On the plus side, when I’ve got this smock made, it will work for any time and place I choose to portray, from the earliest use of sewn textiles right on up into the Tudor period. Heck, in some parts of the world, they’re still using patterns much like this even to this very day, not as a part of historical reenactment or historical authenticity or anything like that, but because That’s Just How You Do Clothes.
The almost-all-times-and-places smock is made with rectangular construction. Rectangular construction is some pretty cool stuff. Rectangular construction is some pretty cool stuff. It allows one to fit any body type, and what’s more, you’ll do it using far less fabric than wasteful modern methods of fabric cutting and construction. When you hand-spin every single thread that goes into woven fabric, hand-weave that thread into fabric, hand-spin every thread you’re going to sew with, and then hand-sew that garment, you want to use as little as possible and get as much out of it as you can. This is even more true if you or your family also had to raise the flax and turn it into linen fiber, or raise the sheep and sheer the wool and turn it into usable wool fiber. Look up those processes sometime, if you’re not already impressed with the idea of all this. On top of all that, if that weren’t enough to recommend the process, it lets you do all this while seldom or never cutting or sewing in a curve. This is all rectangles and triangles. Easy-peay math, easy-peasy cutting, easy-peasy sewing.
Those are the pluses to rectangular construction. The minuses, at least for me, are that I can’t cut a straight line to save my life.
Now, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say that you know how I should do it. But before you do, let me explain that I’ve already tried your method and it doesn’t work for me.
These are the methods I’ve tried:
Eyeball it. This doesn’t work for most people, I find, but I’m including it because there’s someone out there who will say “I just eyeball it,” as if it’s that easy. It’s not. The thing about rectangles is that there are two elements to them: the straight lines, and the 90-degree angles. Even if I could make one of those things happen, I darned sure can’t make the other one happen, not by eyeballing.
Snap a chalk line. This also doesn’t work for me, probably for the same reason that eyeballing it doesn’t work. First you have to get that 90-degree angle right, so you know where to put that chalk line. Second, you have to snap correctly. My father and my stepfather are both really good at construction, and my grandfather was a total whiz at it, but no amount of teaching on their part could get a straight chalk line out of me. Every snap created a curve, not a straight line. No, I don’t know why. They didn’t either.
Fold, crease, and cut. The reason this doesn’t work is that putting in a crease by hand or by hot iron causes the fabric to distort slightly. Even though folds are inherently straight, the fabric’s distortion will cause them to become curves during the pressing.
Use a ruler. Yes. Using a nice straight edge should work, shouldn’t it? Alas, you still have to get that 90-degree angle at the corner. Alas #2, you have to place the ruler on the straight-of-grain. I don’t know about your eyes, but mine aren’t actually good enough to see that straight grain. Alas #3, if the ruler isn’t as long as the line you need to draw, you have to place it correctly twice. Alas #4, if you place the ruler correctly, you have to use something to make a mark along that edge, and anything that will make a mark in fabric that’s not heavy and tough — smocks, by the way, are made with light, gauzy fabrics — is going to distort the threads’ relationship to one another, just like with folding.
Use a ruler and a rotary cutter. This ought to work, but somehow it doesn’t. I always end up cutting the ruler instead of the fabric, making it no longer a straight edge, if I try to press up against the ruler. If I don’t, I wind up veering away from the ruler, and cutting a curve.
Tear on the grain. This actually does work, kind of, with thinner, plainwoven cotton. But I don’t use cotton for my historical garments. I use linen, and linen doesn’t actually want to tear on the grain. Linen fibers want to hang onto one another because of the lignin that coats each strand, and they’ll do anything to avoid being pulled apart. “Anything” in this instance means distortion, and to a far more severe degree than the distortions caused by pencil-markings, chalk-markings, or folding. Also, if any of the threads is weaker than another, the tear will happen along that weak thread, so you’ll get an off-grain tear, which means a big turn on your edge.
Thread-pulling. Ah, the holy grail of fabric cutting. It will be possible to do this on every plainwoven fabric. Here’s how you accomplish it. First, you pick out a thread that’s a bit away from the edge of your fabric, in case the edge was cut at a wonky angle. Then you take a pin or needle, work its tip under a single thread, and pull. You might need tweezers for the first pull, and possibly for others, but most of them should be okay with just your fingertips. When that thread breaks, find its end within the fabric and go about a centimeter away from it, catch the thread with your pin, and pull it up again. Keep going until there’s a single thread missing from the weave across the entire stretch of fabric. You’ll be able to see it clearly, and so it will be easier to cut along the space where that thread used to be. Straight line, right?
Not if my experiences are anything to go by, that’s for sure.
There, you see? That “straight line” which some people have sworn will always be perfectly straight, is not a straight line.
But sure, please, tell me your never-fail method for getting a straight line in fabric. If it’s none of the above, I’ll try it out and report back.
Now, as usual, I am stuck on the first step of a process that’s supposed to be super easy. And this is why I never get anywhere with my sewing, and why I still have nothing to wear but hand-me-down garb. It’s beautiful garb, but as pretty as it is, it’s not something that I get to be proud of, because other people own the sense of accomplishment on all of it.