From Hérodiade “A voice from the distant past, an evocation, Is it not mine prepared for incantation? In the yellow folds of thought, still unexhumed, Lingering, and like an antique cloth perfumed”
The Yellow Book of the 1890s was a periodical that published poetry and stories that was lavishly illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley. The Aesthetic movement was captured both in the writing and design of the publication. In researching I found Aesthetes and Decadents of the 1890s it is an anthology of poetry including many from The Yellow Book. Hérodiade by Stéphane Mallarmé was my character inspiration. The fictionalized version of Herodias the wife of Herod the Great. She was characterized as the goddess of witchcraft in the Medieval era. The ancient and medieval influence on the Aesthetic movement inspired my design.
I researched the smocked dresses produced by Liberty & Co. I also researched the reform dresses worn by the Pre-Raphaelites and members of the Arts and Crafts movement during the 1860s and 1870s. The original clothing was of a slightly different silhouette than what was eventually commercially sold. I wanted both of these styles to influence my finished look instead of making a Liberty & Co. replica. I free form drew organic embroidery designs to give that Aubrey Beardsley feel that is both modern and Medieval feeling. I wanted to capture the feeling of reading poetry and becoming the character.
The pattern is created using simple rectangles. I made a smocking sample to deduce how the fabric was needed. The fabric needed 4.25 times the finished smocked section to reduce correctly. Because 12” was needed across the front neck that meant 51” of fabric was need. My fabric was 54” wide so I just used the full width on the front panel. I needed some extra width across my back so I used two 30” wide panels across the back. 60” of length was needed for both the front and the back panels. I actually needed more length and ended up adding a hem band to compensate. I would recommend adding at least 8” extra length to trim as needed after the dress is completed. For the waist you don’t need to worry as much because the smocking is rather stretchy. In fact, I decided mine was too stretchy so I added a waist tape to control all my fullness correctly. The sleeves also happened to need 30” of width to reduce to a 7” wrist. To come up with the armscye and sleeve cap shape I used a raglan sleeve dress pattern I previously created to make of all things a mod 1960s swing dress. I traced these onto my pre cut linen rectangles. Use any raglan sleeve pattern that fits to create your personal pattern Do not cut these out you will after you add in your pleating stitches. I cut out pockets for both sides. My collar was draped to get to get the desired shape over the smocking and the cuffs were drafted to match. I cut 8 matching button covers out of the scraps.
The pattern diagram below does not have any seam allowance or extensions. This is meant to be a guide for recreating your own smocked dress with whatever design details you desire. Add and subtract width to fit your frame. The collar and cuffs also do not have all the design details but can be used as general guidelines. I recommend patterning cuffs and collar to your own measurements. Click download below to get full size PDF.
The dress is made of a light weight linen and decorated with a heavy silk twist. The embroidery for the collar, cuffs, and hem was all done using a satin and stem stitch on a frame prior to being cut out. I used the Pricilla Smocking guide from 1916 to teach myself how to smock. It took trial and error and sampling to get to the desired look. Smocking took the bulk of my time. All the sections of the dress had to be pleated using a pleater machine before being stitched together so I kept all the pleating threads extra long so I could sew first. After the seams were completed the threads were pulled to create incredibly tight pleats. The smocking stitches were sewn strategically over the dress to control the fullness. Once all the smocking was done, I could finally remove the pleating threads. A waist tape keeps the smocking tight around the waist fitted over a corset. The back is finished with a placket that closes with snaps and decorative embroidered buttons. The embroidered elements were added last. I wanted there to be no visible machine sewing on the dress.