May, 2007


May 31st, 2007 by Jill Hall

I vividly remember how I was first introduced to embroidery. I was seven, and my family was visiting an historic museum. In my memory it was Old Sturbridge Village, in Sturbridge, MA, but I grew up in Rhode Island and we frequently made day trips to many of the museums in southeastern New England, including Plimoth Plantation. We could have been in any number of places.

What I remember about that particular trip is the woman embroidering. I was fascinated and absolutely itched to try it. I come from a family in which the women all did handcrafts, mostly crocheting and plain sewing, but embroidery was new to me. I don’t know if she was demonstrating and inviting members of the public to try the stitching as an established program; perhaps I was just patiently persistent and she made an exception, giving me some supplies so my family could at last move on. However the reality, I came away with a small piece of perforated paper, a blunt needle, and a length of orange cotton floss. She showed me how to make single cross stitches, lower left to upper right; lower right to upper left; and how to make a row of them – lower left to upper right to the end of the line, lower right to upper left all the way back. I remember making stitches on the way home until I was so thoroughly carsick I had to stop. Still can’t stitch in the car.

It wasn’t a passing fancy, either. After I filled up my piece of paper and ran out of floss, my mother procured a simple kit with stamped crosses and probably acrylic yarn. This was the 1970s, after all. I think my mother still has the red and green ladybug I made; I saw it not that long ago. I kept going and within a few years my mother was having trouble keeping me in projects. I did crewel work with wools and counted thread pieces on linen. In my work for Plimoth Plantation I have (very occasionally) worked ‘slips’ on fine canvas with silk.

Do you remember how you found your love of embroidery? How did you get hooked?

Today’s picture is of Tricia Wilson Nguyen and Wendy White examining one of Plimoth Plantation’s two 17th century samplers. This one is dated 1664 and has the initials “EC”. It is about half whitework and half colored silks, pretty thoroughly faded but in good condition overall. Participants in the June session (and now we have 11confirmed!) will be able to see both samplers during a Friday morning collections tour with Curator of Original Objects Karin Goldstein.

Kathy is quite rightly insisting that we firm up the schedule and get it posted here and mailed to the participants, so look for that early next week. I don’t know where we’d be without her

More Questions than Answers

May 30th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Tonight I’ll try to answer some of the questions I’ve gotten about the metal bobbin lace for the jacket.

As far as our two source jackets go, the Laton jacket at the V&A is trimmed with wide gold and silver bobbin lace. A ¼” gold spangle is sewn at each point of the lace. Jacket 1359-1900, also at the V&A, does not have lace.

I have been imagining our recreated jacket with lace, but have been focusing on the arrangements for the making of the jacket proper. I’ve only recently started to think about how this lace is going to happen.

The best photograph of the lace on the Laton jacket is not clear enough to make a pricking from (the photo is on the V&A website). Because the jacket is permanently mounted, we likely won’t be able to get any better photos. I have talked briefly with Kate Moore (the maker of the beautiful embroidered hanky, and the gold lace that trims it) about how we should best proceed.

Right now we’re thinking we should choose a lace pattern from a period book (like Le Pompe), make a pricking and do up some samples. Here I use the editorial ‘we’; my part in this is just standing back in admiration. I have the highest respect for those who are called to wind thread around pins in intricate designs, but I am not of them.

I will try to have a pricking of the final pattern available for those who would like it, but at this point can’t promise anything. I also can’t say definitely if we’ll be looking for lace makers to help produce the estimated 4 to 5 yards of bobbin lace.

Since the plans for the embroidery session are shaping up nicely, you can be sure I’ll be spending more time on the lace planning in the coming weeks, and I’ll absolutely keep you posted.

The KITS are in the MAIL!

May 30th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Tonight, 68 kits are on their way to eager embroiderers around the world. (Picture flags waving and people shouting joyfully.)

We are waiting for address information and/or payment from some others, so if you think your information isn’t complete, give Kathy a call (508-746-1622 X 8114).

Kathy and I have been stressing about the kits just a tiny bit, and it was amusing, and a bit eye-opening (Hmm, have we been fretting audibly?) to see everyone in the building wander down to look at the fabled kits as news of their arrival spread through the office. There were lots of oohs and aahs as we admired the silks and gold thread, and tiny paillettes, and then the real work of slipping letters in envelopes and slapping labels on packages was begun by Kathy’s intrepid helpers, Elise and Laura.

There’s a lot of information and pieces of paper in the kits, including instructions, answers to frequently asked questions, and a questionnaire for you to fill out and send back with your sample, so look through it all carefully and make sure you send back that questionnaire.

Here’s one more treat for tonight, the detached buttonhole needlelace instructions. This is the last of the stitch instructions to be posted here. I hope you’re having fun with them.

More news tomorrow.

Odds & Ends

May 27th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Tonight, the instructions for attaching the paillettes. There’ll only be about 2000 of them, so that shouldn’t take too long. (HA)

Another good book:

Arthur, Liz. Embroidery 1600-1700 at the Burrell Collection. London: John Murray in association with Glasgow Museums. 1995.

This book examines the Burrell collection of embroideries which is located in Glasgow, Scotland. The introduction contains information about the collector, Sir William Burrell, and a bit about how the collection was assembled. The text is an important element in the book, not just an introduction to the pictures, and contains sections on professional and amateur embroiderers and a small chapter on materials. The main attraction, though, is the many beautiful color plates and excellent detail photos. Note in particular the embroidered jacket on pp 44-45, the coives on pp 48-49, and the nightcap on p 52. On the jacket, the curling vines are outlined with straight stitches in red (arranged like little crow’s feet), a detail also seen on an almost identical jacket at the Museum of Costume in Bath, England. The first coif is very red, and includes bright red squirrels, monkeys, and one wild boar, among some fantastic beasts. The second coif has a matching forehead cloth (triangular shaped piece worn over a coif). I would very much like to see this piece in person; the way it’s put together doesn’t look quite right to me. This coif’s borage flowers’ petals have red tips. The nightcap photo is enlarged to show the detail of the work. If you look closely you can see the oval spangles attached to the metal bobbin lace. I especially like plates 50 (p 76) and 52 (p 78), which show the front and back of one canvas work picture, revealing the original brilliance of the silks.

And a little about me:

I began working at Plimoth Plantation as a role-player in the English Village a week after graduating college with a BA in history. I thought I’d work for a year before going on to graduate school. That was 19 years ago next week. I quickly discovered graduate school wasn’t for me, but I was fascinated by the work of recreating a 17th-century community. The process of recreating the material culture of this community, and especially their clothing and textiles, captured my imagination and provided focus for my long-standing interest in historic clothing and fiber arts. I began working in the Colonial Wardrobe & Textiles Department as a tailor in 1992. In 1994 my mentor and supervisor left the museum and I was hired as the Department Manager. I’ve been doing this work, studying and recreating the clothing, textiles, and accessories of the 1620s Plymouth Colonists, ever since.

I’ll be taking tomorrow off from writing. I wish for you just the day you’d like to have, and I’ll be back Tuesday.

Red, red, red.

May 26th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Tonight we have two more sets of stitch instructions: trellis stitch and spiral trellis stitch. Remember, you don’t have to be perfect at every stitch; you don’t even have to do every stitch on the sample. If you have one stitch you love and are great at, just do that one.

And another book review:

King, Donald and Santina Levey. The Victoria & AlbertMuseum’s Textile Collection: Embroidery in Britain from 1200 to 1750.New York: Canopy Books. 1993.

This volume is almost entirely color plates. The few pages of text form a brief overview of British embroidery, and because it covers 350 years it is very much an overview. The book also contains a glossary and diagrams of some common stitches. The diagrams are nice to have but are not really instructive in that these alone won’t enable one to reproduce a piece of embroidery. But that isn’t the point of this book. The point is the many color reproductions of embroideries in the V & A collections excellent for reference and inspiration.

And, if you have this on your shelf, you can turn to page 63 and see a larger-than-life image of the embroidery pattern we’ll be using on our recreated jacket. See, right in the middle there, where we took the pattern for the embroidery on the header for this blog.

I’ve gotten a couple of questions about this sample piece lately, so I thought today I’d tell you how it came to be. Once we determined that we wanted to do this jacket thing, we needed to create a plan, including a budget. In order to do that we had to know how long it would take to create this jacket. At the same time (this was late fall, 2006) Plimoth Plantation was working with a Marketing consultant to create a packet of information and images that we could use in applications for grants and other funding proposals to support the planned exhibit (of which the jacket would be a part). We needed to include images of a sample of the embroidery that would be on the jacket.

Fulfilling the two needs in an extremely efficient fashion, we traced off a bit of this pattern from V&A 1359-1900 (later we discovered it is reproduced on this page larger than the original). At this point we had not even begun to talk about what jacket, what embroidery pattern, or anything like that. It is purely a coincidence that the sample piece is from the same pattern we ended up choosing for the real jacket. Tricia made her most educated guess at the stitches used, based on close examination of this picture and having studied other 17th century embroideries in person, and worked the sample accordingly.

So after she had taken it away to work on, our consultant asked what color it was. Well, I said, there’s a blue flower and a bird, in green and yellow, I think (not having the book at the meeting). Red, he replied. Something has to be red. Red is good. Red is attractive. Okay, I said, let me see what I can do. I hustled right out of that meeting and phoned Tricia who fortunately hadn’t started stitching the flower.

Our estimate of 2000-2500 hours to accomplish the embroidery comes from Tricia’s timing of the stitching of this piece. And the photographs came out so nicely (thanks to the talent of the photographer, Ed Nute) that they’ve been used and used and used.

But that’s why what clearly ought to be a blue borage flower (fairly common on embroideries of this period, and a familiar friend to those who study them) is red, red, red. The fact that red is my favorite color had absolutely nothing to do with it, I swear.

AND, the borage flowers on the real jacket will be their proper blue, but more on that another day.

Short & Sweet

May 25th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Just a short note tonight. Two more sets of stitch instructions: detached buttonhole and knot stitch. This ought to give you something fun to try in between Memorial Day parades and cookouts.

This was a busy week and a great deal got accomplished, but now it’s Friday and a good thing too.

See you tomorrow.

Reverse Chain & Ceylon Stitch Instructions

May 24th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Bad news first. There’s nothing new on the linen front. Despite all efforts, the linen is trapped until a government official gets to it, which might be tomorrow and might be six months from now.

We’re working on contingency plans, one of which involves choosing a completely different linen from a different manufacturer, one whose US distributor has a piece large enough for us in stock. The second, and now the favored plan, involves buying up all the remnants of the chosen linen in the US and trying to get the whole jacket from the biggest piece. I’m a little concerned about dye lots, but have an idea for compensating should we have to use two pieces from separate bolts. I’m not hugely worried; too many things have fallen into place in order to make this project work for this to derail us now.

Now the good news – treats! Tricia sent instructions for reverse chain stitch and Ceylon stitch, two stitches we’ll be using on the jacket (more stitch instructions over the next days). Rummage out some cloth, needle and thread and give it a try. (You’ll need Adobe to open these.)

Great strides were made today on the schedule for the June embroidery session. We’ll have a presentation by Kathleen Curtin, Plimoth Plantation foodways historian and author of Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving Recipes and History from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie. She’s an entertaining speaker, and knows more about the foodways of the 1620s English Colonists than just about anybody. We’ll also have a tour of Plimoth Plantation’s collection led by Karin Goldstein, Curator of Original Artifacts. Karin will show us Plimoth Plantation’s two 17th century samplers and some sewing-related items. And, Tricia has generously offered to teach a small project. I’m working on more fun activities for the non-stitching time.

So hopefully the progress I made on the schedule excuses me for never making it out of the office. The gravitational pull of the telephone and email were just too much for me. I humbly offer you a picture of fitting a jacket to one of the role-players. This was taken in the fall of 2005. This pink wool jacket is cut from a pattern taken from an embroidered linen waistcoat in the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, Scotland. The shape of the pattern pieces is very similar to that of the Laton jacket at the V & A. On page 121 of Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women 1560-1620, are the patterns for both jackets, drawn on graphed paper.

My Day Job

May 23rd, 2007 by Jill Hall

I’ve had to pay a little attention to my day job lately. My ‘regular’ work as the Manager of Plimoth Plantation’s Colonial Wardrobe & Textiles Department is to research, produce and maintain the colonial clothing and textiles for the museum’s 1620s role-playing programs. Plus the same for any other program or exhibit that requires colonial (as in not Native Wampanoag) clothing or textiles. This is what I do when I’m not dreaming up insanely involved projects, like, say, reproducing a 17th-century embroidered jacket.

In just a couple of weeks 6 new employees will begin work in the 1627 English Village and they need outfitting. Mostly this means hours of fitting appointments – all the reproduction clothing is made and fitted to the individual, so when new folks come in there’s lots of trying on – and alterations. Sometimes, like now, it means making new clothes.

I’m going to try to break out of the office tomorrow and get some pictures of the role-players at work ‘interpreting’ history to the public so I can post them here. The weather here is just screamingly beautiful spring and it’s a crime to stay inside.

In between the fittings, we’ve begun lining up activities and yummy meals for the first embroidery session, and planning the Needle Arts Studio film shoot. Tricia is working on pdf files of stitch diagrams and instructions that will be posted here; not only so you can start practicing them before your kit arrives, but also so the information will be added to the general knowledge base. That’s been one of our objectives from the beginning, to add to the body of knowledge about this type of needlework.

No good news on the linen today. (Are you concentrating?) So we’re discussing other options (no, not blackmail and outright theft, but give me another week and we’ll see) and may try reordering a second piece to be shipped ‘overnight’.

A batch of kits with white linen (rather than cream) for the sample pieces will go out Tuesday, so start watching your mail a few days after that.

That’s about it for today. I always feel bad when I put up a picture-less post, so look for two tomorrow.

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