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Smock part

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1575-1585 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Linen, silk; hand-woven, hand-embroidered

  • Museum number:

    T.113 to 118-1997

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Object Type
The decorated smock was an integral part of the complex layers of clothing worn by women from wealthy families. It was an undergarment in the sense that it was worn under the outermost items of dress, but it was never intended to be concealed completely as underwear is generally today. Decorated smocks could also be worn as semi-formal wear in bed for receiving visitors.

Materials & Making
The smock was probably made in the household of the girl or woman for whom it was intended. Most young girls in well-to-do households learned how to embroider, so this embroidery could well have been worked by a skilled amateur. It seems likely that the black silk on this smock was of Spanish origin because it has lasted very well. Black English silk of the period contained more iron, which caused the silk fibres to rot.

The smock was made of two different grades of linen. A fine weave linen was used for the bodice and sleeves and, as two small surviving strips indicate, a coarser one was employed for the skirt. Contemporary documents indicate that this was quite normal, the finer and more expensive linen being used only for areas of the smock that might be seen.

Subject Depicted
The predominance of floral motifs in the design reflects the growing fascination with flowers in England during the 16th century and the development of domestic gardens.

Physical description

Part of a woman's smock, possibly for lying-in, of bleached linen, consisting of the top half (front and back, all one piece), 2 sleeves, 2 sleeve gussets, embroidered in black silk on linen, and 2 narrow strips of the smock below the embroidery, buttonhole-stitched with black silk. All the parts have been reconstructed on a reproduction smock. The blackwork embroidery consists of large pomegranates, roses and leaves outlined in stem stitch and infilled with counted thread stitch in geometric patterns. The border at the edge of each sleeve is worked in reversible embroidery, to turn back at the wrists. The neckline and wrists are edged with lace made of chainstitched black linen.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1575-1585 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Linen, silk; hand-woven, hand-embroidered


Height: 114 cm neck to hem, including reconstruction smock approx, Width: 61 cm across arms approx

Descriptive line

Embroidered top of a woman's smock, 1575-1585, English; blackwork, black silk embroidered on bleached linen, edged with black linen chain lace, reconstructed after acquistion

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Smocks were decorative undergarments that protected fashionable outer clothing from sweat and other marks. In the 16th century black silk embroidery (blackwork) was particularly fashionable. Several portraits of Elizabeth I show her wearing luxurious garments over smocks decorated with blackwork. The blackwork sleeves and bodice here are shown with a modern linen skirt and lace trim. [27/03/2003]

Production Note

Embroidered in England; the silk thread probably from Spain


Linen (material); Silk thread


Hand weaving; Hand embroidery


Embroidery; Women's clothes; Fashion; Europeana Fashion Project


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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