For Pennsic this year I packed seven smocks for myself — some call them chemises or white linen underdresses, the German might say unterhemd (underdress) or Wäsche (the wash). My smocks are in a variety of styles and weights of linen, all worn before with success and all in good repair. Did I wear all seven over the course of the event? No. To my surprise I discovered I far and away preferred just one smock that I’d made a few days before Pennsic, and I wore it as often as I could because it was so comfortable and went with every gown I owned. I would actually alternate that favored smock with one of the others so I could wash and dry it for the next day. And, trust me, I wouldn’t have gone to all that work if I hadn’t REALLY liked it. I think I managed to wear this particular smock at least 8 or 9 days of the event. This is SO not my style — I’m the “I-like-to-wear-something-different-every-day” sort of girl.
What’s so special about this smock? It has several features I really liked that fit me, my particular wardrobe, and the warm, humid weather of Pennsic:
- Fabric weight: It’s made of white “tissue linen” from Jo-Ann’s (not to be confused with tissue linen from other places, like Fabrics-store.com). This tissue linen is 60% linen and 40% cotton. It’s light and airy, and feels great against your skin on hot, muggy days. Better than 100% linen, which has a heavier feeling than this based on my experience. I did several experiments at Pennsic last year, and this tissue linen was my definite favorite. (Note: I only recommend the tissue linen for hot weather — otherwise go for 100% linen.)
- Length: This smock does not go down to my knees (or further) like my other smocks — it’s only about mid-thigh length. So not only is there less material to deal with in general, but when I kirtle my German gowns in the Landsknecht fashion, you cannot see the edge of my smock peeking out below immodestly.
- Sleeves: The sleeves are big and poofy, which meant more air circulation and it allowed the sleeves to billow out nicely on my gown with the slashed sections. Also, I put elastic at the wrists (I would have smocked/pleated them for the same effect — it’s “medieval elastic,” you know — but I ran out of time) and this allowed me to push my sleeves up and stay cooler.
- Shoulders: My pattern shows a triangular section cut off at each shoulder, which moves the sleeve seam higher up so it is usually hidden under your gown strap. This construction method is period — it appears on Nils Svantesson Sture shirt from 1567 (on permanent display at Uppsala Cathedral in Sweden). I should not that this is NOT a raglan sleeve, as the seam does not go up to the collar, but rather just moves the sleeve up to a more vertical position when worn.
- Neckline: The smock has a high collar, but a long opening cut below it, giving the smock a deep V-neck appearance. This was comfortable and cool, and flattering on me.
- Collar: The collar is pleated in a simple and relatively large honeycomb pattern. It only took a few hours to do it and held up to stretching, pulling, and hand-washing, and it felt very authentic!
So I thought I’d share the pattern for this fantastic smock with anyone else out there who might be looking to make such a garment. My pattern is mostly one-size-fits-all, but feel free to adjust it. My inspiration for the smock came from Baroness Sylvie’s work on her own hemd, which you can read about on her blog (thank you!). And this smock is unisex — Gregor accidentally put it on thinking it was one of his and he looked great in it.
Yes, that collar is 22″ wide on both the front and the back, meaning it’s 44″ wide. But don’t worry — it all gets smocked down into a 16″-17″ wide collar.
Here are the step-by-step directions for my collared smock:
1. Purchase (or find) at least 2 2/3 yards of linen that is at least 48″ wide (the tissue linen I mentioned earlier is 54″ wide).
2. Pre-wash (and pre-shrink) your linen. Iron it.
3. Fold your linen in half so you have a square at least 48″ wide by 46″ long, with the fold on the 48″ length, as shown in the cutting pattern above.
4. Cut out your smock pieces as shown in the fabric. When done completely, you will have eight pieces — two sleeves that are 24″ long by 20″ wide, four gusset triangles, and two body pieces 43″ long by 36″ wide.
5. Sew the shoulder and collar seams of the two body pieces together, as shown below. I recommend a French seam or a flat-felled seam.
6. Decide which side you want to be the front (they should be identical) and make a 9″ cut in the top center for the collar opening. Remember: This cut is one ONE side only.
7. Hem the top of the collar and the collar opening. I recommend a small rolled hem done by hand. It doesn’t really take that long.
8. Lay the top end of the sleeve against the edge of the body piece, matching the center line of the sleeve with the shoulder seam of the body. Sew the sleeve to the body, as shown below. Repeat for the other sleeve. (Again, I recommend a French seam or flat-felled seam.)
9. Sew a gusset triangle to the point where the end of the sleeve and body meet, as shown below. Repeat for all the gusset triangles. I like to do French seams here.