The Queen of Margonia Project: The Smock

Posted by Margo Anderson on

The Smock, also known as the chemise or shift, was the primary undergarment for the Elizabethan woman.  In fact, the same T-shape, knee length garment, with variations of neckline and sleeve, was the standard for well over a thousand years, finally falling out of use in the late 19th century.

For my smock (also known as a chemise or shift) I used the historically accurate fabric, a lightweight 100% linen.  Linen is the most comfortable fabric choice, as linen tends to wick moisture away from the body. It's also, in many ways, the easiest to sew, as it hold a crease so well that seams can be finger pressed in place without an iron.The linen I used is the 3.8 oz bleached linen from Dharma Trading

I found the lace in the Los Angeles fabric district.  It's made of two thicknesses of thread or cord, and is technically passementerie, not lace, but it had the look I wanted. 

The pattern is similar to the one in my Elizabethan Lady's Underpinnings pattern, but there are some differences.  I'm working on a new pattern that will have better fit for a wide range of sizes, and this was part of the development process.  

The interesting thing about this garment is the construction method.  Instead of seaming it with conventional stitched and pressed open seams, I used a finishe based on a historically accurate technique, in which all the edges of each garment section were finished with a narrow hem. The edges were embroidered with a buttonhole or blanket stitch, and then butted together and a thread was laced through the buttonhole stitched to form an openwork seam. 

 Detail of a shirt I made for my husband, using a closed blanket stitch in black and lacing the pieces together with a white thread. 

As lace became more popular, a variation developed in which the pieces were edged in lace and then the lacing was taken through the spaces of the lace.  Here's how I did a machine version.

I edged each piece with a hand stitched narrow felled hem. 

Then I butted the lace next to, not overlapping, the edge and stitched it in place using a "bridging" stitch.

A bridging stitch is designed to sew two butted edges together, often with a decorative effect. 

 

I like this stitch because when I stitch it using matching thread, with the foot centered over the line where the edges of the fabric and the lace meet, the horizontal stitches on the lace side disappear into the lace and the ones on the fabric side mimic a blanket stitch.

 

 

Most modern sewing machines have some variation on the stitch. You don't need a fancy expensive machine to do this. I like to be sure I'm not telling people to do things they can't accomplish with basic equipment, so I purchased this machine for testing techniques like this one.  If you don't have a machine that does this kind of stitch, you could probably get away with a narrow zigzag. 

 

 

While stitching the lace to the fabric edges,  I realized that the bridging stitch would have stitched the hems at the same time as attaching the lace, and I could have eliminated a lot of  handwork. At the very least, I would only have needed to baste the hems in place.  So do as I say, not as I do: Always make samples!!!

The lace I used was fairly flexible so I was able to coax it around corners without having to miter it. 

When all the edging was done, I laced the pieces together using pearl cotton and a tapestry needle.

 

 

For the neckline, I skipped the facing I usually use and went with an authentic method, a simple turned, pressed, and turned again hem. 

If you've tried doing this using cotton or some other fabric, you probably didn't get a good result. 

The secret to getting a good finish on an inside curve is to use linen.  Linen stretches quite a lot, and you can use steam to shrink a stretched area back to size after you've sewn it. Another advantage is that linen creases easily, so you can finger press those tiny hems instead of burning your fingers trying to iron them in place. 

(I forgot to take pictures of the process while I was doing it, so the following pictures show the process on sample swatches.)

I  cut the corners rounded, not squared. This  eliminated the stress point of a sharp corner and created a small bias area that could be folded, rather than mitered. 

Corner curves should be very small. Remember than the finished curve will be larger than the cut edge. I used a nickel to draw my curve, and could probably have used a penny or even a dime. 

I finger pressed the cut edge to the wrong side, pulling  the curve of the neckline more open to make folding the edge easier. Then I repeated the process to enclose the cut edge. 

 

 

I finished the neckline with the same lace application as I used on the garment pieces. 

And that's how I made this lovely smock!


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