Canadian Smocks : the complete guide
Fabric Manipulations

Canadian Smocks : The Complete Guide

What are Canadian Smocks ?

Canadian smocks are a type of fabric manipulation or hand stitching technique, also sometimes called North American smocks.

The craftsman make stitches on certain places of the fabric, to gather the fabric together, creating a 3D pattern.

There are a lot of different existing pattern [Just type “Canadian Smocks Patterns” in Pinterest to see what I mean 😉 ]

Almost all smock patterns needs to be hand made, and this technique takes quite a long time to make.

What I love about Canadian Smocks is that they create a lot of volume ; the fabric doesn’t stay flat and 2D, it become three dimensional. And I love the mix of repetition and organic shapes in the patterns.

They are not to be confused with (regular) smocks, that originally had the goal of creating elasticity in clothes. Regular smocks are made by pleating fabric, then adding threads, often colored and following a decorative pattern, to hold it in place.

Sometimes, due to the similarities of names, Smocks can be explained as a general type of fabric manipulation, inside of which you can find English smocks, American/Counter change smocks, Canadian smocks, amongst other names and variations. But I found Canadian Smocks to be quite different from the other types of smocks ; I consider it as a different technique, and therefore made this dedicated post ! 

Origin

There isn’t a lot of information on the invention of Canadian Smocks. I’m not even sure it’s from Canada ! But this keyword is how I found it on Pinterest and Google, so I’m adopting it too.

It seems to have had the most success in the 20th century, although the first time we found a smocked pattern is on a 18th century French dress, now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The 18th century French Dress, apparently the oldest proof of our smocked patterns

The first time Canadian Smocks became fashionable was during the 30’s & 40’s. The second time was in the 70’s, when synthetic velvet appeared. We used to make cushions and bolsters with canadian smocks, mostly.

Since this technique is so close to smocks, it might also have been used for fashion clothes, mostly for women’s blouses & dresses.

Learn more on this topic by reading the 2nd part of MrxStitch’s article.

What’s the difference between Smocks & Canadian Smocks ?

A quick comparison between those 2 techniques :

Smocks :Canadian Smocks :
Used to create elasticity, before the invention of elastane and other elastic man made fibersDon’t create elasticity
Fabric is pleated, then stitches create the pattern, often with colored threads to embellish the workStitches are NOT visible on front
Worked from frontWorked from the back
Pleats create the volume, stitches create the decorThe stitches creates the volume

Different Canadian smocks patterns

Essais sur néoprene + patrons dessinés sur Illustrator

texture neosmock Flo Home Delight
[I’m using the back side of this one on my Flo Home Delight collections !]

Flower/Neosmock Pattern

Canadian Smock Floriane Schmitt waves
A sample I used in my graduation collection
Canadian Smock Floriane Schmitt waves
Wave Pattern
Via Chairish
Canadian Smock Floriane Schmitt lattice
Lattice Pattern
Via Nitin Goyal
Canadian Smock Floriane Schmitt leaf
Leaf Pattern
Via Debbie Shore
Canadian Smock Floriane Schmitt hearts
Heart Pattern
Via Debbie Shore
A brick pattern can be transformed into a bow pattern !
Canadian Smock Floriane Schmitt bricks
Bricks Pattern

Via Threads Magazine
Canadian Smock Floriane Schmitt tubes
Tubes Pattern
Via Debbie Shore
Canadian Smock Floriane Schmitt bones
Bones Pattern

Those are the most common, but there are plenty more existing. You can even create your own ! Check out my Pinterest Board for more pattern & Inspiration about Canadian Smocks.

How to make Canadian Smocks ?

Canadian Smocks may seem complicated, but they really are not. Once you know how to make one stitch, you just repeat the process ! [A loooot of time, yes, but it’s always the same stitch] It’s more time consuming than complicated 🙂

Be careful of choosing a fabric at least twice as big as the final size your aiming for, because gathering fabric together reduce the size of the final piece.

1. Choose a fabric for your creation

canadian smocks : Oriane Thellier Floriane Schmitt
The smocked dress I made for my graduation collection. A Wave Pattern but on biais, and enlarging the scale gradually. Photo : Oriane Thellier

Any fabric will work, but if you try different ones, you will see that the results can look completely different. Usually velvet and satin were used, but I find them a bit outdated, and prefer to use other fabrics [my favorite ones is Neoprene, because it is so soft, moderne and creates a cozy look when smocked]

If you want an origami-like result, choose a fabric that is thin, stiff, breaking, paper-like. For example, taffetas, organza, or even canvas or a thinner cotton based fabric.

If you want something more cozy, find a soft, weighty and mellow fabric. For example, neoprene, knitted wools, or a felted fabric that isn’t too thick.

I also love to have something quite airy, light and transparent for a more poetic approach, like I did on this dress, using silk chiffon.

2. Choose a pattern

In addition to the pattern presented up there, Pinterest is overflowing with new pattern ideas ! When I first tried Canadian Smocks, I really enjoyed trying a lot of different patterns, on different fabrics, and on different scales, just to see what I’ll end up with ! [The research part is always my favorite – fun, discovery, learning, and no pressure to get a result right away 🙂 ]

I was using small pieces of fabric, to end up with approximately 15x15cm samples.

3. Trace the pattern

Either on pattern paper or directly on the fabric, trace the grid and fill out the mark to remember where to stitch.

If you did it on the paper [Smart, you won’t have to trace it again next time 😉], now is the time to mark the fabric as well.

Remember, we are making the stitches on the back side, so make sure you’re tracing the pattern on the back side of the fabric.

4. Start stitching !

This is going to be the longest part !

Following the guide your just traced on the fabric, start stitching. At each dot, put your needle inside the fabric, and make it go up again only a few threads later. [I know, this sentence isn’t quite easy to understand, see the picture to see what I mean !]

Canadian smock pattern tip
On the fabric, my needle goes down, then a few threads after, up again. The numbers indicate the order to follow for my favorite smocked pattern, that I named Neosmock

Here you go ! You’ve done your first Canadian Smocks, Congratulations !

Wanna show your new work ? Join my free Facebook group and post your pictures !

Do you want to learn how to make these ?

I made a free ebook to show you EXACTLY how I made my Neosmock cushions ! [Neo for neoprene, smocks for… well smocks 😄]

I’m showing every step I took + my best tips to be more efficient when smocking [It takes hours to makes them, so if I can save some time, I’m excited !]

Click the image to download the Neosmock guide !

Ebook How to make canadian smocks

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