Practice 2: Smocking Tests (MS 3)

Practice 2

Smocking Basics

Since one of the main focuses of my final major project will be textile manipulation and advanced costume work, I’ve been looking at ways to incorporate some real-world techniques into my piece. I’ve planned to do some complex quilting designs (essentially, stitching two layers of fabric together with decorative thread and puffing out the space in between – in real life, this is done with a sandwiched layer of fluffy batting, and in Marvelous Designer, created with internal stitch lines and the pressure feature). However, this is something that I see quite often in other people’s designs and I’m looking to push the envelope with this one.

Enter: smocking. Smocking is a neat trick for creating complex gathers and ruched designs in garments, and has historical roots from several time periods (particularly seen in Elizabethan garb). I’ve had my eye on it after doing so much research on my live brief project, as Daenerys has quite a few gowns on Game of Thrones that make use of a specific type of dragonscale smocking invented for the show. I hadn’t thought about applying it digitally until I happened across this Youtube tutorial where a very simple form of smocking is done using the pin/tack tool in Marvelous:

This makes perfect sense – smocking is, in essence, pinning two points on a piece of fabric together in a series to create a design. It’s most often used in areas of clothing where there is some stretch or ease, such as fitting garments to a neck, waistline, or sleeve cuff. However, it can also simply be inset into non-stretch areas of a garment for decoration. While Marvelous’s tack tool is primarily used to pin sections of clothing in place, either to each other or to a mannequin, it also works perfecty for smocking details.

I spent some time familiarizing myself with different types of smocking, and found that there are endless diagrams available online. ShannieMakes has an excellent set of free downloadable .pdf versions of various designs, although without specific views of the finished products, so I was off to test out how well the various designs would work in practice digitally.


I started out arranging all of the smocking diagrams on a single image and set them as the background reference in MD. I then simply created a series of test squares attached to a backing and traced over the indicated lines with the tack tool. In doing so, I discovered a great feature: tacks can be scaled, copied, pasted, and mirrored, meaning I only need to trace a small section manually and then can re-use and replicate parts of the tacking anywhere I like. This means that I can actually reuse these exact test pieces on the final garment, saving significant time.

Generally, I think most of my smocking tests were quite successful: there’s some messiness and inconsistency, but that adds to the realism. One issue became immediately apparent: some of the sections of fabric didn’t quite want to dip or puff out in the correct orientation (i.e. some bits that should be puffed up towards the camera were behind the stitching and vice versa). I was able to resolve this somewhat by applying pressure to the fabric squares and essentially creating a series of small pillows, then applying the tacks and simulating. However, there’s obviously an important element in real-world smocking where the sewist can physically manipulate each section and force it to fold correctly, something that I can’t reasonably do for an automatically simulated piece in the digital space.

All in all, the smocking designs that worked the best were the ones that ‘naturally’ fell into the correct place without too much adjustment. In particular, I like the look of the dragonscale and honeycomb designs (lower LHS and lower RHS respectively), and plan to make use of both in my necromancer’s costume.

Test Application

I wanted to do one more proof of concept with these designs, and that was to test them in larger scale on an actual garment. I chose a waistband of a simple rectangular gathered skirt and the easiest method to replicate, the honeycomb smocking. I had some minor trouble aligning my copy-pasted sections of the smocking tacks to each other, but once that was resolved (by pasting some duplicated over others and then deleting the extra tacks), I think the effect looks great! I’m currently eyeing this technique for part of the sleeve cuffs and likely a decorative waistband, belt, or part of her skirt.


CLO. (2021). Garment Details: Expressing smocking detail (w/tack tool) (EN). Available at: [Accessed 2 April 2022].

ShannieMakes. (2021). North American Smocking. [online] ShannieMakes. Available at: [Accessed 3 April 2022].

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