What is Smocking?
Mention smocking nowadays and most people will only associate it with small children’s clothing and perhaps the Farmer’s Smocks of the Victorian era. In fact, smocking, formally known as pleatwork, can be seen in artwork of the 14th Century. It was used to control volume of fabric in clothing, for example around the waist, wrist or neckline where we might use elastic today; but it was decorative as well as functional and stitches still used today are evident in the medieval artwork.
Fig. 1 was taken from Schoen, Erhard, Title: Der Schneider als Landsknecht und die Näherin, by Erhard Schoen circa 1535. Figs 2 & 3 are from the illustrations in the Luttrell Psalter circa 1330 and Fig 4 was by Hans Holbein the Younger circa 1520 – 1530.
Various styles of ‘pleatwork’ could be found in different parts of the world then, as now. In the UK the style tends to be similar to that used on the Victorian Farmers Smocks which is known as English Smocking but maybe with addition of embroidered flowers or ribbons incorporated into the design. In America they tend to use picture smocking and in South Africa and Australia they again seem to prefer the more traditional English Smocking styles. Unlike other countries, in Canada smocking is actually used more for pleating than embroidery. It is often used for furnishings but I have also seen it used on clothing.
Fig A – Crosseyed Cricket Smocking Designs Fig B – Dressie Jessie Smocking Fig C – Illustration from Australian Smocking & Embroidery magazine Fig D – Canadian Smocking by Julie Wood.