Getting ready for SMOCKING … an overview of using my Amanda Jane pleater…

I know many of you were expecting to see a dress today…sorry, it’s not gonna happen… But I can tell you I’m closer to finishing today than I was yesterday! Aren’t you thrilled?

As I was getting things ready to pleat my fabric to make the next dress for my Little Darlings, I thought I’d give you a little sneak peek at how to begin smocking. This won’t show you the smocked part, but everything leading up to it.

I own an Amanda Jane Pleater and love it very much. I’ve had it for probably 13-14 years now and can’t remember exactly why I got this one, but I would highly recommend it. It never gives me fits and works like a dream every time. I think it was around $140…but can’t remember for sure. I got it when I was making little girls dresses and selling them at my local Farmer’s Market. I do like making doll things on it much better… smaller projects to finish are a lot more fun!

Meet my baby… Amanda Jane… isn’t she a beauty?


This will just be a brief overview but I’ll give you some basics. The pleater consists of 3 brass roller bars that fit together like cog wheels. The curved needles rest in grooves in the bars. Since I mostly do small projects, I thread only the needles needed as I do a project, but you can have a box where you’ll have a continuous feed of thread and could smock for as long as your thread holds out. My thread pieces were about a yard long… I use a Quilt thread because it’s much stronger and won’t break as you pull on it. The thread will act as your guide lines to follow as you stitch your design in place. They can be removed in the end or if hidden they can be left in place. You only need to pleat as wide as what your design will be. Since this is a small bodice, I threaded 10 needles and will have about 2″ wide to smock my design in.


I used a piece of PVC pipe to wrap my fabric around and secured it in place with a couple pieces of tape. You want to keep your top edge exactly straight so when you feed it through, it’s the same width from the top edge to your first row of stitches.



When you have it all rolled on your pipe and the edges are exactly even on the right hand edge, you can begin to feed the end through the bars…holding the fabric on the pipe in your left hand, you slowly and carefully turn the knob with your right hand and it pulls your fabric through like an old wringer washing machine…If your needles are out of line you can snap them all off in a single wrong or fast turn…that’s not a good day!!! To keep the needles sharp, each time you use it, run a piece of wax paper through it a couple of times…


Crank it a little bit at a time, and then carefully slide the fabric pleats off the needles and just onto the thread…


…and a little more…


…almost there…


OKAY…now this will be a good place to show you what NOT TO DO… Taking pictures while doing this was not conducive to keeping my top edge straight…as you can see… the top row of stitches is what I’m talking about… see how it’s about 1/2″ from the stitches on the left edge and about an inch on the right side?


When I took the fabric completely out of the pleater and laid one row of stitching on top of the other, you can see how off it was…


So I slid my fabric off the threads, re-rolled it around the pipe, and paid close attention to the top edge, being careful to keep a close eye on one of the grooves and follow it exactly as I turned the knob… AH… much better…


The second time it worked perfectly… I pulled the threads so they were only a single strand inside the fabric and tied one end… 2 rows at a time. Then I scrunched up the pleats pretty tightly and tied the other end…


This dress is going to have to have the smocking only in the front as I am making this dress from 2 fat quarters. I didn’t have the width to go all the way around her dress, but it will work fine… The dress will just have side seams in it…Here’s Lian in a couple of shots…



Now I’ve got to decide on a design to smock and figure out what color floss I’m going to use…

Well, I hope this gave you an idea of how smocking begins… It’s fun, it’s addicting and it’s very pretty!

See you tomorrow,
Blessings, Jeanne

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  1. Charlotte Trayer says:

    I love the idea of using a piece of PVC pipe to roll your fabric onto, Jeanne! I usually just use a dowel, and never seem to have one the right size/length. Thanks for the idea!

    I have a Martha Pullen pleater, BTW.


    • HI Charlotte,
      I hope you’ll give the PVC pipe a try. It really holds the fabric much better than a dowel rod and it’s easier to hold in your hand. Mine is about 15″ long, in case I want to pleat a wider area on my fabric.
      Happy Pleating…
      Blessings, Jeanne

  2. Linda Doyle says:

    Jeanne, how interesting! I had no idea how smocking was done, and had no idea there was a machine for it! I thought it was all hand sewn! Now I see that the actual little flowers and such, that I consider smocking, are part of a two-step process? How did people smock without a pleater years ago?

    Lian is going to be one lucky little doll and that dress is already looking like a sweet Easter dress! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

    • HI Linda,
      You can do smocking without a pleater, just gathering up the fabric a little at a time as you go, but it’s hard to keep it straight and even. It’s much faster to do it with a pleater. You used to could buy an iron on transfer of dots, and maybe you still can, that you smocked from dot to dot, and you can also do counterchange smocking…where you use the stripe in a fabric or the check in one as your guide. It can create some pretty neat designs too.

      Yes, I suppose this dress will end up as an Easter dress… it would have made a darling Valentine’s dress.
      Thanks Linda, I’m glad you enjoyed this…
      Blessings, Jeanne

  3. sigh – my friend gave me her Amanda Jane pleater about 5 years ago. I used it 3-4 times…and just don’t *think* about it – I really enjoyed doing the needlework/embroidery on the pleats, tho… I guess I should get it out and USE it more. Thanks for the reminder/nudge. I’ll be watching to see how Lian likes her new dress!

    • HI Mary,
      I bet you’ve already gotten it out today and at least looked at it, haven’t you? I hope I inspired you to do a little something with it.
      I need to get busy and get something done on mine…
      Thanks so much,
      Blessings, Jeanne

  4. Jeanne, I also have an Amanda Jane pleater (my second one) and a Read pleater (my first one). The Amanda Jane gives me more of the smaller half row pleats than my older Read. I use a dowel rod and roll the fabric on so both ends of the dowel can rest in the arms of the pleater. Yes, you will need more space for the longer dowel, but I think I have better control rolling the fabric through the pleater.

    I’ve smocked for American Girl dolls, but never for a Little Darling. I’ll have to try that some day. Can’t wait to see your finished dress!

    • HI Karen,
      Oh goody…another smocker in the group… I could probably learn a thing or two from you…I’m really just a beginner, but I love doing it and love to learn as I go along.
      I might have to do a post on the smocked dresses I’ve done… I better check and see if I haven’t done it before though…
      The Little Darlings don’t have much room for stitching so it goes pretty fast!
      Thanks Karen,
      Blessings, Jeanne

  5. Marsha Trent says:

    Jeanne this is so interesting. I love smocking but have never done it. Please keep showing us how you finish the complete dress. I knew a sweet lady who made dresses for little girls with smocked bodices. She won a Blue Ribbon in the Texas State Fair for a smocked dress when she was 100 years old. She also made her own tatting lace with just a needle. She lived to be about 102 and was sewing when the Lord finally decided to take her home. She was a true inspiration.
    God Bless

    • Hi Marsha,
      I was sure you did smocking… you should give it a try! You are a perfectionist and I’m sure your smocking would be perfect too! What a wonderful story about that sweet 100 year old woman who smocked… I would love to have seen her dress…I bet it almost made you cry…
      Thank you Marsha,
      Blessings, Jeanne

  6. So pretty and so informative. Your gift for teaching is certainly a blessing for us out here in e-land. I will look forward to seeing what your creation turns out to be. It looks lovely so far.

    Take care.

    • Thank you Becky,
      I hope I can turn it into a knock out of a dress! I love the fabric, now if I can just the design perfect… I’m glad you enjoyed today’s post…
      Thank you so much,
      Blessings, Jeanne

  7. Marilyn Grotzky says:

    I love Marsha’s story.
    I also love your demonstration. It’s so clear and useful, and the dress is going to be perfect.
    Is this your crown day?

    • HI Marilyn,
      I loved Marsha’s story too…and wouldn’t you just loved to have seen that blue ribbon dress? Talk about priceless… can you imagine how she felt to get that ribbon…
      Glad you like the smocking demonstration too, Marilyn. I never know what anyone will think of my posts until they’re out there… apparently this was interesting enough for everyone.
      Y-E-S… today was my crown day! :o( I went there thinking it was all paid for from the last visit… but what I didn’t realize… my root canal used up the last of my deductible…(that’s why it was only $155), but to get my crown finished up today, it is going to be $934!!! Yep…$934… my hubby is going to have a cow… because I told him it was all paid for.
      I guess we know who’s going to be cranking out dresses as fast as she can….
      I got numbed up at 9:30 this morning…it’s almost 1:30 and I’m still numb… but thank the Lord, I didn’t feel any pain… except for opening my mouth and my jaw hurting…
      I better make a good dinner for George tonight, before I break the $$$ news to him when he gets home. :o)
      Thanks Marilyn,
      Blessings, Jeanne

  8. At one time smocking was done on small checked fabric or with a n iron on transfer sheet making small dots. I tried on checks but my eyes could not take the strain. Years later I bought a Pullen pleater and I used this for gathering the top of doll dress skirts. Thanks for all the tips.. I never could run the fabric through keeping the edge straight. It is like two hands aren’t quite enough. I kept the pleater but sold my Puff iron. How often do we let go of things way too soon? I can think of several dolls I should never have sold, now that I would like them back. For me it was often because we were about to make a long move..

    • HI Jan,
      Yes, the checked or striped fabrics that were smocked were called counterchange smocking. I tried the dots one time, but I wasn’t sure what I was doing so it didn’t look very even.
      The pleaters do make great gathers for things you want a super even gathered look.
      I don’t have a puff iron, but have thought about one… Do you like yours a lot?
      Yes, we all have regrets about dolls we’ve sold. Fortunately, if we want them TOO MUCH,
      we can usually find them on Ebay…
      Thanks so much Jan,
      Blessings, Jeanne

      • I liked the Puff iron and have a large burn scar on the inside of one forearm as I forgot the iron was plugged in. Nasty burn. One company said they would make them again but this never happened as far as I know. It amazes me how many sewing items are long gone from the market.


        • HI Jan,
          I didn’t know the puff iron was no longer being made. I thought about getting one at one time, but passed and a got a clover mini iron… It didn’t get hot enough for me so I returned it. I guess I should have traded it for a Puff Iron…
          I bet every time you see that scar, you think of that puff iron, don’t you?
          Thanks for the info…
          Blessings, Jeanne

  9. i agree, Jan, it always seems like one more hand would be helpful! I like to smock four or five pieces of fabric at the same time by rolling one after another on the dowel and through the needles. So much quicker than doing separate pieces.
    What is a Puff iron, Jan?
    I would guess, Jeanne, that you will use a bright pink to match the fabric, or perhaps the green. I’m sure we’ll all tune in tomorrow to see what you’ve decided.
    I have a Read pleater. Someone in the Read family invented the pleater and they still make them; they live in South Africa. I have had my pleater for almost 40 years and when I ordered some additional needles a while back I found that my pleater takes the “old style” needles and that I’d better stock up because they weren’t making those any more. 🙁
    Have fun pleating everyone!

    • HI Jevne,
      If I smocked more often, I would pleat more than one piece at a time. I used to keep it threaded and just run new pieces through it so I’d have lots to work on. When you’re just doing a few rows for a tiny doll, it’s not that hard to thread the pleater each time.
      I’ll let Jan see if she answers your’ question about a Puff iron… I know what it is, but she can probably explain it better.
      Yes, you better get those needles while you can… they are the staple for the pleater and you don’t want to be caught without any… It’s been a while since I broke any needles, but it does happen every once in a while.
      Thank you Jevne,
      Blessings, Jeanne

    • The Puff iron was an egg shaped oval on a stand that you clamped on the ironing board. You ran the fabric over the egg. Often used for ruffles and the top,of sleeves and ironing skirt top gathers. I found the pleater was most useful to make gathers as you can make very full skirts and much wider skirts to fit in the bodice than by gathering by machine. There was always a deeper pleat on one side of the fabric. You can stroke the pleats to lay in the same direction. I have never used any other pleater and know little on using them as I don’t smock.

  10. Good morning Jeanne,
    I am in awe of this pleater machine. I never knew it existed in my “non-sewing” mind. I really appreciate seeing all the work that goes into making clothes regardless of whether it’s for people or dolls.
    It is interesting reading about and seeing your tutorials! And fun to see the outfit come alive…love that material too!!

    • Thank you Paula,
      The Pleater is a pretty neat little contraption, isn’t it? It’s fun to use too… as long as things go the way you want them to. I’m glad you enjoyed today’s post.
      Let’s just hope I can get the design right on the dress…
      Blessings to you,
      ~ Jeanne

  11. This has to rank as one of the top two or three most interesting posts you’ve shared with us! What a wonderful piece of equipment. Thanks for showing us how it works. Can’t wait to see the little dress.

    • HI Susette,
      Wow… I’m glad you liked reading this post that much… and that you found it interesting…
      I hope to get going on the dress and see what I come up with ….
      Blessings, Jeanne

  12. I personally have only smocked one dress. Used checked fabric and did the stitching that your pleater does myself. Then I embroidered it afterwards. Took forever. Dress went to my niece. Have no plans to make one for my granddaughter. My aunt, now deceased, made beautiful smocked dresses for my daughters. Maybe I should think about it again, using a pleater for sure. Great post.

    • HI Joy,
      Thanks for your comments… you did it the hard and long tedious way. Using a pleater is definitely faster… and probably more fun too!
      I hope maybe you’ll give it a try…
      Blessings, Jeanne

  13. Carol Cochran says:

    Hi Jeanne,
    Great post! I’ve wanted to learn how to smock, but wasn’t really sure how to get started. I’ve looked on Martha Pullen, but that was as far as I got.
    I hope you show how you choose a design and how you embroider it, I would be very interested.
    I don’t comment very often, but I always read your posts, great way to start the day!

    • Hi Carol,
      Thanks for your comments today… It’s a pretty fun hobby, as long as your eyes and your hands hold out. Your hands can get sort of stiff from holding the fabric and your eyes have to zero in on those tiny pleats and get your needle in between them…
      I’ll take some pictures along the way…
      Thank you again,
      Blessings, Jeanne

  14. Suzanne Fletcher says:

    I also have a pleater and have made several dresses for dolls and for my young grand
    daughter. It is very satisfying work especially if you enjoy detail work ! You have really inspired me to try again for my Little Darlings – I have a pattern even and just haven’t
    “gotten around to it” ! Thanks for a wonderful post and to everyone for their comments….a lovely conversation. I look forward to seeing Lianne’s little dress.
    Suzanne Fletcher

    • Thank you Suzanne,
      I’m so glad I inspired you to get your pleater back out and make something for the Little Darlings… it really is a fun thing to know how to do…You already have a pattern so you’re set! I look forward to seeing what YOU make!
      Blessings, Jeanne

  15. This was really an interesting post. I have always used smocking dots to make the pleats by hand. Before I discovered the dots, I drew pencil dots with a ruler. Not fun. I may have to check into the pleaters. That’s a little more than I want to spend, but I may give in and get one anyway. Thanks for the recommendations; now I know what to do if I am able to buy one.

    • HI Carolyn,
      I just had a lady email me asking about them. She had $100 in Amazon money and they had an Amanda Jane Pleater for $180…and she was asking my advice… Yikes…what have I started? There really is no comparison with smocking by the dots and doing it with a pleater. I hope you get one… check on Ebay and you might find one cheaper…
      Blessings, Jeanne

  16. I’ve heard of a pleater, but never knew what one looked like or how it worked. I have always loved smocking on dresses and can’t wait to see how you finish this little dress. The fabric is just so pretty.

    • HI Regina,
      Well, you learned about pleaters today…and I hope you enjoyed it. I love little smocked dresses too and I guess I should leave my pleater out so I see it more often…
      Thanks for your compliments…
      Blessings, Jeanne

  17. Charlotte Trayer says:

    In reading all the interest in your article about your pleater, Jeanne, I have to tell you, in the past I’ve demonstrated smocking at the local fair (when I’m not judging 4-H sewing or cooking!), and often guys are interested in the mechanics of the pleater, and they will come over to see what that gadget is!! LOL I think for those of the ladies who have spouses to consider when thinking about a future purchase, showing them what this gadget does and how it works just might swing the pendulum in their favor, in that regard!! LOL


    • HI Charlotte,
      I just saw your comments and think your’e right about guys being interested in the pleaters… I don’t think I’ve ever shown my hubby how it works… I just might have to do that…
      I bet you’re a whiz at smocking… :o)
      Thanks Charlotte,
      Blessings, Jeanne

  18. Hi Jeanne,

    I have followed your great blog and admire your beautiful doll clothes. I have an Amanda pleater and have tried to do some pleating but I never know how much fabric to cut. Is there a magic number to use? I have looked on other web sites but no one ever tells the length of fabric to start with. I would like your view on this subject.

    Thanks Jeanne! Have a beautiful day. Janet

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