Antique Smocked Yoke

Antique Smocking and Embroidery

One tried not to yelp on discovering the above in a tiny antiques shop above a cafe. One smiled and calmly handed over one’s money.


I’d love to know how old this is. All the smocking and embroidery is done by hand. I think the fabric is a heavy linen. The yoke has been cut from the main body of … something. A night dress? A work shirt? The sleeves have been cut away, also.


Interior Glimpse

The collar is quite firmly tacked down.

Tacked Down Collar

Let me know if you have any thoughts as to what this item of clothing once was or when it dates from. Fascinating!

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40 Responses to Antique Smocked Yoke

  1. ooobop! says:

    No idea what/when this is from but it would look gorgeous framed behind glass and put on (my) your wall!

  2. Stevie says:

    I would guess it could be from around 1850- 1900. It is likely to be a work smock. All the regions in England had a design of smocking to differentiate between towns or county’s etc. Most country people owned them for outdoor work. I don’t know a huge amount about them but the Arts and Crafts movement revived smocking and William Morris often wore one. I found a good example on the V&A Website from 1860s. I work at a museum and am a dress historian so i’ll keep a look out for others, you’ve got a beautiful example there!
    Here’s that V&A Link

  3. I’ve also no idea about what or when, but isn’t that lovely work? I might be showing my age, or perhaps my mother’s age, but I had smocked dresses – I recognise one of those stitch patterns – when I was a toddler and my nieces have all worn at least one of them since, for special occasions. Sometimes, it’s not a bad thing to be a hoarder. And isn’t it a good thing somebody hoarded that lovely handiwork? Ooobop! is quite right that it would look lovely framed and on a wall.

  4. Jacq C says:

    My husband’s aunt is trying to teach me to smock, I dream of being able to make something half as beautiful. Definitely framed and on display, what a fab find 🙂

  5. lauriesannie says:

    It really is an unusual piece. Lucky, lucky you. If I come to London, I’m thinking I should antique shop instead of fabric shop!

    • I bought this far from London! The seller and I both agreed that we’d never buy an antique in Portobello Road – overpriced for the tourists. I do recommend Kempton Antiques Fair, though, on the outskirts of London!

  6. What a beautiful find, you would have to display this, I bet it would start lots of conversations i.e. who, what, when and where.

  7. Tanit-Isis says:

    Oooooo, gorgeous! Definitely frame it. Work smock, eh? Man, the definition of work clothes sure has changed!

  8. senjiva says:

    Looks like a mid-weight linen? Pretty amazing find. Thank you for sharing it!

  9. huggiebaby says:

    Oooo lovely! Definitely one to get framed. It’s quite pricey to get fabrics and stuff mounted but worth it. ‘The Picture Man’ on Chiswick High Street is very good.

  10. alison says:

    I suspect that it is the yoke of a traditional rural smock. Very beautifully embroidered, what a find! There is an article about such garments here:
    And the Folkwear pattern company has a modern sewing pattern:

  11. Nicola says:

    You could try contacting the Embroidery Guild, they might be able to give you more information.

  12. sclubbethan says:

    Wow. What a fab find. I agree with the others- frame it! Would look amazing hung up.

  13. Linzi says:

    Check out the WI, as they were recently exhibiting at the NEC(sewing for pleasure) smocking from late 1800’s onwards. Beautiful work x

  14. Sarah says:

    Well isn’t that a lovely piece of work! You must frame it! I’m no expert, but age wise I would say it looks to be about late 1800s to the very early 1900s. It may be me but it doesn’t look too big in the photo so it may have been part of a child’s work/play outfit but then I may be completely wrong.

    • No, it’s pretty big. I actually wondered if it was a man’s item of clothing, but then the embroidery looks so … female! But maybe I am bringing all sorts of awful preconceptions to this.

  15. Heather says:

    Looks like you have found a man’s field smock, they were heavily smocked usually linen. You will get a date and place from the type of decoration. You could get it assessed at the V&A they will give you lots of information. It is lovely.


  16. How beautiful! I’m not any help, except to agree with Heather that the V&A might be able to help. Hope you can find out about it.

  17. Charlotte says:

    At least two of the pattern sections (the bottom one in particular) look like knit garter stitch to me, not smocking at all. It that is true, then possibly the “smocking” is really a fancy knit stitch pattern.

  18. Lovely! I worked at a museum for a little while and my absolute favorite thing about it was getting to stare and stare at antique hand sewing up close. This one reminds me of the Folkwear English Smock Pattern which I’ve always liked but never made, it just seems so romantic. The description says, “A truly universal garment worn by shepherds, butchers, bakers, farmers, and other rural laborers in Old England.” It is hard to imagine putting that much hand embroidery into a work garment, but I think that’s what I love about it, it seems to say something good about the society it belonged to.

  19. That is really a lovely piece of handicraft! I would have never guessed you could do something so precise, by hand! Great find.

  20. That’s gorgeous!! It’s a round smock (the same front and back), something that would have been worn by somebody who worked outdoors, although this looks like a particularly nice one! It might be the type that would have been worn for “best” (fairs, church or weddings), as the embroidery is so neat and regular. If it’s entirely sewn by hand, it probably dates from before 1850 – from roughly that date onwards, the long side seams tended to be sewn by machine after the smocking had been completed. I work at the Museum of English Rural Life, where we have a collection of more than 60 working smocks. Let me know if you want any more information, and i’ll see what I can do for you. 🙂

  21. Liz says:

    What an amazing find!

  22. LinB says:

    Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s a child’s smock! My own dear mother was a tiny, tiny thing when she married my diminutive father, in 1957. Access to good nutrition and adequate public health measures has led to a population of much larger adults in the last half of the 20th century. I, too, thought the front panel was knitted until I saw your close-up shots. White color makes me think it may have been a nightshirt, for a man or a woman; and it is so very, very fancy that I’d posit it was made for a wedding night. Work smocks were usually of a darker fabric, to hide dirt better.

  23. Becca says:

    I have no idea about what it was or when it’s from, but it’s really pretty! I agree that you should frame it and let it grace the walls of your sewing room or some such. I love coming across treasures like this at antique stores. So fun!

  24. Sufiya says:

    I really would like to know what is going on with the universe…just recently, out of the blue, an elderly friend gave me some old smocking patterns and books to take to my embroidery guild to share out, and I picked out a blouse pattern and decided I wanted to try my hand at smocking, and just after that, I scored a used pleater real cheap! Now, only a week or two later the world around me has suddenly gone smocking-crazy and it’s popping up EVERYWHERE!! Vogue patterns is featuring an article on smocking; Elle magazine (ELLE MAGAZINE???) had a recent article on how smocking is suddenly “cool”;I spot this blog post featuring smocking…did I accidentally trip some kind of switch or something? I swear I haven’t heard word ONE about smocking for YEARS, and now that I have decided to try it, the WHOLE WORLD has magically gone “smocking -mad” right behind me!

  25. Pingback: Dress Making and Over-Ambitious Plans | Whipped-Stitch Witchery

  26. Alex says:

    We used to have such a linnen shirt in our linnen closet. It disappeared as my mother died (lovvvve my sisters who probably took it). It was smocked on the front, in bodice style, and on the top of the sleeves, but not near as intricate as you have there!! My mother used to tell me that is was a death shirt, made for her grandfather (by adoption) and that it was tradition in the huguenote church they belonged to. It would have been made around the 1870, as he reached adulthood, as every person who would marry bring such a shirt with him/her, so in case of death, they could be buried in it. It was of similar linnen.

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