Hand Sewing How-To: Heirloom Smocking

sleboda-smocked-pin-1As you know, I’ve been in the market for hand sewing projects I can take with me while I’m on the go.

I’ve been embroidering since I was a little girl, so I decided to keep looking for a take-with-me project that will enable me to expand my sewing repertoire with a new technique. Enter heirloom smocking and Cheryl Sleboda’s Smocked Pincushions.

These pincushions have so many things going for them. You can make three out of one fat quarter of fabric. They are small enough that learning the technique is incredibly manageable (and easy to transport). Then, once you’ve got a basic understanding of grid-based smocking, also known as North American Smocking, you can experiment with your own designs.

sleboda-smocked-pin-3Without further ado, here is a brief tutorial on how to prepare the fabric for Cheryl’s Smocked Pincushions:

1. Fold the 7″ × 17″ fabric rectangle in half lengthwise. Press a crease along the length of the fabric. Unfold the fabric and place it on a work surface, wrong side up.

2. On the wrong side of the fabric and starting 1/2″ from the edge, draw a vertical line along the center fold line. Draw two more lines each 1/2″ away from the last on either side of the center line; continue drawing lines until you are 1/2″ from the end of the fabric. (You will draw 5 lines–1 following the center fold and 2 on each side of the fold.)

3. To draw the horizontal lines, start the top line 1/2″ from the edge of the fabric and create 1/2″ squares. When finished, there will be 4 horizontal boxes and 32 vertical boxes, each 1/2″ × 1/2″, with a 1/2″ gap at the top and bottom for the seam allowance.

sleboda-diagram4. Draw hash marks in each box in the grid according to the pattern to the right.

5. With right sides together, line up the short sides of the fabric and sew with a 1/2″ seam allowance, creating a fabric tube. Make sure the grid meets properly at the seam area.

6. Using a strong thread that matches the fabric and a hand sewing needle, pick up 2 corners of each grid box, barely catching the fabric with the needle. Bring the 2 corners together so they meet, and make a knot. Do not cut the thread, but travel down to the next set of tick marks and make a knot before picking up the corners of the next box with a tick mark in it.

7. Continue knotting and joining corners until all of the columns are smocked.

sleboda-smocked-pin-48. Turn the fabric tube right side out. Using a double length of thread and a strong knot, make a running stitch around one of the edges. Pull the thread tight and gather the fabric as neatly as possible. Knot securely.

9. Stuff the pincushion with a few handfuls of polyester fiberfill. Don’t pack too densely or it will lose its dimensional effect.

10. Using another double length of thread, take running stitches around the open end of the pincushion and pull it tight so the gathers at the center capture the stuffing inside.  You now have a puff with smocking around the edges.

sleboda-smocked-pin-511. Send the needle through the pincushion as straight as possible to the center of the gathers on the opposite side. Loop on one of the buttons, and reinsert the needle to go back through toward the knot. Pull gently until the button presses into the surface of the pincushion. Repeat this process for the second button. To finish make a strong know, trim the thread, and tuck the loose ends under the button.

As I am more of a visual learner, I found it extremely helpful to watch the heirloom smocking maven Cheryl Sleboda in action before I embarked on my own smocking adventure. I recommend checking out Cheryl’s workshop video Heirloom Smocking for Today’s Quilter; it’s available as a DVD or as a video download you can take with you anywhere.

Before my next trip, I’m going t prepare a few of these pincushions so I have something to sew on the way to my destination.

Happy sewing!

Brenna's Signature

P.S. If want to get a taste of the technique before you bite off more than you can chew, take a peek at the Quilting Arts TV segment where Cheryl demonstrates heirloom smocking. You can stream it instantly on QNNtv.  And be sure to check out the Pretty Patchwork Pincushions eBook for all of Cheryl’s expert tips that accompany this project.

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