Last week I had the chance to visit the Brimfield Antiques Show. Not very much came home with me from that day, but there was one terrific find, an original copy of "How to do English Smocking" by Grace Knott published in 1946! So today's post is a mini smocking history lesson. I was a history major in college, and one of the things I love about smocking, embroidery and knitting is the connection it forges with generations of women who went before us. (I also picked up the fun buttons just because I liked them!)
Grace Clark was born in England in 1889 and through volunteer work during WWI, met Canadian officer Ernest Knott. They were married and settled in Toronto, Canada in 1919. Grace gave a small child's dress to a friend that included her own smocking design, and soon Grace was flooded with requests for similar garments. She began offering smocking lessons and started her "School of English Smocking" in 1930. In 1947 she published the book pictured above that I picked up at Brimfield.
In the Forward, Grace states that she hopes the book "may assist fond Mothers in the rural districts and even the outposts of this great Dominion, to clothe their Children as so many of them have so long desired, as attractively as their Urban Relatives." Finding smocking lessons seemed to be as difficult then as it is now!
The book is only 24 pages but introduces the use of Knott Dots. Although the pleater did exist by this time, many women created smocked garments by using Knott Dots. Knott Dots was simply dotted paper that was temporarily sewn to the back of the garment. The pleats were created by taking a bite of the fabric at each individual dot along the row and then continuing to the next dot. Once this was done for all rows, the fabric could be gathered by pulling up the threads thus forming the pleats. Later Grace also offered dotted paper that was an iron on transfer.
In the book, Grace states that there are four simple fundamental rules for smocking. They are:
1. When working down the thread is above the needle.
2. When working up the thread is below the needle.
3. For the top level stitch, the thread is above the needle.
4. For the bottom level stitch, the thread is below the needle.
She also states that there are 3 basic stitches, and all smocking designs are formed from various combinations of these stitches. The 3 basic stitches are Outline, Cable and Wave. She makes it seem so simple; I am sure she was a wonderful teacher!
Grace went on to publish English Smocking in 1957. It was reprinted in 1976 and 1983. Grace's daughter-in-law updated English Smocking in 1989 using more modern color schemes for the smocking designs, and the business continued until 2015 when Grace's grandson, George retired. Grace's books and smocking plates can often be found at flea markets and on Etsy and Ebay if you are interested in owning a piece of smocking history.