Thursday, July 2, 2009

Back Smocking

While I am playing chauffeur this week, I usually have something to work on. The most common thing I usually have is a Pleated Insert that needs Back Smocked.

I always Back Smock before I Picture Smock something. Back Smocking is the foundation and support for your work. When I am teaching a class on Back Smocking my favorite explanation is.............

"Back Smocking after you have completed your Picture Smocking Is like Cinderella putting on her underwear after she is already dressed for the Ball~Janet Gilbert"

Another reason to back smock before is, this is what the back of a finished (or almost finished) picture smocked insert looks like. It is very hard to back smock through all those threads. And just back smocking up to the design and not through it, leaves gaps between the pleats on the front.

When I Back Smock I now prefer stitching a Stem Stitch instead of a Cable Row for several reasons
  1. It doesn't leave a distortion on the front.
  2. I don't have to think about what I am doing. Which is great if I am doing this in the car.
Also I very seldom use threads that match my fabric. I have found it reduces eye strain if I use a thread color that is a few shades different from my fabric.

If I am smocking on a white insert I use Ecru or off white thread or navy blue if I am smocking on black. Shown here is Ecru Thread on a white Kona Cotton insert.

If you look to the left hand side of the picture you will see something different I do. I do not tie off my Back smocking until my project is done. The pleating threads are tied off but the Back Smocking threads are not.

The reason for this is, I got tired of unpicking knots! It seemed I was forever making adjustment by a pleat or two or three to fit garment. Whether it is my design or someone Else's I like to tweak things.

Here is the back of an insert I am working on. It is Back Smocked with 2 strands of DMC.

To cut the tediousness back smocking, I divide the Back Smocking up into groups. I usually Back Smock the two ends first, then the middle row. Now I only have 2 sets of two rows left to do. It just seems like less work then 4 rows. :-)
Also by looking at the back of this insert you will see two things......
  1. My tie off knots are never lined up on top of each other. If the knots were lined up it would create a gap in the pleats. Most of the time this is not a problem because the knots are not anywhere close. If it looks close I will tie off my threads early and just restart with new threads.
  2. I also place little safety pins to mark the rows I need to Back Smock. I would prefer not to Back Smock any more rows then I have to.

Have a Great and Safe 4th of July!


  1. Okay, as a self taught smocker, I have just recently learned about back smocking. Why didn't i know about it or think about it on my own before? i don't know, but it sure makes sense!
    I am interested in knowing how you got hooked up with Sew Beautiful and getting your things featured there? I love that mag. and cannot wait to get the next issue as soon as the current one comes.

  2. Janet, thanks for the great tip to NOT tie of those ends, and to backsmock FIRST!
    take care,

  3. Hi Janet, Super great post. I had not thought of not tying off the ends before. I will definitely do it this way now.

    And........I know what plate you smocked! heehee!!!

  4. Hello Janet,

    I came to your blog at Missy of Fairy Child Heirlooms' recommendation. Great blog. Thanks for the post - it's very informative and educational!

  5. Hope this blog is still active cause I've just found it, and think I'm going to like blogging with other smockers/stitchers!

  6. do you back smock every row when you picture smock

  7. Mary, I back smock everything except the rows where I will have a geometric border.

  8. I'm looking at buying a used 24 needle pleater.
    Any suggestions as to one brand over another. I think I want 1/2 spaces down entire rod. Am I correct about that?

  9. The Super Amanda Jane is the "Cadillac" of pleaters. It has half rows all the way across.

    I have a 24 row Sally Stanley, a 16 row Pullen Pleater and a 32 row Read.

    My SS pleater is a work horse. It is not made anymore but you may find it on ebay, or at the yahoo group "sew its for sale".

    I don't recommend the 32 row for beginners. It is more of a special occasion pleater. JG

  10. How do you handle waistline darts when using a commercial pattern with a smocked bodice, not an insert?

  11. I usually don't add the waistline darts in the front of a smocked bodice. The reason for this is smocking is stretchy. The smocked fabric will contour to the child's body.

    On a geometric smocking project, I always pull up my pleating threads so that they measure 1 inch shorter then the width of the pattern piece. If the bodice pattern measures 9 inches across, I pull up the pleating threads up so the smocked piece measures 8 inches.