Smocking with a smile
By KATE PURSELL, Special to the Times
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 29, 2003
There are those among us who sit, watch and wait as life passes by; then there are the Anna Allins of the world who admit to "laughing 26 hours a day."
"I'm just so lucky - I'm happy, I'm healthy," Allin said. She is also a prolific dressmaker, who estimates she has hand-smocked more than 3,500 baby dresses since she began in the 1950s. Smocking is done by folding fabric into 26 pleats and then stitching every pleat.
The part-time Pinellas Park resident (she and her husband, Earl, spend the rest of the year in Ontario) estimates that each dress takes about 30 hours to make "with not one stitch out of place."
She proudly announces that even at age 80, "I can smock without glasses, and those pleats are so tiny" as she pulls together 2 yards of the best cotton/polyester fabric with tiny yellow rosebuds into mini masterpieces.
Allin's mother taught her to sew when she was growing up in Hungary, but Allin liked the notion of using her hands instead of a sewing machine. Her family moved to Canada in 1936. In the early 1950s, smocking became Allin's passion when she and her first husband ran an amusement machine business in Trenton, Ontario.
"This is my hobby," she said, "because I don't like television, and I don't read that much."
Her daughter, Marianne McMurray, now in her 40s, was "the best-dressed kid" in their neighborhood. Allin, however, has not passed down the smocking tradition to her daughter, who is a manager in a technology lab in Hamilton, Ontario.
Even when Allin is on vacation she still takes time to pursue her hobby. On a recent weeklong trip to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Allin was busy working on a "dress or two." Allin says she has made seven dresses and 17 bonnets since October.
Allin now earns $45 (Canadian dollars) per dress with matching bonnet (her creations are sold only at an Ontario baby store), but when she first started smocking she earned $4.50 per outfit.
Some years ago when Allin set her sights on a brown Persian lamb fur coat that cost $1,000 (Canadian dollars), "I smocked 200 dresses to buy it," she recalls with satisfaction. "It's up to you . . . if you want something, you go for it."
Allin has gotten many cards and letters from people from France, Australia and England who have bought the dresses and bonnets and who have shared their memories with Allin. One woman from Las Vegas bought a dress for her daughter, who won first-prize in a baby contest. The proud mom sent Allin a photo.
A woman from Indiana met Allin on a cruise in 1977 and bought two dresses for her future granddaughters. The woman had two daughters, neither of whom had children, but the woman said it was only a matter of time so she wanted to be prepared with the beautiful, handmade dresses. The granddaughters are now 5 and 6, Allin said.
Smocking isn't her only hobby; she likes to garden as well. She brings seeds from Canada and plants purple and pink petunias, orange/red marigolds and light yellow marigolds to complement the ones she gets each week from her husband of 10 years.
Allin likes to sit in the sun and smock. "I'm getting 20 cents an hour and a tan at the same time," she figures.
Always using every moment to her advantage.
- Kate Pursell is a freelancer writer who lives in Bradenton.To learn more
If you want information about Anna Allin's hand-smocked dresses, write to:
Rural Route 2
Trenton, Ontario, Canada K8V5P5
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
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