There is nothing cuter than a toddler in a picture smocked design whether a Jon Jon or smocked dress, but did you ever wonder when and where picture smocking got started? First off let me provide a definition. Picture Smocking is simply using the cable stitch stacked one on top of another to create a shape and thus a "picture" with the stitches. While smocking dates back to the Middle Ages (see this post on the History of Smocking 1 and History of Smocking 2) picture smocking is a relatively new design invention.
Grace Knott's How to do English Smocking published in Canada in 1921, showed simple stacked cables to create "The Cable Diamond". It didn't go as far to depict a picture, but her later books and plates also stack the cables to create a basket.
Cella Thornton took the idea further in her Smocking Book published in Canada in 1951. Smocking designs in the book used stacked cables to represent a simple Sail Boat, triangles to create a Christmas Tree, and a simple basket filled with embroidered flowers.
Cella's Sail Boat design also included 3 boats, all identical and side by side, which may be where the tradition of smocking 3 identical images across the design got started. Once the idea of using stacked cables to create pictures was planted, the sky was the limit.
With the the renewed interest in smocking in the 1970s - 1980s, all manner of adorable smocked picture designs were created and then published as stand along smocking plates.
In 1990 Ellen McCarn published Picture Smocking with Ellen McCarn, walking readers step by step through the process of perfecting the art of the stacked cable and adorable picture smocked designs. For help with picture smocking, check out our Smocking Stitches Guide where you will find tutorials on The Cable Stitch as well as Tips and Tricks for Picture Smocking. Interested in learning how to smock, sign up for our Free Get Started Smocking Series below and check out our Online Course.