Thursday, February 9, 2012

Short-sleeved Elizabethan Smock

Today's picture post is of a sleeve that I started last year. I saw the Helen Mirren portrayal of Elizabeth I and was transfixed by the opening scene where she gets undressed for her examination by the court physician. You may have noticed that her smock sleeves are relatively short and that she has sleeve ruffs attached to her outer sleeves. I thought this would be a great idea for use under my gowns with heavy outer sleeves, so I started a (relatively) short-sleeved smock. Here is a picture of the completed first sleeve:

The embroidery motifs are worked predominantly in double running stitch in maroon cotton floss on a cotton base fabric. These varied plant and animal motifs were very popular in Elizabethan times, when exciting new botanical and animal discoveries from the New World were fashionable subjects for embroidery and decoration. A shift decorated in a similar way from about the 1630's is in the collection at the V & A Museum (

As you can see, I have used several of these motifs in part or whole. The rest of the designs I used were taken from contemporary Italian or English extant embroideries, except for some of the smaller insects which  were my own creation (but inspired by extant examples.)

Fans of 16th Century historical embroidery will probably recognise motifs from 'A Scholehouse for the Needle' as well as designs from some of the garments in Janet Arnold's 'Patterns of Fashion 4'.

From extant sixteenth century embroideries, it is evident that many embroiderers did not use knots on their work, preferring to weave the threads back into the back of the design. I wash my smocks and chemises in the washing machine, so I use knots and weave the thread ends in for greater durability.

Here you can see the back of the sleeve embroidery

The back of the chameleon

Many of my personal embroideries have the same motifs showing up in one form or another; most notably the heartsease (pansy/viola), strawberries and snails. I am now also a big fan of this chameleon, butterfly and  bird:

Although I wouldn't rule out using him again, I do find that owl kind of creepy!

I will reverse the design for the other sleeve. I probably will not decorate the whole body of the smock, but may add some designs in the upper torso area. 

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