Opportunity smocks

Published March 13, 2007

Anna Allin's closet overflows with sparkling gowns she dons for the cruises she takes at least twice a year.

Most came off a rack. Not so for the old-fashioned baby dresses with matching bonnets that this 84-year-old dressmaker devotes her time to.

The dainty outfits are decorated with a form of needlework known as smocking. Allin folds dozens of tiny pleats around the neck and sleeves of each dress she makes and then stitches the pleats together with row after row of painstaking embroidery.

Each dress takes about 40 hours, she says. She sells them for $55 each to shops in Canada, where she lives half the year. The stores, in turn, sell them for $70.

Why does she do it? Allin, a gregarious woman who has been widowed three times and takes pride in the fact that she has never been sick a day in her life, can embroider without glasses and has all her own teeth, says she simply enjoys it.

"I sit outside in the afternoon and smock. I love the sun," she says, later pointing to the boom box and tapes she uses to keep her company outside her Pinellas Park mobile home.

Allin, who moved from Hungary to Canada with her family in 1936, ranks smocking, dancing and gardening among her favorite pastimes. There's also cruising, of course. She has been on 19 jaunts around the Caribbean and to South and Central America, and has the photographs to show for them.

In addition, she and a friend from the Park Royale Village mobile home park, where streets have names like London, Stratford and Eaton, go dancing four nights a week.

Her gardening skills are on display with geraniums, marigolds and petunias that edge her neat mobile home.

Allin doesn't have any grandchildren, but her wallet is filled with photographs of babies wearing her creations. A chubby-cheeked girl in pink won first prize in a baby show. One photo shows Allin's daughter, Marianne - now 47 and a Harley-Davidson enthusiast - in a red smocked dress. Her life-sized doll wears a matching outfit in blue.

Allin says her little girls' dresses are timeless.

"They never go out of style and they can be handed down to other generations," she says.

But not everything goes on forever. Fearing that the art of hand smocking will disappear, she says she's willing to teach anyone who wants to learn.

By the numbers

40 hours spent making each dress

1952 year she started making dresses

3,560 dresses made since

142,400 hours spent making them

To learn

Smocking 101

To learn the art of smocking, call Anna Allin at 546-6075.