What are smocks?

L'île aux Fées - handmade smocks

If the term smocks is commonly associated to little girl dresses, its exact definition and origin is less known….

Hard to believe today but until quite recently smocks were actually part of men’s wardrobes.

Smocks can be defined the embroidery of geometrical or figuratives shapes on top of tightly pleated panels of fabric. The original aim was not decorative but functional. Smocks were used to reduce fabric while keeping a certain flexibility and ease of movement. Smocked shirts were long worn by woodcutters before integrating childrens’ wardrobes.

Traditional handmade smocks like the ones made within our atelier require time and skill.



First of all the fabric is meticulously pleated with regularity. Fabrics such as cotton, linen or silk are the most frequently used for smocking due to their suppleness. A large quantity of fabric is required as smocks necessarily reduce the surface through pleating. This first step can be made with a small tool named smocking pleater: the fabric goes through small cylinders enabling threads to go through. These are then used to gather the fabric. Yet to achieve greater precision, the pleats  of striped or gingham fabrics are made one by one entirely by hand.



After this preparation, the fabric is ready to be embroidered. The right side is of course the most important yet the wrong side must be just as clean. Figurative or abstract, smocks can take all kinds of shapes, sizes and styles from the most simple geographic symbols to the most complex drawings.

Generation after generation, smocked and embroidered dresses continue to delight little girls all around the world.

French reference in smocks, L’Île aux Fées is very proud to hold the treasures of this craftmanship.