Today I am continuing on with our Smocking: The Basics series!. This is the 7th post in the series. So far we have covered everything from the history of smocking, to choosing a fabric. You will find all of the previous posts by clicking on the pink link above. Today we are tackling the topic of which pattern to use to make your first smocked garment. As I explained in the History of Smocking, Part 1, smocking originated as a way to control the fullness of the fabric in a garment and so to smock, you also need to know how to sew! In the post entitled "Learn to Smock with a Christmas Ornament", I recommended starting to smock with an Ornament because it is a small project and there is no sewing. But assuming you have tried this, or you are just ready to jump in and make your first smocked garment, what pattern do you use? Where do you begin? My recommendations are based on trying to keep both the smocking and the garment construction easy.
Let's start with the smocking. In order to keep the pleating and the smocking easy, I recommend that you start with a garment that is smocked straight rather than with a garment that uses the smocking to shape the fabric, such as a bishop. In addition, I recommend that you start with a design that uses a small smocked piece of fabric, such as a bonnet, or a design that uses a smocked insert rather than a garment with a pleated skirt or pleated bottom. It is much easier to pleat a smaller piece of fabric on the grain, and I want you to start with pleating success and not frustration. As you start to smock, you are holding the piece of fabric in your hand, you are turning it upside down, you are using your thumb to move the pleats as you smock, you are manipulating the fabric. For a beginner, all of this is easier if you are working with a small piece of fabric such as an insert, rather than a whole skirt or pants bottom. If you don't own or have access to a pleater, you can get started by buying a bonnet kit, or pre-pleated insert. A pre-pleated insert is very inexpensive and a great way to try smocking!
For patterns, I am recommending ones that use simple construction methods! No Peter Pan collars or sleeves to insert for your first garment. Choosing the easiest pattern depends on your sewing strengths. The Pink Hollybush Designs Bonnet Paper Pattern was designed for beginner smockers. It is available as a PDF download and paper pattern and includes step by step photos to help with both the smocking and construction. There is no piping to insert and no need to attach the smocking to another piece of fabric. For an outfit pattern, I recommend Johnny and Playtime.
They both use inserts and are easy to sew. You will need to attach piping to the insert and the insert to the rest of the garment.
Mary De and Katina are also both very easy to sew and can easily be adapted to use an insert rather than pleating the entire skirt (upcoming blog post). If you are up to the pleating challenge, pleat the entire skirt and make as directed in the pattern.
Sunkissed and Little Breeze are harder to pleat because the entire bubble or top is pleated, but there is no piping to apply and the smocking isn't attached to another piece, so if you don't mind, a bit more of a challenge to pleat, they are easier to construct.
I do want to note that Sunkissed uses bias binding to finish the armholes and some may find that difficult. As I said, you have to pick the pattern based on your sewing strengths! I hope this explanation helps and that you give your first smocked garment a try!