What Is Smocking In Sewing: Uses And How To Do It

Last Updated on 6 months by Susan Mayrich

The answer to what is smocking in sewing is that it’s a technique of gathering using embroidery stitches. We’ll teach you how to do smocking and how to use it in more detail below. 

what is smocking in sewing

And since the two are often compared to each other, read about what is ruching in sewing. It’s also a technique of gathering fabric without the embroidery stitches, and it aims to add volume without the stretch as with smocking. 

Please browse our blog for more sewing techniques and tutorials and expand your sewing knowledge for various projects. 


What Does Smocking Mean In Sewing?

Smocking is a technique of gathering fabric with embroidery stitches so the material can stretch. This is a valuable alternative to adding elastics on necklines and cuffs to achieve a better fit. 

Smocking is also used in garments when buttons are thought to be unfitting. With smocking, you’re gathering the material into tight pleats to allow it to stretch but still return to its original shape. 

You can even use smocking as a decoration by manipulating the gathered material and stitches. This way, it’s possible to make various patterns to add interest to the clothing. 


Quick history of smocking

Smocking was developed in England, and it was the most popular during the 18th and 19th centuries. Laborers commonly used it compared to other embroidery designs that represent high-status symbols.  


Direct smocking vs English smocking

Direct smocking refers to the general type of smocking, and you can consider American smocking and Italian smocking as its subtypes. This type of smocking offers the best texture, while traditional smocking or English smocking can either look like a geometric pattern of diamond and waves or stacked cables that are closely packed.  


What Are The Different Types Of Smocking?

There are different stitches you can do for smocking:

  • Trellis stitch is the most commonly used in smocking where the stitches form diamond shapes
  • Smocking used for decoration is made of the cable stitch where the stitches look like chain links 
  • Smocking uses an outline stitch on top of the design to keep the pleats from separating
  • For elasticity, the best stitch to use for smocking is the honeycomb stitch
  • Not to be confused with the trellis stitch, the diamond stitch leaves a geometric pattern to the smocked fabric
  • One of the most visually stunning stitches for smocking is the chevron stitch that uses clusters of pleats

Read how to use decorative stitches on a sewing machine to know more stitches that can be used as an embellishment. 


What is backsmocking?

Backsmocking is essentially traditional smocking, except you’ll do it at the back of the fabric. Again, the purpose is to provide secondary texture to the main design. 


What is applique smocking?

Applique smocking is sewing the decoration to the pleated fabric. The stitch often used for this technique is the herringbone stitch. 


What Is The Purpose Of Smocking?



Smocking allows certain parts of the garment to stretch even without elastic. 



According to the Textile Research Centre, smocking can allow the sewer to add and control volume to the garment, such as in sleeves, neckline, and shoulders. 



As a decorative type of embroidery, smocking is used to add texture and accent. You can also use a different color thread for more appeal. 


How Do You Do Smocking With A Sewing Machine?

  1. Sew parallel lines with long straight stitches, and make the tucks by pulling up the threads on the underside
  2. Sew the ends to keep the tucks and gathered fabric secured
  3. Select your preferred decorative stitch for the smocked fabric or check your manual for its recommendation for smocking
  4. Sew parallel stitch rows across the gathers you made or in between the gathering stitches
  5. Remove the gathering stitches from the panels


How Do You Do Smocking By Hand?

  1. Mark the fabric with dots for smocking and remember to leave extra material for seam allowance
  2. Use a pencil and a ruler when marking the wrong side of the fabric
  3. Check if each stitch is directly under the stitch above them and the rows themselves are evenly spaced but longer than the columns
  4. Sew running stitches through the dots
  5. Leave thread ends open at the end of each row
  6. Tie the thread tails at each end to gather the fabric and tighten the pleats


How Hard Is It To Smock?

Smocking is not the easiest technique, especially since true smocking is done by hand. However, you can also use your sewing machine or even a smocking transfer to save time. 

With a smocking transfer, you’ll already have perfect dots without the need to mark and measure them directly on the fabric. Instead, you only need to cut the transfer according to your fabric’s size and then transfer the markings with an iron. 



And that’s it! We just found out what is smocking in sewing, which is an embroidery technique of gathering the fabric. 

This can be decorative and even provide fullness or elasticity to certain parts of the garment. It’s not the most uncomplicated sewing technique, but beginners can always get a smocking transfer and set the machine accordingly rather than smocking by hand. 

We hope this was helpful; leave us a question if you still have any. 

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