Croft Mill Loves…. Ruth’s Historic Smock top

Earlier this week, the lovely Ruth Bramley sent to an email showing how she had transformed some of our fabric. she wrote

I have long been a customer of Croft Mill – I first starting buying fabric from you over 20 years ago – and have made many curtains, duvet covers, trousers, dresses, skirts, etc. over the years using fabric purchased from you. I don’t have as much time to sew these days as I used to, but still very much enjoy it when I get the chance.

I thought you might like to hear about a major project that I completed last year using fabric from Croft Mill.

In the Spring of 2013 I was asked by Dave Pearce, the miller at Wicken Windmill, near Ely, Cambridgeshire, whether I would be willing to make him a traditional English smock that he could wear during the celebrations for the mill’s 200th birthday. I have often thought about the possibility of making such a garment, and have for many years owned a very good book on the subject. Although most of the surviving smocks are white or cream, it is likely that many of these were wedding smocks, or those kept for Sunday best. Work smocks were made in a variety of colours, and apparently the most common colour for Cambridgeshire smocks was an olive green or khaki. The decorative panels often represented the owner’s trade. The fabric I chose is a 100% cotton canvas, sold by Croft Mill under the name Platoon. It very heavy and strong, but also remarkably soft. The photos don’t really do the colour justice – it is a lovely soft olive green colour – and I chose a slightly paler green for the embroidery. As I could not find any mill-related designs, I decided to create my own, using millstones and stalks of wheat as the basis.

Having designed the embroidered panels, and drafted the pattern pieces, I started working on the smock in June 2013. The front and back of the smock are identical, each having two embroidered panels, on either side of the smocked section. Each panel took about eight hours to stitch. The collar, which is in two sections, is also embroidered, as are the shoulder panels.

The gathering stitches for the smocked sections on the front and back have to be exactly in line with the warp and weft threads of the fabric, so took a long time and I found that I had to use a magnifying craft lamp. I used crochet cotton to do the gathering as it has to be drawn up very tightly and secured before the smocking embroidery can be done, so has to be very strong. Once the embroidery is complete, the gathering stitches are removed. The smocked area is very stretchy. There are smaller smocked areas at the top and bottom edges of the sleeves.

Dave wanted to be able to wear the smock at the Wicken village fête, which was to include celebrations to mark the mill’s birthday. I knew that there was no way that I could get it finished, but managed to get the front and sleeves done, the gathering stitches for the back in place and the panels on the back, collar and shoulders marked up ready for embroidery. I stitched around the design on these panels on the sewing machine, using sewing thread which is the same colour as the embroidery thread, as I knew that the dressmaker’s carbon would rub off before I had a chance to do the embroidery.

The smock was worn at the fête and received many complements. Dave returned the smock to me afterwards for completion. I didn’t have time to do any more work on it until November that year when I picked it up again.

I finally finished it in February 2014. I felt that I wanted to ‘sign’ it in some way, so on the inside of the hem I embroidered “Made for Dave Pearce, miller, Wicken Corn Mill” and “Designed and made by Ruth Bramley 2013″. I’m not sure how many hours of work went into the making of the smock, but it was certainly well in excess of 100 hours.

I hope that you enjoy the attached photos.”

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Margaret chamberlain
    14/01/2015 at 8:58 PM

    Thank you for posting this. I love smocks and smocking. I have seen smocks in museums made up of brownish fabric, I suspect many are I bleached linen. It has encouraged me as I would love to try making one for myself. I love the embroidery too, you are clever well done.

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