Several types of smocking

I’ve experimented with Canadian, or North American, smocking before, here and here. But last week I attended a couple of workshops with Eileen Wedderburn in the fashion department at Morley College.

All the other students were fairly experienced dressmakers and wanted to apply the smocking technique to clothes. By contrast, I was more interested in using smocking to create sculptural effects.

We started with traditional English smocking, where the fabric is marked with dots before gathering it into pleats using the dots as guides. The pleats are then held in place by embroidering on top before removing the gathering threads.

Some stitches allow more elasticity to the pleats than others. Here’s a sample showing several different stitches.

sample of traditional smocking

From top to bottom, the stitches are:

  • outline stitch
  • cable stitch
  • wave stitch
  • honeycomb stitch
  • vandyke stitch
  • surface honeycomb stitch (with some beading).

Some of these stitches look quite similar but are subtly different.

The two rows of honeycomb stitch didn’t work too well on the sample because the pleats were quite tight, and I think it’s seen to best effect when there are more rows.

So I tried an experiment with radial smocking, where I started with a piece of fabric shaped like a ring doughnut, with the smocking dots in concentric circles.

circular smocking

Because the distance between the pleats is greater closer to the edge, the honeycomb effect is more obvious. The elasticity of the stitch also allows the structure to be manipulated – I actually like the tubular structure on the reverse side!

circular smocking circular smocking

I also made a piece where the distance between the smocking circles was greater at the edge. This led to a flatter structure that was not so conical.

circular smocking

On the second workshop we did some North American smocking, where, rather than gathering, the stitch pattern (not necessarily in rows) is used to manipulate the fabric when it is pulled up.

The stitching is worked on a grid, so to save time by not having to mark out lots of grids, we used gingham fabric. 🙂

First we tried a lattice pattern.

Canadian lattice smocking

Again, I was very taken with the reverse side, which was like puffy diamonds and curled up nicely into a ball:

Canadian lattice smocking (reverse)

Then we stitched a flower pattern. This was interesting because, depending on where you started stitching, you ended up with black and white flowers (like me) or grey flowers, owing to the gingham pattern.

flower smock pattern

And the reverse pattern:

flower smock pattern (reverse)

I think this could be very effective stitched on thin prefelt and then felted.

Finally, I had a go at grid or Italian smocking. This differs in that, rather than creating a small stitch at every dot (or grid intersection), the stitches connect the dots (like running stitch).

The sample below was again stitched on a grid patterned fabric. I stitched two repeats vertically but only one horizontally, so the pattern is not very easy to see – it’s supposed to be chevrons. I should have started with a wider piece of fabric and stitched more horizontal repeats!

Italian smocking

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Indigo spring

After a break of around two months I finally fired up the indigo vat and did some dyeing yesterday.

The first experiment was to see if I could do something with the sample of smocking. Unlike shibori, where the stitches are pulled tight to create the resist, some of the stitches in this type of smocking are left loose. I knew that just dipping it in the indigo as it was would probably result in just a blue piece of cloth, as the dye would be able to penetrate all areas of the cloth.

lattice smock

So in the end I bound it to a pipe, as in arashi shibori, but left it flat, without compressing it. I knew from previous experiments of dyeing paper overlaid with cloth that the indigo won’t fully penetrate more than one layer of cotton.

This was the result, front (top) and back (bottom).

smock shibori front

smock shibori back

You can vaguely see the crossed lattice pattern in the top photo, but the bottom one looks more random. Back to the drawing board on this one for now.

More successfully, I dyed a linen pouch in a mokune pattern.

indigo shibori pouch

And threw in a few scarves for good measure.

It was so lovely to be able to hang them out in the sunshine to dry. Seems like spring may be on the way at last.

A bit of stitching and smocking

I suspect many people reading this will, like me, feel the need to be doing something with their hands during dead time, such as sitting on a bus, or when apparently otherwise engaged, such as watching TV.

For me this is usually shibori stitching on scarves before dyeing them, but I’m having a short break from indigo dyeing after the pre-Christmas production line. Call it an indigo detox if you will. 😉 So I’ve had to find something else to do while watching the second series of The Bridge on Saturday nights.

As wet felting is not really an option (ESP objects to soapy splashes from wet bubble wrap), the alternatives are usually knitting or crochet. However, I’ve been looking at a lot of Japanese boro recently, especially this board on Pinterest. And I suddenly remembered that I have a large stash of shibori samples that I made at Morley College when just starting out. So I thought I would try patching some of these together, but using the kantha technique for stitching through several layers to create a 3D effect.

kantha boro1kantha boro2

I’m not quite sure where this is going yet, but if anything comes of it I’ll let you know!

colette wolfI was also inspired by a post on Stitch in Science about American smocking (among other things). American smocking differs from English smocking in that it’s not done on pleated fabric – the fabric is manipulated directly by the stitching. It’s explained in Colette Wolff’s comprehensive  The Art of Manipulating Fabric, which I bought a couple of years ago but as usual got sidetracked onto other things.

Seeing the photos in Avril’s post brought to mind the origami tessellations I’d looked at when I was experimenting with pleating – and I had a eureka moment about how the fabric could be directly manipulated rather than relying on paper moulds and steaming. It seems I’m not the first to make the connection between smocking and origami – I just don’t know why it took me so long. 😦

Here, for example, is a piece of lattice smocking I did which, when held up to the light, could be an origami paper tessellation.

lattice smocklattice smock light

I’m not sure where this is going either, to be honest, but I would love to work out how to use this in shibori dyeing in some way, and also experiment with using felt as the medium.

Looks like a busy start to 2014! 🙂