Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Fabric Ratios

An interesting question came up last week in a pleater class. How do I know how much fabric I need to be able to smock something? My first instinct was to respond at least 3 times fullness. But with a moment's though I knew that isn’t true for every fabric.
Whether you are smocking or just gathering fabric for regular sewing you might be interested in these findings. 

You see the thinner (or finer) the fabric the finer the pleats so the more you need. Conversely, the thicker the fabric the fatter the pleats and the fewer you need to cover a space. 

If you have a selection of fabric in your stash to test you could make a chart for reference. This might prove very handy if you like to mix up your fabrics and take creative license with the patterns you make up!

I chose a commercial pattern for a little child’s yoke in size small for the comparison. It was a straight yoked garment which measured 7” from side seam to side seam. The pattern of course is 'on the fold'. If you were comparing for a garment like a bishop which involves flaring the pleats the results would be different again. But we are comparing only straight gathering.
So here I have taken four popular fabrics for smocking: a soft batiste, a silky broadcloth, a deceiving flannel and a 21 wale corduroy. I pleated a depth of 6 gathering threads and the full width of the fabric (45” for all but the broadcloth which was wider). I marked of every 7" and put a pin in that valley so you can easily see the ratios I photographed.

The batiste:

45" less a seam allowance at each end - 6x fullness

Here is a full 45" width of batiste pleated up and it fills the 7" but is very condensed - perhaps too full to be able to smock and have the stitching look it's best.    

5 x fullness - not bad for picture smocking.
4x fullness  - still lots of fullness in the skirt and perfect for smocking

3x fullness - getting a bit thin good for geometric smocking

2.5x fullness - you can't go any less and still be able to smock


 The broadcloth:
6x fullness - really packed!

5x fullness - still quite packed but great for picture smocking and a lovely full skirt!
4X fullness - looks perfect for any smocking
3x fullness - very good for geometric smocking and still a fairly full skirt
2.5x fullness - getting a bit thin, geometric smocking only
The flannel:
This felt not much thicker than the broadcloth but the results of the pleating showed it was indeed a thicker fabric. Just goes to show you that things are not always as they seem.
5.5x fullness - wow look how wide that is!! Only 4x can be used.

3x fullness - pleats are still very packed
2.5x fullness - still good -compare with the batiste!
2x fullness - still very good for most smocking, but skirt getting skimpy
The 21 wale corduroy:
I love using pinwale corduroy for children's wear. Today knits are very popular and can create very beautiful garments but I didn't have anything readily at hand to test so was left with the pinwale corduroy. It has its own challenges and makes for an interesting base for your stitching.
4x fullness - pleats are really packed and the skirt would be really full

3x fullness - perfect for smocking & skirt would be nice and full as well

2x fullness - still good for smocking and still adequate fullness for a skirt

Of note is the  fact that this testing was done with a 16 row Pullen pleater. Not all pleaters take up the same amount of fabric in a pleat. Differences inn rations will thus appear between pleaters. For example, the Sally Stanley pleater takes quite shallow pleats compared to a Read so the Stanley pleater will give you more pleats over 45" of fabric. Worth knowing!

Hope this has proven interesting, thought provoking and/or helpful.

If you ever wondered why a pattern didn't afford you enough fabric to smock or the reverse this testing might provide you with some answers.
Any other questions???

So till next time, keep stitching.....




  1. This was VERY helpful. Thanks for doing the research. It saved me a lot of time.

  2. Thank you, after google and looking up info on the width of material to be used, this was very helpfull, specially for a beginner!

  3. Very helpful as I learn to adapt patterns to accomadate pleating.

  4. This was a beautiful illustration of why I've been having trouble! I've been using the 3x rule and when I'm finished smocking the piece seems too narrow. Thank you for running the visual test...it is very helpful as I continue on this path of smocking and perfecting these skills.

  5. Great explanation. I had often wondered.

  6. i have just recently started smocking and found your hard work very helpful, thankyou.


  8. Thank you so much.very helpful.

  9. I am brand new to smocking, so new in fact that I have never done it. My question is, can you use the current simplicity/McCall’s patterns and if so, how?

  10. I received a pleater years ago and never used it...and now I cannot find patterns...I am nervous to cut the material.....where can I purchase pattern now in Canada