There's a very successful program on BBC television in England about how to make clothes for your children. And what are they making? Playsuits and parkas, denim short and shirts - all the rough-and-tumble things you'd expect to find in America.
And what are lots of American mothers putting their children into? English smocks! Because smocking becomes elastic, it wears forever and needs almost no ironing. Besides, smocked dresses can be made to last for years if you leave extra fabric at the waist, down the back and at the hem.
However, long gone are the days when we must limit ourselves to smockin only children's party dresses and infants' Christening gowns. Now smocking has branched out into dresses and blouses for adults and even such household items as pillows and lampshades
Try starting with a smocked pillow: Just work a little smocked panel in fine white cotton, frame it with white satin ribbons and an eyelet frill.
Groups all over the country are beginning to pick up smocking, and needlework stores are starting to carry supplies and kits. Also check the library or bookstore for help and ideas.
There are intriguing stitches like the chevron, the diamond lattice and the surface honeycomb - and wonderful patterns to work them around. If you're smocking for the first time, I'd recommend using a gingham checked fabric - it will keep your stitches (and your lines of stitching) perfectly even.
You'll need three times the amount of fabric of your finished work. In other works, for every one inch across the finished width of stitching, allow three inches of fabric. Since smocking is a way of holding folds in fabric, any sort of material that is lightweight enough to gather well may be used.
For a lampshade: Join two or three widths of fabric together, depending on the size of the lamp. Join with plain seams, then press open. If you're using smocking spots, iron them on the wrong side, right across the seam. Join into a complete "sleeve" so that spots continue without interruption. Do the smocking, making a wide band of stitching at the top. Leave a wide area unsmocked, then work a narrow band at the bottom. Slip the whole thing over a linen weave or fine cotton lampshade, and catch it in place invisibly here and there.