Gathering Threads

Tutorial: Multi-Coloured Smocking Plates in Illustrator

Posted by on Feb 25 2011, in Smocking, Tutorial

This is the second tutorial in my on-going series on how to create smocking plates in Illustrator. You’ll be creating a picture smocking plate with multiple colours, irregular shapes and learn how to create basic embroidered details and save them in the symbols library.

It builds on the basic skills from the first two-part tutorial, which you’ll find here:

Tutorial: Designing Smocking Plates in Illustrator Pt. 1
Tutorial: Designing Smocking Plates in Illustrator Pt. 2

You’ll need to download the following files from Dropbox to complete this tutorial:

Learning Goals for Tutorial 2

Tutorial 2 builds on the introductory skills acquired in Tutorial 1. In this tutorial, you will continue to build familiarity with the tools and interfaces in Illustrator. You will trace a simple jpg image using the pen tool and complete a two-colour picture smocking plate. You will create a new symbol and apply it in the smocking design.

Tools Used in Tutorial 2

(Hotkey: V) Selection
(Hotkey: A) Direct Selection
(Hotkey: Q) Lasso Tool
(Hotkey: Z) Zoom, (Hotkey: ALT+Z) Zoom Out

(Hotkey: P) Pen

(Hotkey: R) Rotate
(Hotkey: I) Eyedropper

(Hotkey: K) Paint Bucket

(Hotkey: B) Brush

(Hotkey: T) Text
(Hotkey: Spacebar) Hand

Colour Palette

**denotes new tools

1. Open file
2. Open the Layers window (Hotkey: F7) and create a new layer, putting it between the “images” and “row” layers. Rename the new layer “picture”

3. Lock the “row”, “cables” and “pleat” layers by clicking the lock symbol box beside each layer.
4. Checking to make sure you are working on the picture layer, place the image file onto the layer File>Place>tutorial2.jpg. A large bitmap image will be placed on the picture layer.

5. Using the selection tool (Hotkey: V), rotate the picture until it is correctly oriented by selecting the image and dragging one of the corner points. Tip: hold down the shift key while rotating to limit the rotation to 45º, 90º etc.
6. Lock all remaining layers but the “images” layer. Click on the images layer to highlight it.

7. Click on the stroke icon to bring up the color picker window.

8. Change the stroke colour to a vibrant, easy to discern colour like red or magenta.

9. Zoom in (hotkey: z) until the present is large enough to work on easily.
10. Select the pen tool (hotkey: P) and begin to trace the shape. Click once at the starting point. Hold down the mouse and drag out the beziers handles until they’re easy to see (2cm/3/4” is appropriate). Release the mouse.

11. Click the corner of the parcel. Hold down the left mouse button and drag out the handles again. While still holding down the mouse button, click alt. The Bezier handles will bend. Drag the front point down until it points in the same direction as the edge of the parcel.

Tip: By clicking Alt while drawing a new Bezier point, you have transformed the point from a curved point to a corner point.
12. Continue working around the parcel in the same manner: Click and drag, then Alt to make each corner of the box. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly aligned with the drawing – you will be refining the tracing in a later step. Getting the corner points in the correct place is enough.

13. Deselect the bottom of the present by clicking Ctrl+Shift+A.
14. Trace the bow using the pen tool.

Tip: Use the same click+drag +alt technique to trace the points of the ribbon. For the ribbon’s curves, think of the Bezier points like a teeter totter and place one wherever the direction of the curve changes, dragging out the handles to deepen or reduce the depth of the curve.
15. Trace the knot by clicking at the top of the knot, dragging out the handles and then clicking again at the bottom of the bow. When you click again at the top of the knot on top of the existing point, the cursor will display a small circle. This means that you are creating a closed shape.

Tip: you can move shapes and lines drawn with the pen tool using the direct selection (Hotkey: V) to reveal its bounding box. Using the selection tool doesn’t change the shape or direction of the lines, just its location or rotation.
16. Refine the shape by using the direct selection tool (Hotkey: A). Click on a line and the Bezier handles will reappear. Manipulate the Bezier handles to make the tracing conform to the sketch. Work point by point around the shape until it matches the sketch.

17. Remove the pins from my effigy.
18. Select all Ctrl+A. Delete the tracing. Repeat steps 10-16 until you feel confident working with the pen tool.

When you are satisfied with the tracing, continue pt 2 of the tutorial, by clicking here.  As always, shout if you have any questions and feel free to share this tutorial with friends.   Just remember to credit my website with a link.


  • Just got the latest SAGA news and saw your design – it’s ADORABLE!!!! You are *sew* talented!!

  • Thanks. I’ve always had a soft spot for sock monkeys 🙂

  • Charissa

    Hi! You are so great for posting all these tutorials!!! Thank you so much. Thought I should let you know that two of the files for this tutorial don’t download: the pdf and

  • Claire

    Thanks, Charissa. I will investigate. Not much good if you can’t download them!

  • Claire

    All fixed. For some reason the links had disappeared from Dropbox, although the files were still there. It should work OK now.