The last couple of months I’ve been watching way, way too much “Project Runway.” Way too much as in every season, one right after the other (Season 4 kicks so much ass! Go, Team Fierce!). Sure, it’s taken a couple of months but it’s been so much fun and hugely inspirational. Take for instance Season 6’s maternity dress challenge. Now I know what you’re thinking, usually I run screaming from anything “maternity” lest it rub off on me, but there was one dress, the winning dress actually, that used a technique that I instantly fell in love with. Smocking.
See that waistband area? The puckered fabric that looks like a soft braid? Yeah, that’s smocking. And I had to learn how to do it. Just as landscaping your lawn gives it dimension and character, so does smocking to ordinary, flat fabrics. And doesn’t it look yummy!
A quick internet search yields a wide variety of photos and tutorials on a wide variety of smocking (and its sister, shirring) techniques.
I can sew many, many things with my heavy duty, student-model sewing machine I bought 22 years ago. But this was a whole new world of fabric decoration to me. Well, this and various presser feet that do the work for you, but that’s a different “boy, I feel like an idiot” story. So I went to my favorite bookstore, Half Price Books, looking for a decent book about fabric manipulation and found a really good one for cheap: “Exploring Textile Arts” by Creative Publishing International in 2002. (If you live in Dallas, go by the giant Half Price on NW Hwy and 75, they had about 10 copies as of this writing).
Oh my word, there are some drool-worthy photos in that book, and very clear instructions on how you (yes, you!) can actually make the things you’re looking at. It’s part artist portfolio, part dimensional fabric, part painted/dyed fabric, and all creatively done. Some of the pictures look a bit late-1980s in their coloring, but the techniques are still good.
Call me old fashioned, but I like books (and printouts!) that I can hold in my hands. However, this is a web-based journal and the internet is the 24-hour library I so wished for while in college, so here are some links to help get you started. (Shhh, I print all these tutorials to PDF to save on my computer. Egads, what if the creators took them down? Then where would I be?)
Here are a couple of Very Well Written tutorials by a very neato lady in Sweden. Her blog’s really interesting, so you may be like me, reading the tutorials then sitting up until 1am reading more about her fascinating projects. I like her!
Here’s another take on honeycomb smocking:
And you can’t forget Threads magazine:
Really, just Google “smocking fabric tutorial,” click “Images,” and choose a pretty picture to find out how it was made. Then wipe the drool off your chin. Some designs have a handful of names so I fond it easier to look for the picture of what I want to make rather than looking for it by name.
As Tim says, “Make it work!”