This vintage blouse uses hand smocking to control fullness at the shoulders, waist, and sleeves. Probably before 1920’s.
I’ve already shared some 1940’s patterns for smocked blouses, but I keep finding more examples of smocking.
Butterick smocked blouse pattern 4456, Butterick Fashion News flyer, March 1948.
It’s very similar to this pattern from McCall:
McCall smocked blouse pattern 1136 from 1944.
But those forties’ blouses have a peasant influence; they are based on smocked ethnic clothing.
An embroidered ethnic blouse with smocked neckline.
An ethnic peasant blouse with hand-smocked neckline and wrists.
An ethnic flavor was also very popular in the nineteen twenties.
This earlier blouse, however, bares little resemblance to “peasant” styles.
Vintage smocked blouse made of sheer fabric with woven stripes.
The collar covers much of the smocking across the shoulders. So-called “Armistice” blouses are usually short-wasted in back.
I flipped the collar up to show the hand smocking on the back of this blouse. It seems a shame to hide all that work!
I had forgotten about this vintage blouse — it is probably from the “teens.” It uses the stripes woven into the fabric as the grid for smocking, and uses smocking instead of machine-stitched tucks to control the fullness at shoulders, sleeves, and waist.
Detail of smocked shoulder.
The back waist is elegant, although the blouse would look better after ironing. (But smocking makes ironing more difficult.)
The sleeves have a smocked area near the wrist, creating a modest frill.
Smocking in the wrist area. There is a narrow dark stripe in the fabric next to each tightly woven white stripe.
I believe this is called honeycomb smocking:
McCall smocking pattern 441, from 1936.
Using striped fabric as a base for smocking produces interesting effects; this image from A-Z of Smocking, by Sue Gardner, shows how the stripes become part of the grid:
Striped fabric can be smocked in ways the either preserve the stripe, as here, or turn them into a “solid” color. Both effects are pictured in the book A-Z of Smocking, reviewed below. Image reproduced for purpose of review example only. Do NOT copy.
I found another — to me, unexpected — use of smocking on a black silk apron from an era when most older women were almost perpetually in mourning.
A black silk apron with a smocked bib. It’s shown over an unrelated turn-of-the-century blouse.
Perhaps this apron was worn for nothing more taxing than a little hand sewing — or pouring tea.
About the A-Z of Smocking, by Sue Gardner:
Cover of A-Z of Smocking, 2016 edition, by Sue Gardner.
I was fascinated by the many smocking patterns I found in 1940’s McCall catalogs, so I wanted to learn more about this old technique for fabric modification. If you want to find beautifully illustrated, step-by-step smocking instructions, this book couldn’t be clearer. If you are a beginner with an interest in the history of smocking, this may not be quite what you are looking for.
The text can be this brief because the illustrations are so informative and well organized. Photo from A-Z of Smocking for purpose of review. Do Not Copy.
There is a whole series of A-Z books from Search Press. It’s my fault that I assumed “A-Z” meant “from beginning to end;” instead, it means that the book is organized in alphabetical order, so a lavishly illustrated section on “Honeycomb” smocking comes before an equally fine section on “Trellis” smocking. And an advanced technique, like smocking with Beads, appears before the basic stitches, because it begins with “B.”
On the other hand, because the book is illustrated with step-by-step photos instead of line drawings, it couldn’t be clearer:
A typical section from A-Z of Smocking will have at least two pages of careful and very clear instructional photos like this for every technique covered. Do Not Copy Image.
It even explained (and illustrated the steps to using) a machine that gathers the fabric for you. But the topics I was looking for — about the history of smocking, why it was used for work clothes, which stitches were stretchable and used for the wrist area, for example, were hard to find.
This is the entire passage about Traditional Smocking. No illustrations. A-Z of Smocking is not a history book. Do Not Copy This Image.
Some of the oldest smocking techniques — sometimes called English smocking from its use on shepherd’s smocks — depend on first gathering the fabric with several rows of identically spaced stitches, and then stabilizing them with the decorative smocking stitches. When I read that, in combination with seeing the many stitching examples, I realized that a smocking grid looks a lot like the grid used for cartridge pleating, which had been used to gather fabric in garments for centuries.
If you’ve examined mid-nineteenth century dresses, or made Renaissance costumes, this technique for gathering fabrics evenly and stitching them to armholes, yokes, or waists will be very familiar.
Attaching cartridge pleated fabric — e.g., a skirt — to a waistband. From The Costume Technician’s Handbook. Do Not Copy Image.
Typical cartridge pleated skirt, stitched to bodice binding. Inside of dress showing extra fabric at CF. You can also see that the front opening is boned.
For me, this links two very useful books: The Costume Technician’s Handbook, which I cannot recommend frequently enough (the techniques are not limited to costumes,) and the A-Z of Smocking, which I would eagerly buy if I had a practical (rather than academic) interest in smocking.