honeycomb smocking

Perhaps the last of my studies in textural sewing with linen, one more toss cushion. (Though now that I think of it, I have a penchant for rosettes that I haven’t yet explored.) This piece uses true smocking, in a honeycomb style, very different from the shirring I’ve used before. The smocking is worked by drawing together even gathers on the reverse, and then on the right side, joining a pair of gathers, slipping invisibly up to the next spot over, sewing it to the gather beside it, and so on, so that a diamond shape begins to appear. Pardon? I’ll let Ginny over at Buttons and Bobbins illustrate this one. The stitched effect echoes my knitted honeycomb handwarmers and pleases me greatly.
honeycomb smocked cushion © elisa rathje 2012

There you are. It isn’t difficult, just perfect for a rainy night watching an old movie that you know well enough to look away from frequently. I find it charming to look at, the soft diamonds with hard edges, cousin of the kissing pleat.

handmade linen cushions © elisa rathje 2012

An education, so far. A variation on the kissing pleat pillow, a quilted and piped piece, this honeycomb smocking project, knife pleats, a second kissing pleat cushion, a ruffled experiment, and the tufted pillow. Someone seems to have made off with the shirred cushion to keep them cosy on the antique sofa, which is next in line for some attention. Tell me, which one do you like?


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shirred cushion

Another cushion. This time an experiment with smocking a coarse, unbleached linen.


Very casual. Little girl’s sundress meets sculpture. I’ve never used shirring elastic before and wanted to try it out.

chalked © elisa rathje 2011

Like the knife pleat pillow, I measured lines with tailor’s chalk. This time I began marking in the middle of a length of fabric that could wrap round the pillow plus about six inches longer, to make an envelope.

shirring © elisa rathje 2011

I wrapped a bobbin with shirring elastic, and sewed along the lines, right-side up. Then folded the hemmed ends of the long piece in, to make the envelope style closure, and sewed up the sides.

shirring © elisa rathje 2011

Spray it with water, and the fabric scrunches right up as it dries. I like the irregular texture of a shirred cushion so much. Especially paired with the kissing pleat pillow.

knife pleat pillow

There’s something about desaturated colour and the textures of fabric that I’m so drawn to. The intricacies of textured fabrics are fascinating, heart-quickeningly so, and I’m able to rest in the quieter shades, like a happy Taoist in the open spaces of a drawing. Therefore when I began to sew things for our home to make it softer, warmer, comfortable, I began to work with un-dyed natural fibres, wool, linen, cottons, to draw out their textural capacities. I long to do the same in clay. Soon.


Like the kissing pleat pillow, simple pleats were ideal for creating a sculptural effect with some stiff, heavy linen. I’m experimenting now, learning to sew as I try different techniques. A very basic one, then, the knife pleat. I began by marking out my linen with tailors chalk and a quilting ruler.


I followed some clear directions to press and sew and press and sew pleat after pleat. Best to use a very hot, steaming iron, and to first set the seam closed as it was sewn, then flip the fabric, so that the pleat lies in the direction you’d like it to face, and press the seam open from underneath.


I cleaned up the edges, the rotary cutter is my best tool for this. Then I turned it wrong side out, hemmed the edges, and sewed the pillow form in. I will likely regret this, an envelope pillow case is my next study.


Quite content with a knife pleat pillow. Well, I am dying to learn how to reupholster the sofa, but otherwise content. I’ve begun the next cushion experiment today, using shirring elastic. A sort of training for frocks. What happened to skirts and frocks and quilts? Soon – soon!