SMOCKING WITHOUT A PLEATER
First I want to acknowledge that this technique was shared on the Designer 1 list by Karen Hinrichs. Thanks, Karen!
Smocking can be achieved without an expensive pleater. The look is similar but not perfect. All stitches are done by machine--no handwork allowed!
Begin by determining the width and length of the area where you would like to insert smocking. You will need approximately 3 x the width plus seam allowances. You will use the actual length plus seam allowances.
For this technique you will need to use the 7-hole cording foot and heavier than normal thread, such as jeans thread, buttonhole twist, etc., to match your smocking fabric. Thread two lengths of the cording into the two center holes of the cording foot.
Using the "Bridging" stitch, A-31 on the D-1, A-27 on the #1+, or 17 on the Rose, set stitch length to 2.0 and stitch width to 6.0. You will need to check these numbers to be sure you are only sewing over the cording--not into it. You will be pulling these cords to create the pleats, so they must be free.
Sew one row over two of the cords. For the next row, use the edge of the foot against the previous row for spacing, and continue sewing row after row until your smocking piece is full.
When you have finished sewing the rows of double cords, secure one end of all the cords and pull the other end until you have the look of pleats that you like.
Once the fabric is pleated, you may choose any variation of smocking stitches and designs you wish to embellish the area.
See my shirt with smocked inset