15 September 2014
Do you often hear people (or yourself!) say children’s clothes aren’t what they used to be? Well in answer to that question, they are – you just have to know where to look! Shalbourne resident Jill Richard’s Smocked Frocks are gorgeous traditional hand smocked cotton clothes that any little girl or boy would love to have. Unlike some of the new high-end brands that create dresses for little girls that are completely over the top, Jill’s smocked dresses are beautiful and understated where less is more. As Jill says she likes to think they could be worn to a party one day but be worn while out jumping in puddles the next.
Every piece is individual and made to order, a recent assignment of five bridesmaid dresses all had the same material but each with different smocking. Her customers get to choose both the material and style although, a compliment to Jill,her return customers often leave it to her to decide on the detail. Jill does dresses, shirts, rompers and nightwear in pretty cotton checks, stripes and little prints – in fact anything that can be smocked! Her love of smocking is much like her love of jigsaw puzzles – she enjoys the symmetry of it and seeing the pattern emerge. Her evenings are always spent smocking in front of the TV, while she does her machine work during the day.
Despite living in Wiltshire in the past, and kicking off her teaching career in Marlborough, Jill and her husband Rod haven’t always lived in Shalbourne. After a stint in France they moved to Devon and it was while living there that Jill thought she would see where her love of sewing took her, and began to take her creations to a little weekly flea market in Chagford. The response was great with her selling 4 dresses in the first week, spurring her on to attend further markets at National Trust venues and Exeter Festival week.
Jill has two sons, James and Will and all 4 grandchildren have modelled for the Smocked Frocks brand! They all live nearby and her latest model is her new 5 month old grandchild Hatty. Her biggest learning curve has been gauging tastes – understanding what people are looking for and the types of materials they like. She says she has lovely customers all over the world who have been with her for years. Many are grandmothers and mothers with babies who stay with her for 7 years or more. Some just want to carry on traditions – one grandmother’s mother gave her smocked dresses to take her children out of hospital, and she wants to do the same for her children. In this digital world she rarely meets her customers but through the process feels like she gets to know them. Many remain on her mailing list even when their children are too big as they just love to see Jill’s designs.
When Jill has spare time and left over material she makes little smocked gowns and sends them to the neo-natal department at John Radcliffe in Oxford. They are often given to babies too tiny to survive and Jill feels it’s really important that these little babies have something beautiful in those few moments of their lives.
Having previously lived in the stunning yet harsh and elemental Dartmoor, Jill loves the undulating rolling hills and soft green of Wiltshire. She’s also really enjoying being in a less remote location and closer to people. In Wiltshire you’re far enough out of London but not too far – it’s a good stepping off point for North, West and South. She’s also enjoying being back with her old teaching friends and loving picking up from where they left off.
And with smocking having been developed in England in the Middle Ages, it’s rather apt that historic Wiltshire is where Smocked Frocks calls home.