Thursday, 17 February 2011

Smocking and the Exquisite English Agricultural Smock

Last night, I taught a workshop on smocking.  Clara, one of the members of Bricolage asked me to join them in their pop up to teach smocking.  Practically, I can't say that I am an expert but I can smock and it is a form of embroidery that sadly is now associated with more with twee children's wear than with English agricultural smock.

The English agriculture smock is possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of historic dress.  Traditionally worn by 19th century agricultural workers, one could almost say it is an expression of English folk art.  Unfortunately, historians until comparatively recently, haven't really been concerned with working class way of life so many of these exquisite garments have been lost.

The smock was worn for both labour and leisure and the design embroidered on the labour's smocks were and expression of a living art connected inextricably linked with a past tradition.  As well as being 'smocked' they are embroidered with decorative patterns, including circles, triangles, ovals and lozenge shapes.  Amazing that these highly functional garments were ornamented with such care, dexterity and one hopes enjoyment.

Since, I was in my teens I have been fascinated by these garments and smocking is a beautiful way of gathering cloth together.  Yes, it is time consuming and does use a lot of fabric but done well the result is gorgeous.  Reclaim smocking - bring it back and make it modern.

These two photos are from an old book entitled 'English Folk Embroidery' (1963) written by Oenone Cave and published by non other than Mills & Boon.  Obviously, at that point there was another string to their bow other than romance.  Great book and with really excellent photos (black and white).

This photo is entitled 'Eventide of Life' by W H. Cox and is to be found in Luton Museum

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