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What are Smocking Plates?

By Janis Adams
Updated May 21, 2024
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Smocking plates, also referred to as smocking templates or smocking design plates, are smocking designs or patterns with diagrammed or written instructions on how to stitch the design onto the pleated portion of the fabric. These smocking plates have evolved and developed over the years and have come to be more and more detailed and include more directives. Smocking plates are used by both the most accomplished sewer and by those who are just starting out.

Smocking is a sewing technique that was first developed as a hand-stitching technique to produce elasticity within a garment before elastic was developed. Smocking follows a distinct and necessary pattern. Pattern consistency is necessary due to the need for a garment or a piece to fit comfortably or lie smoothly. For this reason, there is a definite need for the plates.

Smocking plates provide an outline or a guideline for the stitching that will be done on the top of the of pleats. Plates range in theme and design, from the most simplistic to the most intricate of patterns. Smocking plates can be drawn or ironed onto a piece of fabric. They are simply a pattern followed to create consistency and continuity on the piece on which they are used.

Any type of stitch can be used with a smocking plate. These plates simply provide an outline to follow for a stitch or row combination. These plates help ensure that those using them maintain consistency and evenness in their stitches. These plates often will include guidelines for cutting the smocking material and for maintaining even and consistent pleats.

Smocking plates range from the most complicated to the most simplistic designs. A plate can be used repetitively when a specific motif is going to appear more than once. The plate is placed on the material and then moved when the transfer of the patterned section is complete. It is then used repetitively until the pattern is complete.

Created most often for children's clothing, smocking plates can hold designs that create entire scenes to be laid out on pleated fabric. For example, a popular theme for young girls' dresses is bunnies and flowers in a garden. Plates for these type of themed patterns usually contain the entire scene in one plate. Regardless of the theme, smocking plates are an aid to those doing heirloom stitchery.

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