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Wednesday, 8 May 2013


working on the writing - page 2

the image of black smocks held by the church, lent out to pallbearers in rural areas.


Smocking began in England in the 13th / 14th century. One of the earliest mentions of the word is in The Miller’s Tale by Chaucer, in 1390, where the wife is described as wearing a white smock embroidered in front and behind. But Examples of 10th century pleating were discovered in archaeological digs at Birka in Sweden.1

Traditional English smocks were usually made from cotton or linen. The cotton was mostly twill weave, sometimes called 'drabbet' when referring to smocks. Most smocks were in natural colours of creamy white ranging to a darker buff, with some examples in green and brown, although blue smocks can be found in Newark, dyed with Wode from Coventry, (where I come from!) The smocking would generally be in a natural colour thread, although coloured thread was used.

The fabric was gathered into pleats, and then the pleats were secured with embroidery stitches to the ridged surface. These decorative smocks were very practical outer garments that were worn by farm workers, mostly men, and children. They were smocked on the yoke and sleeves, and often the stitching indicated the area from where the smock originated, and there is also some thought that the embroidered designs also depicted the wearers' occupation e.g. farmers would have symbols of the land, shepherds would have crooks and sheep, while gravediggers would have crosses. The smocks provided the wearer with protection and warmth while giving freedom of movement and stretch across the back, chest and sleeves and therefore not restricting their ability to work. The cut of traditional smocks varies little, other than in size. The shaping of the smock to give shape, fit and fullness is creating by the smocking - gathering and stitching of fabric in various places.

As the use of the rural smock faded, smocking began to appear on woman's and children's clothing. In the early 20th century, the use of smocking to decorate garments became both popular and fashionable.

In the 1940s a Mr Read, invented a mechanical smocking pleater. This machine eliminated the need for the laborious method that was previously required of preparing the pleated fabric required for smocking.

1 -Geijir, Agnes. The Textile Finds from Birka. 1983. Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe: Essays in Memory of Professor E.M. Carus Wilson. Pasold Studies in Textile History 2. eds. B.B. Harte and K.G. Ponting. London: Pasold.1983.

Cave, Oenone. 1965 English Folk Embroidery.  Mills & Boon.
Keay, Diana. 1979 The book of smocking. Search Press Ltd.

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