Gathering Threads

Tutorial: Designing Geometric Smocking Plates in Illustrator

Posted by on Jun 23 2011, in Tutorial, Uncategorized

This is the third lesson in my series of tutorials on how to use Adobe Illustrator to create smocking plates.

This geometric plate features some of the most common geometric smocking stitches, including cable, wave and trellis.  It also features a simple cross-over design to introduce working with multiple layers.  It seems counter-intuitive that creating a geometric design should be more difficult than making a picture smocked design in Illustrator, since the opposite is true when stitching, but geometrics are more challenging because of their greater variability.  Stacked cables are stacked cables to a large extent but geometric designs are all different and so no two projects can be worked in exactly the same manner.

You need to be comfortable manipulating vector shapes, understanding how to get them aligned, distributed and sized and working from a blank slate, rather than taking away pre-existing stitches like we did in the earlier picture smocking tutorials.

If you haven’t completed the first two tutorials, you’ll want to practice and complete them first before tackling the final tutorial on creating geometric plates, as I build on the basic skills from each of the earlier lessons.  You’ll find the first two tutorials and all related downloads here:

Tutorial: Designing Smocking Plates in Illustrator
Tutorial: Multi-Coloured Smocking Plates in Illustrator.

You will need a copy of Adobe Illustrator to work with these files.  It will work on either a Mac or a PC.  However, the shortcut codes here are written for a PC.  If you need the Mac codes, you will find them here.

For tutorial 3, download the following file from Dropbox:

Learning Outcomes

In this tutorial, you will learn how to manipulate geometric stitch symbols to create a nine row smocking plate.  You will learn how to modify and create original symbols.  You will also learn how to create custom colour swatches.

Tools Used in Tutorial 3

(Hotkey: V)

Direct Selection
(Hotkey: A)


(Hotkey: Spacebar)


(Hotkey: Z)

Zoom Out

(Hotkey: ALT+Z)


(Hotkey: T)

Note: This tutorial is written with PC shortcuts.  Many of the shortcut codes are the same on the Mac but for the complete list of Mac-friendly codes, click here


1.  Open the Adobe Illustrator file

2.  Open Layers (Hotkey: F7) and lock the ‘row’ and ‘pleats’ layers.  Unlock the cables layer and highlight it so you can work on it.

3.  Open the Symbols window (Shift+Ctrl+F11/Windows>Symbols)  and select the “cable pair”.  Drag it onto the artboard.

4.  Align the cable pair at the left edge of row 1 using the selection tool (Hotkey: V).  Zoom in (Hotkey: Z) to increase magnification to get an accurate alignment on the pleats.

5.  Change the keyboard increment (Ctrl+K) to 4mm.  Tip: If your default setting is for measurements set to something other than millimetre, you can change the measurement setting by going to Edit>Preferences>Unit>General Measurements and selecting ‘millimetres’.

6.  Hold down the Alt Key and tap the right arrow.  The cable pair will be duplicated exactly 4mm from the original.  Continue tapping the right arrow until the entire row is filled.

7.  Change the keyboard increment again (Ctrl+K) to 16mm.

8.  Using the selection tool (Hotkey: V) highlight the entire row of cables.

9.  Copy the cables by clicking the right mouse button>transform>reflect.  Select ‘horizontal’ and then ‘copy’ to create a mirror image of the row.  The new row will be directly on top of the original row and highlighted.

10.  Hold down the Alt key and tap the down arrow.  The duplicated cables will move to the next gathering row.  Continue moving the reflected cables until they are on row 9.  Deselect the cables (Ctrl+Shift+A).

11.  From the symbols window, select “Full Space Wave”. Tip:  All of the smocking symbols are labelled.  To see their title, simply hold the cursor over the symbol and its title will appear. Drag the Full Space Wave onto the artboard, placing it between rows 2 and 3, directly below the row of cable stitches.

12.  Switch from Preview mode to Outline mode (Ctrl+Y).

13.  Zoom in (Hotkey: Z) to 1200%.  Using the selection tool (Hotkey: V), align the full space wave with the gathering rows and pleats.  When it is aligned, zoom out by making the artboard fit the window (Ctrl+0).  Return to Preview mode (Ctrl+Y).

14.  Change the keyboard increment (Ctrl+K) to 8mm.

15.  Making sure the symbol is still highlighted, duplicate the full space trellis across the width of the plate by holding down the Alt key and tapping the right or left arrow keys.

At this point, the stitches will likely not align with the edges of the plate.  Don’t worry.  We will clean up the stragglers at the end of the design process, once everything is finalized.  For now, ignore any stitches that extend past the pleats.

16.  Select the row of trellis stitches with the selection tool (Hotkey: V).

17.  Copy the stitches by right clicking>transform>reflect.   Select ‘horizontal’ and then copy.  The mirror image will be highlighted.

18.  Push the down arrow until the duplicated row is between rows 7 and 8.

Gosh.  Looking at the plate, I see that those full space waves are just to big for the design.  I want to change them but I don’t want to have to start from scratch.  That’s OK.  I can substitute one symbol for another.  Here’s how.

19.  Highlight the full space waves on row 2-3 and row 7-8. (Hotkey: V)

20.  Next, click on the half space save in the symbols window.

21.  With the full space waves still highlighted and the half-space symbol chosen, click on the dropdown menu in the top right corner of the symbols window and choose “Replace Symbol”.

22.  In the workspace, all of the full space waves are now half-space waves.  Tip:  This substitution only works with symbols whose links haven’t been broken or otherwise changed from the original.  If you break the symbols link and then decide you want to change it, you will need to manually delete the revised element from the workspace and replace it from scratch.

22.  Change the keyboard increment to 2mm (Ctrl+K) and move the half space waves to row 1 1/2 and row 8.

23.  Save your work as   The second part of this tutorial can be found by clicking here and we will tackle creating new symbols, tweaking existing stitches to fit new applications and how to work with layers.


  • kathleen