From Santa and his reindeer to snowmen, Christmas trees and more, there are so many fun picture-smocked designs we can create this time of year. Whether or not you have a little one to smock for, this advanced stacking design from Claire Meldrum is just what you need. Picture-perfect for all ages, the Victorian-style Santa lights the path for smocking enthusiasts to decorate for the holidays in their own creative ways. And, Claire’s “block” method may teach you to approach picture smocking in a whole new way. Enjoy the smocking design and instructions below, as originally featured in the November/December 2010 issue (#133) of Sew Beautiful magazine. Instructions for making the pillow as pictured can be found in the magazine issue.
- Smocking design and instructions (included here in the blog post)
- Pillow instructions (on the magazine centerfold)
- 1/3 yd navy summer-weight wool fabric (for pleating)
- 1/2 yd navy blue velvet
- DMC Six-Stranded Embroidery Cotton
- #B5200 white
- #310 black
- #318 lt steel gray
- #321 red
- #336 navy blue (or shade to match wool for backsmocking)
- #415 pearl gray
- #581 moss green
- #728 topaz
- #745 lt pale yellow
- #797 royal blue
- #800 pale delft blue
- #869 v dk hazelnut brown
- #938 ultra dark coffee brown
- #945 tawny
- #3045 dk yellow beige
- #3345 dk hunter green
- #3685 v dk mauve
- #3779 ultra v lt terra cotta
- DMC six-stranded Pearlescent Effects #E3747
- Rainbow Gallery – Petite Very Velvet thread, V612 – Red
- Kreinik Blending Filament 002 Gold
- DMC Six-Stranded Embroidery Cotton
- Sewing thread to match fabric
- 12” pillow form
- 14” invisible zipper
- 1-2/3 yds pillow fringe or cording
- 80 universal needle (for pillow assembly)
- #7 crewel needle (for regular fl oss)
- #8 crewel needle (for velvet thread)
- Gridded quilting ruler
- Rotary cutter
- Cutting mat
- Sewing scissors
- Embroidery scissors
- Tailor’s chalk
Unlike traditional picture smocking, which is generally worked with the multi-needle technique, the “Victorian Santa” is created using a method that I call “block smocking.” I developed the method through trial and error because of the frustration I experienced after smocking multi-color designs. When I used multiple needles, as most of the instructions advocated, I ended up with an unusable, tangled mess.
I wondered why I couldn’t work my smocking like I do my counted thread embroidery. Instead of having four, five, six or more needles in play at the same time, I’d adapt my experiences with counted cross-stitch and work individual blocks of color, building the design area by area rather than row by row. It worked like a charm. Suddenly I was able to stitch plates with lifelike styles, shading and small details, combining my love of smocking with my years of embroidery.
The “Victorian Santa” is an advanced smocking plate that brings together a variety of wonderful specialty flosses and lots of embroidered details. It will make a rich addition to your holiday décor, and once you’ve tried this method of working your picture smocking plates, I guarantee you’ll never look at picture smocking the same way.
1. Pleat 17 full-space rows (15 rows plus two holding) using a 27-1/2″ x 12″ rectangle of navy wool fabric. NOTE: Pleat as many half-space rows as possible between Rows 1 and 15. Halfspace rows help control pleats and make for more accurate stitch placement.
TIP: Use a different color gathering thread for your full and half-space rows; this makes finding your place on the chart much simpler.
TIP: Wool can be finicky when it is pleated. Work slowly and steam the pleats as you go, letting them cool in place on the needles to ensure they don’t “pop”.
2. Count off 102 pleats; mark center valley with a short length of thread or a pin. Unpick excess pleats on both sides of insert and tie off insert to 6″.
3. Backsmock Rows 1-15 plus holding rows with two strands #336 (navy blue) or whatever color matches your fabric.
General Tips for ‘Block Smocking’
• Because each area is worked by building on the previous block, accuracy and level rows are imperative for success. Take the time to make each stitch as full and perfectly placed as possible.
• Start smocking at centermost point of design. Starting at an outside edge means that any unevenness will magnify as you work across the design. Starting in the center of the motif and working outward will mitigate any small unevenness and allows you to create a balanced design.
• When starting a new block of color, begin block by stitching cables next to an already completed area. This may mean you are working with the graph upside down, that’s fine. Whenever possible, avoid starting a block of smocking where it doesn’t abut a completed area, as free-floating smocking may be distorted or uneven when it meets up with previously completed sections.
• Whenever possible, pleat half rows when picture smocking; they help ensure that your stitches are level and evenly distributed across the depth of the row.
• Most smockers use four strands of floss for picture smocking; however, I generally use five, having found that the extra strand gives me fuller, more even stitches and better all-around coverage. Different brands and colors of floss work up differently, so stitch out a sample with four, five and six strands to see which number works best for your situation.
Referring to the chart, continue building Santa up, color block by color block, using the following colors for each section:
• UNDERSKIRT: Using five strands of #3685 (v dk mauve), come up between fifth and sixth pleats to right of center valley on Row 12-1/4. Begin bottom row of underskirt with a half down cable on fifth pleat, and refer to chart. Turn insert over and complete underskirt, working up toward waist.
• FUR: Working from graph and following color key, begin to smock fur trim beneath buckle, beginning on Row 8-1/4 over pleats three and four to right of center valley with a half up cable and then cable 6-1/2. Where underskirt is narrow, you can carry floss across the back. Once you reach Row 10 work down one side at a time, to avoid long threads across the back. Complete fur trim on both sides down to Row 12-1/4.
• COAT: Smock Santa’s coat with one strand of Petite Very Velvet thread. Depending on your needle’s eye, you may need to use a slightly larger size to accommodate the thicker thread. Unlike floss, this thread will wear at the eye, so use a shorter, 14″ length for smocking. A smocker’s knot is more secure than a backstitch for starting and ending this thread.
• BOOTS: Five strands #938 (ultra dark coffee brown)
• SNOW: Work white snow first, using five strands B5200. Leave gaps where indicated for blue, blended stitches. Using four strands #800 (pale delft blue) and one strand of Pearlescent Effects E3747, complete snow by filling in gaps with blended floss where indicated on chart.
• BELT: Work belt using five strands #310 (black), leaving a gap for belt buckle by carrying threads across back as you work.
• BELT BUCKLE: Use five strands of #728 (topaz) and one strand of Kreinik Blending Filament 002 Gold. Blending filament tends to shred, so use a shorter-than-usual length to prevent separation.
• CUFFS: Complete left cuff first, using five strands of B5200. Complete right cuff after extended arm has been smocked.
• FUR PLACKET AND COLLAR: Beginning above belt buckle on Row 7-1/2, smock fur trim and collar, working each side of collar separately where collar meets beard.
• UPPER BODY: Work left and right sides of body using one strand of V612. Be sure to leave gaps for basket straps as you work.
• MITTENS: Work mittens with five strands of #797 (royal blue).
• BEARD: Smock beard using three strands of #318 (lt steel gray) and two strands of #415 (pearl gray) blended. Leave a gap for the mouth and work each side of the hair that extends around the face separately.
• FACE: Work face with five strands of #945, leaving a gap for cheek highlights.
• CHEEKS: Make two under-cables for cheeks, using five strands of #3779 (ultra v lt terra cotta).
• HAT: Work trim as for other fur. Work top of hat with one strand V612.
• LANTERN: Smock top and bottom of lantern with five strands #310 (black). Work lantern with five strands #745 (lt pale yellow), taking care not to pull stitches along each straight side too tightly to prevent gaping.
• BASKET: Beginning at Row 7-1/4, smock basket body with five strands of #869(v dk hazelnut brown). Stitch a three cable combination and a half cable. Build basket upward according to graph. Work upper portion of basket and the straps with five strands of #3045 (dk yellow beige). Work shading inside basket by making one half stitch and one cable using five strands #938 (ultra dark coffee brown).
• TAMBOURINE INSIDE BASKET: Work with five strands #745 (lt pale yellow).
• SLED INSIDE BASKET: Beginning at Row 3-1/4, work sled using five strands of #581 (moss green).
Remove gathering threads. Block and steam insert to approximately 6″ wide before finishing details. Referring to embroidery chart for placement, work the following elements after smocking is complete:
• WREATH: Using two strands #3345 (dk hunter green), embroider wreath with French knots. Using two strands #321 (red), add berries throughout the greenery with additional French knots.
• UNDERSKIRT: Using one strand Kreinik Blending Filament 002 Gold, work diamonds across underskirt with an outline stitch.
• LANTERN: Work lantern window panes using one strand #310 black in stem or backstitch. Work rays of light using one strand #745 (lt pale yellow) in stem stitch, making sure each stitch catches a new pleat.
• FACE: Work eyes in French knots with one strand #310 (black). Work nose in stem stitch with one strand #938 (v dk navy blue).
• SLED: Work runners using two strands #310 (black) in stem stitch. Work wood slats using one strand #310 in stem stitch.
• TAMBOURINE: Work tambourine frame in stem stitch using two strands #3045 (dk yellow beige). Work bells with French knots using two strands #415 (pearl gray).
• HAT: Work three French knots in a cluster using two strands of #321 (red) for berries. Using one strand #3345 (dk hunter green), work two lazy daisies on each side of berry cluster.
Assembling the Pillow
See magazine pullout centerfold for pillow instructions.
Claire Meldrum is a writer and sewing and handwork enthusiast who never met a piece of fabric she didn’t covet. Her articles and smocking designs have appeared in a wide range of craft and sewing magazines including Threads, Sew News, Sew Beautiful, Create n Decorate and more. She blogs about her craft, smocking and sewing endeavors at www.clairemeldrum.ca.
The Sew Beautiful 2010 Collection features six complete digital magazine issues, including 11 patterns, design templates and more!