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I’ve Gone Smocking Crazy!

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I’ll admit it, I’ve been smocking more than I should lately (says my sore neck and shoulders), but it’s just so easy to whip up a cute dress or skirt that will be comfy and attractive on any body type!  Smocking, or shirring, with elastic thread in the bobbin, is a technique I had been wanting to try for a long time, and now that I’ve got the hang of it (and lots of supplies), watch out!

Basically, all you do is wind a bobbin with elastic thread, load it into your machine, and sew with the right side of the fabric facing up.  Sew as many rows as you like, then spray with a water bottle, hit with a hot iron, and the fabric magically bunches up!  Yep, that’s IT!  (I have links to much more detailed tutorials below)

Bobbin Elastic Thread

Start by hand-winding as many bobbins as you have empty and laying around.  It only takes a minute, but it is much easier to do all this at once, rather than stopping your work to “refill”.

Elastic Thread

Once you become fully addicted to smocking, you will need to buy a giant spool like this!  I searched around, and here is a really good source (disclaimer: they will send me a teeny bit of money if you buy from them).

smocking rows

Just start sewing rows!  You can mark your rows with a quilting pen, though it is much easier to just use the edge of your sewing foot a guide.

Smocking backstitch

Whenever you start and stop a row, you MUST “reverse” to reinforce the elastic thread.

Smocking tie knots

I leave the tails long enough to tie them off in knots too, you don’t want them pulling loose!

Skirt Spiral Smocked

The other trick I learned is to not just sew in rows and stop each time, but to sew in a spiral instead.  This method is great because you only have to stop when the bobbin runs out, which is a real time saver!  Tie the threads off whenever you switch out the bobbins.  If you are sewing a woman’s dress, this will cut your smocking time in half, I promise.

Smocked dress size 3T

This was my first smocked dress, for Sage, on her 4th birthday.  Because it was my first time, it took about 2 hours, now it would take me 1 hour.

3 dresses

I whipped up these “Mother-Daughters” dresses for Alice’s 1st birthday party.

Lia's Dress

A birthday dress for Grandma Lia!

Skirt and dress

I made this skirt for myself one morning before a party (about an hour).  It is more comfortable than wearing air!  My daughter loves her little dress, and prefers to sometimes wear the rick-rack straps halter-style.

Smocked sundresses and skirts are the quintessential summer clothes.  The dresses for little girls can be made with less than a yard of fabric, while a woman’s dress only needs 1 1/2 yards.  Here is a wonderfully detailed tutorial on the technique, and she has some inexpensive patterns that you will love- I bought the Lily Skirt pattern for $5 (always support fellow bloggers!).  It’s nice because she has so many size options included, no guess work!  Heather Ross has a free pattern for the women’s  dress (it has pockets, too!) that I have made a few times (see photos above).  Watch her segment on Martha Stewart on how to make the little girls dresses and see just how simple smocking really is!

If you own a sewing machine, I sincerely hope you give smocking a try.  Make something fun and flirty for yourself!


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