Gathering Threads

Book Review: Simplified Smocking by Helena Buehler

Posted by on Jul 23 2010, in Book Review, Smocking, Smocking Plates

I picked up this interesting book, “Simplified Smocking” by Helena Buehler from Abebooks last year for a song. My copy was published in 1916; I’ve since since re-prints issued by several online sellers on Ebay and Etsy. This book is notable because while several of my Victorian-era embroidery books mention smocking among other techniques, it is the earliest book exclusively on smocking in my personal library.


It’s a interesting little book, part how-to, part catalogue, with adorable illustrations. It showcases an interesting method of smocking that has all but disappeared since the advent of the pleating machine: namely iron-on smocking designs that create the pleats and the smocking design in one step.

Essentially, this technique is a variation on the better known linear smocking dots technique, whereby pleats are created by picking up a regular pattern of iron-on dots and then smocking worked across the pleats. But in simplified smocking, the dots are patterned and when they are picked up and pulled tight, they create cable, outline, wave and trellis stitches as they form the pleats.


This method was used by pattern companies like Vogue, McCalls, Advance and Simplicity well into the 1960s and it has some advantages. Certainly the time savings that were gained by consolidating the pleating process and the smocking would be attractive; the downside were a limited repertoire of pre-determined designs and the challenge of removing the iron dots from light or delicate fabrics (although some companies apparently got around this by offering their iron-on patterns in blue and silver, for dark and light fabrics respectively)


Frankly though, the appeal for me are the illustrations in this book.  Like this baby, plump and replete.


And these little coats and dresses for girls:



If that doesn’t make you want to go ‘awww’, I don’t know what will, frankly.

They’re a fantastic treasure trove of charming vintage design with lots of interesting ideas for incorporating smocking into a whole range of outfits. There’s a definite Kate Greenaway charm to these children and I always enjoy studying the whimsical designs for vintage inspiration.  This little girl with the lantern is my favourite, though.


Doesn’t it remind you of John Singer Sargent’s classic impressionist work, “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose”?


The smocking patterns aren’t detailed with stitch instructions  – they’re photographed in black and white and numbered, catalogue-style, with the reader encouraged to visit their local 1916 shop for purchase :). However, most of the patterns are clearly discernible and recreating them would not present a challenge to a determined smocker.

Buehler plate No.4

As a bit of fun, I’ve recreated one of the EZ Smocking Patterns, which sold for the exorbitant price of 25 cents. Click Here for a pdf download.  You are free to share the link to this plate with smocking friends and use it for personal or charity sewing. Please credit my website and don’t repost or resell the chart on your own site.  Enjoy!


  • Beth

    This is soooo cool!