Beginning to Smock

I take back all the bad things I said about cartridge pleating and blackwork counted stitch embroidery. Smocking! That’s the real pain in the tush!

It’s for the decorative apron I’m making for my Christmas Revel A&S entry. It’s a project for which I have the documentation. It’s not so big that it’ll take months and months to complete, but it has a degree of complexity.

Yesterday, I looked over the documentation. The pleating part looks like cartridge pleats but on a larger scale. I figured that since I know how to do cartridge pleats, this should be no problem. Wrong! My problem is that it is so much larger and getting the pleating marks even is not easy.

At first I berated myself and told myself that I must be daft if I can not figure out how to do this. That was after I spent 5 hours doing this:

Ignore the squiggly on the side; it’s part of an abandoned project. As you can see, the dots are no where near even. At first I was trying to use the edge to make the dots line up. I gave up on that and drew a base-line to use. Still, even with my fancy ruler they would not line up. Plus I was making the dots 1/2″ apart, and after thinking about it (and 5 hours of cursing) I wanted them closer together.

It really didn’t help that I was doing this on my lap, using a large cookbook as a table. I was kind of in the middle of a Psych marathon with my 14 year old and didn’t want to get up.

So, I gave up on this end. I turned the linen piece around and made a straight edge by pulling threads out and cutting along the missing thread line:

The dots may be hard to see from the faintness, but they are much straighter. I used my favorite ruler that let me see through to match up the now straight fabric edge to the measuring lines. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad. It still took over 4 hours to do (and I’m not quite done yet).

All of this work left me a little anxious to get into the actual smocking, but I realized that I was still unclear about some of the details.

Sometimes before you can learn something new, you need to figure out what not only what things are called, but what questions you need to ask. So I needed to hit the books again and do a bit more research.

My first question was how do you get the pleats (and/or) dots even without going insane.  Turns out that it’s not that easy. My having problems with it wasn’t unusual. In fact they make specific tools just  for getting the dots even when smocking, such as iron-on smocking dots and dot templates. They also make machines that do nothing but make the pleats for smocking. Wow! So I’m not such a nutter-head for having a difficult time doing this.

I got some tips and thought of a couple of creative ways on my own to make the dots even and less time consuming. More on that later.

Then I started asking other questions:

When making the pleats, does it matter if I work from left to right and from top to bottom?

With the dots, do I go up one hole and down the next? Or do I go down slightly to one side of the hole and up slightly to the other side (or vice/versa)?

What about needle angle? Should it always be perpendicular to the fabric? Or can I use a running stitch?

And the type of needle. After it’s pleated what kind of needle do I use to smock? Long or short? Sharp or ball-point?

I found out some of the answers, and the rest I figure I will learn by trail and error.

So I put my nice linen down, cut a piece of cotton muslin and decided that it’s mock-up time. What will I use my mock-ups for? Casual wear. My girls could wear them. Or I just may give one out as a door prize when I teach a class on this stuff.

One things I did discover is that there are very little tutorials on-line on smocking from the beginning to the end of a project.  So I plan on making one. A smocking for dummies tutorial. That will come much later after I’ve learned it myself.

It may seem like I flit about from one project to another, not finishing any – or at least that’s what my husband thinks. But I’m not.

Side-laced cotte update:

  • Washed the fabric yesterday
  • Have one or two more dying test batches to try out before deciding on a color
  • Should be dying the fabric tomorrow

Blackwork Coif:

  • Still working on my needle-case in order to learn counted stitch blackwork embroidery.
  • Have the flowers and patterns picked out for the coif
  • The scroll-work design has been transferred to the linen I’ll be using.
  • I still have to decide on  exact placement and sketch it out, but I’ll do that after my needle-case is done.

Off to sew!

2 thoughts on “Beginning to Smock

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