Friday, 24 April 2009

Reviving a lost art?

I am so glad to see that smocked dresses are back in fashion for babies and little girls. (I have also noticed it as a feature on other fashion items too). By smocking, I mean the old fashioned hand embroidered variety not the modern equivalent, worked by machine and combining shirring elastic.

I have always loved the way the delicate threads and stitches trap the tiny folds, so that they fall in beautiful, little gathers across the yolk of a dress. I made my first smocked dress for my "O" Level needlework exam and my own daughter wore it about sixteen years later. (That's her, aged about two, modelling it - twenty seven years ago!)

Throughout her childhood, I smocked summer frocks, winter frocks and party frocks until, aged about eight, she rebelled and refused to wear them in favour leggings, ra-ra skirts and jeans!

Before I returned to full time work, I even smocked for a firm in Belfast. They sent parcels containing the threads and pastel fabric pieces for smocking. I returned to them a neatly smocked panel for the princely sum of about 80p per panel. Not a lot of money even twenty five years ago. I just loved the satisfaction of producing these little works of art.

Now I have had a request from my niece to make smocked dresses for her baby daughter. So, out came the Anchor embroidery threads in soft, pastel shades and off we went to find suitable fabric. Not so easy these days as fabric shops are few and far between, but trusty Watson & Thorntons came up with three lengths of dainty, floral prints in pale blues and creams and a tiny blue and white stripe.

Of course my skills were a bit rusty but like riding a bike - you never forget how, once you have mastered the art.
I put my neat, hand stitched rows of gathers on the wrong side of the fabric, pulled them up so that straight, parallel pleats show on the right side and I was ready to smock. I have a pretty sample of smocking stitches which I made as part of my Textile course at college and, with this to refer to, I recaptured the technique and completed my first attempt.

Now I am hooked! The second one looked even better and met with great approval from all. The third one is in progress and the fourth one is waiting in the bag. Two friends have baby girls, so I guess they too will be happy recipients of my handiwork. I don't think there is a living to be made from it but I can recommend it as a stress therapy!!


Wipso said...

Ive checked out a few sites on line and you just might make a living from your smocking. It's certainly worth a thought.

mountainear said...

Those little dresses are beautiful.

I had little smocked dresses as an infant (far, far too long ago to mention how many years.) I tried smocking myself out of curiousity and agree that it is indeed a magical craft. Wish I had an excuse to try again.

Wipso said...

I'm just learning Mountainear. Think I need better glasses if I do more but I was thrilled with my first result. Possibly it will get a viewing on here at some point :-)

UK lass in US said...

They turned out so beautiful.

I have never heard of a pleater, either. I can't believe you only got 80p a panel for all that delicate work back then. How long does it usually take?

BumbleVee said...

these little dresses are beautiful....I love smocking too... even if I haven't a clue how to do it... I have pics of us kids in smocked little dresses...from the "olden days" ....hahahha......

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