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Smocking: Regency Elasticity

Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion. The perpetual commendations of the lady either on his hand-writing, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praises were received, formed a curious dialogue, and was exactly in unison with her opinion of each.
-Pride and Prejudice

This 1812 fashion plate from Costume Parisien features smocking at the neck of the gown.

During the Regency the stitching style known as smocking became increasingly popular. Used for generations to add “stretch” and “elasticity” to garments, it provided yet another outlet for the creative seamstress to express herself.

The following images, provided by Kass McGann of Reconstructing History, offer a visual tutorial for creating a Regency style smocked chemisette, like the one seen in the above fashion plate.

The cloth is marked for pleats.
Crease the pleats into place.

  Continue reading Smocking: Regency Elasticity

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Smocking: A Stitch in Time

Smocking example

A History of Smocking And Techniques to Try

Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion. The perpetual commendations of the lady either on his hand-writing, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praises were received, formed a curious dialogue, and was exactly in unison with her opinion of each.
-Pride and Prejudice

This 1812 fashion plate from Costume Parisien features smocking at the neck of the gown.

Smocking is an embroidery technique used to gather fabric so that it can stretch. Before elastic, smocking was commonly used in cuffs, bodices, and necklines in garments where buttons were undesirable. Smocking developed in England and has been practised since the Middle Ages and is unusual among embroidery methods in that it was often worn by laborers. Other major embroidery styles are purely decorative and represented status symbols. Smocking was practical for garments to be both form fitting and flexible, hence its name derives from smock — a farmer’s work shirt. Smocking was used most extensively in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

A lovely example of the honeycomb stitch (reverse smocking) on an 18th c. gown (sleeves and neckline). A lovely description of how to incorporate this stitch into your Regency gown can be found at theleonoraproject.

Continue reading Smocking: A Stitch in Time

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Silk Ribbon Embroidery

Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion.
Pride and Prejudice

According to Victoria Adams Brown, author of several silk ribbon embroidery books, silk ribbon embroidery made its first appearance in England in the early 18th century when London dressmakers began copying the French technique of broderie de faveur. The famous French couture house, the House of Worth, increased the popularity of silk ribbon embroidery, when Charles Worth’s master embroiderer, Michonet, began using roccoco ribbons to adorn the gowns of the rich and famous.

Before that silk ribbon embroidery first adorned the vestments of the clergy. From there it could be seen on the gauntlets of high-ranking soldiers, and then filtered into the fashion arena. During the Industrial Revolution, the Nouveau Riche, did not want to be seen in mass-produced gowns. They changed gowns up to five times a day, so they hired the services of Charles Worth, which spawned the famous couture houses that even today, continue to dress the wealthy and the elite.

Ribbon embroidery uses the same embroidery stitches that have been popular for hundreds of years – except stitched with ribbons. The most popular width of ribbons are 4mm and 7mm, although larger widths are gaining in popularity.”

The beauty of Silk Ribbon embroidery is that it takes almost 1/5 of the time to execute when compared to cross-stitch or other embroidery methods, and it is almost impossible to make a true “mistake”. Even the novice can pick it up in an afternoon and soon be turning out beautiful, one of a kind embroideries. During the Regency era, a great deal of a gentlewoman’s time was spent visiting and being visited. While one ought not to pull out the mending to repair in front of company, it was perfectly acceptable to take along some piece of fancy needlework to stitch on while chatting. Cushion covers were embroidered and handkerchiefs monogrammed, giving the worker a chance to show off one of her accomplishments and allowing her companions to marvel at the size and accuracy of her stitches.


Below you will find instructions for ten basic stitches, which, when combined can be turned into any number of elegant little projects. Practice them on plain fabric at first and when you feel confident, try embellishing a pillowcase or reticule– perhaps even a gown or petticoat! You can also buy ready made kits both in craft stores and online at places like www.joanns.com and www.jdr-be.com. Victoria Brown’s website, www.ribbonsmyth.com features a wide array of kits, supplies, patterns and other ribbon embroidery projects.

We also have a lovely craft section at our own giftshop. Click here.

To begin, you will need:

  • 1 large-eyed needle
  • 1 12″ square of muslin or target=”new”>Aida cloth
  • 1 8″ embroidery hoop
  • A selection of 4mm silk ribbons (or at least one package)
  • Small scissors

Place your fabric in the hoop, making sure it is pulled tight.

Thread your needle.

To secure the ribbon when stitching, pull the ribbon through your fabric once, leaving a 1/2″ tail on the back side of your fabric. Stitch through that tail when making your second stitch. Your ribbon is now in place and you are ready to begin!

Follow this link to find instructions for your 10 basic stitches, including the lazy daisy, French knots and spiderweb (woven) rose.