Saturday, May 12, 2012

Smocking, attempt 1

Today I hosted a sewing circle for my local SCA group and used the time to work on my first ever smocking sample, in preparation for making a smocked apron similar to those seen in the Lutrell Psalter.  I've created a pin board on Pintrest to gather resources for this project, but you can see from the image to the left a long narrow apron with some kind of pleating at the top.  This particular style of apron seems to have been popular from the mid-14th century all the way through the 16th and to have eventually caught on with the wealthy.  You can see it in a number of portraits and German wood-cuts being worn by women of all social classes.

I was initially inspired to make one of these aprons after seeing the beautiful examples at Medieval Silkwork.  Isis and Machteld always do lovely work and once again managed to inspire me to try something new.  Here is my first-even attempt at smocking, done so I can figure out how much fabric I will need for the final apron.

You can see from the pictures that my first line of stitching got a bit wonky.  For some reason I had a very hard time stitching in a straight line.  I think if I chalk out some guide lines on top of my pleats I will be able to keep things looking a bit neater.  Some of the pleats themselves are not perfectly even either, which probably didn't help.  I cartridge pleated the pleats, and I think if I switch to the pick-up-the-dot method of pleating they may end up being a bit more even and easier to control (and also a little smaller, which I think will be a good thing).  I ended up pleating 29 inches of 3.5oz linen into 7 inches of smocking, which will end up making a very full apron.  I suspect I can eliminate a little fullness by making shallower pleats (I used 1/4 inch graphing paper to make a pleat template).  Since I want the apron to be fairly narrow, this will leave me with a 60 inch wide piece of fabric pleated into 14 inches.  I'll be doing another sample tonight or tomorrow with smaller pleats to see if I can  improve that pleating ratio a bit.

My only other concern with this project is the thread used for the smocking itself.  I used two strands of cotton embroidery floss on the sample, which worked well but could possibly be a little thicker.  I am assuming that silk or linen thread would have been used in period.  Linen thread will work better as it simplifies washing the finished apron (assuming I need to bleach or oxy-clean the apron, silk will not hold up), but the silk would make fuller stitches and cover better.  Finding suitable linen thread is challenging in this area to say the least.  I have some 20/2 weaving thread that might work, so I'll try that with my second sample.

1 comment:

  1. Getting the top line straight is challenging even for an experienced smocker. My hat is off to you for working your first project on plain not striped or checked fabric!
    The average pleating ratio of a countryman's smock ends you up at 1/3 or so the original width if that's any help. Don't forget it will stretch once you take the tacking out, 1/4" sounds about right to me. I found this post because I'm writing a history of smocking as one of my side projects, and was poking around for references to the Luttrel Psalter.