Texture Stitching: Flower Smocking Tutorial

Have you ever tried your hand at flower smocking?

This old-fashioned technique is achieved by stitching a series of pulled stitches and slack stitches worked over a grid. In this tutorial from our Sew Beautiful: Sewing Favorites for Summer special issue, designer Paige Alexander walks you step-by-step through creating this age-old technique. Paige’s finished handwork is shown here on a breezy beach outfit made from her Pintucks & Petticoats “Baby Polly” pattern in white cotton batiste. Flower smocking is stitched on the right side of the fabric, creating little puffs and folds on the top and the legs of the pants. Paige also added a band of box pleats that she calls “fabric ribbons.” Choose a pattern you’d like to add this technique to and follow Paige’s instructions below to stitch the puffy petals:

NOTE: Use regular 50wt sewing thread and a needle that will fit through the hole of your chosen bead. You will also need a wash away marking pen, a grid-lined ruler to mark grid, and a shish kabob stick or a manicure stick to manipulate pleats.

Things to Know
• Flower smocking does not give or stretch like pleated smocking.

• Always work smocking from left to right.

• Practice on a sample piece of fabric before beginning your garment.

Flower Smocking
• Mark grid on right side of fabric with a wash-away marker. Sample shown uses a 1/2 inch grid (fig. 1).

• Four corners of a square grid (A, B, C and D) are pulled together to form the center of the flower (fig. 2).

Stitch Sequence
1. Knot thread. Bring needle up at A and make a tiny stitch in corner of B.

2. Make a tiny stitch in corner of C.

3. Make a tiny stitch in corner of D.

4. Finish with a tiny stitch in corner of A.

5. Tightly pull together all four stitches. This will form flower center on right side of fabric and a puff on wrong side of fabric. This is a “pulled stitch.”

6. Take a tack stitch from A to C and secure with a knot. Add a bead and secure it with two stitches. Tie a knot.

7. Bring needle up at E, but do not pull. This is a “slack stitch” between columns 2 and 3. “Slack stitches” leave fabric between dots flat. To complete “slack stitch,” take a tiny stitch at E and tie a knot at E. Each slack stitch must be secured with a knot or it will distort flower smocking design. Continue this row as instructed above, following grid diagram shown. Next row of flowers will be stitched on Rows 3 and 4 etc.

8. To complete flowers around edges of smocking, you can complete fourth petal or simply let fourth petal fade into a tuck. To complete fourth petal, stitch the two corresponding dots together with a tiny stitch and tie a knot. (Picture shows wrong side of fabric.)

9. After all flower smocking is complete, use a shish kabob stick or a manicure stick to gently push pleats on wrong side of fabric through to right side of fabric.

Fabric Ribbons

This technique puts a different twist on flower smocking. In this method, there are areas that are skipped between the smocking. The excess fabric in these areas is stitched and pressed into tiny box pleats. These tiny pleats resemble ribbon running between the puffed flowers. The placement of flower smocking and box pleats is marked on the “Polly” pattern pieces.

Construction Notes
• One row of flower smocking is stitched around the bottom of the bloomers. Flower smock on Rows 2 and 3. To make a completed four-petal flower, stitch the petal above and below on Rows 1 and 4. Match corresponding dots and make a tiny stitch; tie a knot.

• Box pleats can be stitched before or after flower smocking. Pleats can be stitched by hand or machine.

• Gently push pleats from wrong side to right side of fabric. Smooth box pleats out flat with a shish kabob stick or manicure stick and press. Secure “fabric ribbon” with beads or French knots placed at 1/2-inch increments.

Check out our Sew Beautiful: Sewing Favorites for Summer special issue for more summer sewing inspiration. Want more Sew Beautiful? Shop all back issues and collections here.

Happy Sewing,

3 thoughts on “Texture Stitching: Flower Smocking Tutorial

  1. Beth Knox

    Marti, (above) …my daughter wishes that too. And her three yr old is beautiful, but a bull dozing mighty max..,so ‘pretty’ on him is like lipstick on a pig—would look ridiculous! But we have one little grand girl who has been introduced to a version of sewing and that has kickstarted her, so. Right now that is our topic of conversation. I will try the dot method and when she’s older perhaps she’ll learn to do it. Marti, if you. Have boys one day you might have 10 granddaughters! So learn it anyway!

  2. Mary

    I used to do this technique years ago when my daughter was very young. I used the large buffalo check fabric on which to do it. This was easier for me than marking plain fabric – No marking pens back then that disappeared.
    This stitching technique made such lovely yokes on her dresses and also was a very pretty accent pillow top.


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