Embroidered pleat-work (smocking) and what appears to be honeycomb smocking was a common element in garb and aprons of the 15th and 16th centuries in Germany. I created this hands-on demo in January 2020 to present at SCA events, and it covers basic fold pleating technique and honeycomb smocking (aka spot style). The text, pictures, and diagrams in this article are the authors; this is an introduction to established techniques and is very similar to techniques used today (Fabric Manipulation: 150 Creative Sewing Techniques by Ruth Singer). There are plenty of resources on the web for historically accurate techniques, see links at the bottom for more in-depth tutorials.
Fabric (16 x 8) inches, marking pen (water erasable preferred), ruler, needle, thread, scissors.
- Mark the fabric with dots to guide the running stitches to create the pleats. Beginning 1 inch below the edge of the longest side of the fabric swatch, use the ruler to mark a line of dots every 1⁄2 inch until you have 28 dots.
- Make 4 parallel rows of dots 1 inch apart, making sure to line the dots up vertically and horizontally. Dot patterns should always be even numbers.
- Sew a running stitch using the dot markings. Errors happen; correct the stitch as needed to match the parallel dot lines. Once a row is done, tie the threads together. It is a good idea to tie two at a time together, so they do not pull through the fabric, tying the thread ends all together can cause the pleat to fold in half while you are working. The threads can also be tied to a button or bead to keep track.
- Gather the pleats by pulling the threads gently.
- Starting 1⁄2 inch from the top edge, align the ruler perpendicularly across the pleats, then mark the honeycomb stitches by running the pen along the ruler. Mark 6 rows 1⁄2 inch apart. The result will be 3 rows of honeycomb.
- To secure the pleats in the honeycomb pattern, start at the upper left side of the fabric. At the first dot and pull the thread up from the back of the fabric to the front. Then cross over to the adjacent pleat to the right and secure with a backstitch twice.
- To terminate the second stitch, keep the needle on the backside of the fabric. Then pass down inside the pleat to the row below.
- Repeat and continue until you reach the right end of the fabric. Then drop down two dots to the second dot, turn the whole piece, so the row is now on the left. Now repeat on the next two rows of dots. If you don’t want to flip it, you can tie it off and start again at the 3rd dot down on the upper left dot.
- Cut the guide threads and admire your handy work!
- This can be shrunk down to fit any project you are working on, I commonly create 1/4 inch pleats and 1/4 inch spaced honeycomb stitching.
For more detailed tutorials and information to start your own project, visit:
- Fitzarbeit buchlein, Mastering 15th and 16th Pleatwork Techniques, The Pleatwork Book
- 16th Century German Pleatwork Hemd and Halbrock
- 16th century German – hemd / chemise
- Making a Medieval Smocked Apron (and a Giveaway!) Another method is to skip the pleating and sew the smocking directly using dot patterns. Elenae Verch Phelip has made an excellent video on this method.