I was quite intrigued, especially when I found that inside the covers were diagrams for stitchery plus some correspondence from the book's owner [but that's another story] I decided I wanted to try my hand at smock making. I started investigating the subject. I discovered that Alice's little book is the one everybody refers to - and copies of it go for £50 in the USA [no, I'm not selling]
Although smocks were seen being worn by shepherds in Sussex, Hertfordshire and Berkshire even in the 1970s, they've almost all been replaced by more modern garb on the farms. Some Morris Dancers wear them - and a few people recreate the old designs just for pleasure.
I had not realised that the embroidery on a smock often showed the occupation of the wearer - so the farmer at market, looking to hire workers, could see [without asking] whether they were woodmen, shepherds, gardeners, cowherds, milkmaids or gravediggers etc. I looked at the patterns, and read the instructions - smocks were made from a set of rectangles - some buttoned all the way down the front, some slipped over the head with a button at the neck, some were symmetrical, with a larger neckline, and could be worn either way round.
The more I read, the more fascinated I became. I'd done smocking at school, and knew the basic principal; You make even gathers across a length of fabric and pull it up tightly, to make corrugated 'reeds'. Then you stitch on the top surface, making patterns with variations of three stitches [reed, basket or chevron] Once that is done, you snip and remove the gathering threads and are left with a piece of fabric which is elastic and stretches round curves and springs back into shape.
I'd made myself a top with a smocked panel in my teens, and did a smocked dress for Liz when she was a baby.
A traditional smock has smocked panels on the front, back and cuffs, plus embroidery on the shoulders, collar, sleeves and "boxes" [these are the unsmocked panels on either side of the front and back smocking]
I realised it would take me forever to make one. I discovered that a company in Hampshire in the 80s took 4-6 weeks to complete bespoke smocks for people.
So I compromised- I decided that Grumble Bear should have a new outfit. GB was the bear my Mum bought for Steph when she was born. He had a very grumbly growl [sadly it stopped working years ago] I found a piece of linen in my stash, and using the book, I chose designs based on 'Dorset Woodman' [well it seemed appropriate] and made a tiny Dorset Button to finish it off at the neck.
He still looks disgruntled, despite his fancy new outfit! Yes it is a little bit short, but that's because I wanted it to look good when he is sitting down on the spare bed. I am not sure if I have the energy to make a proper full size smock - but I think I would like to develop the ideas of smocking, and the three embroidery stitches used in smocks [single feather a.k.a. blanket, chain and feather]
Here you can see details of front, back, shoulders, cuffs and boxes
I've got some small bits of linen in the Great Stash. Maybe I need to make yet another tea cosy...