November, 2007

Kandy’s Show & Tell

November 29th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Back to the November session, where there were so many beautiful treasures brought out for show & tell day that it will take some time to show them all.Here are Carol on the left and Kandy, looking over some of Kandy’s work.This is a blackwork cuff, which some day will have a mate and a shirt or smock to live on. If I remember correctly, this one’s been done for some time. This is what knitters call “second sock syndrome” where you’ve knit one sock, or this happens with mittens too, and you’ve done the pattern and the excitement’s worn off, and the second one is … more of the same. Sometimes you move on, sometimes you come back and sometimes you don’t. In the meantime, though, it’s a really fine bit of blackwork.And here are two versions of the same pattern, in two different needlework techniques. They’re part of a planned series of 12 different techniques of the same motif.I was talking with a co-worker today about blogs and I mentioned how this one has been my introduction to a number of groups of talented, enthusiastic people – embroiderers, knitters, lace makers, and now spinners are joining our conversations. Knowing what we spend most of our time doing in December, he asked “any enthusiastic historic laundresses out there?” Lelia left a comment to yesterday’s post in much the same vein…our piles make whatever’s sitting in your hampers at home look positively manageable.Despite the size of the piles, though, we’re actually moving right along. Penny and Shaina are working out systems and our little front-loading washing machine is humming for a solid 8 hours a day. Wool textiles are drying in the attic and linens are being mended. Next week a few loads of wool clothes will make their way to the dry-cleaner, and any rainy day Bill will come in from his outdoor work and put some no-slip soles on the shoes. No, not at all period correct, but after several slip & fall accidents on Mayflower II, museum policy is that everyone working on the ship must have no-slip soles on their shoes.See you tomorrow with more from November’s show & tell session.

WPI, yardage, and laundry

November 28th, 2007 by Jill Hall

The glove pattern we have now calls for 1800 yards of yarn. We are currently using either Jamieson & Smith 2-ply jumper weight or Harrisville Designs’ shetland, which are about 14 wpi. I had these numbers last night but forgot to put them in.

WPI means wraps per inch, or how many times a given yarn will comfortably wrap around a tool like a ruler in the space of one inch. It’s a useful number both if you’re trying to spin a yarn to a particular size or if you’re substituting yarns for a pattern.

The glove pattern we’re currently using is based, in shape at least, on the Gunnister glove, which was knit at a gauge of 17 stitches per inch. Our glove pattern is much coarser, knit to 6.5 stitches per inch. We did this both for speed and for the convenience of our volunteer knitters. Most modern knitters are not accustomed to knitting at such a fine gauge. Now that we’ve tapped into a very enthusiastic and experienced group of knitters, though, maybe we can develop a fine gauge glove pattern.

Here also are the promised photos of the dirty laundry. These piles represent about half of the clothes of about half of the interpreters. The seasonal staff brought back their things Monday, and we’ve washed almost all of the while linens. The year-round staff will trickle in over the next couple of weeks. They’re trying to get some outdoor work done before the ground freezes and we’ll probably see them the first rainy day.

We wash everything that can be washed, including shirts/smocks, coifs, aprons, stays (corsets), canvas doublets, waistcoats, breeches and all the knitted garments. The wool clothes are dry-cleaned, which is of course not period correct, but at a modern museum where we expect someone to wear clothes that were worn and worked hard in by someone else all last summer, well, dry-cleaning is definitely in order.

This is one of my favorite times of year. There’s something very satisfying about taking a pile of dirty clothes and ending the day with a rack of neatly hung, clean, mended ones. Something very straightforward, too. No grey areas and unanswerable questions like you find in, oh, say historical research.

It’s an all winter job, though, especially when you add in the household textiles, the blankets, sheets, bed curtains and such that also come to us for the spa treatment. I’d best get back to it.

After several false starts and various trials, I blogged this post on the new laptop – finally! Thanks to Penny and Shaina for being my guides in cyberland, and for commiserating when I did something stupid and totally my own fault and lost the whole post. Twice.

Lace, Sheep, Laundry, not in that order

November 27th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Last night I promised a picture of the big pile o’ dirty clothes in the wardrobe department. I took several, but forgot to reset my camera so they’re too big (file size) for Bloggie. I’ll get more tomorrow. Those piles aren’t going to disappear overnight.

I do have a picture of Shelley-Jo in her brand new blue gown, taken the day after Thanksgiving (last Friday), when it was finally cold enough to wear it. She looks great in all her period clothes, but she did mention that having something made to fit her makes a big difference. I’m grateful for her patience with my slow progress.

Here also is a picture of the stockings knit by volunteers so far. Thanks to Penny’s husband Ian for the photo styling.

The little green cap is Shaina’s first completed knitting project, and a fine one it is too. She’s well on her way to finishing a knitted pocket based on the one found on the Gunnister body (with this project she learned two-color knitting, the stranded method) and next up is stockings, I believe. Penny’s doing a great job teaching and Shaina is an able and willing student.

Update on the sheepy front. I’ve done some digging, and have been asking around. Thanks to Jackie for her comment yesterday, and especial thanks for a link to an article. It will require a morning-clear head and cup of coffee to properly digest, but I think there’s a lot of food for experimentation there.

I checked in with Liz Lodge, Director of Museum Operations (really her job is much more interesting, and more complicated than that) and she pointed me to the Portland breed, which she looked into years ago when building Plimoth Plantation’s rare breeds animal program. Portlands sound amazing (google them; I hate to link to sites without permission) but at the time she wasn’t able to get any for our program. We’re both thinking about them again.

Thanks to Carolyn for her two posts. I knew I shouldn’t hazard guesses, that’s why they call it hazarding, I bet, it’s dangerous. Carolyn thinks Jacob wouldn’t make very good stockings after all. I’ll keep looking.

Carolyn’s second post was about the lace on the Laton jacket. Tonight I got a message from Susan North, one of the curators of costume at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England, and a very special friend of the jacket project. Without her assistance and encouragement, we would never have been able to come this far with this much faithfulness to the original. Ms North made the same suggestion as Carolyn did about the lace in the portrait perhaps not being rendered exactly to life by the artist, for whatever reason. She also suggested that the note in the records about the lace being added after the original construction of the jacket doesn’t necessarily mean that this lace replaced another lace; it’s possible it was the first lace put on the jacket and actually is the one represented in the portrait.

What most excites and encourages me, though, isn’t whether the lace is the same or not but that so many people are getting involved in the discussion. I bet this jacket wasn’t talked about so much when it was the hot new thing way back in the 1600s. That, in my opinion, is the real power of this project and this blog, the opportunity to bring many people, from different communities of interest and different parts of the world, together in spirited discussion to further the study and understanding of historic clothing.

And besides, it’s real pretty. Back to the laundry.


November 26th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Just a few notes tonight; I’m suffering from a surfeit of Thanksgiving.

I’m sorry about the problem with the text and pictures from the other day. My sister noticed that reading the blog using Firefox as the web browser showed them fine; I have been using Firefox and don’t know if that’s affecting things. I’ve asked Rich what to do.

Several folks have pointed out that the lace on the Laton jacket is quite obviously NOT the lace on the jacket in the portrait, which means that at some point after the portrait (circa 1620) the lace was replaced. The lace that is on it now doesn’t look glaringly like a much later century. The construction techniques don’t argue for a later date, either, according to the lace makers working on the reproduction. My feeling is that we really can’t reproduce the lace on the jacket in the portrait but some excellent photography on the V&A website means we CAN reproduce the lace that’s on the jacket now, so that’s what we’re going ahead with.

For the knitters and spinners – several people have asked for the breed of sheep one should use to spin for knitting yarn. I don’t have an answer off the cuff; I need to do some research. Sheep have changed a lot since 1620, and so far I haven’t looked into what kinds of modern sheep’s fleece most closely match the fleeces they could get or were using in early 17C England. I can do the research, and I’m thinking how I could perhaps get an intern to help me, but it is going to take a while, both for me to get to it and to actually do it.

I would say for now, and totally off the top of my head, that Jacob should be OK (I’d separate the colors and spin white or black; or card together and spin grey); Romney should be good, too, especially one that isn’t too soft, particularly if you’re thinking of spinning for stockings. But don’t go out and buy fleece to spin based on that. I know that England’s textile industry in the 17C was using woolen yarn from carded wool as well as worsted yarn from combed wool, and that sheep from different regions of the country yielded fleece that was better for one vs the other. And after all, right now we’re using yarn commercially spun from "wool" so handspun is a step towards greater accuracy. Don’t use merino or cashmere or baby alpaca or a wool/silk blend, though. I know I need to get you wpi and yardage; I’ll give myself a deadline – look for that tomorrow.

Today the seasonal interpreters cleaned out the reproduction houses of the 1627 English Village, removing the textiles (and bringing them up to us in Colonial Wardrobe) and other artifacts. They also returned (to us) their period clothing. We must have had 25 people turn in full sets of clothes today. Another 15 or so will bring their stuff back over the next 10 days. The contents of 8 or 9 houses and all the passengers’ textiles from Mayflower II came back as well. We do not have a huge office. It looks like a clothes bomb went off. We’ve got 10 working days to shipshape the place before the start of the next embroidery session. It’ll take us all winter to wash & mend the clothes and textiles. The next 10 days are just for, well, hiding the mess and making the place presentable. Today was so crazed I didn’t even have a chance to take a picture for you. I’ll try to do that tomorrow. It isn’t pretty.



Back to November

November 24th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Here are two pictures from Friday’s lunch last week. Michael, a long-time interpreter in the colonial program (and my husband, not coincidentally) came up for some of Marcia’s chili and conversation. Other days Beth and Kelley, also interpreters, joined us for a meal and chat. This seemed to work very well – the embroiderers as well as the interpreters really enjoyed the chance to have an informal, behind-the-scenes conversation, and the staff also enjoyed the chance to see the embroidery.

One consequence of working on Thanksgiving (and thank you all for the happy day wishes) is that I cook turkey dinner the Sunday after. I’ve been making pies all day – I believe I mentioned pie? – and I’ll be taking tomorrow off.

Last week we received a few samples, from Allison L, Jacqui C (actually hers came a few weeks ago) and Carol-Anne sent our first sample from the UK!  Even though she can’t personally come to embroider at least her work will be here, and will be part of the supporting exhibit and materials that go with the jacket. I am planning to use the samples to illustrate the avalanche of support the jacket project received as well as to give the public a way to see the stitches up close, and see the back as well. Even if you can’t travel to join us in person, please send your sample in.

The Same, but Different

November 23rd, 2007 by Jill Hall

Here’s more of the November session’s show & tell. The green velvet bookcover embroidered in gold is by Cathy. Under it are two pillows, the top one embroidered by Kandy, the bottom by Kathy. The first time they met they realized they were working on the same pattern. I imagine there was a little of the same sort of awkwardness that comes when you both wear the same dress to a party, but they each made different color and size choices so the pillows aren’t twins. And you have to figure that someone who chose the same pattern as you did is someone you’d like to know.

Allison, friend to both Kandy and Cathy, sent me an email last week describing their trip home (they all drove together from Philadelphia; Allison flew there from her home in Tennessee):

Cathy, Kandy and I had a bit of an unexpected adventure on our way home Sat. evening. We were in CT somewhere when we heard a loud POP from under Cathy’s car hood, and then some really terrible noises. We pulled over and made it to the parking lot of a State Police station, which was lucky because the car was kaput. It had blown a spark plug and taken some wires with it. After some stressful discussions about what, exactly, we were going to do, we towed it to a garage (which, of course, couldn’t do anything until Monday). The tow-truck guy helpfully drove us to the best hotel in town, the lovely Super 8. We called Kandy’s husband, who jumped in the car and drove most of the night from Philly (4+ hours) to get to us. After a couple hours’ sleep, we managed to make it back to Philly in time for me to catch my plane home. Whew! Cathy’s going back up to CT to get her vehicle after Thanksgiving, which will be another adventure I’m sure. It’s never dull around us.

Cathy is the same person who embroidered the gloves, and she wrote in response to Carolyn’s question about the lace:

The lace I used was store bought lace that I got from Joann’s fabric. I believe they also had gold lace as well. I chose it because the lace pattern was very close to a period design and it was the most historically accurate lace I could find for the gloves. The lace is not real silver thread though and I do not know how well they will hold up over several years.

Happy Thanksgiving

November 22nd, 2007 by Jill Hall

I had a fantastic Thanksgiving. I went to work. I love going to Plimoth Plantation on Thanksgiving, and today was a beautiful day, unseasonably warm, with a lovely late autumn sunshine reflecting the holiday atmosphere.

After checking in at the 1627 English Village’s morning meeting, my Thanksgiving tradition is to head over to the Visitors’ Center where the hosts, hostesses and singers for the Victorian Thanksgiving Dinners are getting dressed, warming up voices and instruments, and having coffee and muffins.

I always help my friend and colleague, Die, into her gorgeous 19th century clothes. For these dinners she plays Mrs. Charlotte Pinkham Hoxie, the wife of whaling Captain Abraham Hoxie – that’s her husband – in both centuries – at right in the background.

Why Victorian Thanksgiving? In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln declared the first national Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Before that, Thanksgiving was a very local holiday, celebrated in some places and not in others. Even where it was celebrated the actual day was declared by the minister or local government.

What we now consider the traditional Thanksgiving menu dates back to the 1800s, too – turkey, root vegetables, pie. I love pie. But I digress.

On Thanksgiving there are three seatings for the Victorian Thanksgiving Dinners – I’m not sure how many people at a seating, but well over 100 anyway. These dinners sell out months in advance.

Every year I help Die into her corset and gown, then lace the black ribbon through the backs of the black velvet-covered buttons. Fix the black velvet belt, hide the ties; fix the little black hat with the veil. I love this outfit – it’s modeled after one in a 19th century photo, and Die looks wonderful in it.

Then I wander around the sites, helping folks find their way from one place to another, or where the nearest rest rooms are, or just being friendly. Last year it rained, rained, rained. Many people visited the museum, but it wasn’t as pleasant to be walking around, that’s for sure.

This is how it looked this year.

And while I was wandering, I found this little girl minding a goat. Sweet goat, it ate every fallen maple leaf a child offered, and willingly accepted pats from everyone. Sweet girl, too.

The staff enjoys a potluck dinner behind the scenes, with the staples provided by the museum and all the sides and desserts brought from many different traditions. I love that part, too, getting to try everyone’s favorite dish. And, of course, pie.

People often say to me, “Oh, too bad you have to work on Thanksgiving.”

Not so much. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job.
I hope you had a fantastic day, too.


November 20th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Tricia found time in her crazy busy week (try getting a family of four ready for a driving “vacation” to share some good news:

Did you all hear a scream of delight from Plimoth and Boston today? If you did that is because a big box of Thanksgiving bounty arrived from Access Commodities and Golden Threads. Our last colors of what is officially known as ‘Gilt Sylke Twist’ arrived. We have been trying to keep the discussion of this thread to a dull whisper on the blog because we and the manufacturers weren’t ready to fully introduce the thread yet to the embroidery community – although the excitement over it keeps spilling out in comments.  Sorry that we aren’t able to give a full run-down here about the threads and when they will become available (yes – you read that correctly – they will be available for all), but a long road trip for Thanksgiving looms and the blog write-ups will have to wait after much turkey and football and a long ride back to Massachusetts. I promiss I will write – but here is a close-up picture of the Redde to get you excited.

I have to say my exclamation of delight had a serious undertone of relief as well. We’ve set an ambitious schedule for the completion of the jacket by July 1. It can be done – we can do it – but there’s really no room at all for not having the materials in hand when we need them. I’m a worrier, especially about details, and I was a little worried about having these threads before we needed them. Cross that off the list.

What this means, of course, is that the December embroiderers will be able to see these new colors, and perhaps even work with them. We still have a few spaces in that session – let me know if you’re interested in coming to Plymouth for all or part of this session – Tuesday December 11 – Friday December 14.

© 2003-2011 Plimoth Plantation. All rights reserved.

Plimoth Plantation is a not-for-profit 501 (c)3 organization, supported by admissions, grants, members, volunteers, and generous contributors.