Example of smocking on a man's tunic, Sur, Oman, late 20th century. Example of smocking on a man's tunic, Sur, Oman, late 20th century. TRC collection.

Smocking is a decorative technique consisting of the gathering together in regular folds of a wide width of material. Sometimes the term 'honeycombing' is used for this type of work, after a popular smocking pattern called 'honeycomb'. Smocking is used to control the fullness of a garment, especially around the sleeve cuffs, bodice, shoulders, as well as in the front and back neckline, leaving the material following these areas free and loose fitting.

The smocked area is often decorated with a variety of stitches, such as bullion stitch, cable stitch, chevron stitch, feather stitch, outline stitch and stem stitch. In doing so, these stitches are also used to create certain patterns, such as the 'basket,' chevron,' and 'rope'.

The technique of smocking is believed to have originated in medieval Europe and it is often depicted in fifteenth century portraits, such as in a self-portrait of the German artist, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), who was painted wearing a smocked undergarment.

Smocking was especially popular in the British farming communities of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sometimes the patterns on a garment (often also known as a smock) would indicate the job of the wearer, so a carter might have wheel shapes on his smock, while a shepherd would have a crook. It was also popular in many countries in the mid-twentieth century for the attire of small children, especially girls' dresses.

During the twentieth century smocking was also used in Oman for the long gowns (dishdasha) worn by Suri fishermen. The use of these Omani gowns has just about died out, with the introduction of much cheaper, commercially available alternatives.

See also Ukrainian embroidery.



Last modified on Sunday, 22 January 2017 11:25
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