June, 2007

The Sewing Pattern

June 30th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Tricia’s writing tonight:

When we were initially working on the jacket planning, we had to have a physical pattern for a jacket to apply the design and embroidery to. Since many of the jackets in collections are now mounted for their own conservation, taking the pattern (how is a mystery to me!) from the chosen jacket would be impossible. So we looked to the extraordinary research by Janet Arnold to guide us. She was fortunate enough to view
and work with two well known examples previous to their most recent conservation and mounting. In her book, Patterns of Fashion – The cut and construction of clothes for men and women c 1560-1620, she diagrams a jacket in the collection of the Museum of Costume at Bath, England and the Laton jacket at the V&A. Which to choose?Plimoth uses the Bath jacket as the base pattern for the costumes used by the interpreters. They have extensive experience modifying the pattern for individuals. The Bath jacket as it is now does not include lace. We decided to use the Laton pattern and to include on the final jacket the ‘extras’ that help to define it as an example of over-the-top fashion for this culture. That includes the lace and the ribbon ties.

With that choice made, Denise (formerly a tailor with the Colonial Wardrobe Department) drafted the pattern from Janet’s book onto dressmaker’s paper using the 1″ grid as a guide. She then made up a jacket in muslin. She found that she needed to make modifications to the arm areas to get the armholes correct. She unpicked, corrected, and then sewed again until the pattern was perfect. Then she unpicked the muslin one last time and used the fabric pieces to transfer a new pattern to dressmaker’s paper. That’s the pattern we’ve been using.


Here I am again. Thanks, Tricia, for writing up this entry.

A few notes: Years ago, we drafted the Bath pattern to life-size and then drafted four sizes from it: women’s small, medium, and large, and one child size. These patterns were transferred to brown paper and then laminated. We use these patterns, making alterations on the fabric as we cut, to make jackets for the female colonial interpreters.

This photo shows the pieces of the child size pattern laid out for cutting. This fabric will be the lining of a jacket for one of the child volunteers in the 1627 English Village.

Odds & Ends

June 28th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Samples! Two yesterday – Katherine B and Lyn J. Two today – Joanne D and Sharon G.

Session One participants will soon be receiving a survey, which Laura kindly drafted. (What would we do without her?) I just want some feedback about the various elements of the session that will help me draw up the schedule for Session Two, which I will be doing sooner than you’d think.

Speaking of feedback, check out what two of our participants had to say about their time in Plimoth – here and here.

In the comments mj asked if it was OK to post some of the blog photos on her (his?) site. I had to check with Rich, whom I refer to (with not a little awe) as The Web Guy. I am a true novice with this blog stuff, and would be nowhere without his constant support. Anyway, yes, please put photos on your sites, but please credit them appropriately and provide a link-back. Rich mentioned that when he has a minute he wants to construct a place where I can put links, so keep an eye out for that.

I spoke with Tricia briefly today; it was odd in a way that we hadn’t phoned each other in almost a week. For the past several weeks we’ve been in frequent contact. She sounded a little tired, and I expect I sounded the same; last week was awfully busy. But the session was a resounding success. Not only was an enormous amount accomplished, but the volunteer embroiderers enjoyed their time, and the filming went smoothly. Next session will be easier as we implement some of what we learned. By the time we’re done with this jacket we’ll have a well-oiled machine. In my spare, less tired moments I’m already thinking of what we’ll put that machine to work on next.

Looks like we already have 6 people signed up to embroider in August. Tricia and I are thinking that maybe if it remains a small group we’ll embroider in the Wardrobe office, like we did last Friday (is it only a week ago?). It’s a cozy space, and interesting for guests to see what goes on behind the scenes. Plus trying to help out at the bee and keep up with my day job when they’re in the same place is a little easier than when they are at opposite ends of the museum. I’ll let you know.

It looks like there would be a significant amount of interest in the manual if we are able to get permission to publish it. Keep you posted there too.

Several people mentioned they were working on embroidered jackets, or planning to. If you have pictures you’re willing to share, send them to me at jhall@plimoth.org and I’ll post, or send me a link. One of our goals with this project is to bring various groups of embroidery enthusiasts together and share information and experience.

Last night I was able to draft that knitting article. I sent it off to three friends/colleagues for comments today so I’m on track to deliver it on Monday (technically after the end of the month, but still OK). Off to edit.

Record Keeping

June 26th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Tricia made these amazing instruction manuals for each stitching station. They contain the stitch instructions that were posted on the blog; step-by-step photos of the stitches being worked; a ‘master repeat’ of the embroidery pattern with each motif element numbered; full-color pictures of the original jacket (1359-1900) for color placement reference; and blank log pages. The photos of the original jacket are beautiful; they were taken by Curator Susan North especially for our use in this project. These manuals are really amazing, and if there’s enough interest, we’ll look into obtaining permission from the V&A to publish a limited number for sale.

The log pages are brilliant in themselves. Each embroiderer fills out a page as he/she works. There are spaces for motif number, stitch, thread color & length, and time. At the end of the project we’ll have a permanent record of who stitched what, how much of what color thread was used and how long it took to do each bit. We’ll be able to compare thread use from one stitch to another, from one color to another, and compare time of working for the various stitches. I’m sure completing the log pages was one more thing to remember for the embroiderers, but their diligence in completing them is crucial to the information gathering.

One sample arrived today, from Martha D.

I’m going to skip tomorrow in order to (hopefully) write the knitting thing. Be back Thursday.

Sleepless Nights

June 25th, 2007 by Jill Hall

The embroidery is well and truly underway. The first session went very well, even better than we expected. A good deal of embroidery was done; the volunteer embroiderers had an enjoyable time, some even reported that their skills improved over the course of the week. My Day Job is even going all right; everyone who needs clothes has them and I don’t see the new guy till tomorrow. I do have to produce a 1200-word article on early 17th-century knitting and Plimoth Plantation’s knitting program by the end of the month (Yes, completely insane. Nope, don’t know what I was thinking.). But I’m not losing sleep over that.

So what IS keeping me up nights?


That’s a pile of embroidery frames, each with a piece of acid-free tissue pinned to the right side, carefully stacked so no frame’s corner pins are poking the linen of its neighbors. Outside the picture to the right the largest frames are leaning up against the worktable.

Friday we had a lengthy conversation about where best to store them. Tricia took the back home to keep working on it. We may have a local embroiderer or two come in over the next weeks but mostly the frames are waiting for Session Two, scheduled for August 8-10. Where should they be kept? The attic was rejected; I want to be able to see them often so I know they’re undisturbed. The laundry room has storage space but also boxes of danger, like dyestuffs and laundry detergent, so that’s out, too. We finally decided to make a canvas bag for each frame (I bought the canvas today) and store them out of the way but in a frequently used room. It’ll entail some rearranging, but they’ll be fine. I’m sure I’ll still think about them in the dead of night now and then.

Speaking of August, if you’d like to come for that session, please let me know as soon as possible. So far we only have three people who are interested, no one is confirmed. I think we’d need a minimum of 8 to hold a session. Email me at jhall@plimoth.org if you’re planning to come.

Kathy is on vacation for the next couple of weeks, so feel free to contact me with any concerns or questions. She’ll be in occasionally and Miss Laura is on sample kit patrol, so nothing will come to a screeching halt, but I’ll be glad to help if I can.

Last week Aimee and Carrie hand delivered samples. One more came in the mail on Friday – from Susan R. And another batch of kits went out Friday, so if you were waiting, watch your mail towards the end of this week.

Jennifer posted some pictures of last week here; thanks, Jennifer, for the link. You got some excellent pictures. I’m so glad you had a good time.

This is a picture of five nested floor frames, waiting for embroiderers to come back and wake them up. Seven weeks and counting.

Day Four

June 24th, 2007 by Jill Hall

…opened with a flurry of getting settled, again. Thursday night we brought everything up to the Wardrobe Department work room, but didn’t set up. Friday morning everyone found a table, chair and frame stand to suit and we ran extension cords and power strips again. A few stitchers found the overhead daylight fluorescent lights so bright they didn’t need a task lamp.

We weren’t able to accommodate every stitcher in the department’s big workroom, so we spilled over into the adjacent large office. That was where we’d planned to set up the snacks and lunch, so the food had to be pushed back to a small alcove. We also set up the invisible barrier which prevents food & coffee-carrying people from crossing through the doorway into the work rooms.

Late morning, everyone walked over to the collections storage area, where Karin Goldstein graciously gave the group a show & tell talk about the sewing-related artifacts in Plimoth Plantation’s originals collection, and displayed the two 17th-century samplers we have.

Another guest, Joanna, a textiles conservator, had brought a special treat for everyone to see: a 17th-century stumpwork picture. Some pictures posted here (click on the image for more views).

So where to have lunch? It was a gorgeous clear sunny day, so Laura swept the courtyard and put tablecloths on two picnic tables. I was going to take a picture, but decided to eat first. Just as I sat down (one of the last), a dark cloud blew in. “Hey, it’s getting pretty dark” someone remarked. “Is that rain?” The words were hardly out when a clap of thunder opened the floodgates. We finished lunch standing around in the hallways, squished as far away from the frames as possible. By the time the stitchers were settling down to work again, the sun was breaking through. No picture of happy embroiderers lunching al fresco.

After lunch the stitchers began finishing their work for this session. Tricia’s organized mind has established an amazing record-keeping system. We’ll be able to track and analyze all sorts of data based on the notes the embroiderers are keeping as they work.

One element of the system makes it possible to record exactly which elements are worked by whom. For this, Laura photocopied the master embroidery pattern. Each embroiderer then signs the individual motifs she has worked. The first picture is Pat, carefully matching the worked motif to the pattern (it’s easy to get turned around, with all the swirls). The second picture is Ann (in the background) and Carol sorting out what they stitched on the sleeves. Another part of the plan has two embroiderers with similar hands working on the mirrored pieces, like sleeves and fronts, and switching frames partway through the session to further meld the styles. Ann and Carol were both working on sleeve pieces this week.

We had little thank-you gifts for the embroiderers who participated this time. Everyone received a copy of Plimoth Life, Plimoth Plantation’s magazine. This issue contains an article about the jacket, as well as others on the 50th anniversary of Mayflower II’sarrival in the US, and Plimoth Plantation’s mission to become a bicultural institution. Thanks to the skilled Kristen, one of the Crafts Center’s potters, we also gave everyone a hand thrown cup. My daughter’s hand is in the picture for scale.

The hard part of this day was the farewells. In only a few days we’d formed a team, a community. Some renewed old friendships, others made new ones. We all enjoyed the company and conversation of others who are passionate about embroidery.

When considering this project and beginning the planning, I knew it would be a huge undertaking, that it would be at times exhausting, that there would be unforeseen difficulties and comparable triumphs. But I never imagined how personally rewarding it would be to meet so many talented people who are so generous with their time and skill. It was a pleasure getting to know the ladies who participated in session one. I’m looking forward to meeting many more of you in the coming months.

See you here tomorrow.

Special Guests

June 23rd, 2007 by Jill Hall

Today’s pictures are all courtesy of Robbin. (Thanks again, Robbin.) She and her camera captured several events I missed, all of which occurred on Day Three (Thursday, for those of us who are having trouble keeping track…).

First, here’s Laura the Extreme Costumer, in her embroidered jacket, and the rest of her ensemble, working at a frame which I think wouldn’t have been that foreign to a real 16th or 17th century embroiderer. Laura and Jennifer flew in to join us for Thursday and Friday. It was a treat to meet them and see their work. On Friday, Laura shared with us some of her sketches of items in the V&A collection – her drawing is as beautiful as her needlework. While waiting for an open embroidery frame (at times on Thursday and Friday we actually had more qualified stitchers than we had frames for them to work at), Jennifer made ties for a forehead cloth out of sewing thread by the fingerloop braiding technique. Another guest, Marilyn, was knitting and conversing about Japanese embroidery techniques. It was like a smorgasbord of fiber arts.

Our next special guest was Shay Pendray, who couldn’t escape being set to work. I came back into the room just as she was leaving the frame, and forgot to ask if she made any stitches? I hope so.

Today I attended the Patuxet Strawberry Thanksgiving at Plimoth Plantation, a really special event. The weather was gorgeous and we had a great time, but it did involve walking from one end of the museum to the other, more than once. And after this busy week, I’m too tired to think. Tomorrow we’ll finish up the story of Session One.

Day Three

June 22nd, 2007 by Jill Hall

…was a long one, and eventful and productive. I got home late, although that wasn’t the reason for no blog entry. The thunderstorm I whirled home in was; I thought it unwise to turn on the computer. I think it’s going to take me a few days to catch you up on what’s been going on.

First, let’s go back to Day One, specifically to the Dead Bird conversation. I was in it, so no pictures, but Robbin cleverly caught the whole thing. Here I am, feeling awful about having to break the news to Tricia that her design is upside down. She’s got the reference books out, attempting to convince us all that it’s fine and she doesn’t need to trash two or three hours of work. Wendy’s trying to be diplomatic.

Seeing is believing as they say, so we taped the paper together in order to demonstrate how a coif sits on your head (sort of). Wouldn’t she make a sweet colonist? Thanks so much for these pictures, Robbin.

Day Three (yesterday, Thursday) was busy. The Needle Arts Studio crew started filming in the 1627 English Village shortly after 9:00 AM, then to the Wampanoag Homesite to capture some images of Native women making traditional textiles. They got a lovely shot of milkweed plants, an important source of fiber for cordage and textiles, in the foreground, and a woman working in the background.

Then to Accomack, to interview Tricia about the project and get some pictures of the work, and of Kris’ hands executing detached buttonhole stitch. That was a bonus; we didn’t think we’d have time or the proper equipment to capture that. The filming wrapped up shortly after 2:00.

Below is another picture from Robbin, of Tricia explaining the plan for tackling this project.

Later, the participants were treated to a presentation on the history of Thanksgiving – the holiday and the food – by Plimoth Plantation’s Foodways Historian Kathleen Curtin. After asking everyone to name their special, traditional Thanksgiving dishes, she explained how and when each was added to the menu and how the food reflected the changing nature of the holiday. You can get the same entertaining presentation of the food and the history in Kathleen’s book, Giving Thanks.

Next Kathleen and I went to scout our next location. Remember the One Big Glitch, having to move shop from Accomack to make room for a previously booked event? We were able to reserve another space on the grounds, but when we went to see if there were sufficient tables and chairs (there were) we discovered that it was just too warm to be comfortable for embroidering.

After a hasty conference, we decided to move to the Wardrobe Department’s workshop. I had thoughtfully invited several of the museum’s interns (read: willing helpers) to join us for supper, and after plying them with Marcia’s yummy food they swiftly and efficiently helped us transfer embroidery frames, floor stands, lamps & magnifiers, and all the food service supplies to the Wardrobe office. Thank you, Laura, Kate, Kassie, Mirelle, and Jessy and Ryan, who arrived too late for supper but were bribed — I mean thanked — with dessert for their help.

We spilled out of the Wardrobe office, occupying nearly the whole building (thanks to our co-workers for their hospitality!). The lighting and layout of the Wardrobe office proved very suitable for about four or five embroiderers. This was a happy discovery, as a few local embroiderers are interested in volunteering a day here and there rather than coming for three or four days together. Now I know we can accommodate an embroiderer or two in the office on occasion.

After The Move we repaired to the Crafts Center for a presentation by Peter Follansbee, joiner and historian, on 17th century furniture, the craft of the joiner, and the process of historical research. And a few comments on how lots of birds feed upside down and if its feet were on a branch maybe it wasn’t dead…. Peter’s conversation was thoroughly enjoyed and, if we didn’t need to walk back before night fell completely, we would have kept him longer.

Thus endeth Day Three. I did manage to take a few pictures today, which I will share with you tomorrow night, the computer and camera being willing. I’ll also mention our special guests, and maybe have some pictures of them, if Tricia has a chance to send them over.

We got a new comment from Crystal, who is both sharp-eyed and curious:

Since the majority of the embroidery is being done with one strand of the soie perlee, how will you be handling the parts that are embroidered with two or more colours mixed (such as on some of the butterfly wings and some parts of the leaves).
If I recall, I remember seeing a blue/white/gold and some green/yellow blends.

And some pink and white. Glad you asked. Tricia’s been conducting some research and development (how can I get this effect? Try this? No? Try something else?) and will post about her results soon.

Day Two

June 20th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Day Two is in the books. I’m amazed at how quickly some of the stitching is going; one embroiderer has completed everything that can be done on her frame (it was one of the smaller ones, but still!). Some parts can’t be worked until the threads arrive, and all the goldwork has to wait till last. So she’s sharing a frame – two people working on opposite ends of one of the larger frames. I’ll try to get a picture of that tomorrow.

A huge thank you goes to Tricia Wilson Nguyen, Wendy White, and Justyna Teverovsky of Tokens and Trifles for donating kits for this sweet needlebook to all the stitchers. This project was designed by Wendy using motifs adapted from one of Plimoth Plantation’s samplers, which we’ll see Friday.

Another huge thank you goes to Ann Blalock of Coats & Clark, for donating the threads for the kits, and supporting embroidery outreach in general. Tokens and Trifles plans to donate kits for all the stitching sessions, ‘personalized’ with the dates of each session, as you can see on the back here.

Thank you doesn’t even approach what is due Kathy and Laura. Wendy nicknamed Laura ‘our girl Friday’ because she’s everywhere something needs to be done. This whole week would be impossible without Laura’s good humor and willing hands and Kathy’s quiet attention to every detail.

Here are a few pictures of the progressing embroidery. My photography doesn’t do them justice. The bits of embroidery look like little jewels on the mostly-still-black-and-white pieces. Every day there are more jewels. The stitchers are now working mostly on their own, giving Tricia time to trace off a right-side-up coif pattern, and transfer it to linen. No silly paper hats today.

Wendy and Kris bagged the next batch of kits, which are waiting for one more element and then should go out Monday.

I have been taking notes on what’s working schedule-wise. I’m thinking next time we’ll have to build in a time for show & tell. Several people have brought in original embroidered pieces or latest new creations for us all to admire during breaks.

I spent quite a bit of time walking around in the humidity, planning tomorrow’s Needle Arts Studio filming. It should be a great show. I’ll post the airdate when we know it. Likely it will air in early 2008.

See you tomorrow.

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