The Smock

This is technically going to be my second undergarment, though of a different design from the first one I attempted; it will also be my second time using this design, but the first wasn’t an undergarment. So this is my first, my second, or my third iteration of this garment, depending on how you look at it. For future reference, this will be known as the White Smock.

[If this post seems disjointed, that’s because I had originally meant for it to be two separate posts. In combining them, I may have missed instances in which I thought I’d explained something in one post, but not in the other, and took out the wrong bit; or places where I repeat myself. Please forgive.]

Also for this post and probably posts in the future, I will be referring to things with the following terminology, though these and other terms outside of the context of this one blog are a lot more fluid, and more widely used:

  • smock – an undergarment or skin layer of rectangular construction, made of white or unbleached fabric, not meant to be seen when worn. Example: this very piece, right here.
  • tunic – a first or second layer (outward from the skin, that is; there may or may not be another garment beneath it) meant to be visible when worn; may be as high as hip length or as low as floor length. Example: my lavender Viking tunic.
  • kirtle – a word that could mean either a smock or a tunic.
  • camisa – Spanish for any and all of the above; I use this term more often to refer to a smock that is patterned by draping it on the body and pinning until it is tight up against the skin, thus making a very fitted, supportive garment.

Please note that this is my terminology. In both medieval and modern times and in many places, all these terms could be interchangeable; they could also be considered very different. One of them isn’t even English; I use it because my persona is Spanish, and also to mentally differentiate a fitted, supportive undergarment (camisa) from a rectangular-construction, loose smock.

Now that that’s all settled, let’s talk about this particular smock. The pattern/method I’m using is the exact same one that I used for my Lavender Viking Tunic. The fabric is also linen, but of a different weight and feel. Whereas the lavender was heavy, somewhat coarse, and definitely opaque, this white is a very lightweight linen, much smoother, and a little bit sheer. That’ll be one big reason why it’s meant to be used only as an undergarment. I don’t have pictures of every part of the making process. I’ve found to my chagrin that once I get my head down and get absorbed in the sewing, I seldom remember to look around at anything else, including the camera that was sitting right there.

To begin making the pattern — or, rather, checking to see whether the pattern for my Lavender Viking Tunic was still accurate for my current body — I had someone take my measurements: arm length from the point of the shoulder to the narrow point of my wrist; from the point of the shoulder to the thickest part of my bicep; and from the point of the shoulder to the thickest part of the forearm; and then around my fist, my forearm, my bicep, and my armscye (the circumference of my shoulder, around at the armpit). I used the fist, not the wrist, because I wanted to be able to get my hand through the opening. To each measurement I added one inch, because I like a half-inch seam allowance at every edge. Then I compared these measurements with those taken when I was first measured for the lavender tunic: a match. Now I could proceed.

I laid out my fabric, folded in half lengthwise. On my fabric I drew a chalk line perpendicular to the fold line, measuring one-half of my bicep measurement plus one inch. I then measured down the fold line, the length of my shoulder-to-wrist measurement plus one inch; then drew another line perpendicular  to the fold line at one-half of the fist diameter measurement. I joined the outside point of each of those perpendicular lines together, making a line that slanted. I wish I’d taken a better picture of this, but here’s the idea. The line I drew was from the * at the top to the * at the bottom.

———————–* <-This is 1/2 of the bicep measurement
| <- This is the fold line
————–* <-This is 1/2 of the fist measurement

However, I could not cut out the sleeve yet. Because my arms are quite muscular and beefy, I wondered if a trapezoid that went around my bicep at the top and around my fist at the bottom might still be too narrow at the forearm or the bicep, so here’s how I determined whether that was true: I took the measurement from shoulder to forearm (the widest part of my forearm, that is) and drew a line down the fold until that point, then drew a line from that point, outward, at a distance of one-half my forearm measurement. Since that distance wasn’t quite out as far as the line from * to * (bicep circumference, but measured at the shoulder point) to wrist circumference, I knew that my forearm would still fit inside the sleeve.

I think this demonstrates the geometric manipulations, at least a little bit.
I think this demonstrates the geometric manipulations, at least a little bit.

–> If the bicep (or forearm) measurement had been a bit larger, the outer point of that forearm line would have fallen outside my initial trapezoid. At that point, I would have enlarged the sleeve: instead of having the outer line of the sleeve go from the shoulder to the wrist point, I’d have drawn it straight from the shoulder to the bicep (or forearm), then extended it down until it met up with the wrist-line in length. I didn’t have to do that, but I figured having this basic instruction down will help someone at some point. So, take note, those with big Comic Book Hero muscles: use the largest circumference on your arm as the “armscye” measurement, whether that’s your actual armscye, your bicep, or your forearm (Popeye springs to mind); and the second-largest measurement as your “wrist/fist” measurement, even if it’s your forearm.

Once I was certain of the size and shape of each sleeve piece, I cut them out, marked each one with a line one-half inch from each edge, then hemmed around each side using the elizabethan seam method.

To cut my gores, I measured a rectangle of the correct height on my fabric, then cut off the entire piece. I folded it in half, sideways, and drew a diagonal line from one corner to another. I pinned, then cut along the line. I was then left with one isosceles triangle which became the back gore, and two right triangles which became the side gores. Normally I know people like a front gore, but I prefer a smooth front. For one thing, front gores get between my legs when I walk, and I find it annoying. For another, I have already been blessed with a good fullness of figure, so I don’t need to compensate by enlarging the visual appearance of my midsection.

Once I had my gores and sleeves cut out, I proceeded to the next step, described in the images below. (Click for larger images.)

Then I moved on to the body pieces. For this I needed to measure the circumference of my shoulders, breasts, stomach/waist, and hips: and I needed to take the largest of these three. It turned out to be a tie between my shoulders and my hips. That was the width of my front rectangle. The length is similarly easy: however long I want it to be.

If I’d wanted to do the back as one rectangle, it would’ve been the back rectangle, too, but I actually wanted the back in two pieces so that I could sew the back gore onto a seam rather than having to insert a gore in a slit. Accordingly, I cut the back one inch wider than the front, then split the piece lengthwise in half. The extra inch on the big back piece gave me an extra half-inch on each small back piece, for seam allowance. I hemmed each piece all around. (No pictures of this stage. Sorry. But it doesn’t actually look any different from doing the sleeve and gore pieces.)

My gore pieces, I cut out of one width of the fabric. The way I cut it yielded one isosceles triangle and two right triangles. You might be thinking, “But gores are supposed to be isosceles triangles! How will she ever survive the sewing process with right triangles!” It’s true, those are easier. But I didn’t think of that at the time. If I had, I’d have realized that the right triangles have a small issue, which is that parts of them will dangle below what I want the hemline to be. Later I would need to cut off the parts that dangle, so that the bottom hem is the same all around. I could have averted this problem by cutting the two right triangles, then measuring the length of the ‘upright’ side, marking that length on the hypotenuse, and cutting off the parts below that length, thus forming a new base. Try that out on a piece of paper, and you’ll see an immediate benefit: there’s less waste from this than from making three isosceles triangles and then discarding the leftovers. Like this:

The tiny little area below the dashed line is the only waste that comes from cutting gores this way. Also, I owe my high school geometry teacher $50. You were right, Mr. Geismann. I totally use geometry on the daily.

My next step was to sew the side gores to the front piece, the back pieces together up to the height of the back gore, and the gore to the back pieces. I then pinned the shoulders together, then flattened the gown out and drew on the neckline. The circle I needed was the circumference of my head, an easy thing to figure out. But the placement isn’t as intuitive. It can’t be centered from front to back, because I’d wind up with a very low neckline in back, and it would strangle me in the front. Human beings are just not symmetrical from front to back. Especially women, ya heard? So I measured my head, drew a circle of that circumference on a piece of paper, and set that paper down so that roughly 20% or 25% of it was in the back, while the rest was in front. Then I cut the circle out, and hemmed that edge.

I then pinned the sleeves to the body, and pinned up the lower half of each sleeve so that it would actually act like a sleeve. For this, I needed assistance, so I asked Hakim to help me. I held my arms out to the sides, while he pinched the front and back of the garment together at the place where my torso is the narrowest. As it happens, that’s right at the level of the bottom edge of my bra. There he chalk-marked where the two halves came together on each side. Apparently that will be a couple of inches below where the gores come up to; I’ll figure out how that affects the piece later.

From there, I measured the distance between the armpit and the narrow place, added one inch, and that was the measure of each side of my square gores. Those were easy to cut and hem.

Now came one of the parts that I usually find tricky. I had to attach the gussets to the arms. Showing you how is so much easier than trying to find words for it, but alas, I didn’t take pictures of that part of the process, either. Apparently when I get my head down, it’s hard to bring it back up again to remember to do anything else. At some point I may do a tutorial on that, but in the meantime, there are several excellent tutorials by other bloggers. But the main thing is that, because I’m doing the Elizabethan seam, it was easy this time. I didn’t have to worry about which direction to sew down the seam allowances, because it was already done. I highly recommend this for anyone in the future. (Though next time… Well, just look below to the What I Learned section.)

Whew! Now I could attach the front of the smock to the back, sewing together the sides from the top of each gore until the narrow part where Hakim had pinched and marked. Then came attaching the sleeve-and-gore compound pieces to the rest of the garment.

One would think I was finished now, but one would be wrong.

But I’m not going to go into much detail about that. As you can see by the Post-It note in that last picture, I have to

  • cover the open one-inch space if I intend to wear this with an apron dress (instead of just covering it with a high-necked fitted gown), then attach the handmade button and a button loop for closure,
  • put hooks and eyes on the sleeves that I left open for six inches, so I could roll them up when there’s work to be done,
  • reinforce the neck opening with twill tape or just a couple lines of topstitching or backstitch,
  • put the garment on and do the dance of awesomeness in admiration for my own skills.

What I learned:

  • About 3/4 of the way to finishing this garment, I was also realizing that my lavender tunic, based on this same pattern, wasn’t going to be all that comfortable for me. Rectangular construction is great in a lot of ways, but I really do prefer garments that fit my actual curves. I have a whole ‘nother blog post about that, though.
  • The Elizabethan seam makes joining a lot easier. It stops the pieces from fraying before I can get the seams finished, because it starts with finishing them instead of making that the last step in the process. However, I might not be quite as delighted with the very tippy-tops of the gores as I want to be. I’ll need to sort out a slightly better method for that, I think.
  • Another thing about the Elizabethan seam is that it’s nice and flat, meaning less bulk-adding at each seam. However, because the raw end is simply whipstitched over instead of folded out of sight, I get the feeling it might irritate my skin. I might wind up picking out all that work and re-doing it, this time with folded edges. Given my rather insistent tactile issues, I feel a little bit dumb about that, but as they say, live and learn.
  • Next time I will cut off the extra dangly bit of the gore before I bother hemming that edge. I am a little bit dismayed that I didn’t even consider that beforehand.
  • Next time I will perform all the geometry on paper, then lay the paper on my fabric and pin, just like any other patterned garment. Such light fabric as this tends to distort when I do the rip-along-the-grain thing, and I did not like what that did to the straightness of each edge or the way each edge fit against each other edge. Disappointing, really.
  • Next time I really will slant the body pieces in a bit. This garment’s sleeves were too long by almost 2 inches, and the shoulders were too wide by 2 inches, because I used my hip measurement as the measurement for the gown’s width. Instead of rectangles, I may do the body pieces as trapezoids next time. I might not even need any gores if I do that. Hm…

 All in all, I am glad I made this garment. Will I make another one like it? Probably, but next time I hope I’ll be smarter about it, so that I’m not quite as irritated at the results. It’ll look okay, but I suspect this first iteration of the white smock will be a little less physically comfortable than I want. Still, I’m going to be terribly proud of it, because it’s my first garment in which no one had to come over, show me what I was doing wrong, and show me how to fix it. This garment is mine in a way that the previous ones haven’t been.

But because it’s going to be uncomfortable, I’m not going to call it wearable. It’s going in the pile of things that I might wear, as a very last resort, if all my other garb gets disgustingly dirty and there’s still a day or two left of an extended event. But only until I can make enough undergarments that I consider successful, and then it’s going to Gold Key for someone with fewer tactile issues.