Origami and Smocking

What does origami and smocking have in common? The first thing you need to know before you answer that question is, “What is smocking”?Smocking is an embroidery technique where fabric is bunched together with stitches. The stitches are often made in a grid pattern which causes the fabric to buckle in a organized and pleasing manner. Smocking is often done with soft fabrics such as silk or cotton. Smocking was most popular in the 18th and 19th century but today, you can still find dresses and pillow with smocking detailing.
[Photo: Portrait of a Young Man by Ambrosius Holbein 1518]

Origami has been around for even longer than smocking; however, we are not talking about any origami, rather we are talking about origami tessellations. Origami tessellations is a relatively new subcategory of paper folding. Here, a single sheet of paper is folded (no glue or cutting) to have repeating geometric shapes. The shapes lie adjacent to one another with no gaps or overlaps in between each other. Origami tessellations look like floor or bathroom tiles except that it is made of one sheet of paper and not multiple sheets. [Photo by Andy Wilson]

On the surface, it would seem that origami and smocking have very little in common: one is made with strong paper & folding while the other is made with soft fabric & sewing. However, both techniques involve manipulating the medium (paper or fabric) so some layers are hidden and other layers are exposed. These two methodologies can sometimes produce visually similar patterns.

In the case of origami tessellations, you can place the folded paper in front of a light source and the underlying layers become visible – that being a part of the art work. In smocking, the “wrong side” of the fabric is not intended for viewing.


Similarity in Origami and Smocking

origami smocking
Shown on the right is Ilan Garibi’s “Brick” origami tessellation folded by Beth Johnson. You can learn how to fold the model with the help of Sara Adams’ video.

origami smocking
Notice how the origami tessellation above is similar to the traditional Canadian Smocking shown below (from 1001 Fashion Trends). (see Photo and stitch pattern here)

Compare the crease pattern of the origami tessellation with the stitch pattern of the smocking: this demonstrates the huge difference between the two methodologies despite the fact that they produce visually similar results. [Photo from bethjohnsonorigami.com]

origami smocking

Diamond Corrugation and Honeycomb Smocking

Above is another example of how two totally different techniques can arrive at the same look. On the left is Ilan Garibi’s Diamond Corrugation. On the right is Honeycomb smocking which you can also see here and here. Although it is made completely differently than how the smocking dress was made, the two share visual similarities.


origami smocking
In 2011, Jeanine Mosely noticed the similarity between tessellation origami and smocking. Inspired by the smocking patterns, she used mathematical formulas to transform paper into repeating, curved folds. The curved folds give the paper fluidity which is unique because most other origami tessellations are made with linear folds. [Photo from here]
origami smocking tutorial

MyCozyCo offers a tutorial on how to make a simple origami smocking project here. As well, Pinterest has some examples of smocking that has visual similarity to origami tessellations. Do you know of any other examples where origami tessellations and smocking produce similar patterns? Let us know and we’ll add it to the list.


– books about smocking
more about origami tessellations
more about fabric folding

free origami instructions
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    Books with Easy Origami

    • Easy Origami: over 30 simple projects by John Montroll
    • Origami Fun Kit for Beginners by John Montroll
    • My First Origami Kit by Joel Stern
    • Easy Origami: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids by C Alexander & M Meinking
    • Fun With Easy Origami (Dover Origami Papercraft)
    • Origami: A Step-by-Step Introduction to the Art of Paper Folding by T Cook & S Henry
    • Easy Origami For Kids Book Traditional Japanese Folding Papers Overs 20 Projects by J Wish
    • Easy Origami for Kids: Over 40 Simple Origami Projects by O Brooks


    Easy Origami Books


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    More Origami Diagrams and Instructions…

  • These free origami instructions are made available to you by the paper folding community at large. If you have a diagram you would like to share, or if your diagram is listed here and you wish to have it removed, please Contact Us. Diagrams are intended for personal use. Copyright of the models lie with the origami creators and designers. Please contact the designer and/or creator directly for non-private usage of a model and/or artwork.