Gathering Threads

SB Victorian Santa Step-by-Step

Posted by on Nov 10 2010, in magazine article, Smocking

I’ve got a lovely velvet pillow in the current issue of Sew Beautiful . It features a very different method of picture smocking. Essentially, I threw out the rule book, which usually advocates using multiple needles for complex picture smocking, and smocked it like you would a cross stitch picture, block of colour by block of colour.

I’m such a rebel 😉

It’s a great project and I’m really happy with how it came out. What I wanted to share were the ‘in progress shots’ that I actually remembered to take while I was smocking it this past summer. What a miracle!

I think it’s neat, watching it take shape, and I hope you find the images valuable, especially because they illustrate the ‘block’ method very clearly.

You can see the gathering threads; I use one colour to indicate my whole spaces and another colour to indicate my half spaces.  Makes finding your way around a big picture like this much easier!

Santa’s coat is smocked using a very non-traditional thread choice for smocking – it’s Rainbow Gallery’s Very Petite Velvet thread.  It was fantastic to work with – great coverage, lovely texture. Will definitely use it again!

I don’t worry about completing a whole area.  I get bored – short attention span, I guess, and so I often jump around as I smock a picture like this.  The skirt, a bit of the fur, the underskirt, a foot.  It also helps me gauge whether a colour or a thread is working without having to commit to the whole area first. I often change my mind as I design, tweaking and refining as I go.

I used a lot of colours in this design – fifteen or twenty, I think, and the block method allows me to add a touch of colour, like the straps, the beard or the cheeks, as I go. Gives a lot of depth to the picture, I think.

Of course, you don’t have to restrict the block method to just this pillow; once you get use to looking at picture smocking by block and not by individual row, it becomes very easy to use it for any picture smocking design.


  • That’s incredible! You are so talented!

  • Nancy

    love it. how hard was it to pleat the velvet? And I assume you started at dead center?

  • Claire

    Nancy – the insert itself was actually worked on summerweight wool broadcloth, not velvet, because the velvet pleats were so thick I ended up with a very short, very, very wide Santa. He’d never fit down any chimney that way. So the body of the pillow is velvet, the insert is matching wool.

    Wool and velvet though are very similar when it comes to pleating. They’re both thick and the pleats tend to pop, so you need to go very slowly and clear the needles continuously. You can’t pleat over seams, either. Too thick. I like to steam the pleats as I go, before they come off the needles. Doesn’t hurt the pleater any and the fabric ‘remembers’ better. I also always do wool with half spaces, again to control the fabric. I’m just about done a velvet dress (button holes still to go! ugh!) and I’ll make sure I talk more about how I pleated it when I post it up, OK?

  • Donna Aulbur

    Love it! Where do you find this thread?

  • Claire

    I got mine a while ago from my local needlework store, Golden Threads (now an estore, formerly a bricks and mortar shop). I don’t know if Michelle has that exact thread in stock, as I bought it quite some time ago, but she’s very good to deal with and super helpful.

    It’s used primarily for needle and canvas work, which is why most smockers will have never have heard of it 🙂 You can check out the Rainbow Gallery website – they list retailers who carry their threads there for one that’s close to you.