As I explained in The History of Smocking, smocking is embroidery on pleated fabric. That of course means that you need pleated fabric, so today's post is all about using a pleater. At the bottom of this post is a video showing how I pleat woven fabric on a pleater. Unfortunately, the pleats used in smocking cannot be formed by simply gathering the fabric with a sewing machine. The pleats are formed by rows of parallel gathering threads all starting and stopping in the same place. Traditionally, this was done by hand, and if you want to try smocking, you might want to just hand gather the fabric. Here is a video post on how to hand pleat fabric.
Of course, the easy way to pleat is with a pleater! The only pleaters still manufactured today are made by Read from South Africa and the Princess Pleater in the UK. In the United States, you can purchase a Read pleater from Creative Sewing and Smocking, and The Tosca Company. All Brands sells both the Read and Princess pleaters. A new pleater is over $300 and therefore a substantial investment, but there are a few alternatives! First of all, many SAGA chapters have a chapter pleater. Members can simply sign it out and take it home to pleat up whatever they need. Second, used pleaters are plentiful. It may take you a few weeks, but keep your eye on Ebay, your local Facegroup marketplace and Craig's List. There are several pleaters available on Ebay today as I write this post!
A pleater is a simple machine and with a little elbow grease and a new set of needles, a used pleater will serve you for many years! For instructions on maintaining your pleater, check out this blog post and video where I show you step by step how to clean your pleater. I also highly recommend The Pleater Manual, if you can find it. It is no longer printed, so keep an eye out! I have both a Little Amanda and a Sally Stanley pleater. I also have friends who are very happy with their used Read pleaters. Some of the original 16 row Read pleaters have a small hole for the dowel to go through. This is a problem if you are trying to pleat fabric for an older child or a larger piece of fabric, so that is something to keep in mind when looking at purchasing a used Read pleater. If I were purchasing a used pleater today, I would try to purchase one of those 3 brands. They are all solid pleaters, with gears made of brass, and will serve you well for many years. Some pleaters have parts made of plastic and I would avoid those. My Little Amanda has all half spaces. My Sally Stanley has 1/2 full spaces (1 cm apart) and 1/2 with half spaces ( 1/2 cm apart). I prefer the Sally Stanley. When pleating, to keep the fabric on grain, the edge of the fabric is guided along one groove, and a line marked on the fabric is lined up with another groove. With the half spaces I find there are two many grooves for the eye to follow, and it is more difficult to keep things lined up, but this is just my personal preference.
This brings us to the subject of needles. Different pleaters take different needles, and different size Read as well as different size Martha Pullen pleaters take different size needles! Since the Read and Princess pleaters are still being made, the needles for them are still being produced, so that again argues in favor of purchasing a Read or Princess pleater. Amanda Jane needles are also still being produced and fit the Sally Stanley pleater. The generic needles marketed for the Sally Stanley do not work well. You can read about my experience with the generic needles here. Pink Hollybush carries both Read and Amanda Jane pleater needles.
Now that you have tracked down a pleater and want to give this a try, The Pleater Manual is the book that you need to own. The author explains the different pleaters, pleating different fabrics, and pleating every possible area of a garment. Below is a complete video on how to pleat woven fabric. You can also check out how to pleat knits in this post and video. Finally, if you just want to give smocking a try before you commit to purchasing a pleater, or just want to get to the smocking, then consider one of the pre-pleated kits from Pink Hollybush Designs or a pre-pleated insert. You still have to do the smocking and sewing, but the pleating is taken care of for you!
Next week I will cover reading a smocking graph! Have a great weekend!