12 Little Needle Cases

December: Smocking

This needlework piece is part of my ongoing exploration of different medieval embroidery styles. A full explanation of the project can be found here.

We have entered the final stretch, the final month of needle cases! The last one is smocking. Smocking was a popular decorative way to decorate pleats in chemises and other linen garments like aprons in the 16th century (the last half of the year has been full of 16th century, huh!).

The best extant example I can think of is the hemd, or chemise of Mary of Hapsburg. The chemise, a grainy picture below, is pleated and the pleats secured with geometric satin-stitch embroidery in silver thread.

Detail of Mary of Hapsburg’s gown 1520-1530 in Hungarian National Museum.

This Chemise has already been recreated by Genoveva von Lubeck at Germanrennaissance.net and the pattern charted by Glynnis Hollindale. This style of smocking is more correctly known as pattern darning over pleat work.


Now, the biggest issue with doing a pleatwork/smocking needle case is that smocking is not meant to be something small and flat, but something that creates volume. So, we are going to try our best by creating very small tiny shallow pleats, and embroidering a design over them by pattern darning.

In an effort to not reinvent the wheel, and to stick with our 12 months of recreating embroideries that have actually been featured on extant medieval pieces(!!), I am going to use the pattern charted by Clynnis Hollindale. The pattern can be seen here: http://germanrenaissance.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/GHMaryofHapsburgalternatefrontpatternoptionsV1.1.pdf

First we will pleat up the fabric using tiny pleats. This will be achieved by marking the fabric at 1/4 inch intervals and drawing the pleats up.

We will stitch the pattern darning in a pretty silk thread the (0/20 thread we used for the German Brick Stitch needle cases.) Pattern darning is an incredibly simple stitch. The thread will go through some pleats and over top of others, creating the decorative pattern (and hopefully will come together quickly!). To make sure that the pattern works up correctly, I will start at the center row and work my way outward, in the hopes that I will achieve symmetry in my design. This will be more of a trial and error piece than some of my others.

Happy Stitching!


Anne Von Wiese Honeycomb Smocking Pattern

GermanRenaissance.net Dortheas Pleatwork Smock

GermanRenaissance.net Mary of Hapsburg Chemise Pattern Darning

Gown of Mary of Hapsburg

Costume Kullan Pattern Darning a New Shift


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