Project: A fabulous smocked shirt for Adelheit

So, before I had to put everything else away in order to focus on my Pentathlon projects (the big A&S competition in Caid), I had started working on a new smocked shirt.  I hadn’t gotten to far, so I am going to document my progress here.

First, a little background is necessary.  To put it simply, Smocking is a manipulation technique where the fabric is gathered and held in place with stitches.  The term itself doesn’t show up until the 19th century. Some argue that the form of smocking that we see in the sixteenth century should be termed pleatwork embroidery since the term smocking covers some techniques that cannot be documented to period.  While it does do a better job of describing the technique, I believe that the term smocking speaks to a larger audience…and it’s a lot shorter.  So, for the sake of understanding and brevity, I choose to used the term smocking.
INSPIRATION
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A review of artwork from the period shows that smocking was very popular in all regions of Germany for a good portion of the sixteenth century.  It can be seen on shirt collars and cuffs as well as the chest area of women’s hemd’s.  The embroidery was usually done with wool or silk thread in white, black, gold, or silver.

The hemd I am making is meant to go with a dress that is based on an illustration of a woman from the Saxon region found in Das Sächsische Stammbuch’ [subtitled as:] ‘Sammlung von Bildnissen sächsischer Fürsten, mit gereimtem Text; aus der Zeit von 1500 – 1546 which is a manuscript with portrait style illustrations, coats of arms and calligraphic rhyming text of the important people of Saxony.  Illustrated by Lucas Cranach and dated to 1546, Stammbuch literally (at least according to google) translates to Stud book and was a listing of important leaders in a region and their family tree.
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The illustration that captured my interest is [195]-95 which is of Hertzog Heinrich and Katerina.  The text is [194]-94.  I would like to translate the text at some point to confirm, but upon preliminary investigations, I believe that this is portraying Catherine Mecklenburg, wife of Duke Henry the Pious (Henry IV) of Saxony.

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Typically, when I am researching a garment that I plan to construct, I do all that I can to stay within the specific region and in a 10 year time frame of the inspiration artwork. I was able to find two additional images relatively quickly, but because many of the portraits from Saxony depict women of the court, the collar is the shirt is obscured by the gold collar necklace. However, these images do serve to show that the collars are pleated and do have surface decoration of some type. The one that interests me the most is the one in the top right corner. More about the decorative details later.

CONSTRUCTION
There are a number of ways to construct a hemd/chemise/shift, but for smocking, I have a preference to a specific type of construction. Luckily, another blogger Katafalk has an incredible tutorial detailing the same method I use. So, insread of re-inventing the wheel, here is a link Hemd Construction. In order to determine the amount of fabric I would need, I did a sample gathered piece and then adjusted the pieces to match the determined amount needed.

This is the hemd all laid out with the the seams sewn and ready for some embellishment.
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I really wanted a special finish to the neck frill, so, drawings inspiration from the extant Sture shirt detailed in Janet Arnold’s patterns of fashion 4, I decided to decorate it with a drawn thread hemstitch. The first step was to complete a narrow rolled hem, then the drawn thread hemstitch was done.
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Then, I decided I wanted a black edging. I tried several techniques, but they just didn’t have the look I wanted, until I came across this braiding technique. Basically, you couch down the inner two threads, then bring the outer two threads to the inside, couch them down, and repeat ad nauseum. The problem is that it is very slow going and awkward.
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Then, at an event I was talking with Whilja of Whilja’s Corner and found out that she had discovered a better way while working on a replica of the shirt. I am going to try her way next. She posted her research and process on her site and it is a great read, and the shirt is breathtaking, I recommend you check it out here

And that is where I am at currently. Watch for more to come.

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