Thoughts on Smocking
My eyes have been opened in recent years to the depth and variety of expression that smocking can provide. Research for the lecture “Smocking—Yesterday and Today,” which I presented at the March 2014 opening of the exhibition “Smocking—Fabric Manipulation and Beyond” at the Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles in Berkeley, California, turned up so much more than little girls’ smocked dresses. For hundreds of years stitchery has been used to control fabric fullness in decorative as well as utilitarian (19th Century shepherds’ smocks, for example) ways. Today, we see smocking on television, in mail order catalog offerings and used as a purely creative art form.
I have adopted a mission to open stitchers’ eyes to these many possibilities and get them to think “outside the box” (yes, that is the name of one of my classes!) when it comes to smocking. I also encourage stitchers to not stitch in a vacuum, but to broaden their exposure with other types of needlework. It is amazing how one medium can transform and enrich another.
For a complete listing of my classes, go to www.classiccreationssmocking.com
We all start somewhere: I must have started sewing when I was 5 or 6 or whenever my legs were long enough for the old treadle sewing machine we had. I grew up on a farm in southwestern Missouri where sewing was an integral part of nearly every woman’s life—you made it (curtains, slipcovers, pajamas, evening gowns, patches for the men’s overalls, etc.) or you did without. An aunt was my inspiration—she won all sorts of awards for her sewing through the 4-H organization where we all learned the correct way to do everything or ripped it out! Eventually my mother got a new Singer and we didn’t have to go to Grandma’s anymore to get buttonholes made. I just figured I’d become a Home Ec (that’s what it was called then) teacher but tossed out that notion after 10 weeks in junior high with an incompetent teacher. We had moved to central New York by that time. I sewed all through high school and college, even once designing and making a set of wrestling cheerleaders’ uniforms!
Going Green-inner detail
Hand sewing came later; though I vaguely remember my great-grandmother showing me how to do stamped cross stitch when I was really little. I ordered and stitched numerous needlework kits from The Stitchery—never allowing myself to get a new one until the current project was completed. (Whatever happened to that discipline!) We moved to Crofton in suburban Maryland in the late 1970’s. There was a wonderful needlework shop where I started taking classes: quilting, crochet, knitting, needlepoint, hardanger, etc. I actually avoided the smocking classes because I had an idea that since smocking went so well with all of the sewing I had always done, I might not want to ever do anything else if I learned to smock!
Starburst Evening Bag
Shortly before our daughter was born, though, I took my first smocking class, and I was hooked! I made all of her dresses—the pre-school teachers couldn’t wait to see what Sarah would wear next! I incorporated smocking into my own clothing as well, something that I still love and continue to do. I had begun teaching a variety of classes at that same local needlework shop and even seriously considered buying it when the owner retired. I had discovered SAGA along the way and attended my first seminar in Baltimore in 1984 and then that huge Atlanta convention in 1985 and many others that followed. I was so fortunate to be able to take classes with many of the early influential SAGA teachers.
In the early 1990’s several things happened simultaneously. By then I wasn’t allowed to make Sarah’s dresses anymore, and I began teaching SAGA-approved classes. I developed a series of designs for Christmas ornament kits stitched with metallic threads to sell through my business, Classic Creations (www.classiccreationssmocking.com). My earlier exposure to other types of needlework had introduced me to threads that were not all that common for smocking, and I offer them as well as other needlework accessories.
Galaxy Smocked Ornament, #1
The Smocking Horizons series for Creative Needle Magazine began in 1993. This series of articles, as well as A Smocking Primer and the Smocking Essentials series which followed, gave me the opportunity to experiment with and try out some of the “what if’s” I’d always wondered about. I’m basically a very practical/frugal person (Midwest upbringing?) and could never bring myself to make something unless it had a specific objective which the magazine articles provided.
Inflamed, a Scarf
I love teaching, though, and am so grateful that SAGA has allowed me the opportunity to travel across the country to share with its members. Nothing warms my heart more than when I see the light go on and a student says, “Now I understand!” Even better is when a student from a previous class returns to show me a completed project and/or what she was able to develop of her own based on that earlier class.
Mother of the Groom
I do have a life beyond stitching which centers around my love of history and passion for textiles. As a long-time docent at an 18th Century historic house in Annapolis, Maryland, I have researched and participated in the creation of period clothing and needlework installations. I am also a volunteer curatorial assistant at the Maryland Historical Society where I am able to apply my knowledge and skills to furthering the understanding of its collections. This all meshes nicely with my keen interest in genealogy research. As it turns out, I come from a long line of needle workers, one of whom may also have been named Barbara!
Barbara at a Teacher Showcase, SAGA Convention