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 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: – 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.


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