Welcome back to our discussion on smocking knits! So far we have discussed Sewing Knits: Just the Essentials, Smocking Knits: Testing the fabric, and Smocking Knits: Pleating knit jersey. Today we are moving on to the next step: choosing a smocking design. Knits have unique qualities - they stretch and recover. It is what makes them so comfortable to wear. But those same qualities provide a few challenges when it comes to smocking knits, and choosing an appropriate design. On a woven fabric, the floss that forms the stitches lies on the surface of the pleated fabric. The traditional view is that a well executed smocked design on woven fabric will hug the pleats without distorting them. Stitches that are next to each other will "kiss" and none of the underlying pleated fabric will show through.
In this down, up, down cable combination, you can see the stitches "kissing" each other with little to no red fabric showing through. However, knits are "squishy". They stretch and expand around the stitch so that the stitch sinks into the fabric, and the knit fabric expands around the stitch. The result is that the pleated fabric almost always "peeks through" between the stitches. Smocking on knits has a more "open and airy" feel.
The orange stick is pointing to the same down, up, down cable combination that was stitched on the red fabric above. You can see the Starry Sky fabric "peeking" through the stitches. Trying to get each of your stitches to "kiss", is fighting the very nature of the knit fabric, and trying to achieve that end is going to be an exercise in frustration. This means that I don't recommend trying to picture smock a design on a knit. Picture smocking relies on a solid expanse of stitches with no underlying fabric peeking through to achieve the design. Again, achieving that on a knit is going to be difficult. Update: my friend Kelli had to give picture smocking on knits a try and she successfully met the challenge. Read about her tips and tricks in her guest post here.
So what kind of design should you smock on a knit? Choose a geometric design for a knit garment. The trellis stitch (which forms the V's above) is naturally open, and designs based on the trellis stitch would be a good choice for a knit. On the Baby's Breath garment above, the blue scallops are formed using a curved smocking design: a combination of trellis, outline, cable and stem. The outline and stem stitches seem to do a better job at preventing the knit from peeking through, and may give a more traditional look to a smocked knit garment if that is your preference.
I hope these design suggestions help and hope that you give smocking knits a try!