Nellie"s Needles

Monday, May 09, 2011

Smocking - A Trip Down Memory Lane

The post I wrote about being happy to be a mother started a trip down memory lane.  In retrospect I appreciate that it was a beneficial time to be a mother.  Society accepted broader roles for women, plus many of us had the choice of staying home  with the kids or working outside the home.  I attribute satisfaction with my motherhood  to being an at home mom with the luxury of having time, money, and energy to pursue my interest in needlework.  The beginning of my serious involvement was when the boys were about 8 and 10 years old.  Initially, it was teaching classes around my dining room table.  Eventually, that expanded to evening courses at the local college campuses and then to workshop and lecture tours around the country and Canada.  As the saying goes, "If Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy".  The balance of  my home life and involvement in the needlework world made me happy.

During my "prime time" years (mid 70's through the 80's), English smocking dominated my life. I taught the technique in 6-week long classes on three Milwaukee Technical College campuses. The photo above is the cover and introduction page of the book I wrote.  It's in a workbook format that reflects the 6-week session for beginners.  I had intended to write another for the advanced class, Series II, but never did.  My husband and best friend posed in the photos with me to save on modeling fees.

During that time I also wrote booklets as well as designed kits (Christmas ornaments and Easter eggs) and clothing patterns for smocking.   Those were produced and published by a company called Little Miss Muffet. This one for doll clothes is based on the most popular smocked outfits for children.
The models are the first two dolls in what ended up being an extensive collection.  I named them after my niece and nephew who's mother, Dianne Durand, had introduced me to this beautiful needlework skill.  Dianne owned and ran the Little Miss Muffet company.  She and I along with several other young mothers founded the Smocking Arts Guild of America* (SAGA).

There were also two books that included the patterns for doll clothes. "Book I" featured the "Kalico Kid" doll family.
The storybook tale of the Kalico family takes place during the Great Depression. In the story a well-off aunt sends a box of cast-off clothes to her sister, which was my inspiration for making these garments.

"Book II" features the Fischer Price "Best Friends" and Sasha dolls that were popular back then ...
The back cover featured the matching dresses I had designed and made for the little girl who lived next door to us.  Here's the centerfold picturing all the outfits offered.

It pleases me to see these books listed on eBay now and then. It's a secondary market, because they haven't been published for many years ... about as many years as I haven't been smocking.

*I'm happy to report that SAGA is still going strong even though none of us founders are involved. The way I see it, that's akin to good parenting ...  we each gave many years of work and  devotion to establish a good foundation so it could survive and thrive into the future.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the trip down memory lane. I smocked my maternity tops when I was first married. I had no idea what I was doing but a girl I went to high school with (3 friends and I got her through sewing class by purchasing identical material and sewing her project at home for her) had sewed her maternity tops AND so not to be outdone by her I decided to smock the ones I made. One or two tops were smocked on small (think it was called “baby”) gingham; One was reverse smocked and the other you could see the stitching. On a third I remember I sat down with a ruler and sewing pin and marked the dots on the material...Oh to have that time again! Thanks again for the smile and memory!

Kay said...

You certainly have had a busy needlework life!

Smocking is something I never did. That's odd, too, because my mother did it, and I had smocked clothing when I was a girl. I guess I never stumbled on one of your patterns, or I might have tried it.

Sue Spurlock said...

Your Memory Lane is filled with wonderful places and interesting things! You were "fiber cool" before fiber WAS cool!

June Calender said...

How interesting that smocking was your doorway to needlework and you made such a career of it. Although I smocked a few dresses for my daughters that was it, and I had no idea people were smocking adult clothes.

Your final comment is very wise -- often I think organizers of groups move on to new interests and sometimes newer members wonder if they've been deserted. Of course our human offspring usually maintain close ties [which is also normal]

Heather said...

What an amazing collection of memories you must have Nellie. Your dolls and their delightful clothes are beautiful. Well made smocking is lovely - one of my aunts was very good at it and made dresses for my daughters.

FredaB said...

Nellie I really enjoyed your trip down memory lane. I too started smocking as a young mother living in Toronto at that time. I started with my Grace L. Knott book and actually had only 2 boys at the time. I used to use the paper dots and what a time went into that.

When we moved to Chicago and my daughter was born so was my smocking taking off. I bought a Read 16 row pleater and no more dots. I made many a smocked dress for her and was in Saga for many years. When my grandaughter was born here we go again. Every birthday or Christmas dress was made by Grandma plus the American Girl doll was born so she had to have identical dresses also.

It was a great time in my life and I eventually graduated to a 24 row pleater. Still have both. Also I treasure my Grace L. Knott book that I still have. Must be almost 50 years old.

Thanks for the memories.



Carol said...

What a delight to look back with you and re-connect in a way. Your study in color provided me with a new way to look at everyday things and get inspiration for whatever creative venture I was taking. I greatly enjoyed the SAGA class on color you taught here in San Francisco back then, and was so thankful I had taken it as you "retired" shortly after. I am still smocking, in fact have just picked up a piece I pleated several years ago, for a peasant blouse. With all the gathers and fullness in women's clothing these days, it will fit right in again. This time I am using my own design, but I used your plaid design from Dianne's book a couple of times in the past.

I now have a granddaughter, so am doing some things for her, but am now back to my original plan - smocking for myself. And hopefully will also get an art piece or two completed. Thank you for your inspiration and here, a reminder of why I learned to smock in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your article. I just bought a Diannne Durand pleater at an estate sale. Looks unused Would you know if the pleater needles are still available for it?

Anonymous said...

I remember taking classes from Nellie in the early 80s at Milwaukee Area Technical College and being with her at the local SAGA chapter. My daughters were babies then and now that I'm going to be a grandma, they want smocked clothes again for their kids. I still have my pleater and all my patterns.