Saturday, November 28, 2009

Can You Picture It?

When I am stress it is best for me to pour my self into a project. So here it is..........A tutorial on Picture Smocking.

Can You Picture it? Part 1

I will start with a Disclaimer........... Instructions on Picture Smocking is like the family recipe for Potato Salad. Everyone may do it a little different. Or they may think their recipe is the only way to make potato salad. :-) But guess what? You still end up with potato salad no matter what recipe you used to get there.

But, when I see another potato salad recipe I usually give it a try to see if I like any of the ingredients. Some time I do and sometime I don't.

So this is my recipe for Picture Smocking.............

There are three main ingredients for perfect Picture smocking.

The first is the fabric.

1. You need to use a Broadcloth weight fabric. I prefer 100% cotton broad cloth like Kona Cotton.

  • If you are using a lighter weight fabric then you can add German Interfacing to the wrong side to the fabric to pump up the pleats.

  • If you are using Featherwale Corduroy, your design may be distorted. I would do a test smocking first. You may need to use 5-6 strands of thread. Or you could add a row to the design or use a Kona Cotton Insert that matches the Corduroy.

  • I once smocked "My Little Ponies" by Mollie Jane Taylor on featherwale corduroy. It looked more like "My little Dachshunds". :-) I redid the insert in a matching Kona Cotton.

2. When you pleat the insert for Picture smocking, the pleats need to be pulled up till they they just kiss each other.

  • Picture Smocking does not stretch so the insert needs to be tied off to the exact measurement.

  • If the insert is not wide enough for the bodice then either add wings to the side of the insert or use 60" fabric.

  • Here is some examples of the pleats:

These pleats are too far apart.

These pleats are too close together.

These pleats are just right. Sounds like Goldilocks and the Three Bears! :-)

The Second ingredient for Picture Smocking is the floss.

1. To insure good coverage you need to use 4-6 strands of floss.

  • The normal amount is 4 strands of floss. Depending on your design and your fabric you may need to use more threads. For example, I smocked sheep on a hot pink bishop. I used 5 strands of floss to keep the pink from showing through.

2. The length of floss for Picture Smocking needs to be about 15-17 inches.

  • The reason for this is thread wears as it is pulled through the fabric. The more wear, the thinner the floss. The thinner the floss, the less likely the floss will cover. If you use a longer length of floss, by the time you got to the end of the floss it will have been pulled through the fabric more and the floss will be worn thin.

3. The last thing about floss and the most important is the floss need to be separated. This is called "stripping the floss".

  • To strip your floss, the best method is called "The bonk and strip". Okay, get your mind out of the gutter! :-)
  • Lets start with the "Bonk". Hold the floss (all 6 strands) in between your thumb and your first finger. With your first finger on your other hand, you are going to bonk the top of the floss several times.

  • You will notice in this photo (besides the fact that I need an manicure) that the end of the floss fans out and every thread is separated.

  • While you are still holding your floss that you have "Bonked" you can now "Strip" the floss. With your other hand grab one strand of floss and pull up quickly. Repeat.

  • To help keep your threads separated you can use some of these products. These products are just options and are not mandatory.

The first product is starch.
  • This is a Starch Box that was made by the Web Smockers and given out as a table favor at the SAGA convention. Thanks Webbies!

  • To starch your threads, mix one part liquid starch with 3 parts water. I use distilled water.
    I pour the mixture into a wide mouth half pint canning jar or a baby food jar. Anything with a lid. You can use the mixture from the jar or soak the small sponge that is in the Starch Box.

  • Dip your stripped floss into the starch mixture. As you pull the floss out you are going to squeegee the excess water of the floss by pulling the floss between your fingers.

  • Let the floss dry. The floss should have some body to it after being starched. It should not resemble dried pasta.

The next product is Thread Heaven.
  • It is a silicone based product. To use it, you place the stripped thread on top of the jell stuff. Hold the floss down with one finger then drag/pull the floss through with your other hand.

And the last product is a piece of wool fabric.
  • Wet your stripped floss with water or spit. Place the wool around the floss as shown. While holding the wool and floss, pull the floss through with the other hand. The floss should squeak as it is being pulled through.

  • Products or techniques I do not use are Bees Wax and ironing my floss. I don't like the residue that bees wax leaves and life is too short to iron my floss.

The last ingredient is the Needle.

  • You need to use a needle with a very large eye . When you are Picture smocking you need to use 4-6 strands of floss. If those strands of floss are trying to squeeze through a small opening then they will not lay flat. If you use a large eyed needle it makes a bigger hole.

  • I prefer to use a # 2 Crewel Needle or a Cotton Darner. The length of the needle is a personal choice. I like to use a shorter needle.

  • Remember the smaller the number the the larger the needle

    To be continued................


  1. Thank you.
    maybe I can figure this out.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I've been smocking for ten years and picture smocking is always such an adventure! Just this first tutorial has answered many nagging questions.



  3. Oh my goodness! I haven't done much picture smocking, but I am so glad you are doing this tutorial!!! When you are doing regular smocking should you use some of these same techniques?

  4. Julie, I use a #7 embroidery for geometric smocking. I run my thread through the wool all the time. ~janet

  5. You mentioned Paducah. I'm looking up different things to make for my Grandbabies. I will be flying to Paducah, KY because that's where theylive.

  6. Hi Carolyn, I'm about 30 miles north of Paducah. Send me an email at and we can chat.