March, 2008

Without whom the spangles would not be possible …

March 31st, 2008 by Jill Hall

I know I promised pix of Robbin’s lace work today, but at the time I wasn’t remembering that I wouldn’t be in the office today. I left them in the laptop at the office. Here instead, is the story of the completion of the Spangle Quest in Mark’s own words. The gratitude, though, is seconded by all of us who Love the Jacket.
Hi Jill,

These are the people that helped me make the spangles happen. First of all Paula Marcoux* introduced me to George Greenemyer. He is a sculptor and instructor up at Massachusetts College of the Arts. George had volunteered for the Marine Dept. and Paula thought I ought to meet him. He is a very interesting and talented guy.

Because of research Wendy and Trica had already done we knew a lot about the process of spangle making. While I could make the tools to cut out the spangles I did not have the tools or ready knowledge to make the stock. That was when I gave George a call. He referred me to Peter Evonuk an artist and fellow instructor at Mass Art. Peter manages their metal smithing studio. I made an appointment with him and he was extremely
helpful. He drew and rolled silver wire to replicate the process we needed and then sent me off to a metal plater that some of his students had used. That required a trip to Attleboro to E. Sweet and Sons, Metal Finishing. I met Scott Sweet the President and owner. He was as helpful and knowledgeable as Peter. Before I left that afternoon Scott gave me a tour of his facilities and personally plated the samples of wire that Peter provided me. So back I went to Boston so that we could experiment and evaluate our results. Peter rolled the wire and heated it slightly to compare to the images of originals that Tricia had taken when we went to the MFA. Our results were close enough to encourage us that we were on the right track. So backI went to Plymouth to order silver wire and prepare it for plating. I called Scott once more and he offered to once again help me. We discussed the adjustments Peter and I had agreed upon and he once again plated my stock as I waited. This was enormously helpful as by all rights he should have made me get in line with all his scheduled orders. In addition to this at the end of the day he refused payment for his generous services.

So it was back to Mass Art. Peter and I were ready to make a final trial. We rolled out one nine inch piece of wire into three feet of beautiful golden ribbon. With those results we went ahead and rolled out the rest of my three feet of plated wire into almost 18 feet of stock to make spangles out of. Altogether it took about 15 minutes. If I hadn’t been so pleased with the results it would have been quite anticlimactic. Peter also refused compensation for his help.

All in all it was the knowledge and time that these individuals contributed that allowed my part of this project to be as accurate and special as the rest of the work that has gone into the embroidered jacket. I can’t thank these generous people enough.

Mark M. Atchison
Blacksmith ~ Interpretive Artisan Department

*Paula has been with Plimoth for a long time. I always have a hard time defining what exactly any particular Plimoth staffer does, and Paula’s no different. She’s worked in several different capacities, including colonial foodways manager, marine artisan, interpretive (land-based) artisan, and a bunch of other stuff without special titles.

The Real Thing!

March 29th, 2008 by Jill Hall

101 silver gilt spanglesMark brought us 101 spangles. After all the time and effort he and others put in, it may seem like a very small pile of result. But there was great rejoicing.

heap o’ spangles

Carolyn wound bobbins. Due to a greater demand for the lace kits than we’d anticipated and a longer delivery time on the gold & silver lace threads, she had to ration the remaining thread and carefully plan how many bobbins to wind. (Don’t worry, though, more thread is on the way.)Wendy helps Carolyn string spangles on the silver thread.

We measured and measured the embroidery pieces to determine how long the lace pieces should be. Carolyn decided to start with the pieces that will go along the shoulder wings.

Wendy and Carolyn strung the spangles onto the lace thread and then wound the thread onto the bobbins.

Carolyn makes the first repeat of the real lace.

Carolyn made lace. It seemed to Wendy and me that the work went really fast. Every time we peeked, there was more to see. Carolyn thought it took a very long time. It came out to about an inch per hour.Two repeats - a full day’s work.

Robbin’s here today making lace and Melanie Anne is embroidering. I’ll have those pictures Monday. I also owe you one more post from Tricia.

Getting Settled to Stitch

March 28th, 2008 by Tricia

workroom.JPGYesterday I started a photo journal of a typical day in the life of our sessions. Here we continue on the day. After going over the instructions and as new stitchers are getting their doodle cloths finished, Wendy or I do a ‘highly scientific’ process of looking at the doodles, checking the pieces the stitcher sent in, and going over the frames to see what needs to be done. We are looking for a comfortable match for that person. Often we will start someone on a full motif like a bud or peapod worked only in silk. What I find particularly funny is that the more advanced the stitcher is, the more nervous she usually is about starting on the jacket – afraid she will ‘screw it up’. Conversely, if we start one of the interns on the jacket – they will do anything we ask happily as they have no reference point to know that ‘this is supposed to be hard’.

Usually this is the point that I pull out a deck of photos I have printed for this purpose. We have to remind ourselves of the conditions that the jacket was originally made in before we judge our skills too harshly and rob ourselves of the pleasure of working on this project.

Close your eyes and put yourself in the past. A room full of mostly men over a spectrum of ages. Young teenagers that were apprenticed to older masters and just learning. They would start with simpler tasks, maybe twisting silk for an embroiderer, maybe working a simple motif. These were children who may not have completed a sampler when they were young as their female peers did expecting a life of domestic embroidery. They would have been prepared by maybe learning to read and write before being apprenticed to a trade. Referring to Patricia Wardle’s article on Edmund Harrison, Embroiderer to the King, we find information on the apprentice structure circa 1611 and onwards. These apprentices were bound for eight years to ‘serve the aforesaid party in all fidelity and diligence and to learn embroidery, in return for which he, the aforesaid party, should enjoy, apart from instruction, board, lodging, clothing and those things pertaining to these…’

Edmund Harrison was the son of a merchant taylor and was sent to school at nine years old to learn the catechism and read and write. From records, it appeared that he was apprenticed around 14 years old into the embroidery trade. By 27 he was known as the King’s Embroiderer and ran a workshop with more embroiderers and apprentices. So it is likely that our jacket was stitched by a combination of 14 year old boys and those older and more skilled. Think about the teenage boys you know. Mind blowing, isn’t it.

Armed with that knowledge, I show the nervous stitcher my deck of photos. They are close ups of a different and very beautiful jacket. I have seven different carnations all printed at the same scale. When you look at them you see that one very skilled person stitched the flower with miniscule detached buttonhole stitches. Then you see that the calyx on each flower was stitched by different people, each with crude larger stitches and none of them match. Then I point out the worms next to several of the flowers. That’s when the ‘ah ha’ moment is. The worms look like something we all did when we were five. Most likely we are seeing the progression of early apprentice, skilled apprentice and masters all in one photo. Yet the jacket itself in its entirety is breathtaking. That’s when our stitchers relax and settle in.

Don’t be afraid to join us! And while you are at it, bring your favorite teenager with you. We’ll apprentice them too!


What Do We Do?

March 27th, 2008 by Tricia

A few days ago, Robbin did a great job of describing a typical session in the comments but I would like to add to her commentary with a photo journal of the last session. This journal is courtesy of my father, Bill Wilson, an amateur photographer. He was accompanying my mother for the day while she stitched on the jacket. They had come from Michigan to see the grandkids, but since my mother was my stitching mentor and an avid embroiderer, she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work on the jacket.

During the session, we all laughed a lot at the sheer number of photos my dad took (350 to be exact!), but through his zealous need to document, we have some insights into the workings of our day that we can share with those of you thinking of coming out and joining us. Bear with me over a few blogs and keep your eyes out in the background for little visual nuggets. I have carefully chosen photos since I had great material to work with!

Plimoth Plantation’s Programs BuildingTypically we start around 9 am with breakfast nibbles and everyone rolling in and finding the wardrobe department which is housed in this building along a road from the main parking lot. The nibbles are hand baked by Marcia from the food department and I typically skip breakfast and drive all the way from Boston to see what the delicious offering of the day is. I do blame Marcia whole heartedly for my need to go on a diet this year! Jill and the staff welcome the stitchers and help them find stations to sit at. Depending on the traffic (Boston is notorious), I roll in before 10 am and everyone is ready to get started as introductions have been made. For those who are new to the project, we give them a doodle cloth in a hoop and ask them to work about an inch of reverse chain followed by a small bud shape in detached buttonhole. This helps to break the ice and allows myself and Wendy to look at their technique and give tips to improve the look.Starting with a doodle cloth. Typical hints are the need to twist their needle a bit to retain twist while working or to put more or less stitches in a row of detached buttonhole to help match others on the jacket. Sometimes we find that a stitcher is more comfortable with a different stitch such as trellis or ceylon and we move them to work on motifs that use those stitches.

Once the doodle cloths are underway, we start working with stitchers that are returning to find them a jacket frame to work on and decide on a motif to start with. Here, Tricia and Rosemary deciding on the next motif.Rosemary and I are talking about a sleeve and what needs to be done on it and discussing color variations to the motif from the instruction book. Once our returning stitchers have some starting direction and are off to the races, we go back to some basic information.

Here I am reading from the instruction book. We have a set of instructions that are used by each stitcher for reference. It contains basic info such as how to fill out the record sheet, don’t eat in the room, etc. It also has different views of the jacket at the V&A we are working from to help identify what color to use as there are many variations, we have discovered. Then there are directions for the stitch types followed by detailed directions and pictures of every motif on the jacket being worked.Tricia going through the working procedure.

More tomorrow


More Hands

March 26th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Alex’s peapod.

On February 29, our intern Alex worked on the jacket for the first time. Here are her hands stitching a peapod.

Myrna working reverse chain outline pansy.At that session we also had another new embroiderer, Myrna. Melanie Anne decided that the state of Maine was under-represented among the embroidery corps, so she persuaded her friend to come down with her. Myrna is pretty new to this type of embroidery so she practiced for the morning and then worked reverse chain outlines.

The last picture for today is of Melanie Anne stitching a thistle top in Gilt Sylke Twist bisse.

Melanie Anne working a thistle in Gilt Sylke Twist.

The office was a little beehive today, with five volunteers joining us. The hand sewing on three shirts was finished plus part of a fourth was done; a great deal of stab-stitching on a pair of breeches and a cassock was also accomplished. Meredith spent part of her birthday volunteering; we wish her many happy returns of the day. I got a phone lesson from Rich on managing the new forum, and Robbin volunteered to help moderate, which offer I immediately and gratefully accepted. Welcome to everyone who signed up, and if you haven’t checked it out yet, please go see.

Your Thoughts

March 25th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Lace sample received from Julie E. This and all the lace samples are just gorgeous. I get seriously distracted when a new one comes in, holding it up, watching the sequins tremble. . . getting a little nervous about sewing it all together. . .

Lovely green stockings received from Monique N. I honestly feel that knit stockings in the bin are like money in the bank. When someone wears out a pair they don’t have to be cold waiting for us to fix them. Thank you.

Thanks to everyone who has signed in to the forum. How cool is that?

I need your help again. I am working on a multi-media presentation on the jacket project (not just me, though, I am part of a team). As part of it, I’d like to hear from you. Would you share your thoughts on this project, what it means to you, why you think it has captured so much attention and enthusiasm, why you think it is important? You can send me email ( or regular mail:

Jill Hall, Colonial Wardrobe

Plimoth Plantation

PO Box 1620

Plymouth, MA 02362

I will set up a place in the forum, too. Let me know your name (first and last initial is fine) and general location (city/state or province/country should do the trick).

Your comments will be used in support of the project – for information packets, for fund raising, as part of the eventual exhibit, that sort of thing. Thank you in advance for what I know will be thoughtful, eloquent contributions to the cause.

Forum’s Up

March 24th, 2008 by Jill Hall

I was planning to address some of the questions in the recent comments, but Robbin has done an admirable and really thorough job. Thanks, Robbin. I was a little swamped, with opening and then a come-to-my-house holiday in the same weekend.

The bottom line on the session schedules is – we’re flexible. I am scheduling the lacers carefully to make sure that on each lacer’s first day one of our two mentors/moderators/detail people is able to come. Robbin and Carolyn have generously offered to help us all stay on the same page and keep the lace looking as much like one lacer made it as is possible. Other than knowing what your first day will be, we’re open to people coming in early, leaving early, skipping a day, coming later, what have you. If you have specific concerns, just let me know. If you’d like to come for only part of a weekend, let me know so I can try to get another lacer to work the pillow the other days. But really, not to worry. These weekends are supposed to be a special treat for you to devote uninterrupted time to work you love to do and enjoy a community of people working together to accomplish a major goal. Be easy.

Hey, we have another toy! I mean tool. But aren’t they the same, really? Rich has set up a forum for us. Look at the top right column for the link, and register and start a conversation. Thanks to Kar who asked for this opportunity, and thanks to Rich who jumped on the idea and made it happen. I wrote to him this afternoon, that if anyone had told me last year that by now I’d be blogging and have a forum and doing all these other techno-things I’m doing I simply wouldn’t have believed it. It’s good to learn new things.

I’m looking forward to Friday and Saturday, when Carolyn and Robbin will be setting things up for beginning the lace. I should have some handsome pictures, too. The hurdles are falling one by one.


March 22nd, 2008 by Jill Hall

Today was opening day of the 2008 season at Plimoth Plantation. It was sunny but a little cold, with the wind off the water. It warmed up nicely, though.

Getting ready for opening day.John preparing for opening dayHere are a couple of pictures taken by Penny at the 1627 English Village morning meeting. This meeting lasts only a few minutes and is sort of a check-in for staff on duty each day. As you can see, some of the morning’s work is to cover the tire tracks of the trucks that deliver animal feed, etc, after hours. That’s what the broom and rake are for.

Norah shows off her hand knit stockings and hand woven gownYou can also see lots of beautiful knitted goods! Thanks again to all the knitters who have sent finished items. Hopefully these pictures are encouragement to those knitters still plugging away – see how happy and warm everyone looks?

Morning meeting 1627 English VillagePart of the opening day festivities was a parade of rare breed animals. The rare and heirloom breed goats, sheep, cattle and chickens that represent the animals brought by the first colonists spend some or all of the winter behind the scenes in our modern barn. They paraded from the Visitors’ Center to their summer homes in the Village accompanied by 4-H club volunteers, museum staff and lots of museum guests. Well, the heifers and grown-up goats paraded. Several of the kids were carried, and one tiny lamb was carried in a blanket. The chickens rode in reproduction 17th-century bird-carrying baskets. They are not so much for either parading or being carried in arms.

Winter getting ready for the parade.

Opening day is another of my favorite times of the year at Plimoth. Everything is fresh and new and full of potential. Here’s to another excellent season of living history.

Thanks for the comments, Cate and Marilyn and Carolyn. I will answer some of those questions Monday.

© 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.