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  • Place of origin:

    England (embroidered)

  • Date:

    1575-1585 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Embroidered linen with silk

  • 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

Women's smock top consisting of a partlet, pair of sleeves, and two rosettes embroidered in black silk on linen, and two strips of linen stitched with black silk. Embroidered in back, stem and darning stitches with buttonhole filling.

Place of Origin

England (embroidered)


1575-1585 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Embroidered linen with silk


Height: 116 cm neck to hem, Width: 61 cm across arms

Descriptive line

Women's smock top, embroidered in England, 1575-1585

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


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


Textiles and Fashion Collection

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