Smocking Demystified


There’s something about smocking that seems to strike fear into the hearts of even fairly adventurous sewists. My very first blog post ever was about a smocked dress. I managed to inspire one other sewist, who made an amazing version, but mostly the response to this dress is, “I could never do that!”. But really, it’s just not that hard.


Alaia Skirt.  Photo from T Magazine (The New York Times)

Alaia Skirt. Photo from T Magazine (The New York Times)

I love this Alaia skirt from spring 2013. It’s a sporty knit skirt with these great smocking details. The smocking makes it look couture, but the knit makes it something to wear on any given day. It’s a wonderful high-low combination.

The fabric for the Alaia skirt almost certainly comes pre-pleated from the mill. If I had a hacked knitting machine, I could probably create fabric that’s pre-pleated, too. Maybe I’ll get a knitting machine and hack it. But for now, I’ll create pleats another way.


I started with 2 rectangles of a beefy knit that feels like a rayon cotton blend. The rectangles measure 51″ X 19.5″. I serged them together at the short edges. These are the side seams.


In order to form the pleats, I marked the top and bottom edges by placing pins 2.25″ apart.


I set my serger up for 3 threads and dis-engaged the knife. I folded the fabric wrong sides together from the top marking to the bottom marking, and serged on the right side from top to bottom to form the pleats.


After I formed the pleats, I serged one long edge. This was my hem finish.


I based my smocking on a chart like the one above. I brought together the points with the same letter, and hand tacked them in place.


It looked like this when the smocking was done.


Here is a video on how to do the hand stitches. I always have a hard time keeping my hands in the frame, but I think you can see all the really necessary bits.


To reduce some of the bulk at the waist, I serged off the fabric that would have been folded at the waistband.

Then I went on to add the waistband. I got a bit bogged down in this process, and am not sure I did it in the most efficient way. I felt like I was fighting with my materials the whole time, but the end result looks OK. I took some wide elastic and covered it with teh same knit that the skirt is made of. For the crochet, I used rayon floss, which was slippery and knotty and a nightmare to work with. I whipstitched the rayon floss to the waistband. I serged clear elastic to the top of the skirt to pull it in a bit, then connected the skirt and the waistband with crochet. See photos.

smocking stitch detail

smocking stitch detail

crochet detail

crochet detail

back view

back view

side view

side view

The coloring in the photos is different among the photos because I used the flash for some photos.

Coincidentally, while I was working on this project, I received the latest issue of Vogue Patterns Magazine, where they discuss smocking! It’s possible that they could have highlighted more fashionable examples of contemporary smocking, but the article is interesting for technique.

Random question that I have and don’t know who to ask: When I uploaded the above video to Youtube, I typed in the following tags: crafts, smocking, sewing, hand sewing. Two of the suggested tags that Youtube came up with that I might want to add were: Smashing, Pumpkins. What do the Smashing Pumpkins have to do with crafting, smocking, or sewing? Just curious.


  1. akismet-21b053fec805c8711a1f608da8cdd26a
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 1:51 am | Permalink | Reply

    Wow, that is pretty cool. I love how you pleated the skirt on the serger. The crochet detail is sheer genius. Love this! Bring it to PR Weekend.

    Lovely to hear your voice too!


  2. Posted February 28, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink | Reply

    Oh… man …. the inspiration skirt is so fabulous! Yours is, too… but I do love the inspiration! You’d like the latest issue of Vogue Patterns Magazine for the smocking emphasis. You’re ahead of the fashion curve on this one!

  3. Posted February 28, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Well, aside from the fact that your skirt is absolutely smashing, I have no idea why YouTube would suggest that. 😉

  4. Posted February 28, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink | Reply

    This is pretty fabulous Claudine.

  5. Posted February 28, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink | Reply

    A very cool use of smocking. I particularly like the clever pre pleating you have done, which looks as if it minimizes the usual bulking effect of smocking over the hips, very clever. The crochet attachment of the waistband is very effective, but looks as if it took a lot of patience.

  6. gwensews
    Posted February 28, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Your smocking is very pretty. It’s such an interesting texture. Very nice.

  7. Posted February 28, 2013 at 7:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you so much for this Claudine. The skirt is just gorgeous!

  8. Kristen
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink | Reply

    Lovely skirt Claudine! What a nice take on a knit skirt! Could you provide some insight as to how you calculate how much fabric to start with? Based on the smocking chart, I would guesstimate that you would use 4.5 inches in width for every 2.25 inches of hip?

    • Posted March 4, 2013 at 8:30 am | Permalink | Reply

      I started with 2X the width of the fabric. I put it on my form before attaching the waistband to see if I needed to take some fabric out, and decided it was OK. I would say that you need 3X your hip measurement, more or less.

      • Kristen
        Posted March 5, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink


  9. Kathryn
    Posted March 7, 2013 at 4:10 am | Permalink | Reply

    OMG, Claudine, I am in love with that skirt! It’s beautiful. You always have the kewlest ideas.

  10. Posted August 12, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Permalink | Reply

    That’s an astounding skirt! I’m so inspired!

    Gonna give it a go…

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  1. By Me Made May Wrap-Up « Rolling in Cloth on May 31, 2013 at 9:08 am

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