top of page

Picture Smocking on Knits: Yes You Can!

Hector the Hippo

In my last post on smocking with knits, I advised that the nature of knits would make picture smocking difficult. Well my friend Kelli Fox, picture smocking guru, is always up for a challenge, and she decided to give Little Hippo a try on knit fabric. So today I am turning the blog over to Kelli to give you her tips and pointers on smocking on knits. By the way, Kelli is teaching picture smocking in the Baltimore area in November. Lisa

Meet Hector. He's a plump little guy picture smocked on the organic hippo knit found at Pink Hollybush Designs and I think he turned out adorably because yes, you can picture smock on knits!

I am delighted to guest blog about Hector this week. He came about as I considered ways to challenge myself and some other smockers to pursue a less common smocking path: picture smocking on knits. I have recently been invited to teach a picture smocking class at the Chesapeake Treasures chapter of the Smocking Arts Guild of America (SAGA). This is a large, vibrant group of sewists with skills of all ranges, so I decided to offer both a crab sampler on a lovely cotton for those newer to picture smocking, as well as a sampler of smocking on knits to those who likely can already picture smock circles around me. Hence, Hector became my main squeeze once I received the Pink Hollybush May 9th newsletter with the free hippo plate, I thought he would be so cute on the knit hippo fabric available at Pink Hollybush. Full disclosure: I smocked Hector purposely with some common picture smocking errors to help teach the class. This is helpful because it helped me highlight my goal which is to outline some important considerations when endeavoring to smock on knits.

First, a stable, high quality knit is a must. The nature of knit loops want to "give" and stretch, which means the fabric and pleats naturally want to give up their shape as you pull the needle and floss through; however, a quality knit will resist this tendency and help maintain its shape and the picture you are smocking. A lesser quality knit will result in a distorted image.

Close-up of knit

As I smocked Hector, I frequently squeezed the pleats back together to make sure they remained vertical and the cables were evenly smocked with no distortion.

Secondly, knit pleats are fuller and rounder than a typical cotton, which means the floss takes up more real estate as it lays across them. A fatter, bigger cable means the picture itself will be fuller. Conveniently, a hippo is, in reality, a quite rotund animal, so the image I selected lent itself to the smocking.

Hippo close up

Select images that compliment a round and full picture. Similarly, be mindful of the image you select for the knit because you will get fewer pleats to smock on than a cotton due to this fullness. I originally envisioned Hector on a bubble with only a little square of smocking on the front below the neck, but I could not smock this plate on any smaller a square than this particular square (4 x 3.25 inches). It would not be suitable on an infant. I'd have to do it on a larger sized garment than originally planned. Third, in my opinion, you must block your knit before you smock. Many smockers will pleat their fabric and block after the piece is smocked. A knit should be blocked to the desired finished size because if you wait to adjust the pleats afterwards, you risk adjusting the stacked cables in a way that causes them to pull away from each other. If you block it first, you create a great canvas to stack the cables so they hug and rub each other the way picture smocked cables should.

Some general picture smocking tips are relevant here as well. I do recommend using at least 4 strands of floss if not 5 on knits. Try sampling some rows of 5 first before you commit. I sampled 5 strands after I had stacked Hector's bottom rows and decided it might have been a better choice (I was too lazy to unsmock and start over.) I think it would have been even fuller and fun with 5.

Also strip and squeak your floss. I learned about stripping and squeaking floss in a correspondence course I took through SAGA with Nancy Malitz and it could be the best trick of the trade. To strip and squeak your floss, separate the floss into individual stands (stripping), and then take a damp piece of felt and run it down the length of your floss sandwiched between the felt squeezing with your thumb and index fingers as you go.

Stripped Floss

Squeaked Floss

You will actually hear a squeak. This essentially irons the bends, twists and crinkles in the floss and the individual strands will lay smoothly next to each other beautifully.

Lastly, be mindful when pleating and smocking on prints. Hector's ear (his right ear when looking at him) blends into the pleated print color and I feel like I've lost a little ear definition.

Hippo close up

I smocked a giraffe on a giraffe print for my daughter and I had a similar issue with the giraffe's ossicones, the little tufts on the top of a giraffe head.

Close up of giraffe

Children in smocked outfit

Pink Hollybush has a beautiful organic gray dot knit that would be perfect for Hector. I'm planning on geometric smocking a skirt for my daughter with this knit as well.

Don't be afraid to try something kn-ew on kn-its! The Smocking on Knits Tutorials available on Pink Hollybush dive into some of these concepts in greater detail.

bottom of page