Honeycomb Smocking Tutorial

by Dorie on September 22, 2008

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I think you could also call it Honeycomb Pleating.

I made this tutorial, because there really weren’t too many others out there, and I really like my method. The thought of pleating an entire piece of cloth back-and-forth and back-and-forth makes my hands feel all full and frustrated. My way is not that way. I would like to introduce you to the recycled Cheerios box method, in which a cardboard strip does most of the thinking work and the whole thing is laid flat rather than folded up in your hands.

Materials:

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  • fabric: your desired height x 3 times your desired width. I’m making a fourteen inch pillow, and I decided to play it safe by cutting a 18 x 54 in. piece of fabric. Your fabric should be cotton or something else that can stand up to a good bit on ironing. No melty fabrics.
  • embroidery floss
  • quilting ruler or yardstick
  • disappearing ink marking pen or light pencil
  • thin cardboard, like from a cereal box
  • iron and ironing board
  • spray starch
  • straight pins

Step 1: cut your cardboard strip

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Cut your cardboard into a long, thin strip. I made mine 3/4 inches wide by 20 inches long. Ideally you want your strip to be longer than your fabric, but this is not a necessity. If you want wider pleats, make your strip wider than 3/4 inches.

Step 2: the first press

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Use light starch for all pressing.

Lay your fabric on your ironing board so that the short edge is parallel with the sides of the board the long edge falls down in front of you. Place the cardboard strip across your fabric, about 3 inches from the short edge. Fold the 3 inches over the cardboard strip. Press, using the strip as a straight edge for a nice, crisp pleat.

Step 3: the second press

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Remove cardboard and flip your work over. Now the extra fabric falls over the far side of the ironing board. Slide the edge of the cardboard onto the fold line made by the first press. Fold the long side of your fabric halfway onto the cardboard strip and then back on itself. Press.

Step 4: the pleat press

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Remove the cardboard and flip your work over (again!). Tuck the cardboard into the little fold you just made. Your cardboard should be halfway covered by the fabric. Fold fabric up around the other side and back on itself. Press. Turn your fabric over to see that you have made a full pleat! Cool.

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Keep making pleats until you are 3 inches from the far edge or pleating reaches your desired width. Remember to use starch—it’s your friend. Once you have a few pleats, you’ll probably want to put some straight pins in your work to keep it from unfolding as you flip it over and over.

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Step 5: mark it

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Lay your ruler across your work, about 2 inches from the top, perpendicular to the pleats. Using the disappearing ink marking pen or the pencil, make a little mark on each place where two pleats meet. Then mark the next row. The length between rows should be double the width of your pleat. My pleats were 3/4 in. so I made 1.5 inches between rows. If you’re using a pencil, make really light, tiny marks so they don’t show later. If you’re using a disappearing ink pen, just make a couple rows at a time so they don’t disappear before you can sew them!

Step 6: sew flat pleats

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Thread a needle with two strands of embroidery floss. On the top row, on the first mark of the row, sew up through all layers on one pleat and down through all layers of the touching side of the adjacent pleat. Repeat stitch in the same place in order to tack the pleat in place. Continue across the row, then for all rows until the smocked portion of the work is the desired size (in my case, about 13 inches).

Step 7: sew pinch pleats

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Start at one corner of your smocking. From the back, wiggle your threaded needle up through one of the flat folds of your pleat, centering your needle between two stitched rows. Pinch the pleat so that the sides come up and make an X. Make a tiny, stitch right in the center of the X. Stitch through it again to tack it down. Wiggle your needle down into the flat fold opposite where it came up. Repeat, pinching all pleats in your work.

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Taa-daa! You’ve done honeycomb smocking.

{ 84 comments… read them below or add one }

michelle September 23, 2008 at 1:09 am

OMG. I can not wait to try this. Thank you.

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caroline September 23, 2008 at 3:09 am

me too. This tutorial is amazing, I never thought I’d be able to do this, and now I think I can! Great! Thanks loads.

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Carrie September 23, 2008 at 5:09 am

What a wonderfully written tutorial. I’m bookmarking this to try it someday. Thanks!

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Mary Corbet September 23, 2008 at 2:09 pm

Oh, very nice tutorial!! I love this – it’s kind of like smocking backwards… sort of!

Thanks!!

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Julie September 23, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Very cool! I’ve been wanting to try out smocking for a long time but was intimidated. Your tutorial makes me feel like I could actually do it — very clear and great photos!

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Mary Grace McNamara September 24, 2008 at 1:09 pm

Very clever and beautiful too! I’d love to see your finished project.

MGM

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cindy September 24, 2008 at 7:09 pm

Wow! I always wondered how to do it! thanks.

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Liz September 24, 2008 at 11:09 pm

That Rocks!

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Sarah Jane September 25, 2008 at 5:09 am

Where was this in July?? a few months ago, I wanted desperately to do this to some curtains that I was making. I had lots of excess material, and had the choice of cutting them to window length and smocking, or having them puddle on the floor. After searching the internet for HOURS, i gave up and just cut them long and they puddle now.
I loved your simple approach to this, and i will certainly try again now on something else. Thanks!

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Kim September 25, 2008 at 10:09 am

A Gazillion thank-yous! Smocking is right at the top of my to-learns. This is beautiful :) K

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cloth.paper.string September 25, 2008 at 11:09 am

no way! this is so good. i never imagined this would be something i’d want to endeavor even though i love smocked tops on little gals, but i think you’ve convinced me. so many thanks!!

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liz September 26, 2008 at 12:09 am

wow – that seems easier than it looks when it’s finished. i think i could do that. what a great tutorial! thanks!

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Kate September 26, 2008 at 1:09 am

Brilliant! Thanks!

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Katrin September 26, 2008 at 2:09 am

What a wonderful, pricise work. Would love to see more.
Bif compliments!

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Jupiter September 26, 2008 at 7:09 am

This is fantastic. Thanks for sharing :)

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trinlayk September 26, 2008 at 9:09 am

This is the ONE skill my mom taught my sister, but not me…

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Original Nancy September 26, 2008 at 9:09 am

Wow…..I think I can do this, I have wanted to do this on curtains for my bedroom! Thank you!

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Andrea September 27, 2008 at 9:09 am

Thanks for the tut! It really does look easy

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Imelda Bettinger September 29, 2008 at 10:09 am

I’m by no means a sewer but this is just beautiful!

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karyn September 29, 2008 at 4:09 pm

wow! i’m so excited to try this out. thanks for sharing this lovely tutorial.

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Nancy Cook September 29, 2008 at 6:09 pm

I love this tutorial
Very thorough
Now that I have a little girl my Mom keeps trying to talk me into learning how to smock.
This looks doable. I will add it to my list:)

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Deborah October 2, 2008 at 12:10 pm

This is fantastic.Thanks for sharing your genius.I’m going to try this right away!

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melissa October 2, 2008 at 11:10 pm

thank you, thank you!
i’m going to try this for sure.

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Kristine November 7, 2008 at 1:11 am

Thankyou so much for sharing this great tutorial. I’m going to give it a try.

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cocallag November 21, 2008 at 2:11 pm

You’ve explained your method super clearly and I got to the point of seeing the results on my practice cloth, just doing 3 x 3 rows. I had the most difficulty with pleating and keeping every fold uniform. It took me all morning to pleat and iron just 3-4 rows and then they still were not straight and so I marked dots on my practice cloth and did it that way. I would like to invest in a pleater but my local stores don’t have them. Has anyone found a craft website that is the least expensive of all of them?

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Mary R. February 26, 2009 at 4:02 pm

I came across your page and it was the answer to a problem. I was
looking for smocking paterns , but this seems to be a dying art. I am
making maternity clothes for my granddaughter and wanted to make
a dress for her that would allow lots of room but be dressy. I
thought if I smocked the bodice I could make it in a larger size to
allow the room she needs. Thank you for the help.

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Barbara M. Carter March 26, 2009 at 6:03 am

Thank you so much for your tutorial. I have a 2 year granddaughter
who is the apple of her granny’s eye, and I can’t wait until I can try
making her something.

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amylouwho March 29, 2009 at 8:03 pm

‘m so glad I saw this! I love it and the theme for our quilt blocks this month is texture! So I did it and just posted about it if you want to see! Thanks again!

I came over from Creative Little Daisy.

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amie April 1, 2009 at 7:04 pm

`Very cool

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Phiphi April 4, 2009 at 9:04 am

This is FAB!!!…many many thanks for sharing it with us…

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nan June 26, 2009 at 6:06 am

wow… I am going to try to make a swingy hippy type top using this at the band part. Great tutorial, I too have noticed there is little in the way of tutorials for smocking… I MAy do one in a few weeks on another stitch. I am digging the pleating technique here! thanks!

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Leanda July 10, 2009 at 1:07 am

Wow… this is truly impressive! Thanks for the easy-to-follow tutorial!

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Susan September 6, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Thanks for the tutorial. Gotta add this technique to my vintage inspired clothing line. I’m thinking a coat sleeve…..

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tascha September 28, 2009 at 2:09 pm

this is by far the simplest tutorial for ANY type of smocking that I have come across… and I have lots of sewing books! :D it has given me the inspiration to try it… i will post a pic on my own blog if i complete it to my satisfaction… and that of my daughter :D
thanks!!!

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Sarah S October 21, 2009 at 8:10 am

Hello! I love this tutorial so much I featured it in my tutorial round
up!
http://comeandseetheseitz.com/2009/10/16/tutorial-round-up

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nazee November 16, 2009 at 10:11 am

ver very very ………… usefultutorial. iam verymuch intrested in this honey comb but now only i have learnt. very easy to follow. thanks for your broad minded tutor.

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Gertrud January 11, 2010 at 7:01 am

Thank you for this tutorial,
I´ve been searching for smocking techniques
and it´s hard to find something on the
Internet.
In Bavaria we do use this techniques for our
traditional dresses.

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Lilliana February 4, 2010 at 3:02 am

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Laura February 7, 2010 at 11:02 am

Excellent tutorial – thank you so much! I’ve been searching for smocking techniques for ages too. I’m so glad I found your blog – it’s such a cheerful, inspirational place full of beautiful things. xxx

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Silvia February 19, 2010 at 8:02 am

Thanks!! It’s amazing!!

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medha devdas March 21, 2010 at 9:03 pm

excellent thanks for sharing

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sunglasses March 31, 2010 at 2:03 am
sunglasses March 31, 2010 at 2:03 am
Katie May 2, 2010 at 8:05 am

That is sooo cool! It looks gorgeous and your tutorial was great!

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Carron May 29, 2010 at 11:05 pm

I was invited to a jewellery part last night and the hosts grandmother had some of these cushions on her sofa – it took me right back to my childhood. I came home determined to find instructions for making them. I’m going to get started this week! Thank you so much for sharing your skills.

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Sandy February 20, 2011 at 6:02 am

I was looking thru my patterns and came across a Honey-comb smocked dress pattern from Doll Crafter that fits a 20" doll. I want to incorporate that doll pattern into a child size 6 pattern. When I googled this type of smocking your site came up first. Very informative. Thanks so much for your tutorial. Since I have not smocked at all, I wish to try this method out.

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Julie March 4, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Can’t wait to try this! I love your method for making the pleats- such a great explanation. thanks!!!

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Wana Fae Smith April 4, 2011 at 8:04 pm

I also loved this tutorial. I wish I could print it out. I learn slower I
guess, and I need it right in front of me. Is there somewhere I
could print this off.
Thanks,
Wana Fae

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Barbara April 15, 2011 at 11:04 am

Thank you so much for sharing with us. I have recently decided I want to learn to smock for my toddler granddaughter – and am regretting that I did not let my grandmother teach me years ago!

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jennie May 23, 2011 at 8:05 am

Thank you for sharing such a wonderful tutorial! I am featuring your smocking leasson on my blog today! Thank you again for sharing :)
-Jennie
http://www.willowbeanstudio.blogger.com

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Julie@OnePennyJumblePacket July 10, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Fabulous tutorial! Thanks for sharing!

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Carolyn August 2, 2011 at 4:08 pm

I enjoyed reading through your tutorial. Your explanation has made it easy to understand and produces a beautiful product. I’m looking forward to trying it myself. Thankyou for posting.

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Gloria August 13, 2011 at 10:08 am

Great tutorial! Thank you!!

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Rachelle @The Shabby Tulip September 14, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Thank you, Thank you! This sounds too good to be true, but i really think I’ll be able to do it! Your tutorial was lovely and so easy to understand!!

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Stacy Arlt November 8, 2011 at 7:11 am

Love the tutorial! I hope to use it someday.

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lynne February 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm

I have put off smocking for a long time…but after looking at this tutorial there will be no more procrastinating. Excellent, well thought-out, and something I can manage. Thanks so much! Lynne

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mode et tendance February 25, 2012 at 12:42 am

lovely!!!

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firenze March 3, 2012 at 11:24 am

thanks a lot:)

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Hadi March 7, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Nice tutorial thanks

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Chole May 17, 2012 at 1:02 am

Your tutorial is really awesome, but I must be sleep deprived because I got lost on the last step. Just to clarify, you come up (from wrong-side to right-side), tack it through twice, and then go back down between the pleats and tack it down through the back? Or do you just tack it within the fold? Tacking it through the back seems like it would make it more stable, but flatter.

Your work is just so gorgeous, I must know how you did it! Thank you so much!

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Dorie May 26, 2012 at 6:59 pm

I tack the fold. I actually come up right at the point of the pleat and then go back down right at the point on the other pleat. Sorry it took me a week to answer, but I hope it helps.

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chaz June 3, 2012 at 12:22 pm

this is the most amazing tutorial ever.. i actually can’t wait to try it.. thank you so much for uploading this… :)

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doris June 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Thank you so much. Tutorial very easy to follow. I will apply this technique to some yokes of asymmetrical shirts I am designing for women.

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pari July 1, 2012 at 3:02 am

very amazing tutorial. …..Pl. guide me as to how to get the curve of the neck on a horizontal smocking pattern

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Dorie July 24, 2012 at 8:06 am

Hmmm… I’m not entirely sure. I think you would just need to tack around the neckline on all the folds – just something to keep it flat.

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Maru Pardo Orellana July 11, 2012 at 7:56 pm

Gracias, aunque mi Inglès no es tan bueno, leo una gran cantidad de elogios por este trabajo, tan didàctico, al igual que muchas admiro esta manualidad y pensè que era difìcil, pero con su explicaciòn entiendo mejor.

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Anne July 18, 2012 at 8:08 am

I love you! Thanks for posting this, found you through Days of Chalk and Chocolate.

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Peggy July 28, 2012 at 8:59 am

I also found you via Days of Chalk and Chocolate. Thank you so very much for this tutorial! I know my Grandmother used to smock and possibly even my mother but the bug never bit me until now. I am going to try but I have to admit I’m still a little confused….. maybe its because I’m not completely awake. If I have any questions once I start is it okay to contact you? Once again thank you for the detailed tutorial!

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Megifog August 15, 2012 at 3:08 pm

This is a gorgeous technique!! Thanks SO much for sharing your knowledge in such a detailed way!!!!

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Wendy August 15, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Found this on Pinterest. Awesome! I do civil war reenacting and sew dresses for myself and others. I want to use this as a sleeve embellishment on a dress for myself. Thanks for posting it!!!

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Vickie August 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm

That you so very much for the simply explained tutorial! I can’t wait to give it a try. Your pillow is lovely…I plan to attempt your method on a pair of curtains….Please keep the projects coming!

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samina javed September 13, 2012 at 11:01 am

great! i also want to see the finished pattern from back side can you please add sm pics of it?

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Mina OBrien September 14, 2012 at 7:51 am

Do you carry your floss across or knot each stitch I am having trouble with the pleating. Is it because I am left handed

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Dorie September 22, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I carried the floss across the back loosely. If you thought it would help for a lefty, you could try starting the pleats on the right side of the fabric instead of the left.

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Amber October 2, 2012 at 12:36 am

Very cool! This looks like so much fun! I can’t wait to try it out! Thanks for posting!

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Jule October 21, 2012 at 4:24 am

I love this. I came across your tutorial because Amy with “My three Monsters” made an awesome pillow for her daughter. GREAT!
Jule {inside9B}

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Pearl December 8, 2012 at 7:51 pm

I use to smock and sell pillows, I got away from it and forgot what to do .thank you for posting it.

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Lucy January 9, 2013 at 4:19 pm

I tried this today and couldn’t get my head around it :( I’m so desperate to make it work – I think I managed the first pleat but then couldn’t get my head around the next one…

What kind of fabric are you using?

Would you consider doing an instructional video? I’d been so grateful!

Thanks

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Dorie January 9, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Hi Lucy,
Sorry you’re having troubles! Maybe one day I’ll get to a video, but it won’t be too terribly soon. I’ve done the pillow using both a quilting cotton and a medium weight linen.

Hope that helps.

Dorie

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Lucy January 15, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Thanks Dorie for getting back to me!
I’ve done it!

I used a different pleating method to you but the results are great!

I plan to make a piece 1 1/2 metres long and 1 metre wide for a competition I’m entering – so Id better get smocking!

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Beth Jean June 13, 2013 at 11:12 pm

I have been looking for an easy way to create smocking for my home decorating projects and this one is the way to go as it is simple, uncomplicated and most effective to get the results I desire. My mind is reeling over all of the creative things I can do with this newly learned craft.

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Helen Thorkelsen June 19, 2013 at 3:51 pm

I have been looking for this method for some time. Just too happy to have found you. Thanks a bunch.

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Lanetta September 28, 2013 at 6:37 am

Ah! Thank you so much! I have always found smocking to be a bit intimidating until I found your great tutorial! This is a must try! I’ve shared your link on today’s blog! http://lanettascreations.blogspot.com/2013/09/honeycomb-gusset.html#.Ukawuoashac

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Dawn February 9, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Love it! Thank you!

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