the new smocking: an obsession

I love smocking, but I’m really interested in a newer style of smocking. I like the contemporary look that can be achieved with very traditional methods. So last year I set myself a goal of learning to smock.

There were two photos that first got me interested in smocking. First there was this spectacular Bottega Veneta dress from a few years ago.




But that’s a bit much for a first project, wouldn’t you say? Plus, I’d only dare to wear something like that on special occasions. I want approachable, everyday smocking. More like this beautiful jacket from the Japanese brand Arts and Science:


arts and science smocked jacket


This seems more wearable, like something you wouldn’t be afraid to put on for a day of running errands or going to work. My goal is to do something like this to the back of a Lisette Continental Blouse in a handkerchief linen. But first I needed to learn to smock, and I wanted something small that could be finished in a few hours with a minimum of fuss. I really try to keep first projects simple so I don’t get overwhelmed (prior experience has taught me something, I guess).

My favorite part of learning a new skill is doing the planning and research.

My Grandma made this beautiful fan a number of years ago. It’s quite faded now but still beautiful. She just gave me the instructions for making it!




This is a smallish project, but I’m an apparel designer and wanted something wearable. A necklace shaped like the fan, perhaps? Then it was a matter of finding the right materials for it. Silk chiffon ribbon was too light and difficult to work with. The finished necklace looked and felt like wilted spinach:




Handkerchief linen was too bulky, although I admit it was easy to smock and gave me the opportunity to add beads for the first time. (This particular linen is also printed with a metallic coating that makes it hard to photograph but subtly sparkly in person.)




I finally settled on an Indian cotton that’s perfect. It’s lightweight but holds its shape. And you can add beads, which is what I’m doing on the sample I’m currently stitching. Here’s my first version with the cotton.




I’ve been using a silk ribbon as the tie for the necklace, but Eva over at Tinctory has made some gorgeous smocked necklaces with chains. Her work is very inspiring!

I’ll be teaching this class at the Makerie in just a few weeks, and some of the Indian cotton we’ve pleated for use in the class is a pale linen color that would be fun to try dip-dyeing in Kaari’s Natural Plant Dyeing class. Would that be amazing, to give the smocking an ombre look?

And now that I know how to do smocking, I’m feeling ready to tackle clothing that incorporate it. So this is just the start of this smocking obsession, I think. Maybe for you, too?



  1. I love smocking! It adds such charm and … um… handmadeness? to things. Looking forward to sharing the obsession — I was just looking at some spring green checked cotton that cries out for this treatment!

  2. Tamara

    A great first smocking project or to gain the courage to smock clothing. I see a lot of your patterns being able to accommodate it.

  3. Melisa

    Oh that first dress is STUNNING. I absolutely adore it. I have always wanted to learn to smock (by hand), so muct give it a go one of these days.

  4. Beautiful… looks like a ton of work!

  5. I like the beads you added to the handkerchief linen. Smocking would be a great feature in a lot of your designs.

  6. May I just say smocking is not hard. There can be lots of rules and very bossy experts on the subject but don’t be scared off.
    It is a very soothing hand work to preform and the odd wonky bit is easily disguised.
    I must admit I am completely over ‘traditional smocking’ after doing so many outfits for my older children but I adore the ‘new look monochromatic’ smocking.
    Ana Sofia (S is for Sewing blog) had made some divine examples.

  7. I completely agree, Nicole. I was surprised at how “not hard” it is! Which makes it even more fun to start planning my next project…

  8. Wilted spinach! Thanks for the laugh, made my morning. The monochrome smocking has the potential to be awesome. Great post.

  9. MaryLou

    Love the Indian cotton with the green thread. Maybe use a chain woven with ribbon?

  10. What a fun idea for a first project! I’d be interested to learn more about this, but Bolder is way too far away. But I would travel to NYC for one of your classes, even just for a day.

  11. Jenny

    I think what I love most about this blog post is how you are sharing your own growth and learning with us. Many of us probably expect you to be an expert in all ways sewing/designing, etc. Yet, your courage to share your learning and curiosity with us really makes me admire you.

  12. I love the look and like the idea of using it on an everyday garment. The inspiration picture reminded me immediately of an online sewist who sewed her own version of the Bottega Veneta:

  13. I totally want to learn! My british Grandmother made me several smocked dresses when I was a little girl, they always fascinated me. I’ve often wondered if smocking would work well in place of darts in the back of a woman’s shirt. Can’t wait to see how you incorporate it.

  14. Sarah

    This collection of smocking speaks for itself…

  15. I am new to smocking and love the fan your grandmother created…..any chance of you sharing the pattern with us?

  16. Deb, I’m afraid I don’t have a pattern to share yet. But I’ve put it on my To Do list for someday!

    1. Frances

      Thanks, I hope you tell us how to make this. I smock a little and love it.

  17. Susan Crittenden

    Please, please, please do this! I have a pleater and haven’t used it! I can smock and I ordered the Lisette pattern, now i am ready to learn how to use it!! Please keep me posted! Smocking is so beautiful and I want to wear it!

    1. Frances

      Susan, make itsan, do you mind telling me where me where you ordered the Lisette pattern from? I can’t fond it. I would love to make it and use a beet to dye the fabric

  18. Dianne Knight

    I love this dress for women, I would love a pattern like this for a size ten girl, I am a small woman

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