Reticello smock: Part 1

The planning phase of this project was probably the easiest part.  I had to determine materials and equipment next.

Using the correct fabric is such an important element of creating a good cutwork and in retrospect I should have done more research before beginning my project.  I have since done a significant amount of research on 16th century linen fabric.

There are some excellent books now that give the picks per inch (ppi) and ends per inch (epi).  For this project I needed a fine fabric, but with a dense thread count.  That is nearly impossible to find in modern fabric.

The thread count for the shirts and smock that are listed in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4 that list thread count are close to even weave and 90 – 100 threads per inch.  That is incredibly dense, but  the fabric had a see-through quality.  I used the finest linen fabric available from Fabrics-store.com for this project.  I already had it on hand.  Since then I have bought the finest linens from every source I could find.   None of the options came close to what seemed to be the norm in 16th century woven linen.

Here is a list of what I had found:

Fabrics-store.com – 2.8 oz. 100% linen – 24 x 28 count (used for project)

Dharma Trading Company – 3.8 oz 100% linen – 52 x 53 count

Dharma Trading Company – 55/44 cotton/linen blend – 55 x 47

Various linen fabrics from local sources – all thread counts below 60

Any other linen I bought was either too heavy or too slubby

I didn’t test the yarn count since that information is never given and I have nothing to compare it too.

The examples I found were vastly different:

Seventeenth- Century Women’s Dress Patterns – Embroidered Jacket (page 28) 90 x 92 count -1610

Seventeenth – Cnetury Women’s Dress Patterns – Blackwork Jacket (page 52)  96 x 96 count – 1620

Seventeenth  – Century Womens Dress Patterns Pat 2 – Embroidered Jacket (page 54) 100 x 110 – 1590

Patterns of Fashion 4 – 1535 Boys Shirt (page 65) 108 x 112 – described as fine linen

Patterns of Fashion 4 – 1550 Boy’s Shirt (page 65) 72 x 92

Patterns of Fashion 4 – 1585 Shirt (page 71) 77 x 73

This doesn’t mean that courser thread counts couldn’t be found.  The ruffs available in PoF4 on page 85 has a count of 44 x 52, so more loosely woven fabric can be found, but doesn’t seem to be the norm for garments.  There is an extant jacket at the V&A with a very course thread count dating from 1605, but I will need to see more garments in person to determine if this was more of a one off kind of thing.

Of course I didn’t have any of that information when I started this smock so jumped in head first with the fabric I had sitting at my house.

After choosing my fabric I had to decide on how to work the pieces.  I originally wanted to use my slate frame.  It provides maximum control on the tension of the fabric, but my slate frame was too small for the sleeve length. Stretcher bars  were a good solution, but they aren’t as stable as a slate frame so I had to make careful adjustments a few times during my work to maintain even tension.

I had chosen the slate frame because there are several examples of embroiders with slate frames in woodcuts from the 16th century.  Cutwork derived from embroidery and then drawn thread work, so it made sense to use the same tool.

embroider frame stretcher bars

The stretcher bars have only the fabric to stabilize them so as the threads were removed it would shift slightly which caused small distortions if I wasn’t pay attention.

The bars were 28″ long and 20″ wide.  The next time I work on a garment I will use actual slate frames (I’ll just have to suck it up  and pay someone to make the size I need) or build a temporary wood frame that I can use like a slate frame.

Unfortunately not having time to do my research before I started was a costly lesson.  The finished project turned out to be too fragile to ever wear.

The next step was prepping the fabric for the lace work.

Reticello smock: The beginning

I began playing in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) in 2002 and my love of 16th century clothing and lace came soon after.  A lovely woman (or evil depending on how you see it) introduced me to a book called Ruskin Lace, and after a month of chasing it down (it wasn’t available on Amazon back then) I had something to start with.  I also picked up The Needle-made Lace of Reticella.  Unfortunately the books incorporated almost the exact same methods and the couching technique just wasn’t producing satisfying results for me.  Sadly I put away my needle and linen thread for 10 years.

I don’t really remember what moved me to start collecting Italian books on lace, but they really opened my eyes to new techniques and I was much happier with the results.  Armed with a few practice pieces and a lot of adrenaline I decided to try my first real project in 2013.  Not just a project, but a competition piece and I had 6 weeks to finish it!

I had always loved this smock image from Old Lace, and had promised myself that I would make it when I was comfortable enough with lace.  I thought it would be perfect to tackle.  I know now that this timeline was insane for the project, but live an learn right?

I  had 2 problems immediately: the first was that there was no other existing images of this smock and the piece has long since disappeared and second was the style of smock didn’t work with my English clothing styles. This is more of an Italian style.

To address the first issue I magnified the image as much as a I could to get details of the pattern and edges of the work.  For the second I decided to only do the sleeves and would use a low neck smock from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4 for the silhouette and pattern.  It was a good start!

I consulted every pattern book I had as well as my technique books to come up with a pattern that best fit what I saw in the image and would be able to produce and this is what I came up with:

lace pattern

In my next post I’ll talk about the materials and set up for the project.

My costuming experiences

This blog is a way for me to document my costuming experiences.  I will be sharing my techniques, mistakes, and successes.  My interests range from historical costume to movie/TV costume.  Hopefully I can keep it fresh with the variety.  I also will be including reviews of my favorite books, reference sites, an on occasion patterns.  I’m not an especially entertaining writer, so I’ll keep it spicy with lots of images and juicy how-to tidbits.

Looking forward to this experience!