Recent scribal projects have provided the opportunity to pour over the luminous pages of the Luttrell Psalter. While looking for design elements to adapt, I’ve kept a running list of images depicting 14th century clothing and accessories. With these images of hoods, shoes, dresses, and such in the back of my mind, I started another list of articles of clothing that I’d love to add to my kit. Since it’s summer, a hat was on the top of the list, followed by pattens to keep the shoes I made during the winter out of the dew and mud, and then an apron to protect my dresses from some of the messier parts of camp living. In the flurry of activity that surrounded GNEW, I had to set aside the plans for an apron, until now.
Looking back at the images in the Luttrell Psalter, I decided to try my hand at smocking, a technique used to gather material. Some of the examples show beautiful, more elaborate patterns in the way the material is stitched, but since this would be my first go, and I need a utilitarian apron, I decided to use a more basic, honeycomb pattern.
There are wonderful websites with tutorials and instructions. I found the links on Medieval Silkworks to be particularly helpful, as well as the basic instructions shown on Tipnut. Preparing samples using different grids was one of the most helpful things I did as I started planning my own apron. There are images showing the results of that on a previous post. For this apron I ended up using a grid where the gathering stitches are placed 1 cm apart horizontally, with the rows of stitches set 1.5 cm apart vertically. The final stitches that produce the honey comb are worked in number 8 pearl cotton, with stitched nodes worked at the gathered points and 1/2 way to the next gathering point. Though more laborious to set up, I found that using many rows of gathering stitches helped me keep my final stitches in neater rows. The final honeycomb is far from perfect, but I can see how it would have been much more frustrating to produce if I had used fewer gathering rows.
The local fabric store only had white linen in suiting weight the day I went, and it feels a bit heavy. The honeycomb smocking does add a lot of stretch to this rather unyielding fabric, though. After working up this first bit of smocking, learning the basic technique, and this basic and pretty forgiving stitch, I have many ideas for what I’d like to try with the next project. Next time, I’d like to try smocking with a slightly lighter weight linen, use linen thread, and pay even closer attention to keeping the pleats in line as I gather to make sure that they are even. The pressure is off though, now that one is complete and ready to use!