Have you ever heard about smocking? Cushion-covers might be the first thing that comes to your mind. But I can assure you that it looks great on garments, too.

Just to be clear, there are different kinds of smocking: the English and the North American (lattice) smocking. I’ve also seen the term Canadian smocking, which is probably the same thing. Well, I’m talking about the North American smocking here. It differs quite a lot from the English one.

Smocking is all about gathering the fabric by hand stitches, following a grid, and this produces different shapes. You work on the wrong side of the fabric.

It’s definitely one of my favorite fabric-manipulation -techniques!

I’ll first explain the basics and then it’s time to reveal the rose-sleeve -tutorial.

rose sleeve



This is a tutorial I have previously published on Instagram, but I thought I could explain the passages better here at the blog.

There are different kinds of grids you can easily find on Pinterest and Google. I also recommend checking out smocking tutorials on YouTube.

The grid consist of dots, some of which are connected by a line. The line means you have to gather fabric between the two dots. If there is no line, you have to leave the thread loose instead (with knots on both sides).


Copy the grid on the wrong side of the fabric. The size of the grid determines the size of the shapes you’ll produce. Personally I prefer 3cm x 3cm.

Choose a strong thread, matching the color of your fabric and start by attaching it well at the first dot. Then follow the grid and pick up just a tiny amount of fabric at the second dot.


Return to the first dot, pull the thread tight, which will gather the fabric between the two dots. Make a knot to secure it.


Find the following dot.

This time there’s no connecting line, so you must leave the thread loose. Make a knot, or you might gather the bit by mistake.

loose thread

Now it’s time to gather fabric again, so do as in the beginning.

gather again

Continue alternating with gathered and non-gathered bits until you finish the grid.

This is how it looks like on the wrong side.

final look

And here’s the right side.

right side

I used this design to make a bodice-back. I attached the smocking-layer on top of a flat bodice-layer. You get lots of folds as a result, which you then need to drape the way you prefer. This creates some interesting designs.

smocking back

Different grids produce different effects. Here’s another bodice and the grid that produced the neckline-design.

smocking front


When planning these, you just have to remember that the fabric shrinks a lot while you gather. It’s better to have too much fabric than too little.


And now to the sleeve. It’s a nice alternative to a basic puff-sleeve. I re-made it in half-scale so that I could take extra pictures along the way.

This grid is from Pinterest, so the smocking-design is not my invention. I just separated one rose-motif from the grid and enlarged it into a 20cm x 20cm version.

rose grid

As a base, you’ll need a sleeve-pattern with some added ease so that you’ll get a bit of puff underneath, too.

Here you can see the original pattern and where I added extra ease.

It’s also a good idea to take off a couple of cm from the shoulder-line of your bodice.

sleeve pattern

Prepare the sleeve by gathering the ease so that it matches your bodice.

prepared base

Take a random (big) piece of fabric. To give you an idea, here’s my piece next to the sleeve. I must admit that I exaggerated a bit, though…

size difference

Copy the grid on the wrong side.


Thread your needle and start by knotting it well to the first dot.

starting point

Pick up a tiny bit of fabric at the next dot.

second dot

Return to the first dot.


Gather and knot.


There’s no connecting line between this point and the following dot, so leave the thread loose and make a knot.

loose thread

Gather the next bit.

pick up next dot


Do the remaining part in the same way. In the end you should have something like this:


Flipping the fabric around, it looks like this:

right side

Start shaping the rose by turning the folds around so that they form a spiral.

shaping spiral

When you’re happy with the result, pin.


Take the sleeve you prepared earlier and pin the rose on top of it. Cut off extra fabric around.

attach to base

Stitch the edges to fix everything in place.

Sew the sleeve normally. Here’s the cute half-scale version I got.

halfscale rose

To get a clean edge, you could add a lining, or just simply hem it.

So what do you think? Will you try making one?

  • 1.4K


  1. Hilary Catron Reply

    This sleeve is wonderful. I might try the technique, to see if I like the results in a fancy fabric, but my first thought after I read the whole post was “How in the world do you launder and press this garment after wearing it? Most North American/Canadian sno king is done on pillow covers for that very reason: it has a finite life due to its inability to be washed.

    • shapesoffabric Reply

      Thank you! 🙂 Well, when it comes to washing, I think you might get away with washing it by hand (depending how wrinkly the fabric would become after) or alternatively dry-cleaning. you’d have to treat it like a special-occasion garment. 🙂

  2. I absolutely love this! Thank you so much for sharing! Currently I am trying a jacket with a smocked part in the back, and I am really fascinated by this technique

    • shapesoffabric Reply

      Thank you! 🙂 Yeah, smocking is an awesome technique if you want to create interesting surface to your garment.

Write A Comment