Saturday, 31 March 2018

VPC2017: Meisterin Christian's Child's Smock

This entry is presented for the categories Child's Play: Out of Your Comfort Zone (Embroidery), One Metre Material Project (linen and lace), Give What You Get, and  Togs, Togs, Undies.

Meisterin Christian says:
I  have been interested in the lovely late 16thC linen shirts with silk insert embroidery stitches, but alas this is too late for the clothes I wear in the SCA.  I decided to make one for my goddaughter for 2017 Midwinter Coronation, both as gift to her and also as an experiment to learn more about these shirts and their construction.  I was also looking for a project to take with me on a 4WD camping trip at Easter.  (What I should have taken was the Skjoldehamn hood (although I hadn't even thought about making it at that point), as trying to hand sew a white linen shirt outdoors in crepuscular light and a windy, wet, muddy environment was not ideal.)
I worked from several extant women's smocks and boys shirts in Janet Arnold's Patterns of Fashion 4, and a girl's smock pattern in the Tudor Tailor.  As the child was only 2 years old I had to scale down the extant patterns in size, but still leave room for growth as the event was some months away.  There was always a chance that her growth would not be linear and the smock would either swamp her or be too small (I had backup plans for either scenario).  Also chances were, that given the pace of growth for toddlers and the number of SCA events each year, she might also only be able to wear the smock once.
The extant shirts and smocks are made of white tabby woven linen in various thread counts.  I made this shirt from less than 1 metre of such linen; offcuts from one of my own smocks.  I imagine that women in period, who we known often made shirts and smocks for their family (even if tailors or servants made their other clothes), would have used remnants in the same way for their children.
Each pattern piece in the original was hemmed first, with narrow (~3mm) hems and then the pieces were sewn together with the coloured silk in a decorative stitch.  Due to the light and mud (see above) the hems done in the field weren't always 3 mm, but once back in the real world the later hems were nice and tiny.  There is no reference in Janet Arnold to the stitch used to hem the originals so I used a simple whip stitch with a white linen hand sewing thread; these stitches are essentially invisible in the completed piece.
Due to the less than optimal sewing conditions outdoors, the many small pattern pieces, and the danger of losing pins in the muddy grass, I loosely slip-stitched the hemmed pieces together before stitching the pieces together permanent with the insertion stitches.  Given the child is generally energetic, it seemed a little reinforcement to the slightly fragile embroidery stitches might be a good idea.  It's entirely possible that this could have been done in period; the tacking stitches are also virtually invisible in the completed garment.
For the insertion stitches (that join the garment pieces together) I decided not to use silk because of the cost (since the child might only wear the shirt once) and because a toddler's clothes are likely to need some serious laundering.  I substituted DMC embroidery thread, which I was assured would be colour fast even in nappy-soaking chemicals (so far, so good).  Having surveyed the silk colours of extant garments in Janet Arnold, I tended to a crimson, and with the help of the child’s mother and other godmothers selected a colour we all liked.  Late period embroidery is definitely outside my comfort zone.  Having looked at the embroidery on various extant garments, and searched for information on period techniques, I experimented with a few until I found stitches that I liked.  Some of the extant shirts also have decorative embroidery on parts of the garments other than the seams (e.g. sleeves), and/ or also alongside the insertion work on the seams.  Given the child may only wear the shirt once or twice, I decided the additional work was probably not warranted.
The remnants I had were not enough to cut the sleeves in one piece so I had to piece them. I'm sure this would not be uncommon in period for economic reasons. Initially I planned to put the additional seam at the back of the sleeve where it would not be obvious, but then I decided to make a feature of it by putting it at the front and embroidering the seam which would add interest if the shift was worn with an open front sleeve.  I started my embroidery here. I decided I really liked the alternating triple stitch buttonhole stitch so I played around with the stitch until I found a technique that produced the right look and was easy to maintain in a steady stitching rhythm.  I sewed a couple of inches and decided that it was too large a scale for such  small garment, so unpicked it and went to double stitches.  Once I'd sewn the whole seam I realised it was really red and overwhelming, and then recalled a shirt that had a white linen thread stitched over the insertion silk embroidery on one shirt, and for which I'd thought - why would you do that?  Why use practical white linen thread decoratively on top of red silk?  Now I wonder if the embroiderer thought as I did that there was too much red in that stitch, and it needed more contrast from the white.  The stitch was also (comparatively) very slow and used a lot of thread, so I decided it wasn't going to work for the whole shirt.  I decided to change to a single alternating stitch for the rest of the shirt. Its not clear if different insertion stitches were used in different parts of the same shirt, but it is clear that decorative embroidery used a variety of stitches on the same garment, so I went with the change.  It also made more of a feature of the centre front sleeve seams.  After some experimentation I chose a pretty standard looking insertion stitch (essentially an alternating blanket stitch with another stitch into the intersection to "knot it off").
The body and sleeves were gathered into a collar and cuffs to make the smock more comfortable for the wearer.  For the same reason I choose to attach a flat band of lace to the collar and cuffs.  I briefly contemplated making the lace, but since the child might only wear this once, that seemed unwise. Ties at the cuffs and collar in the original garment were inserted through sewn eyelets, but I figured a toddler would have those out and lost within minutes, so instead I sewed soft tape ties on as neck and wrist closures

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