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How to Smock a Bodice

Threads magazine - 167 - June/July 2013
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This golden yellow gown features a sophisticated smocking pattern that calls to mind a honeycomb. Fashioned out of ethereal silk chiffon, the dress gets its classic shape and distinctive texture from the diamond-stitched smocking in the bodice. A softly draping full skirt results when the smocking is released at the waist. This age-old technique is perfectly contemporary: You’ll find dresses with the same color and texture in the Alexander McQueen spring/summer 2013 collection. To learn how to add smocking to your garments, read this article from Threads #167.

This 1940s dress is like light filtering through golden honeycomb. To make your own version, all you need is a short-sleeved, drawstring-neckline peasant blouse and a honeycomb smocking stitch, sometimes referred to as the diamond stitch. The honeycomb pattern is stitched on a grid, which you can easily follow in a gingham fabric. Alternatively, mark a temporary grid of points directly on the fabric and stitch, as you would with the gingham.

By using the smocking to intentionally draw in a section of fabric in a garment, you can release the fullness at its most flattering position. Start with a piece of fabric about 4 inches longer than you’ll need and at least two times wider. Finish the top edge on all the pattern pieces. Stitch the smocking before you cut the fabric, following the pattern shape. Repeat the same process for each pattern piece. Baste the pieces together to align the honeycomb shapes at each seam, and then stitch them permanently by machine or by hand.

Use gingham as your guide

For smocking, nothing is easier than following the woven squares on a gingham fabric. In the example shown, four squares equal one smocking square on the 1⁄4-inch check. The sample at right was sewn with all-purpose thread, but you may prefer the other threads shown.

Work the stitching from right to left, following the numbered path. When the needle is in the horizontal position, the stitches you take are on the right side of the fabric and drawn together to form a pleat. When the needle travels vertically, on the wrong side, don’t pull the thread taut; let the fabric remain flat.

The stitches follow the path shown above: Take small stitches, and draw the gingham’s corners together on horizontal movements only.

1. Thread the needle and knot the thread. Bring the needle up from the wrong side at the top right grid corner (A). Move to the left corner and take a narrow stitch (B).

2. Next, go back to the top right corner (A). Take a narrow stitch.

3. Pull the two corners together, and take an anchoring stitch through both of them.

4. Insert the needle behind the anchoring stitch, travel down to lower left corner, and surface (C). Don’t draw up the vertical stitch.

5. Move left horizontally to the next corner and take a small stitch (D).

6. Pull the stitches together as before, take another anchoring stitch, lower the needle into the stitch, and move the needle up under the fabric vertically and to the left (E).

7. Starting from this point (E), repeat steps 1 to 6 to finish the smocking row.

For more on smocking, visit The Smocking Arts Guild of America (SAGA) at

Judith Neukam is Threads senior technical editor.

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  1. user-3991398 | | #1

    What would have been super helpful is a photo of the wrong side of the fabric to see how the vertical lines of thread look.

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