HNW - Re: English smocking

Chris Laning claning at
Sat Jan 20 11:05:31 PST 2001

Not exactly historical, but I highly recommend a book I just happened 
to pick up in a tacky crafts store: _The Art of Manipulating Fabric_ 
by Colette Wolf (1996, Krause Publications, ISBN 0-8019-8496-3). It 
shows more varieties of gathers, pleats, smocking, et cetera than you 
ever *dreamed* existed, along with detailed instructions and tips.

One technique that's particularly intriguing may actually have a 
pre-1600 historical basis. (One of the perpetual SCA needlework 
debates is "Is smocking period?" i.e. before 1600.) The book calls it 
"Italian Smocking" and defines it as "fabric drawn up into close 
pleats on rows of gauged stitching with deviations that create 
patterned irregularities." In its simplest form, this basically means 
lines of gathering stitches on a "dot grid" as is often used for 
American smocking, except that you *skip* certain dots in a pattern, 
creating a raised area in the pleating.

It's impossible to say without being able to examine the historical 
garments closely, but this produces results that *look* a whole lot 
like the densely gathered (yet somehow patterned) side gussets of 
several medieval liturgical garments (linen albs). These gussets are 
set into side seams below waist level, and seem to be very full, yet 
are gathered into a very small space which has a raised geometric 
pattern to it. At least one of these albs is said to have belonged to 
St. Thomas a Becket, and another to St. Hugo (founder of the 
Carthusians) so the technique, whatever it is, dates back to the 
1100s. These albs are definitely on the list of "museum objects we've 
GOT to see up close" that my SCA Laurel and I are compiling for an 
eventual Europe trip!

O    Chris Laning
|     <CLaning at>
+    Davis, California
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