:

  1. Mark the fabric accordingly and baste the lines you made
  2. Pull on the stitches you made and tie their ends 
  3. Distribute the gathered material, so everything is even
  4. Thread the sewing machine with two on the top and put on a topstitching needle
  5. Use a walking foot in place of your regular sewing machine attachment
  6. Test the stitches on a piece of scrap fabric before sewing over every other basting stitch 
  7. Finally, remove the basting stitches, and you’re done with faux smocking 


Tips for smocking on a sewing machine

  • Use gingham fabrics since the pattern allows for easier marking 
  • Opt for lightweight and soft materials for easier gathering and pleating
  • Thread the machine with embroidery floss or cotton thread; ideally, the thread should be the same color as the fabric you’re smocking 
  • Use needles ideal for small stitches, such as those with a sharp edge but still thin enough for smocking 

Read about what is smocking in sewing to learn more about this sewing technique. 


Which Stitch Is Used In Smocking?

Decorative stitches that match are the ones you’ll use when smocking on the sewing machine or refer to your manual for the manufacturer’s recommended stitches for smocking. But even if you own a basic machine without many features, the zigzag stitch can be helpful when smocking fabric by using two threads.

Here are also other stitches that will be used when smocking:

  • Backstitch: for the beginning and end of stitching rows and locking the stitches in place
  • Running stitch/ straight stitch: tiny stitches that go back and forth in embroidery
  • Whipstitch: for working around the fabric edge
  • Cross stitch: for additional decorative interest in smocked fabric


What Is The Difference Between Smocking And Shirring?

You can easily differentiate a shirred fabric from a smocked fabric because the former creates evenly spaced round tucks. On the other hand, smocking form pleats and is considered a decorative type of embroidery. 

Smocking and shirring both gather fabrics, but smocking used embroidery stitches to add visual appeal and create the stretch. You might also get confused since true smocking does not use elastic threads while shirring does. 

However, smocking fabric on a sewing machine will be easier for beginners if they use elastic thread on the bobbin. But if you want an authentic smocked fabric, you need to learn embroidery stitches.  

We recommend reading what is ruching in sewing. You might benefit from knowing this sewing technique because it also involves forming pleats with the fabric, but without the stretch.


How Hard Is It To Smock?

Smocking can be tricky to do, especially as a beginner. However, the two-step tutorial above will give you the exact decorative and elastic finish by doing the same process as shirring. 

You’ll use elastic thread to provide stretch instead of relying on embroidery stitches. However, do not be intimidated with smocking traditionally because practice will help you discover personal techniques. 

The technique is to mark your fabric with a dotted grid and ensure that they’re aligned with the fabric grain. There are also smocking patterns readily available in sewing shops to help you smock for the first time. 



And that’s it! We just learned how to smock fabric on a sewing machine in two steps.

This is the easiest method because you’re using elastic thread like in shirring. However, you can always take a more challenging approach and smock traditionally with embroidery stitches to provide stretch. 

We hope this tutorial wasn’t confusing. Leave us a question if you have any. 

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