Janaury 1, 2001


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Beginner's Corner: Eleven Rules Of Smocking To Remember © Beth-katherine Kaiman - 2001-2017

These are a few things you must keep in your mind while you are smocking in order to make your stitches perfect.

1) The main object of smocking is to connect the pleats together with your embroidery stitches, whether it be on the front or back (known as backsmocking). The reason for this is when you remove the pleating threads if all of the pleats aren't caught somehow with the embroidery then they will fly free and flatten out.   Sometimes we may like doing this but for the most part each and every pleat is caught with each row otherwise there are gaps caused in your smocking.

2) When you look at a piece of pre-pleated fabric there are a few things you need to know. The first is that once your fabric comes off of the pleater needles the threads that hold the pleats are now referred to as pleating rows. The spaces between the pleats are known as the 'valley of the pleat'.   You will see in instructions "come up in the valley", they are talking about starting your stitch from the bottom on the pleat in the valley rather than on the top of the pleat which would look awful.

3) When working different smocking stitches you will see references to 'half space' and 'quarter space'. The spaces between the rows are sometimes divided into equal part with our stitches. We refer to the middle of two rows as the half space and the section between the half space and row as the quarter space. Some stitches are totally worked straight across the piece while others travel down or up; for example, the wave stitch can go down to the next row or as a baby wave to the half space and back up to the starting point. Advanced trellis stitches are sometimes broken into 5 or 7 step waves, which is really just an outline stitch worked downwards.

4) Keep your smocking even and straight by placing the needle at the same angle consistently. (This is actually a "most always" rule - the outline stitch is best worked with your needle angled; especially when you working undulating patterns, or when you are working the second half of the wheat stitch you get a better look when you angle in your needle).

5) Always, or rather most always keep your needle parallel to the pleating threads. Keeping this rule in mind at all times will guarantee that your smocking will be even. (There is some controversy with this method but for the most part keeping your needle parallel to the pleats at all times makes for straight and even stitches.)

6) Even tension keeps your stitches smooth. You don't want to pull your stitches so tight that the fabric shows. Nor do you want to have your stitches so loose that they look uneven. I always tug my floss down or up parallel to the pleats to lock a stitch.

7) There is a thing called muscle memory. Once you train your hand in the proper way of holding the needle and placement of needle it will remember. These first few times of working are very important as you are creating good hand placement habits. Remember that it may be awkward at first but once you practice a stitch a couple of times and your hands remember how you made it it will become easier. ( I know this sounds a bit strange but if you think about the first time you 'got it' while learning to ride a bicycle or a clutch on a car you will 'know' what I mean).

8) Placement of needle going in straight on the top 1/3 of the pleat or as I like it just a hair (or thread) above the pleating thread. All of the experts seem to agree that the top 1/3 of the pleat is where you stitch but I have found that it makes your smocking seem very shallow so I like to take a bigger bite which covers more of your pleat (it's also good practice for picture smocking).

9) Stopping and starting in the middle of a row isn't a disaster. If you see that you are about to run out of floss try to always complete your pattern stitch with a cable stitch and then shoot your needle to the back through the two pleats and tie off with a knot. Then re-thread your needle and try to come back up near where you left off. Knots are ok, in fact we like them - just make sure they are nice and tight.

10)  Unlike some embroidery and knitting techniques, traveling of your floss on the back is a no-no. This is not as much of a neatness issue, but when you first start out you may not realize that you may smock too tight and have stretch out your piece and if you have these 'strands' it won't work. Smocking was invented before elastic, so your smocking is stretchy. If a color is needed 8 or 9 pleats down a row we go to the back and catch the pleats in the outline stitch until the color is used on top. This makes for a tidier back and lessens the odds of catching and breaking that 'traveller' at a later date as well as making sure that all pleats are captured with a stitch. Otherwise when you take out your pleating threads you may have a surprise of loose pleats. (Unless of course this is the look you are going for.)

11) Oh and I almost forgot the most important rule, relax. Smocking kicks in the alpha and theta brain waves, it is very relaxing. Once you get the stitches and the patterns you can engage 'automatic pilot' and sit back and relax enjoying the rhythm of the needle in and out of the pleats. It's good for your health, but be careful not to overdo it with the hands. Carpul tunnel lurks in any repetitive motion. Just watch out for leaning elbows or strained muscles. If you feel yourself aching in any spot, put your smocking down walk around and if you are working with magnifier lenses take them off and stare out at a tree way far away across the street to regain your distance viewing. Oh and make sure that you are working with good lighting behind you.

Keeping these rules in mind will make your smocking beautiful.

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