A young girl's smocked dress

Contributed by: The Embroiderers' Guild of WA Inc

front view properly dressed! back view close up of smocking
  • Australian dress register ID:

  • Owner:

    The Embroiderers' Guild of WA Inc
  • Owner registration number:

  • Date range:

  • Place of origin:

    Lesmurdie, Western Australia, Australia
  • Gender:

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Object information

Significance statement

In the 20th century, sewing was an integral part of the Educational Curriculum in schools throughout Australia and most girls learnt to smock. When these girls became mothers, this training was used to make items for the home and garments for the family. Hand embroidery was a pleasurable pastime and form of relaxation.   

Post WWII, when jobs and resources were limited and scarce, there was neither the range nor variety of goods and those that were available, comparatively expensive.  Quality fabrics were valued and appreciated both for the aesthetic appearance as well as durability in washing and wearing over time. Smocked garments provided adaptability for the changing shape and size of girls and women. With a deep hem and wide seams, the smocked dress outlasted more fitted garments. 

 It was common in Western Australia from 1940s on, for girls to wear smocked dresses for Sunday best, for family parties and special occasions. It showed a social/cultural system which valued the difference between formal and informal costume. The quality of the fabric was appreciated for its aesthetic appearance and its wearability over time. 

In the 21st century, sewing has almost disappeared from the school curriculum and as a consequence, the number of students studying textile subjects at tertiary level has decreased. 

Today with trading barriers removed and tariffs reduced, cheaper imports have made it possible for all to be dressed inexpensively. As more and more women enter full time employment, home dressmaking is almost a forgotten art and hand stitching for pleasure greatly reduced. Machine embroidery and  computer generated designs are taking over, and so many of the traditional techniques of  stitching and embroidery are gradually disappearing. 

For these reasons, this exquisitely made dress is a valued inclusion in the Textile Collection, which aims to collect good examples of modern embroidery and clothing construcion as well as examples from the past.

Author: Gaynor Ashford, additional information from Valerie Cavill, Curator of the “Textile Collection” The Embroiderers’ Guild of WA, October 10, 2014.


This little girl's dress has a smocked front band across the chest, a plain yoke at the back, a Peter Pan collar and short puffed sleeves. The collar is sandwiched into a lined yoke, which also encloses the raw edges of the smocked band. Below the the smocked front area, the skirt falls into gathers. The back, also has a lined yoke, in two sections, which encloses the raw edges of the separate skirt. The yoke has three handworked buttonholes and mother of pearl buttons, joining at centre front. Down the cantre of the back is an opening, with three mother of pearl buttons and handstitched buttonholes. An opening continues a little way down the back of the skirt  with a placket. The sleeves are gathered onto a band. There is very fine pale blue woven cotton piping around the collar, the sleeve bands and the top of the smocking. Ties are inserted into the side seams just below the  sleeves. Correctly tied into  a bow, they cover the back join of yoke and skirt.

History and Provenance

Faye and Alan had two children, a boy and a girl, who married a sister and brother. The children from these marriages are now teenagers.

Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information

Faye was born in 1943, while her father was serving in WW11. Faye, her mother and sister lived in Claremont, near Perth, until her father returned from the war. They subsequently took over the family farm in Williams, which is half way between Perth and Albany along the Albany Highway.

In 1963. Faye married Alan Philip who worked in a bank. His career took them to many country towns including Kulin, Wagin and Katanning before returning to the metro area of Kalamunda.

Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?

Whilst living in Wagin, as part of the Western Australian State Government's Home-maker Service, Faye taught sewing to Aboriginal women in the local hall. The Government sent up bolts of fabric, Bernina sewing machines and wool. Aboriginal women learnt machine skills, knitting and handicrafts.

In the 1970s Faye, an experienced embroiderer and dressmaker, worked for Semco. She travelled around the metropolitan area, visiting stores like Boans and Aherns, family owned department stores,to demonstrate stitching and promoting the Semco range of crafts.

Since joining The Embroiderers' Guild of Western Australia in the 1990s, Faye has served on the management committee, been a group tutor, and teaches various embroidery techniques to groups and gives embroidery workshops.

How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?

It was in the late 17th century that the worker's smock, as we recognize it today, became common clothing to protect the hard wearing clothes of the  worker. A garment was needed that offered protection from the weather and plenty of room for movement. Workers smocks were often made from double thickness fabric such as linen or hemp which was then gathered into many pleats thus creatinga barrier to rain and wind. It was during the mid 19th century that control of the fullness was formalised by the use of stitches such as back stitch, stem stitch and feather stitch, which were worked  to make fancy patterns. A later refinement was to use further patterning to identify wearers by their trade.

Smocks were also found in other parts of Europe, and were in use in Australia.

Where did this information come from?

This information is taken from "The Countryman's Smocks from the Welsh Folk Museum" author Illid E Anthony, Department of Material Culture, Welsh Folk Museum, South Wales.

  1. Place of origin:

    Lesmurdie, Western Australia, Australia

  2. Cost:

    The fabric was a remnant bought from a well known department store called Aherns in Hay Street, Perth CBD. It was known for its quality dress fabric department. Remnants usually sold for 50% of the metre price, making it a bargain. However Faye cannot remember tha actual cost. (Aherns was taken over by David Jones in 1999. It had been a family owned store in Perth since 1922).

  3. Owned by:

    Faye Philip

  4. Made by:

    Faye Philip

  5. Made for:

     The dress went into"Grandmother's Hope chest". Faye's son had two boys and her daughter, one.

Trimmings / Decoration


A very fine pale blue cotton piping outlines the collar, the sleeve band and the top of the smocked yoke.


The front panel was gathered into smocking pleats by machine. At the top and bottom of the of the smocked area, is a row of cable stitch worked in blue stranded cotton, stabilising the band of smocking. Between the rows of cable stitch there are several rows of honeycomb pattern. .

Fibre / Weave

The fabric is "Clydella" a blend of 81% cotton and 19% merino wool in a twill weave.  "Clydella" , although a cheaper, less soft alternative to "Viyella",has been known for its reliability as a warm  fabric which will not shrink or crease badly.  This has made it popular for many years for children's wear, as well as shirt and dress fabric for adults."Clydella" was manufactured in the factories in the Clydeside area of England. The pattern is a cream background sprinkled with delicate sprays of pale blue flowers.

  1. Natural dye
  2. Synthetic dye


The dress has been constructed with machine stitched and overlocked seams. The button holes are hand made with buttonhole stitch, and the buttons attached by hand. The hem has been slip stitched.

  1. Hand sewn
  2. Machine sewn
  3. Knitted
  4. Other


The fabric as bought as a remnant. there was not quite enough to make the collar lining, so plain cream clydella was used. Clydella was usually woven in 90cm widths.

  1. Bias
  2. Straight


The  three mother of pearl buttons form the closure at the centre back of the dress, with hand worked buttonholes.

  1. Hook and eye
  2. Lacing
  3. Buttons
  4. Zip
  5. Drawstring

Stiffening / Lining / Padding

The facing for the Peter Pan collar is plain cream "Clydella", The yoke facings are in the same fabric as the dress. There is no interfacing.


dress shirt
Neck 330 mm
Chest 620 mm
Cuff 190 mm
Hem circumference 1780 mm
Front neck to hem 520 mm
Front waist to hem 400 mm
Back neck to hem 560 mm
Back waist to hem 430 mm
Sleeve length 152 mm
Neck to sleeve head 65 mm
Cross back 220 mm
Underarm to underarm 340 mm
Convert to inches

Ties- 2x 30mm at seam , 55 at free end, by 500mm long

Sleeve band 20mm deep

Dress Themes

Before clothing became relatively inexpensive and easily obtainable, it was common practice for children to have a "Sunday best" dress which was carefully worn and washed until the child's growth made it necessary for a new one. Then hems and seams were let down and out and the dress became part of everyday wear. The term "Sunday best" refers to the common practice for most families to attend a place of worship on a Sunday, followed by quiet play and maybe visits to extended family. The notion of Sunday as a day of play and retail therapy was unheard of, so the garment received gentle use and care until it became part of the everyday wardrobe.

Additional material

Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions

Faye cannot recall if she used a pattern or instruction  for this garment. Historically, smocks were cut from a series of rectangles. Faye's knowledge and experience of dressmaking would enable  her to draft a child's dress pattern quite easily, working from the starting point of twice the width of the fabric for the gathers, plus the length. There was not quite enough in the remnant to cut the lining for the collar!


Evidence of repairs

Pristine condition, unworn


  1. Excellent
  2. Good
  3. Fair
  4. Poor
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