February, 2008


February 28th, 2008 by Jill Hall

1. Are you going to Celebration of Needlework in Nashua, NH May 2 – 5? Would you like to stop in Plymouth coming or going to stitch on the jacket? We’re having “shoulder sessions” the couple of days before and after. Call me [508-746-1622 X 8119] or email jhall@plimoth.org to sign up.

2. Thank you to everyone who weighed in on the Mystery of Melanie Anne’s grandmother’s embroideries. I love starting conversations here that continue in the comments. I’m looking forward to unveiling the forum so we can have even more conversations.

3. Speaking of conversations in the comments, I should have clarified what I meant by our experimenting with using reeds as stiffeners in stays (corsets). We have used marsh reeds, the sort native to this area, that maybe perhaps the early colonists might have used if they made or repaired stays. (That, and getting reeds native to England that might have come over in already-sewn stays was Too Much.) I have heard of using basketry reeds to stiffen stays as a substitute for the unavailable whalebone. I tried that a few years ago, but the reed we got came in a coil. I cut it to size and filled the channels, but it kept shifting and curling. I was told to soak it to take the curl out, and I tried, BUT it still curled. How to describe…it didn’t curl against or away from the body of the wearer, but sideways. It did not look good. I gave up on the basketry reed.

c4. Picture! Catherine from Kansas came to a session in January with her friend Deb. The weather they left at home was so cold we joked that they’d had a beach vacation in Plymouth. This is one of the exquisite pieces Catherine brought for show & tell.

New Session Dates

February 27th, 2008 by Jill Hall

I have spring and summer session dates for you. All are Friday to Monday weekends.

March 28 – March 31

April 11 – April 14

May 16 – May 19

May 30 – June 2

June 20 – June 23
We will be making lace at some of these sessions, but I’m not sure yet if we’ll be ready to do that March 28. We will have two pillows available at a time. If any lacers would like to reserve a pillow for a day or a weekend, please email me at jhall@plimoth.org I’m scheduling the lacers carefully so we won’t overbook the pillows. Coming for part of a session is an option; let me know what you’re thinking.


For all of these sessions we will be in the Colonial Wardrobe office. The physical space will limit the number of embroiderers we can comfortably host. Sign up for all or part of a session by emailing me at jhall@plimoth.org I don’t know how many more sessions I’ll be scheduling after these, so if you’ve been thinking about joining us “sometime” – now is the time. I look forward to hearing from you. Also, a reminder, if you’ve participated in a session before, you don’t need to wait for a scheduled session to come back. You can come any day or days that work for you; it is always nice to have the embroidery going on along with the other work of the department.

Here’s a picture of a cornflower for today. Here are some pictures of real cornflowers.


February 26th, 2008 by Jill Hall

In January, Melanie Anne from Maine brought two embroideries for show & tell. Theylion came from her grandmother’s house, but other than that she doesn’t really know anything about them. She and Wendy undid the back of one but found no clues. They’re pretty, and remind me of Jacobean crewel embroideries, with the ‘tree of life’ motif with the fantastic flowers and leaves, growing out of a little mound. These two seem a pair partly because one has a lion and one has a lamb. Click on ‘lamb‘ to see the second picture. I’m having a little argument with the blog program tonight, and it doesn’t want to post the actual picture of the second embroidery. Sorry about that. I’ll go to the mountain and ask for help.

Anyway, do these look familiar? Do you have a twin to these in your house? Any ideas if they were kits or when they might have been done?

For instance

February 25th, 2008 by Jill Hall

A few weeks ago Karen asked about having a lacemakers’ forum connected to the blog, and Sandy suggested how that might be accomplished. I forwarded the notes to Rich, both because he’d have to set it up, but also (and mostly) because I hadn’t the slightest idea what was wanted. As so often happens, Rich was already working on something that would answer the need. He usually is two steps ahead. So, he’s working on it, and when he’s got it ready, he’ll let us know. And before he’s got it ready, I’ll figure out what it is we’re going to be getting….

laundry dryingI thought of an example of a compromise we make with the historical record in order to teach more history. In 1627 Plymouth Colony there was no grist mill. All the flour and even coarse meal had to be ground by hand with mortar & pestles. This must have taken an immense amount of time, really every spare moment, even if you had child labor to take advantage of. In our recreated 1627 Village grinding meal and flour by hand is talked about and demonstrated, but instead of spending as much time on it as the early colonists may have and likely did, the interpreters do plenty of other things, including sewing.

Another example: probably the vast majority of sewing done was mending. The interpreters do plenty of mending on site, but they also sew new items, like smocks and shirts, aprons, coifs, and household textiles. That way visitors to the museum see some people grinding meal, and some sewing; some of those sewing are mending and some are making new. Probably not exactly what happened in 1627, but more opportunity to teach about all the activities of the period.

I don’t like looking at a pile of text with no photos, so I threw in one of the laundry drying back in December. That’s an ironing board with no cover, up on a desk. It’s a pretty ingenious contraption Penny and Shaina rigged up in order to hang loads and loads of laundry to dry over the weekend. Piled on the floor are shoes sorted into boxes as to what repairs they needed. Hiding in back is Norah, mending on the couch.

How we do what we do

February 23rd, 2008 by Jill Hall

It’s funny Sandy should ask (in yesterday’s comments) about how we make stays. I’ve been thinking about doing a “how we do what we do” post, or a series of them, since Carolyn H noticed the rack of serger threads in the background of a photo way back in December.

The Colonial Wardrobe & Textiles department consists of three full time staff – Shaina, Penny, and me – occasional interns, and loyal volunteers. We’re responsible for providing all the articles of colonial clothing (not Native Wampanoag) for the role-players in the 1627 Village, on board Mayflower II, the museum teachers who do outreach programs (in schools, etc) and any other program or exhibit the museum needs.

In each calendar year, we dress approximately 60 people. This includes role-players who work all of our open season (this year 22 March to the Sunday after Thanksgiving), or only part of it, full time or part time, those who work part time in period clothing and part time behind the scenes, child volunteers; basically anybody who gets even one set of period clothing counts in that tally. Most of the role-players, who are also known as historical interpreters, have at least two full sets of clothing, two pairs of shoes, and one each of cold weather accessories – one coat, one pair of knitted stockings, one pair of mittens or gloves, that sort of thing. Of course we don’t make everyone’s clothes new every season, but making new things either to replace those that are wearing out, to effect role changes, or for new hires, altering old things for new hires, and mending can keep us pretty busy.

We’re also jointly responsible for the textiles in the Village houses and on Mayflower II. We share the task of cleaning and keeping track of the blankets, sheets, bed hangings, etc, with Martha; we share the task of mending them and making new ones with the on-site interpreters. I’m partly responsible for research and training new interpreters in the use and care of their clothing and household textiles.

We compromise with the historical record for health & safety and economic reasons; we also make subtle adjustments to increase our ability to present historical information to the public. (You’d think that last one wouldn’t need a compromise, but sometimes it does. I’ll try to think of a good example for tomorrow.) The sewing machines definitely count as an economic compromise. We would never be able to afford the labor to do everything by hand. And where would you start? With hand spinning? Growing the flax/sheep? I’d love to – but our interpreters would be very scantily clad, and that’s a different program altogether. I try to document where we diverge from what we know of historical practice and keep both the CW&T staff and the interpreters informed of these decisions.

We use sewing machines, including a serger and an industrial straight-stitch machine, where it won’t show in the finished garment, with two notable exceptions (more on that later). That means internal seams, which saves us a great deal of time on some garments, like shirts and smocks which are French seamed, and not much time on some things, like slops breeches where so much of what has to be done must be done by hand that the machine only saves a few hours (still worth it). All the pleats, hems, buttonholes, eyelets, and any trim is all sewn by hand.

alexsmockAs far as the two notable exceptions, a few years ago we started sewing the hems of shirts and smocks on the sewing machine. This saved us an hour per garment. The shirts/smocks are the first layer, worn closest to the skin. The hems of the shirts are tucked into the men’s breeches and extremely unlikely ever to be seen by a visitor. The hems of the smocks are long, to the knee, and are under at least one petticoat, and while sometimes female interpreters will show visitors the hems of their layers of clothing it is also extremely unlikely that anyone will get close enough to see whether they are machine sewn or not.

The other exception is the channels on the stays. Up till a few years ago the vast majority of our stays were heavily machine sewn; not only all the bone channels but also all the binding was top stitched. They were designed to remain hidden under the waistcoat or jacket. I guess it’s about 5 or 6 years ago we started adding a pair or two of hand sewn stays every season. Now I’d say we’re up to almost half of the pairs of stays that have only hand sewing visible. We’re still using the machine for the internal seams, but all the bone channels and binding are done by hand. I counted one time, and it took me (conservatively) about 40 hours to hand sew a pair of stays. Small ones. Since the end of last season, we added two pairs of hand sewn stays. Penny made one pair and Emily made another.

All of the stays, hand sewn or not, have 1/4″ white steel bones in the channels. As Sandy pointed out, whalebone isn’t really an option nowadays. Years ago we used plastic boning cut to the right length, but we found the plastic tended to mold to the curves of the wearer, rather than the other way around. We have experimented with using reeds in the channels, as described in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion: the cut and construction of clothes for men and women c.1560-1620. This wasn’t an unqualified failure, but it wasn’t a resounding success either. Being a modern museum, and seeing as we have modern people only pretending to be 1620s colonists, we like to wash our clothing now and again. The reeds really didn’t hold up to washing. Taking the binding off, removing the reeds and replacing them wasn’t an option either – the reeds disintegrated in the channels after several months’ wear, making it nearly impossible to get the pieces out.

In the last few years we’ve been using wooden busks in the front of the stays. Peter Follansbee, joiner in Plimoth’s Crafts Center, makes them for us. Most women prefer them to the stays without a busk. The busks take some of the work off the steel bones, keeping the front of the stays stiff and straight, and help the stays to last longer overall.

Lace Update

February 22nd, 2008 by Jill Hall

Lace sample arrived from Bryce W.

Several lacers have asked this question – when you send back the sample, we only need 3 repeats of the lace motif, that is 3 scallops of the lace, not 3 of the gold + silver repeat, or 6 scallops overall.

I had an update from Mark yesterday. He’s been busy, traveling to different places to seek help from other skilled metalworkers. Next step is to confer with Tricia and Wendy regarding how much or how little the current trial looks like the original spangles (the teardrop shaped kind). He thinks it is possible that we’ll be ready to make lace at the end of March. The living history exhibits will be open again by then. We’ll all know more after the Spangle Questers have met, hopefully on Friday.

lace on pillow

Back to School

February 21st, 2008 by Jill Hall

lacingEmily’s gone back to Bennington, and we miss her. But, by working very hard and very fast, she finished the pair of stays for Norah before she had to go. I missed the very end of her stay, including the final fitting, due to yet more germs. It’s been the worst winter for illness around my house; I hope yours has been much healthier. Thanks to Penny and Shaina for taking these pictures and helping Emily with the last bits of finishing.


Notice Norah’s jeans in the first picture; they add to the outfit, don’t you think? The second shows more how they’ll be worn, with a petticoat over. Nearly all the time she’ll also wear a jacket or waistcoat over top; only within the house she may sometimes work in either just the smock-sleeves and stays, or with a loose house-jacket over that.

Plimoth Plantation’s living history exhibits re-open to the public four weeks from Saturday. We’ve got a lot to do.


February 18th, 2008 by Jill Hall

chrisAt our last session, Chris was our only new stitcher. She was also our only stitcher from out of town – from Michigan. I think (I hope) some folks are waiting for our spring sessions to avoid the New England winter weather. But for some, like Chris, and like Catherine and Deb a few weeks ago who are from Kansas, a trip to Plymouth is a beach holiday compared to the weather at home.

It was great to meet Chris, a talented stitcher and fun to be around. She showed us a pair of her granddaughter’s jeans that she is embroidering. These have an underwater theme – fish and kelp. Chris turned the ruffles on the side into a coral reef by blanket-stitching the edges. These are the second pair her granddaughter asked for; the first have flowers on the bottom of the legs and a bouquet on the pocket. What a special gift for a precious child. And I bet she’s so proud of her one-of-a-kind jeans and her talented grandmother.

Chris was having a real vacation after leaving us; she was headed to visit friends in Florida. She’s on her way home to frozen Michigan now, and I hope she’s had safe, happy travels.

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