Garden Fairies Trading Company

Smocking Newsletter Vol. 1 Issue 2

March, 31 1997


Website: Garden Fairies Smocking & Needlearts Catalog

Smocking Newsletter - Beth-Katherine Kaiman, copyright 1997-2007, all rights reserved. Please respect my creativity and hard work and ask permission before you copy something from these newsletters for your non profit goup, I always ask that you quote me correctly and give me credit with a way for people to get back to me. Thank you.  IF you wish to quote me in a venture for profit please contact me separately concerning royalties.

In This Issue:

From our Readers

  1. Silk Ribbon Embroidery

Smocking History

  1. History of Smocking

Beginner's Corner

  1. When to Pleat a Bishop

Smocking Stitches

  1. The Wheat Stitch


We were talking in chat about how we felt unoriginal concerning silk ribbon embroidery about how sometimes we feel a bit 'trapped' by kits and not being able to come up with  our own ideas about what to embroider.

This, stifling of creativity, is one of my main issues against kits. Mind you, I love some of the designs and ideas that are available but, in my opinion, the long run just doing kits will destroy your love of embroidery. In my silk ribbon classes I strive to teach my students the different stitches and what they could be used for. I also emphasize using different flosses in tandem with silk ribbon because it adds depth to your embroidery. In smocking it's different really because you are limited to what will work on pleats, and really the talented ones shine with picture smocking, whereas on flat fabric canvas the skys the limit and anyone who embroiders can come up with some pretty stuff.

So Jean came up with a brilliant idea was for me to give a suggestion of a design and let's see what everyone comes up with - verbal descriptions or if you want to embroider a design perhaps you can photograph it and have it scanned in 'gif' format, e-mail it to me and I'll pass it along so everyone can see it. So here's your first challenge: a garden gate attached to a fence of some kind. How would you embroider it? (see The Gathering Thread - Vol. 1 Issue 3, at the bottom for my solution)

and a toast I heard the other day: " May you never board a space ship without your body." Tim


If you are a beginner in smocking or have a question please address your questions to this section.

Dear Beth-Katherine

Just a note to say I am really enjoying the newsletters.

I also wondered what others do when pleating up a bishop garment. I rolled the garment up on the dowel stick with the wrong side up and then pleated it which works much better at getting the pleats even over the armhole seams. But my pleater, a Little Amanda Jane, which I love and find very easy to use, definitely pleats so that there is a right and wrong side. On the wrong side the pleats are noticeably shorter above the gathering thread than on the right side. The underside of the material as going through the pleater is the wrong side. This means that the wrong side of the pleats ends up on the right side of the bishop. I tried rolling up the other way so that I could pleat with the right side of the pleats on the right side of the garment but this does not pleat so well over the seams. I don't think this description would make sense to anyone who hasn't done this but hopefully smockers will understand my question.

Thanks, Phillipa Alexander

Dear Phillipa,

I always pleat my bishop with the seams face down.  This way when they roll into the pleat they lay flat.  Also I make teeny tiny french seams on the first run, and then leave 1/4" on the last section.  This is so that the pleater only has a couple of layers to pleat through rather than 4 layers.  Also another trick is to rock the roller back and forth when the seam is being pleated.  This makes it easier to get the fabric onto the needles.


The next oldest stitch is the wheat stitch. The evolution of the wheat stitch is not hard to imagine if you take a look at a shaft of wheat. This an exact imitation of it. It is done by working the outline stitch, with your floss in the up position each time you complete a stitch. When you have finished the row then you go back to the first stitch and work the stem stitch very close to the outline stitch creating the wheat pattern. The Stem Stitch is done with your floss in the down position each time you work a stitch, This stitch is a very tight one (being the combination of two tight stitches) and should be used when you want to hold your pleats very tight or if you are defining a new area in the middle of a piece. You will see this stitch a lot on antique smocks. But don't use it on the bottom of a bishop as it will not allow your pleats to fan out at all.

/  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /  /
\ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \ \

This is the best graphic I can make with the computer. Of course your stitches are a lot more close together than indicated.


History of Smocking

Smocking was created as a decorative way to contain the fullness of garments. "This gathering or smocking was functional as well as decorative as it gave the garment shape and at the same time a certain elasticity allowing freedom of movement". Smocks by Maggie Hall - Shire Publications. In our last issue we discussed the possible evolvement of smocking. I was interested in discovering the impulse that created smocking and seem to have come across the following premises. First of all the fascination with pleats goes way back in history. Looking at Greek statues you will see "maidens" in frothy Ionian chitons that were worn in the early periods with a short wrap called the chlamydon which was pleated over a band hanging from the shoulders. Since a rectangle (a shape of fabric easily loomed to whatever width the loom makers made) is the shape of cloth coming from looms, women & men challenged themselves in inventing ways to make that shape into form fitting garments. Flax, as well as wool, was the primary fiber of Greece which when processed (the process will be described in a later newsletter in detail) becomes Linen thread. This thread was then woven into cloth sometimes of a fine, sheer quality. The Ionic chiton, seen on most statutes, was made of this fine linen. It often was tightly twisted for hours to give a pleated effect. The cloth was desired because it was cool to wear in the hot climate of Greece and surrounding islands. The Dorian wool chiton was quite different in appearance as it was heavier, and warmer no doubt.

I am sure that the process of wrapping your self up in pleats became tedious and some bright individual figured out a way to arrange them onto a band, most likely embroidered band or ribbon to make it easier to wear. A pleated or gathered fabric made more sense to wear as it is easier to walk when you have more fabric. How those pleats were held together is where smocking got it's start. Women in India today still wear Saris, a long rectangle of 6 yards by 36". This garment is usually made of silk or cotton and is worn carefully and systematically wrapped around their bodies with a pleated panel in the front for ease in walking. The only other garment worn underneath is the choli or basic bodice on top. How the sari is wrapped depends upon which part of India you are from.

From "The Book of Smocking" by Diana Keay - Aero Publishing, NY 1985 OP:

"Clothing in the beginning of time was simply cut. Later, garments became more sophisticated and it was this sophistication which brought about extra fullness. Fabric had to be draped or moulded to a figure so in order to accommodate this extra fabric a system evolved. This too the form of pleating or gathering to hold the excess cloth in place, and to enhance this further, various forms of decoration were used; either sewn on to the surface of the material or through a prepared foundation. These decorations could be elastic or firm. Any decoration on or through the fabric which makes the fullness a decorative feature, whether elastic or non-elastic, may be termed decorative smocking & is not only in Europe but throughout the world"

In the past clothes express beauty and rank. It is the reason why women took great pains to embellish their clothing, not only to look beautiful but to show off their embroidery skills. Many embroiderers were held in high esteem with grants of land being given for their labors. (Funny how today our work is cheapened with WalMart consciousness) The origin of embroidery has been lost to antiquity but it is known to have existed before painting as a way to depict shapes and forms. But this is another story to be continued next week . . .

Books Mentioned in Newsletter available from Garden Fairies Trading Company:

"Smocks" - Maggie Hall - Shire Publications - $4.50

A wonderful little book by an English costume designer about the history of the smock-frock as worn by countrymen in England and Wales. 'This book traces the development of the smock, its makers, . . . & its wearers.' Excellent photographs and text.

* * *

Beginning Smocking Texts:

"Photo Book of Smocking Stitches" - Sandy Hunter $10.00

Excellent book for those who want a smocking stitch dictionary in photographs (some of us have trouble learning from drawings).

"Ellen McCarn On English Smocking" $12.00

This book is wonderful. Clear and concise directions and drawings. An excellent book to teach yourself smocking.

"Picture Smocking with Ellen McCarn" $12.00

A wonderful companion book to the previous edition. This book tells you all you ever need to know about picture smocking. Comes with a stash of picture smocked motifs and geometric patterns for creating your own designs.

"Australian Smocking & Embroidery" Magazines - $12.50

We have volumes 26 through 68available. Each issue is a wonder and a delight for the senses of the eye (you know those creative juices that begin to flow whenever we see something pretty we'd like to make). These magazines defy description. Printed on heavy stock paper they are more like booklets than magazines.

Smocking Patterns:

Chery Williams

B&B Blueprints

Ellen McCarn

All of these books and patterns are available from

I hope that you have enjoyed this edition of the Smocking Newsletter, please send your comments and questions to

Garden Fairies Trading Company
P.O. BOX 2596
Clearlake, CA 95422
707-995-9337 phone

Interesting Web Sites:

SAGA (Smocking Arts Guild of America) address

American Home Sewing and Craft Assn.

The American Sewing Guild

Professional Association of Custom Clothiers


Issue 2a