Our daughter Sophie has lived a lifetime around sewing projects but I’ve never heard her gasp with excitement about a sewing project until we started experimenting with elastic thread. If you’ve never sewn with it before, it’s the element that causes fabric to smock magically. For those of us who grew in the tube top era, never fear there are uses for elastic thread beyond the dreaded tube top. Although there are mass manufactured fabrics that have been pre-smocked with elastic thread, in general they are not beautifully printed or made with nice greige goods and are often made with juvenile prints. I like elastic thread smocking for pool cover-ups, casual summer skirts, sleeve and pocket details and kids’ clothing. Most of the time, you’ll find it with elastics in the store rather than thread.
It’s very simple to work with as long as you follow a few simple rules:
- When smocking, use regular thread for the top stitches. The elastic thread goes only in the bobbin.
- Handwind the bobbin without stretching the elastic thread at all. Don’t use the bobbin winding mechanism on your machine. This is critical.
- Use the longest stitch possible on your machine.
- If you have a walking foot, use it.
- Sew the rows of smocking about ¾” apart.
- Leave long tails when you start and stop rows and knot them together after each row is smocked.
- If you’re making a skirt or a dress with a smocked waist or bodice, make the width of the garment your largest dimension (bust, waist or hips) plus an additional 50% of that measurement. For example, if you would ordarily cut fabric 40” wide for a skirt, cut the fabric to be smocked 60” wide. I’ve seen patterns that say to double it but on our machine and with the Gutermann elastic thread we used, doubling was waaay too big. The amount of smocking is also greater in lighterweight fabrics it seems. For example, you might get less shrinkage in terrycloth than you would in lawn.
- Do a test strip of the length you plan to sew to see how much it shrinks with the thread.
- Elastic thread is most successful on lighterweight fabrics. Terrycloth is about as heavy as you can go. It’s not strong enough to smock leather or vinyl for example.
Any other tips on using elastic thread?