Hubby is in the hospital again, after a nasty fall that caused terrible back spasms to the point where he couldn’t walk. Never a dull moment around here. It’ll be a week tomorrow, and he still has a week and a half before they will cut him loose, so I’ve been filling the time when I’m not at the hospital with various projects that I’ve been putting off.
My daughter came over today and filed patterns for me whilst I wrangled toddlers, and she made several videos for social media of the gorgeous stuff I bought in Michigan. I’ve spent the evenings familiarizing myself with this newfangled thing called a “TV remote” that I have, up to this point, never been allowed to touch, as it is hubby’s domain. I’ve been watching shows I’ve been wanting to see, but still can’t find a way to watch The Great British Sewing Bee here in the US — and don’t you know I have tried.
I found that the chairs in hubby’s hospital room are terribly uncomfortable and were causing me no end of neck pain, so I decided to work on this little project, to keep me aligned better. It’s a vintage Avon kit — I didn’t even know Avon made needlework kits! It’s called Floral Sentiments Pillow, and I think it’s cute. I found it on Facebook Marketplace, and it came just in time to put me to work. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment every time I finish a square, as opposed to a big project that I may never finish.
I’ve never been a fan of crewel embroidery. I just don’t like how it looks. That being said, my dad did crewel embroidery right up until he died at age 92, and my mom was a flower nut, so it’s a tribute to both of them. Since I don’t like crewel, I will probably pass it along to someone, or perhaps add to things to pass to the grandkids one day, so they can remember dear departed crazy grandma. It gave me a notion to start a hope chest of sorts for the grands, with pillow cases and things, but that probably means that one day my kids will have to clear my house of all of the UFOs (unfinished objects), so perhaps I will rethink it. What do you think?
Smocking has always fascinated me. I’ve done a fair share of needlework over the course of time, but I’ve never tried smocking. The detailed work of it all intimidates me, and I think it probably takes a special kind of patience to do it. I look at Edwardian smocking and think “how in the world did they do that?”, but people back then had needle skills that we don’t usually have ingrained in us anymore. Pity.
I came across this article in a 1915 Home Needlework Magazine and thought I’d share it. It’s all about the details of the different stitches, and how to do them. At this point, printed smocking patterns were just becoming available, so it talks about how to place the dots that serve as a guide. Originally they used cardboard and penciled every dot individually, always on the wrong side of the fabric. Can you imagine the time it took? They also had to have absolute accuracy as they moved the cardboard across to repeat the pattern the width of a garment. The preprinted smocking transfers made this much easier.
The next step was to do the gathering. One had to be sure to anchor the first stitch with a double stitch so that it didn’t all come apart as the thread was pulled to create the gathers. Nothing would be worse than to do the pulling and watch it all come apart as the knot pulled through, and you had to start all over. A thread would be run through each dot, pulling up a tiny bit of fabric with each stitch. The thread would be drawn up and knotted, creating all the gathers. The general rule was to use fabric four times the length of the smocked area, so if you needed to smock an area of 12 inches, you would use 48 inches of fabric. Who says sewing doesn’t teach math?
Stitches used are as follows:
Outline stitching. This one is used to begin the smocking pattern, and is the basis from which most smocking begins. You would work the stitch from left to right, using the gathering thread that you’ve already done as a guide to keep the work straight. Start the thread on the second plait on the wrong side, and bring the needle up on the first plait on the right side. One stitch is taken every other plait. You can keep the thread either above or below the needle, however you wish. Every stitch needs to be exactly on top of the gathering thread all along the line, or it will look crooke.
Cable stitch. Start the same as with outline stitch, taking one stitch in each plait, keeping the thread above the needle in the first stitch and below the needle in the next. Work it this way all the way across, again being sure to stay right on top of the gathering thread.
Double cable stitch is two rows of single cable, just worked very closely together.
Can you imagine doing this in the lighting available in 1915, and without benefit of the quality eye care that we have now? My eyes would hurt!
Vandyke stitch is one of the most important stitches. It is used in making points. The number of dots required for making points always needs to be divisible by four (again, math). Vandyke stitch is worked from right to left. The thread is started in outline, then take two plaits together and one stitch over, then come down to the second gathering thread, taking the second and third plaits together, one stitch over then up again, taking the third and fourth plaits together, another stitch over, and repeat to the end of the line.
Wave stitch is started on the first plait on the second gathering thread. Work four stitches gradually up, one in each plait with thread below the needle, making the fourth stitch on the first gathering thread, then work four stitches down with the thread above the needle, the fourth stitch up and the first stitch down, in order to make the stitches level. The following rows are worked in the same way, just beneath the first. Stitches with wave stitch may extend between two or mother gatherings.
Double wave stitch is made in the same way, working in the opposite direction.
Featherstitching and cross stitching are “simple” fancy stitches used a lot. The author of the article surmises that you can figure them out by looking at the diagrams. You see a lot of the cross stitch patterns in chicken scratch patterns, so popular for aprons and home decor today.
All in all, I think I could probably figure out how to do it, but can you imagine the time involved here? Think of 1915, when there were no automatic washers or dryers, microwaves or conveniences like we have today. When did women get time to do this? This was my grandmother’s time period, but she was rather wealthy so her parents probably went to a dressmaker for her things. I think that it’s likely that for most women these would be considered special garments and not for every day use, or would be children’s Sunday best. I’m glad that so many have survived though, because they are just lovely, and by what I can tell, the art continues, because smocking patterns generally fly out of my shop as soon as I list them.
Do you do smocking? I’d love to see your work if you do.