Are you afraid to smock with knits? You didn't know you could? Well I decided it was time to give it a try. The verdict is in and smocking knits is easy - I promise! This is the second of a series of posts that will walk you through pleating and smocking knit fabrics. Knits are such comfortable and easy care fabrics, that as sewists we should be smocking knits!
Now not all knit fabric is suitable to pleat for smocking. For this post, I have tested cotton and rayon jersey as well as cotton interlock. If you are not familiar with the different types of knit fabrics, please see my post on Knits: just the essentials! A slinky knit wouldn't have enough body to go through the pleater, a silk knit would be marked by the pleating needles, and a ponte knit would be just too thick. But a cotton jersey knit is just right. It goes through the pleater like butter (at least the cotton jersey knits from Denmark carried by Pink Hollybush!).
To test the knit fabrics, I took a 10 inch by 3 inch swatch of fabric and fed it through the pleater. I removed the pleating threads from 1/2 inch on either short end and pulled up the pleats to 3 inches, so 9 inches pulled up to 3 inches. English Smocking is traditionally done at a 3 to 1 ratio, and smocking patterns are written assuming this ratio. First up is our Little Hippo Knit Organic Fabric.
You can see that the pleats are nice and straight, and have a good spacing. Not too tight, and not too loose, but again just right. A smocking design is going to work great on this fabric. Update: I have now pleated larger pieces of this fabric and a ratio of 2 1/2 to 1 works better. 3 to 1 was just too dense. Next up is a pleated Liberty of London Spring Knit. Liberty Knits are 95% rayon and 5% spandex.
The pleats are a little looser on the Liberty knit, but still lovely. This might not work as well for a picture smocked design where the pleats need to be closer together, but still the pleats are well defined and the fabric would make up into a beautiful smocked garment. The Liberty knit with its rayon content doesn't hold the shape of the pleats as well as the cotton jersey, so a design that is more densely smocked to hold the pleats in place would be something that I would plan for after testing this fabric. Update: I have also pleated a larger piece of this fabric and 3 to 1 works great! The third knit I tested was a cotton interlock from JoAnn fabrics.
Again, this fabric went through the pleater with no trouble. However, the pleats are very densely packed, and would be difficult to smock. Here is the same fabric pulled up to a 2. to 1 ratio, and this seams more workable.
These pleats allow for the necessary movement to smock the garment. If I wanted to smock with this fabric, I would have to modify my pattern so the fullness is 2 to 1. This may be simple or more difficult depending on the pattern chosen.
So my conclusions after testing is that both the cotton and rayon jerseys offered by Pink Hollybush will pleat beautifully. One caveat: I did not try and pleat over a seam and I wouldn't recommend doing so. Knit seams have bulk, so a design that doesn't require pleating over a seam, or pleating in pieces and then sewing the seams would be my recommendation. Next Tuesday I will be back with part 2 of this series, offering specific tips on pleating jersey fabric.