September, 2007

The Nitty-Gritty

September 30th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Today’s post returns to the last day of our September session, fitting on the last day of September, I think. The first photo is Beth finishing ends. When you start a thread on this embroidery, you begin with an “away knot.” That means you put a knot in the end of your thread and take the needle down from front to back somewhere at least a couple of inches away from where you’re going to embroider. When you’re done, either with that thread, that motif, or in the case of those who dread the end-finishing, when you’re done with the session, you go back, snip off the knot (which is on the front of the embroidery) and pull the long tail to the back. Flip the frame, thread the end on your needle and carefully whip the end around the stitches that show on the back of the work.

From the back, it looks like Beth has just done some outlining. Really, though, she’s embroidered full motifs. The stitches being worked on the jacket are needle lace stitches. The vast majority of the silk thread shows on the front of the work, not on the back. This is different from many kinds of embroidery, counted thread work like Linda’s reversible sampler for instance. She’s made the back beautiful in itself, but still there’s a lot of thread on the back. Also crewel work has a lot of thread on the back.

So after you make your “away knot” the next step is to outline your chosen motif. Mostly the ladies have been working on detached buttonhole stitch motifs, which are outlined in reverse chain stitch. Click the links to go to the pdfs of the stitch instructions. I’m not a terribly experienced embroiderer, but I’ve done a bit and I’ve never seen more clear instructions than Tricia’s. The photos are spectacular. These same instructions come in the sample kits, but there you also get a DVD for even more support. Anyway, once the outline in reverse chain is completed, the embroiderer begins filling in the motif using detached buttonhole.

The detached buttonhole filling is anchored in the stitched outline but never goes through to the back of the work. The first horizontal row of stitches catches one half of the reverse chain stitch (from the outline). The second row is worked into the first row and into the outline only at the sides. The last row is worked into the previous row and into the bottom outline. What you end up with is a little needle-woven net sitting on top of the linen, caught into the outlining on all the sides. EXCEPT for the three-dimensional butterfly wings and pea-pods, where the piece of needle lace is not attached on all sides, but is like a flap, attached on one or two sides. We’re going to make those Later.

I will check the log sheets to be exact, but embroidering one foxglove blossom can easily take from a few to several hours. Does anyone remember how long it took you to do one?

The second photo is of embroidered foxgloves. I’m not sure whose these were, but most of the ladies worked some foxgloves at the September session. The top cap part of the flower will be done later in gold thread. The third one is of some of the embroiderers working away on Sunday, the last day of the session. Thanks to Wendy for today’s photos. The foxglove one is especially nice, you can really see the silk gylte twist thread.

This post is especially for Lyn, whose husband suggested there might be more chatting and noshing than actual stitching going on, so she asked for a technical post. Lyn has more stamina for this work than many; she was at her frame earlier and later than I thought possible. Thanks to the dedication and skill of all of our September ladies, as much was accomplished in those four days as at the other sessions, even though we had only half the number of stitchers.


September 28th, 2007 by Jill Hall
Tricia’s writing tonight, but first a very small update on the lace. Tricia and Mark had a profitable research trip yesterday, looking at how spangles were made and how to make some now. Tricia got a good look at some 17th century lace, and judged that the threads used, even for lace up to 1 ½” wide, was extremely similar to a 9 dram tambour thread that is already on the market. This thread performed well when worked up into samples by Carolyn, is made of real metal, and closely approximates the original, so it looks like we have our thread. Once Mark and Tricia decide how to proceed on spangles, we’ll be in business.
We have heard from many of you who are keeping binders of the blog, or even made searchable databases of it. It is amazing, and really gratifying, to us that some of you are so into the project that you are keeping such good track of the information. Helpful to us too, I would add! We now know there are back-ups in case of some server crash. We are purposely using the blog to keep track of the research process for future publications we have planned. (I can never keep from jumping in…knowing how much you’re enjoying the blog keeps us inspired and energized; this is a long project and sometimes seems just overwhelming. The support and encouragement we get from the comments and emails is priceless.)

For those who are interested in more pictures and articles on the project, here are two magazines: Sampler and Antique Needlework Quarterly (Summer 2007) helped us launch the project with a three page spread. A full page photo of the Laton jacket is included in the article. The latest issue of Plimoth Life (Volume 6, Number 1, 2007) includes a four page article by Jill with lovely photos of the staff working on the pattern recreation and tracing. If you are interested in adding these magazines to your collection, the gift store at Plimoth Plantation has them available. You can contact them at 508-746-1622. Ask for the Crafts Center Gift Shop. (Jill again – If you’re interested in specific types of products related to the jacket, send me an email.  I’ll forward all the suggestions to the Director of Retail who is already working on product development. Your requests will help her gauge demand for various types of items.)

For those who have become obsessed with the costume history and embroidery of this period, Queen Elizabeth’s Wardrobe Unlock’d is one of the seminal books.  Written by the late Janet Arnold, if you don’t have it in your collection, you may consider adding it to your Christmas list now! It is pricey, but it is so full of information and pictures that iit takes you years to glean everything. There were a few copies of it left at the gift store last time I checked.


Reversible Stitches and Flamenco Witches

September 27th, 2007 by Jill Hall
After our recent discussion about reversible cross stitch techniques, Linda sent in the information for ordering her little alphabet sampler which uses four different reversible stitches. The picture shows the heap of beautiful items Linda brought to the September session for show & tell. Do you see the reversible sampler?
Linda also posted a picture of it HERE. It is simple – three rows of alphabet, each using a different reversible stitch. The dividing lines use the fourth technique. Just enough to practice each method.
The pattern is available from Attic Needlework in Mesa, AZ. Acorns and Threads in Portland, OR and Elegant Stitch in Modesto, CA may also have some in stock.
I got a message from Rich the Webmaster who is just swamped right now*. When he digs out a little he’s going to set me up a place for links, so this blog can help connect different groups interested in historic embroidery. So if you have a blog, send me a link, or an address.
*Right now = September 15 to the day after Thanksgiving, also known as “Pilgrim Prime Time.” We at Plimoth Plantation suddenly become very much in demand as a resource for how to whip up a pilgrim outfit for your kids’ school presentation out of cardboard and crepe paper in the 20 minutes before they have to get on the bus (I’m kidding, I can’t help with that) or how can the local news channel get a historian to talk to them about 17th century sports (that, however, you can have). More than a little swamped. My very, very favorite odd request was from a woman who was choreographing a flamenco dance on the theme of the Salem Witch Trials and wanting advice on costume design. Believe it or not I was able to put her in touch with a former Wardrobe Dept intern who majored in dance and costume design at college and specialized in flamenco. She ended up designing the costumes for what must have been a really unusual performance.

More Lace Trials

September 26th, 2007 by Jill Hall
“Trials” like tests or experiments, not trials like trials & tribulations. This process is actually going well. Tricia and Mark have an appointment to see some original artifacts with spangles tomorrow. I’ll let you know as they evaluate what they discover.
Tricia writes tonight:

At our last session, Carolyn came up and we had the chance to sit together and look at the examples she had made of the bobbin lace from the Laton jacket. Two laces had been made – one of the pattern at 1 1/4" width as reported in Janet Arnold’s book using linen threads and the second using #371 and #380 gold and silver wire made by Benton and Johnson. As I will write in gory detail in a few weeks, these threads are very good copies of the threads made in the 17th century. The main difference is that they are membrane threads, using a clear polymer that has been coated with metal to make the wraps. It looks and works quite well, but isn’t as authentic as we are intending for the project. The lace made with this thread ended up at 2" in width. We showed pictures of these pieces a few weeks ago on the blog.

Well, Carolyn and I examined a wide range of metal threads made by two companies: Golden Threads and Benton and Johnson. (Jill here. I thought I took a photo of Tricia and Carolyn happily surrounded by spools of metal threads, but apparently the gremlins got it; I can’t find it. It was quite a pile, though, and they were thoroughly enjoying the whole process.) We were looking for as authentic a thread as we could find in both weight (denier), construction, and metal content. We ended up with two prime candidates, No. 5 Gilt Passing Thread made by Golden Threads and 9 dram Tambour by Benton and Johnson. One is thick (#5 passing) and ‘looks’ like the close-ups in the photos of the Laton Jacket and our educated guesses from other measurements we have. The second is built for Tambour work and is thin. In tambour work, you want your thread to have any extra twist to be taken out so it doesn’t knot up on you when you work. Also a good thing for lace making. We agreed that Carolyn would make short pieces of lace – not necessarily the Laton pattern – to test how well each thread worked. This would help us figure out some of the parameters which would make a good real metal lace thread.

Shown here are the two samples Carolyn made. As you can see, when you twist the pairs the resulting visual weight is thicker. When I handed her the threads to try, I was certain we would find that the #5 passing would be close to what we wanted. In fact, I was wrong and the tambour thread worked much better visually and in handling. Our next step will be to replicate the Laton lace with it and see how it looks.


Lace Update

September 25th, 2007 by Jill Hall
This is Marilyn’s hand embroidering. She uses a neat light box contraption that sits right on the embroidery. Marilyn lives locally and is planning to come to Plymouth to embroider for a few days in between sessions. (Yay!)
Many thanks to Linda F, who in the comments yesterday offered us the loan of a beginner bobbin lace pillow and some bobbins, when we get to the point of starting the lace. That’s very kind of you, and I will let you know as we get closer if we can use your tools. Carolyn is continuing to do some samples, and Tricia and Mark will be heading up to do some research at the MFA within the next week or so. The spangles have to be made before we can begin the lace (HA, here I go with the “we”again. I may embroider but there’s really no chance I’ll be making lace). On the original lace the spangles were strung on the thread used to make the lace, not sewn onto the lace afterwards.
That’s where we stand today. Ten months and five days to go.

Reversible Stitches

September 24th, 2007 by Jill Hall
I referred to my Day Job again yesterday. Here’s a picture of one of the three new interpreters we dressed (i.e. prepared a full set of period clothing for) over the last two weeks. She started on site last Saturday and is having a great time. Thought you’d like to see what we’ve been up to. (Ooof. Just copied the photo to Bloggie & have to apologize for the poor quality. Uncharacteristically, I only took the one.)
Thanks to everyone who chimed in on the reversible embroidery question. I’ll post some excerpts from the comments:
Linda V, whose reversible embroidery I showed in last week’s post, wrote:
Good question, Jill. Both the cross stitch with an extra leg and the one on my piece are known in various places as marking stitch. There’s also a reversible cross stitch where only one half of one leg is doubled on the back and one half of one leg is doubled on the front. The last technique I know has a full cross with no legs doubled on either side, but it’s done in two separate passes.
Karla says:
The marking cross as I learned it does indeed have an extra leg. There are some commercial patterns and class that teach it. Montenegrin is another stitch that is reversible.

There is another stitch that is truly reversible cross stitch. One comes up in the center of the stitch and at least some of the legs are actually two half crosses butted up against each other. It’s called the 7 stitch marking stitch. I learned it in a class from Drawn Thread and haven’t seen it elsewhere, so it’s probably not an historic stitch. But it does make a totally reversible, identical cross.

Linda, like a number of our volunteer embroiderers, is also an embroidery teacher. She has designed a small sampler which teaches four methods of making a reversible cross stitch. I think she brought it to the session – is it the little alphabet one that was hemmed? Anyway, she wondered if anyone (that is, anyone besides me) would like to know where to buy copies of that pattern. If you send me the info, Linda, I’ll post it. If there’s a link send that too.
The second photo is of Carol’s hand working on a foxglove. It’s from Lilia’s series of “hands” images from the September session. You can see the magnifier to the left.

What you can do for the Jacket

September 23rd, 2007 by Jill Hall
Tricia is writing today, and I can’t tell you how pleased I was to see this “blog kit” in my inbox – truly pennies from heaven. My Day Job is demanding my attention right now, and I’m also fighting a nasty sinus germ. Thanks so much, Tricia, for jumping in. And I’m glad you and your family had such a great visit to Plimoth.
The Crafts Center

I mentioned in the blog weeks ago that one of our goals has been realized – stitching in front of the public in the Crafts Center. I visited this weekend with my family and was able to get you all photographs to see how we are doing this. Pictured are Kate and the wonderful visuals she uses to educate the visitors about embroidery of the period and the jacket project. Kate is embroidering on the coif in this picture. I was excited to see that a sample was there showing detached buttonhole up-close and she had the instructions from the blog for the stitch laid out for people to see.

If you wonder what the sign says, well it’s the answer to the most often
asked question – "When will that be finished?" She says that her "When It’s Done" sign gets a laugh from the visitors and breaks the ice so they will begin to ask her questions. Of course, you almost had to pick me up off the floor when I saw it. Doesn’t that resonate with all of us who have embroidered in front of others before!

You may be able to see in the background a number of photos mounted of jackets and portraits. We talked at length about other ‘wishes’ we have for visuals, information that could be mounted nearby or other take-aways. This is an unusual opportunity to reach a cross-section of the public and we want to take full advantage of that within the mission
of Plimoth Plantation. On that note, when I am talking to individuals in the embroidery community, they are most excited about this aspect of the project. Often stitchers will ask me "have you thought about approaching group XYZ or ABC about getting involved?" The answer is usually, "YES – we have thought about it, but we are so busy trying to keep the basic jacket stitching going that we haven’t gotten to that part yet.”

The reality is that this project is not officially funded yet – we had to start before that process is complete or else we wouldn’t get it done in time. So we don’t yet have the manpower to do all the things we would like to do and that seem a natural extension of the project. Well, tonight I am going to put the challenge out to our readers to be local helpers. Many of you belong to organizations who are interested in public outreach – think about ways you could use the project to outreach in your area and we will try to help. Or, think about ways you could support what we are doing and contact us. For those who have stitched on the project, the Plimoth Plantation public relations office has been contacting their local newspapers to place stories.

We have found that the fashionable aspect of this object has really ignited an interest in younger women and girls that come in contact with the project – how could you use it in your area to generate interest in history, culture, and embroidery? As outreach we put the instructions for the stitches on-line and have heard from many of you how much you have appreciated them.  In fact, we have been notified that a guild is using the instructions as part of a fall program – that is wonderful! We are getting orders for the sample kits from this region and thank you very much for helping to fund the project and spread the knowledge in one effort!  What can you do in your area?


Loose Ends

September 21st, 2007 by Jill Hall
I’ve got some fixing to do, again. The other night when I was having trouble with Bloggie I referred to this picture of Norma’s embroidered butterfly top, but didn’t include the picture. MJ caught the omission and kindly left a comment. Then Norma added that it wasn’t actually her FIRST embroidery, it’s the earliest one she still has.
MJ also asked for a more detailed photo of Abigail’s coif, especially the rose motif. Here’s the best I can do with what I have, but Abigail is relatively local and if this doesn’t serve the turn I can probably get some more pictures.
These are Penny’s hands. Penny is the newest tailor in the Colonial Wardrobe Department. Last summer she worked at Plimoth Plantation as a Textiles Artisan in the Crafts Center, and from 1999-2001 she was a tailor in Colonial Wardrobe. I’m so glad she’s back, and I think she’s very happy too. This past session she did her first stitching on the jacket. And a lovely little flower bud it is, too.
Before I get myself into another OOOPS moment here, can someone chime in on reversible stitches? Linda’s embroidery is cross stitch on the front and four-sided stitch on the back, so both sides are beautiful but I guess that’s not strictly reversible. Kate’s hanky is truly reversible in that the pattern is the same on both sides. It is stitched in double-running or Holbein stitch. I think there are some kinds of cross stitches that have an extra “leg” that look the same, or almost the same, on the front and back. Is that called “marking cross stitch”?
I love comments. Tell what you know.

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