Gathering Threads

Tutorial: Smocked Herringbone Baskets

Posted by on Jul 10 2014, in Smocking, Tutorial

I got a lot of questions (and kind compliments) when I posted pictures of my Grace Knott WIP in the spring. Many of the questions dealt with the flower baskets, which look uncannily like real wicker. Folks were curious to know what stitch I’d used and could I show them how to do it? Then answers to those questions are herringbone and of course, I can. That’s why I have a blog!


Happily, working these baskets in herringbone stitch is as easy as working them in stacked cable. Open herringbone (and its relative closed herringbone) are less familiar to many smockers than stitches like cable or trellis but ever since I encountered it in my Advanced Stitches course, I’ve loved them and use them often in my own designs. I’ve successfully used closed herringbone to replicate Christmas trees on a bishop, and again in my Smocked Laces design. I’ve never seen anyone else working baskets with this stitch (although what I don’t know about smocking would fill a good book :)), but it’s always nice to have a variety of techniques on hand to personalize and change up a plate to give it a fresh or different look.  They can be used in place of existing stacked cable baskets or added as a new detail.  Heck, turn them upside down and they’d make great beehives!

This tutorial will show you how to work a single basket worked with five bands of open herringbone.  In terms of the stitch’s anatomy, herringbone is worked from left to right, but unlike most smocking stitches that cover two pleats (one old, one new), both open and closed herringbone cover three pleats (two old, one new), giving it its distinctive slanted, cross-over effect.

The size of  this basket is one and 2/3 rows deep by 22 pleats wide.   My herringbone baskets are worked with 1/3 spacing.  I found this a good scale for a child’s garment, but baskets can be made larger or smaller, simply by increasing the number of rows or even the scale of the open herringbone from 1/3 spacing to 1/2 spacing or even larger, once you have mastered the basic technique.   I am using three strands of DMC floss, stripped and reassembled, and a no. 7 embroidery needle. I will work each row in a different colour, to make it easier for readers to distinguish between them, but typically, you would work the entire basket in a single colour.

Working Directions

1. Secure the floss on the wrong side and come to the front between pleats one and two on row 1. Go back through pleat 1, emerging on the left side.

herringbone basket tutorial (1)

2. Carry the floss down.  Go back through pleats 3 and 2 on row 1 1/3. Your floss will lie on a downward angle across pleats 1, 2 and 3.

herringbone basket tutorial (2)

3. Take your needle back up to row 1. Go back through pleats 4 and 3. The floss will cross itself and lie on an upward angle now. Make sure each leg of the stitch lies smoothly and isn’t twisted or tangled. The smoother the floss, the more the stitch will look like wicker.

herringbone basket tutorial (3)

4. Take the need back down to row 1 1/3 and go back through pleats 5 and 4.

herringbone basket tutorial (4)

5.  Continue the herringbone stitch across the row, alternating up and down between row 1 and row 1 1/3,  until you have covered 22 pleats.

herringbone basket tutorial (5)

6. On the final stitch of the row, you will only cover two pleats, not three. This partial stitch will make the pattern look complete, but is very small and isn’t carried all the way down to row 1 1/3 (more like 1 1/6!).  It’s a fill in stitch. Once you’ve worked it, take the floss to the back, and tie off.

herringbone basket tutorial (6)

7. On the second, third and fourth rows, you will cover two fewer pleats with each row: one less at the beginning and one less at the end, so the sides of the basket taper. Secure the floss for the second row and come to right side between pleats 2 and 3 on row 1 1/3. Go back through pleat two, emerging on the left side of the pleat, so that your floss just touches the stitches of the row above.  Take the needle down to row 1 2/3 and go back through pleats 4 and 3.

herringbone basket tutorial (7)

8. Continue across the row, ending with a partial stitch over pleats 20 and 21.

herringbone basket tutorial (8)

9. Using the same herringbone stitch pattern as before, and maintaining the one third spacing, complete row 3 (18 pleats covered between row 1 2/3 and row 2) and row 4 (16 pleats covered between row 2 and 2 1/3).

herringbone basket tutorial (9)


herringbone basket tutorial (10)

10. The fifth and final row is worked in the same fashion, except that I chose to “round” the bottom of my basket by decreasing by two pleats at the beginning and end, instead of the single pleat like rows 2-4.  My fifth row is worked over 12 pleats between row 2 1/3 and 2 2/3.  This is optional – if you prefer to keep decreasing by a single pleat at each end and work it over 14 pleats, that’s fine, too.

herringbone basket tutorial (11)

And that’s all there is to working a basket in herringbone stitch. A few flowers, a couple of french knots, maybe a detached chain handle and your basket is ready to tisket, tasket or any other job you can dream up for it!




  • Kathy Motsinger Hensley

    I’m just learning smocking so this is very interesting to me. Also, very pretty. Tomorrow I will give it a practice try. Thank you for sharing.

  • This is fabulous! You make it look easy 🙂
    Have you ever done smoking with beads? I mean not beads added as an extra, but where the beads form the design self. I have only seen vintage samples made in Mexico.
    I’ve tried but couldn’t get the beads to behave and stay in the ditch. But I am not much good at smocking, anyhow, having done mostly Canadian smocking.

  • Claire

    I’ve done a few plates with beads, Esther, but usually just as an accent. I’ve never seen any Mexican smocking, though, vintage or otherwise. Are there any pictures of it online because I’m intrigued… 🙂

  • Claire

    I think you’ll really enjoy learning herringbone stitch, Kathy. It’s very versatile and works up quickly.

  • Beautifully done! Thank you for the fabulous tutorial!