May, 2008

In Which I Loaf

May 31st, 2008 by Jill Hall

Linda’s handkerchief corner with dime.And let Linda V from Arizona write tonight’s post. Linda came to Plymouth last summer to work on the jacket. She also offered to work at home on a project for us. She’s reproducing a red silk double-running stitch-embroidered handkerchief from the V & A (where else?) that we can use either in the upcoming exhibit or in some of our living history programs.

The first picture is the front, with a dime for scale. The second is the back. Linda wrote:

It’s an interesting project and I’m enjoying working on it. At 55 count it’s a new experience for me to have to use magnification to do the job! It is a slow go however. What you see in the photos is roughly 30 hours of work. About 10 hours of work per flower/repeat. I’m going forward, but it will not be a quick project. Linda’s handkerchief from the back.

Lyn from Canada taught Linda a nifty technique for anchoring the thread without a knot. Linda writes: Nan Euler’s Surface Anchoring method is working well. It is a little challenging to do it at this scale, but I love that you hardly see the beginning or ending of the threads.

Elmsley Rose did a whole blog entry about the S and Z twist that we’ve been talking about. Check it out HERE.

Spin, Span, Spun

May 29th, 2008 by Jill Hall

We get COMMENTS! WHOO! I loves comments, yes I does.

Carolyn H wrote: Jill, Plimoth is so lucky to have this offer from Carol. (I think so too!) I think you’ll be so pleased at the durability of stockings knit from combed long wool. Some years ago I knit a pair of socks for my husband. He put a hole in the heel within a few months (I had used woolen spun Cheviot wool). I subseqeuntly combed some Cotswold long wool, and he has been wearing those socks for over ten years!! This is one of the wonderful things about this blog — chances to read and learn about all aspects of textiles at Plimoth! Thank you.

Thank me? Pfffft. Thank you. I love writing about stuff I love to write about.

Margaret wrote:
In your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine how exciting and interesting this blog would be? I feel humble and proud to have worked on the jacket and toured your costume studio last August. I can hardly wait to see what you do next.

It’s good to hear from you, Margaret. You should be proud, you do lovely work. This project seems to be inspiring a lot of humility and gratitude, though; I feel that every time I get to welcome generous talented embroiderers and lace makers to work on it, and even when I just get to talk about it. And, no, I had no wild blogging dreams, only nightmares where no one came.

Carol from the UK wrote with a technical question:

“two strands S spun and double plied Z”

Is this just another way of saying 2-ply or is this a different technique? I really appreciate all the information you are sharing with us. Yes, I already know a few of the things you write about but I am learning more all the time, and I thank you for it.

This has been an incredible journey, even for those like me who can only watch from the side lines.And before I even had a chance to see this, Kat had written in with the answer:

I’m so flattered that Jill put this up! (I maybe should have warned Kat that everything gets in the blog. Inquiring minds, you know.) I love to spin and this is just such a fun thing to do.

To clarify the “two strands, S spun, and double-plied Z” directions — wool that is S spun was spun on a wheel moving in the clockwise direction (clockwise from where the spinner sits). Wool that is Z spun is spun in a counterclockwise direction. To ply, you want to go in the opposite direction from how the strands were spun. If you ply in the same direction as the spin, you will get a really hard yarn!

The direction also has to do (historically, anyway) with the type of yarn being made. S spun for woolens; Z spun for worsteds. I always think of it in terms of: Woolen — carded — S spun/Worsted — combed — Z spun. Distinguishing between carding and combing is also a tip as to the breeds of wool being spun.

It would be interesting to see if silk responds differently to S or Z spin. An archaeologist friend sent me an article where a colleague of his proved that flax naturally spins in one direction, and hemp in the other. She was able to use the cordage impressions in pottery shards to determine what the clay had been wrapped with, which absolutely blows me away!

Kat, inquiring minds will also want the citation for the article, would you send it please, when you have a chance? Thanks.

And Melanie Anne connected the dots for us:

Ah, another instance of S and Z. In embroidery, we see the S and Z as the differentiation between the Stem Stitch and the Outline Stitch. Depending on the direction you make your stitch it creates a twisted border that makes an “S” or a “Z”. I can never remember which is which, but I believe the “S”tem stitch makes the S and the Outline stitch makes the Z. In practice, most people interchange them without differentiation- but technically there is a difference. This of course, is completely different than just using a stitch to outline something… but I digress… Now that I realize that yarn also has a directional “twist”…. does silk spinning also vary with the directional S & Z?

Yes, I believe that anything you spin, whatever fiber it is, fine like silk or coarse like rope, can either have a right-leaning or left-leaning twist, usually described as S/Z, or clockwise/counterclockwise. I remember seeing an article by Deb Pulliam in Piecework? Spin-Off? one of those magazines about spinning Z and plying S for crochet; that the natural motions of the crochet stitches tended to un-spin “usual” S-spun Z-plied yarn.

More Spinning

May 28th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Here’s an update on what Kat C has been working on. She’s one of the generous spinners who contacted me a few months ago offering to spin some yarn suitable for finer stockings.

During our first email exchange we considered different breeds of sheep. Here’s what Kat said:

I work a lot with Shetlands, due to the range of colors, and they are correct for any time period, being a primitive breed. The Cotswold tends to be a hairy yarn, but I have seen a woodcut of stocking knitters shearing the surface of the final product, so I would be willing to posit that they surface sheared the same as the cappers did. Romney is nice; I just washed one out and have it drying. I have a gray one, roved, some place in my stash. Cheviot would be period-correct, as well, although I just mixed what I had with a load of Scottish Blackface to make tweed.

You’ll remember from last night that Romney is what Carol H is working with, combing and spinning to make a worsted yarn. We’re all working with tiny scraps of information; there is not a great deal of detail on early 17th century knitted stockings. We keep referring to the “Gunnister” stockings, or gloves, or man. Gunnister man, or the Gunnister find, is a body of a man preserved in a peat bank, found in 1951 outside of Gunnister, Shetland. The wool garments he was wearing when he died sometime after 1689 (based on coins in his pocket) were very well preserved; whatever of linen or cotton he may have had was long gone. The find was described in great detail in an article in the Proceedings of the Society for Antiquaries of Scotland, 1951-52. This is part of the description of his stockings: “The woollen yarn is heavy, spun S, 2 ply. It is dark brown in colour, a mixture of various shades of brown fibres, including some black. The spinning and knitting are very even.” So that’s what Kat was aiming for. Carol H and some others are aiming for the same stitches per inch as the Gunnister stocking but in a variety of sorts and preparations of wool. Joan Thirsk’s research supports having several different qualities of knitted stocking during the early 17th century. Many were available ready-made, and cheap enough to make it worth while even for ordinary people to buy them rather than knit their own.

“Spun S” refers to the direction of twist. If you’re familiar with cables in knitting, you know they can twist to the right or to the left. So can rope, and yarn, and thread. “S” and “Z” are the terms spinners use to describe the twist direction. “2 ply” means two strands are twisted together, usually in the direction opposite to the original twist. So you might spin S and ply Z. You can ply two or more strands together. If you ply 3, you have 3 ply yarn, or thread, or whatever. Forgive me the explanation; if you know all this already you’ll find it overly simplistic, and if you don’t it probably doesn’t really explain what’s going on. You can do an internet search for more information tonight, and I can also do some bibliography blogs on spinning books.

Not very long after those first emails, Kat wrote again:

5 mini skeins with swatches from Kat C.After 5 tries, I got the right 7.5 stitch per inch gauge on a size 0 needle which is a typical sock/stocking size. Small, but typical. Without being able to feel the hand of the originals, the actual weight is a supposition based on what is known. I had a very nice dark brown Shetland fleece that is working out perfectly, two strands S spun and double plied Z.

I did a two day spinning demonstration at a local site last weekend (this was written in late April) and made you several single strand skeins of gray Shetland. It is 7.5 per inch on a size 0, so could be used for lighter weight stockings. I will be spinning at the NJ State History Fair this Saturday. Once I get out from under the demonstrations, I will pack up the swatches, samples, and skeins that are finished and send them off to you. It will take another week or so to spin and ply enough yardage of the 2-ply brown.

I think this is enough for tonight. I’ll share some pictures of that box full of treats I got from Kat a couple of weeks ago. And more historical sources, primary and secondary. Looks like we’re only scratching the stocking surface.

On another note

May 27th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Aside from, and happening simultaneously with, all the jacket progress, we’ve had lots of knitting and spinning progress happening. I’m going to take a few days and try to update that aspect of our work.

I had several generous responses when I asked if anyone would be interested in spinning some yarn for a finer stocking than we’re currently knitting.

These photos are from Carol H (from Indigo Hound), who not only offered to spin but also to comb – prepare the fibers for spinning – some wool. Not to get too technical, especially since lots of other people online can and have explained it all better than I, but combing is a way of preparing fiber for spinning that when combined with a particular spinning technique can create a smooth durable yarn, one sort of yarn that’s quite suitable for stockings.

Carol H’s unwashed Romney ram fleece.The whole process is really a lot of work, unless it is your favorite thing to do in which case it is an excuse to have lots of fun. This is one of Carol’s favorite things to do, as she keeps assuring me when I ask if this project isn’t too much work?

These are the first two photos Carol sent. As you can see they’re of wool from Rita’s Romney (breed of sheep) ram, before and after washing. Romney fleece is considered a “long wool” (there’s no way to avoid some of the technical details here, sorry) and the long fibers (long compared to other breeds) will comb and spin into a lovely, lustrous worsted yarn.Carol H’s washed Romney ram fleece.

I need to make a list of all the stockings and gloves we’ve received since my last list; there are many. In the coming days I’ll also be introducing you to other spinners and knitters soldiering away at the task of developing a more historically accurate stocking for Plimoth Plantation, including Kat C of the amazing box of samples and Aimee from Maine who is working on a pattern for knitting the yarn.

Construction Details

May 24th, 2008 by Jill Hall

I’ve recently started thinking about the sewing-together part of this project. Thinking about logistics, I mean. By a happy coincidence, Laura brought her embroidered jacket as part of her show & tell this session. I mentioned that I’d been comparing the original paper pattern pieces to the tensioned embroidered ones and that some stretching has occurred. I wondered aloud how much “spring back” we’d have when all the pieces are cut out of the frames.

Laura, who has actually done quite a bit of this work herself, said she thinks most of the stretching/distortion will remain, because the stitching will help to hold the piece in that position, even when the lacing that ties the piece to the frame is gone.

This started an in-depth discussion of construction techniques and choices. I wish we’d started earlier in the day – this was just as we were cleaning up to go for supper, and all very hungry and Laura with a severe headache that couldn’t have been helped any by delaying her meal. Laura showed me her jacket and described how she put the pieces together, and Robbin and Jen, who were still there too, looked up photos in various books and helped compare details between the Laton jacket and jacket 1359-1900 (the embroidery pattern jacket).

Detail of center back seam on Laura’s embroidered jacket.Here is a detail of the inside of Laura’s jacket, showing the center back seam. Laura folded in and hemmed down the raw edge of the pieces before stitching the hemmed edges together with extremely tiny overcast stitches. (Does that make sense written that way? She turned in the edge of the embroidered back and hemmed it down; turned in the edge of the side that should be seamed to that piece and hemmed that down, then overcast the two together. Then she did the same with the linings for each piece. This detail shows the linen lining. Each half was hemmed and then the hemmed edges were stitched together.) You can see from the right side that she also chose to apply a braid of silk over the seams and around the edges of her jacket. The Laton jacket has embroidery over some of the seams (but not all), and of course has the lace trimming the edges; 1359-1900 doesn’t have embroidery over the seams.

Before we talked, I had already decided to sew a trial jacket, cut out of the same linen we’re embroidering, and sew it up with a silk lining. This will of course only be a distant approximation of the real thing, but it will allow me to practice setting in the gussets (more on that another time) and work out how the cuffs and collar should be sewn (among other questions I have) before I’m dealing with all the embroidery etc. In fact that was why I was comparing the paper pattern pieces to the embroidered pieces in the first place.

Yesterday I cut out the linen for this trial piece. I’m thinking about which, if any, other construction methods to try (aside from the one Laura used) and I’m also thinking about whether we should embroider over some of the seams. Mmm. More embroidery.


May 22nd, 2008 by Jill Hall

Stitched columbine motif.Here, courtesy of Wendy, is a photo of the stitched columbine motif. In my opinion, it is the wackiest of the motifs on the jacket. It sort of resembles a columbine to me, but not much. And it looks crazy. Several columbines were embroidered this session; Norma B from Connecticut stitched this one.

It not only has the first bit of green GST on the jacket, but it also has blue, and pink, and red GST, not to mention a little plain pink silk. It’s the kitchen sink motif.

Just Text

May 21st, 2008 by Jill Hall

I think my home computer is looking for a little (hopefully little) monetary expression of our affection. It’s refusing to open or edit pictures, or just about anything else that requires any thought. Maybe its jealous of all the time I’ve been spending with the laptop at work.

At any rate, instead of pretty pictures tonight we have just text. The end of the May session went fine, as I found out yesterday, except for my brain cramp regarding notifying Marcia about allergies. Sunday’s lunch covered just about every allergy possible but thankfully everyone realized it in time and there were no trips to the ER. Luckily there were some super-yummy leftovers that stepped in to cover my mistake.

Saturday night Laura and I had a hugely profitable discussion about construction techniques for the eventual sewing-together part of the jacket project, ably assisted by Robbin and Jen who quickly hunted up every photo we wanted to look at.

Kris A came in on Monday after five days in a Japanese embroidery class, and continued to work on the jacket Tuesday and Wednesday. Yesterday I asked her if she wasn’t tired of embroidering. “This is what I do,” she replied “well, what I’d do all the time if I could, anyway.” Yep, the whole eating and sleeping thing wicked gets in the way of my fiber time too. Pictures tomorrow.

What I did on Jury Duty

May 19th, 2008 by Jill Hall

I missed today, the last day of this session, due to a summons to jury duty. I had to go to Brockton, a city, not The Big City, but a city nonetheless. I am definitely a country mouse. Luckily I didn’t get lost, and I found a place to park. The next hurdle was to send my bags through the x-ray machine. Yep. Bags. I have a horror of idle time (I can see your heads nodding out there) so I had … a few things to do. And read.

“Empty your pockets in the tray” I was instructed. Then the project bag went through the machine and “WHAT have you got in there?” the security guard asked. I cringed. “ummm, knitting…” I replied faintly. Then more faintly still “and, umm, embroidery. I can put it back in the car,” I quickly offered, not wanting to cause a fuss and remembering the last jury duty (11 years ago) when I couldn’t bring in ANY needlework at all. The trauma is still fresh.

Fortunately this guard was more compassionate. “Oh, no, wait a minute.” He pulled out the ziploc bag that the jacket project sample kit is in. “I think, wait, what’ve you got in here?” Turns out I’d left a small pair of snips inside the little ziploc. He took those, giving me a receipt to ransom them with at dismissal, and I was on my way.

What I really had in that bag was two books (one for work, one for fun) and the latest issue of Spin-Off magazine; two knitting projects, one simple, one more complicated; and the embroidery sample kit. Fortunately I’d had the foresight to swipe my daughter’s thread cutter necklace before leaving the house so I was wicked in business.

I blissfully knitted my way through the necessary paperwork and jury instructions, dutifully trooped down and up the stairs to a courtroom but was never called. I practiced doing two-color trellis stitch. I tried the knot stitch. I worked on both the knitting projects. I had so much fibery fun I should’ve been paying for the privilege. Actually, now that I think about it, the only thing I didn’t get to at all was the book for work. And now I’m off the jury duty hook for three years.

Tomorrow I’ll find out how the end of the weekend went and share, along with more pictures.

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