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Tuesday, 14 May 2013


A meeting with managers from Suffolk County Council has expanded the project into the idea of developing site specific interventions for the particular spaces; Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft Record Offices. Next move is to have visits to all the sites to check out the spaces and to see what is appropriate - already some things aren't really possible due to motion sensors. It was good to show the work, finally its out of the studio. It was great to get such a positive reaction to a what was a very small part of the work I have made so far. Also on the cards is developing a connection with the public, working out how to talk about connectivity and the specific approach I have taken in exploring the objects, which is very different to how the usual users of the record offices operate. This will take the form of illustrated talks, displays and workshops.
Meanwhile page 3 of the manual.
The Museum of East Anglian Life has a smock that came to the collection after its use as a prop/costume in amateur dramatics, this is supported by the narrative that came with the object and the theatrical 'make up' around the collar.1 This highlights the idea of the smock as a symbol of the countryside. If you want to identify a character as being rural put them in a smock. This is unfortunately also often a short cut for an individual who is deemed to be foolish or unintelligent.2
1 - STMEA:2013-7
2 - On the 13th June 1851 the London Times reported on the remarkable visit to the great exhibition by over 800 agricultural labourers and country folk wearing their smartest smock-frocks.
The commentaries tone implied that the ‘rustics’ were seen very much as 'other' and unlike anything that could of being produced from any part of England, although they behaved themselves to the satisfaction of the organisers who had expected vandalism from these strangers thus the occasion demonstrates the separation of town and country and the wearing of the smock being a marker of that difference.
Eventually the loose garment became impractical and dangerous to wear near the new machinery. The smock was abandoned as the movement from the rural to city that was a part of the industrialisation of the land brought with it a fear of ridicule.
The smock, originally an item worn as a practical garment for agricultural labourers became a symbol of earthiness worn by bohemian crafts people of the Aesthetic movement. Adopted by the friends of Oscar Wilde and William Morris who himself promoted the smock as a protest against the man-made of the machine age. Incidentally Morris was taken to the Great Exhibition by his mother but refused to enter on the grounds that he would find nothing but meretricious rubbish.
Marshall, Beverly. 1980. Smocks and Smocking. Van Nostrand Rheinhold.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


working on the writing - page 2

the image of black smocks held by the church, lent out to pallbearers in rural areas.


Smocking began in England in the 13th / 14th century. One of the earliest mentions of the word is in The Miller’s Tale by Chaucer, in 1390, where the wife is described as wearing a white smock embroidered in front and behind. But Examples of 10th century pleating were discovered in archaeological digs at Birka in Sweden.1

Traditional English smocks were usually made from cotton or linen. The cotton was mostly twill weave, sometimes called 'drabbet' when referring to smocks. Most smocks were in natural colours of creamy white ranging to a darker buff, with some examples in green and brown, although blue smocks can be found in Newark, dyed with Wode from Coventry, (where I come from!) The smocking would generally be in a natural colour thread, although coloured thread was used.

The fabric was gathered into pleats, and then the pleats were secured with embroidery stitches to the ridged surface. These decorative smocks were very practical outer garments that were worn by farm workers, mostly men, and children. They were smocked on the yoke and sleeves, and often the stitching indicated the area from where the smock originated, and there is also some thought that the embroidered designs also depicted the wearers' occupation e.g. farmers would have symbols of the land, shepherds would have crooks and sheep, while gravediggers would have crosses. The smocks provided the wearer with protection and warmth while giving freedom of movement and stretch across the back, chest and sleeves and therefore not restricting their ability to work. The cut of traditional smocks varies little, other than in size. The shaping of the smock to give shape, fit and fullness is creating by the smocking - gathering and stitching of fabric in various places.

As the use of the rural smock faded, smocking began to appear on woman's and children's clothing. In the early 20th century, the use of smocking to decorate garments became both popular and fashionable.

In the 1940s a Mr Read, invented a mechanical smocking pleater. This machine eliminated the need for the laborious method that was previously required of preparing the pleated fabric required for smocking.

1 -Geijir, Agnes. The Textile Finds from Birka. 1983. Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe: Essays in Memory of Professor E.M. Carus Wilson. Pasold Studies in Textile History 2. eds. B.B. Harte and K.G. Ponting. London: Pasold.1983.

Cave, Oenone. 1965 English Folk Embroidery.  Mills & Boon.
Keay, Diana. 1979 The book of smocking. Search Press Ltd.