Gathering Threads

Smocking Exhibit opens at Lacis March 8

Posted by on Feb 19 2014, in News, Smocking

If you are a lover of smocking, the needle arts, fashion, fabric manipulation or fashion history, don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity to see the exhibit Smocking, Fabric Manipulation and Beyond, at the Lacis Museum in Berkeley, California. Gathered in one place, you will find amazing pieces that span the decades and demonstrate the versatility of smocking. From the homely shepherd’s frock to the dress worn by Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables to the breathtaking dress recently featured in Threads magazine to the work of modern artisans, it is all gathered at the Lacis Museum in Berkeley California from March 8th through October 4th, 2014. The opening reception is March 13th and special classes and lectures are planned for the 13th through the 15th.

The impetus for the exhibit began with Sarah Douglas’ donation to the Lacis Museum of all her smocking tools, research and plates. Sarah was instrumental in the revival of smocking in the 1980s and was involved with the Smocking Arts Guild of America (SAGA), a not for profit guild formed at that time to help preserve and foster the art of smocking and related needlearts. As word of the donation spread, Nelli Durand and Mimi Ahern, also part of smocking’s revival in the 1980s, also donated their collections. The Lacis Museum joined with SAGA, and the Cable Car Cablers, the local chapter of SAGA, to collect and display pieces of this art form from around the country.

The art of smocking arose from the necessity to fit the fabric to the body. Without the skills of tailoring, the alternative was manipulate the fabric itself by simply gathering the fabric where it was too loose and securing the gathers by stitching across them creating a stretchable, comfortable fitting garment. The shaping would soon go beyond simple fitting to providing form to the garment as well as decoration through the use of elaborate embroidery on the pleats. Eventually the technique would become an independent art form free from any necessary function.

SAGA is sponsoring the opening of the exhibit March 13th-15th with a lecture on the history of smocking, classes in smocking on the 14th and 15th, and a reception on the 13th that includes a behind the scenes tour. Space is limited. For more information and to reserve your spot go to


  • You are so conscientious for posting this! I’m actually a member of CCC and I didn’t think to write a post on this. I wish they could get the robe from one of the Star Wars Movies. It was just fabulous.

  • Claire

    Oh, I’m so jealous you get to go to the exhibition, Cynthia. You have to take lots of pictures so I can ogle them on your blog!

  • I enjoyed reading your write up about Lacis’ upcoming exhibition. I was pleased to donate the many items I had designed and smocked over a 20 year period to the museum. I’ll be going to California and look forward to seeing this amazing exhibition and seeing longtime friends and meeting a new generation of smockers.

    Here’s a bit of info about the caftan of mine that you’ve included in this post. It’s hooded and the fabric is a pale green homespun cotton with a bit of slub in the weave. The smocking is stitched with 2-ply strands of Danish Flower Thread (cotton).

  • Claire

    Nellie – it’s wonderful to hear from you! I recognized your work immediately from the exhibit photos, as I’ve studied them in Dianne’s wonderful book. “The Complete Book of Smocking” is one of my go to reference books, especially because it has such wonderful ideas for smocking for women and doing more than just ‘pretties’ for little ones. Thank you so much for the info on your caftan – I’ve only ever played with Flower Thread but I’ve heard it’s great to work with.