Welcome to Smocking: The Basics Series! Previous posts in this series, include The History of Smocking, and Pleating. Today, we will cover the ins and outs of reading a smocking graph! There is a video if you prefer to listen, but the information is written below as well.
Most forms of embroidery require that the design be transferred to the fabric. The geometric nature of smocking means there is no need to transfer the design. Instead by following the graph and aligning everything with the pleating threads, you can stitch the design, no transferring required!
Below is a graph of Findley, a free smocking design from Pink Hollybush. Looking at the graph, you will see that there are 7 rows. The 7 rows correspond to the 7 pleating threads on your piece of fabric.
My pleats in the photo above are not pulled up so you can clearing see the pleating threads. Rows 1 and 7 are holding rows. Sometimes the holding rows will be designated by an "H" and row 1 will be the first smocking row. This is at the discretion of the designer.
The holding rows are not smocked, but help to hold the pleats straight while the piece is being smocked. The first holding row is often incorporated into the seam allowance during construction of the garment. and again assists with keeping the pleats straight. Occasionally, there may be two holding rows above and below the smocking. This is often the case with a ball shaped ornament. Again, the smocking graph will show this.
The graph has symbols to designate each of the stitches. While symbols will vary slightly, they are fairly uniform across smocking graphs, but the graph itself or the directions will confirm which symbol represents which stitch. Above, I have labeled each stitch of the graph. By "reading" the stitches, I can now see that I am going to smock Wheat Stitch on row 2, and remember, row 2 corresponds to the second pleating thread on my fabric.
I will smock a row of Cable Stitches on row 3 beginning with a down cable and I will smock a Baby Wave/Cable combination between row 3 and 3 1/2.
The colors of the graph also correspond to the colors of the floss colors used to smock the graph. So in Findley, the Wheat Stitch on row 2 is smocked in Light Coral, and the Cable Stitch on row 3 in Dark Coral.
Above is a close-up of Findley and you can see how the Light and Dark Coral colors of the finished smocking match the graph.
The graph should also designate the center of the design, although sometimes it is quite obvious! The directions are still needed but I hope you can see that by confirming the stitch symbols, you can take the graph and be off smocking! Next up, how to center your design! For step by step instructions for each of the stitches, see the Smocking Stitches Guide!