July, 2008

There’s Gold in Them Hills!

July 29th, 2008 by Tricia

Tricia sent me this post:

The new gold thread has arrived!As you can see in this picture, the gold threads have arrived. Remember earlier this summer the second trial of gold-silver-copper on silk arrived and was a slight bit thinner than the first trial. It worked well for stitching plaited braid. I excitedly called Lamora at
Access Commodities and let her know that using two silk plies for the core worked and we could go ahead and ask Bill Barnes to make a full run. If you check back in your blog a long while back, you will remember our rough estimates of how much we would need. Over 1000 meters. Well, I was surprised that Bill was able to turn it around as fast as he did – and nothing got caught in customs this time!! Customs has been the enemy #1 of this project. I can’t tell you how any times our supplies have gotten delayed there!

So I have more than 1500 meters in my hot little hand right now. Well of course I had to have extra! Some for me and some for you stitchers out there! Give me a few weeks to get my act together and we will have a little kit for sale to benefit the jacket with a needle and
gold thread and maybe a few instructions thrown in too.

Just in time. Next week the workroom will be a hub of activity. My son is going to summer camp at the Plantation and so I have a great excuse to be there all week. I will be starting the gold work and working on attaching detached pieces. Then we have a session starting
at the end of the week (still have spots if you are in the area for a day). Some lucky ladies may even start couching gold and doing reverse chain with this new limited edition material. Cool.


Putting it all together

July 27th, 2008 by Jill Hall

There’s not a great deal going on with the jacket this month. I decided a while ago to not schedule any work sessions in July, and it turns out that was a very good idea.

I have been spending Sundays in the Crafts Center working on the jacket, but today family concerns prevented me; Emily stepped up on short notice and covered my commitments to the site and the jacket. Thanks, Emily.

Aside from embroidering whenever possible, I’m also working on the mock-up of the jacket. By working on, I mean cutting out a model from the same linen and a similar but commercially woven silk. I wrote to Susan North for advice on the making up, and she wrote back with some notes based on her examinations of the Laton jacket as well as others in the V&A collection.

The two most significant points in my opinion are that several different techniques seem to have been used on both the Laton jacket and the others, and that these different techniques don’t seem to be standard from one jacket to the other. In other words (because those ones were pretty opaque) 17th-century tailors of embroidered jackets seem to have used a variety of methods unsystematically. Good news for me, then, as I’ve got precedent for doing what works.

I’ll keep you posted, of course, but if I’m this nervous about working on the mock-up, how will I feel about sewing the actual thing? At least that will be worth taking pictures of – plain linen and plain white silk make a very boring photo.

Search the Collections

July 24th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Hi everyone, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. Husband Away turned into Husband Home but with Appendicitis. He no longer has appendicitis, no longer has an appendix even, but I’ve been a little preoccupied. Distracted. Frazzled, as a co-worker so eloquently put it this morning. And then last night we had the Thunderstorms. Thou shalt not fire up the computer during a violent thunderstorm.

Anyway, Jill H (the lace making Jill H, as opposed to me, the non-lace making Jill H) asked about finding 1359-1900. The key is to search the V&A collections. You can’t use the search function in the upper right hand corner of their website. That searches for things like exhibits and lectures and new books. You have to click the ‘collections’ option (other options on that page are exhibits, things to do, your visit, support us, contact us, etc.). Once in the collections section, you have choices of which collection to look at. There is also a ‘search the collections’ box. It’s the top left section. Click on that and you get a screen with a search box on the left. Continue to ignore the search box in the upper right. It does not love you.

The search box you want says ‘all fields’ above it, and below there are two buttons: clear field and search. Put ’1359-1900′ in this search box and click search. This will get you the embroidery-pattern jacket. If you instead put in ‘Laton jacket’ you will get the garment-and-lace-pattern jacket. Have fun!

Emily and Lacey have been exceedingly busy while I’ve been frazzling. Lacey has made three pairs of canvas breeches and is working on her fourth. She’s also knitting mittens. Emily is making a gown for a small child who soon will be volunteering in the English Village. She’s also making a green canvas suit for one of the interpretive artisans. Emily left me a note saying that yesterday’s late-afternoon fitting with him went “swimmingly. He says the fabric is the same color as his truck. I’m assuming this is a good thing.” Hope so. Penny is taking a well-deserved looong weekend. When she comes back Monday she and Emily and Lacey will be preparing for a two-day dye fest. On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week they’ll be dyeing wool yarn with natural dyes outside the Crafts Center. I’m so excited about this, I can’t wait. If you’re in the neighborhood, come see.

Aren’t You Hot in those Clothes?

July 21st, 2008 by Jill Hall

This is a question the role-players hear often in this season and the answer is, Yes. Very.

It is deep summer here in Southern New England, and today was the fourth (or was it fifth?) day of +90-degree temperatures with smothering humidity.

The role-players, dedicated to their craft and to portraying the Plymouth colonists as accurately as current research allows, are wearing at least two layers of clothing plus wool petticoats for the women. They hear this question a lot.

It is hard to answer it while in character. The colonists had to protect themselves from sunburn and biting insects without liquid sunscreen and insect repellent, in which case it makes sense to cover up. They also had a mortal, almost pathological fear of cold, which is excellently illuminated in Susan Vincent’s Clothing the Elite. Add to all this the evidence of a letter written by colonist Francis Higginson in the late 1620s in which he marvels to his friends back home that he, formerly always so cold, goes now as lightly clad as any, wearing only a cassock and unlined stuff breeches and only one cap upon his head. Nearly nakey. (By this time the practice of wearing a linen shirt next to the skin was so widespread that we assume he was wearing one under his cassock [Margaret Spufford, The Great Re-Clothing of Rural England] which means two layers of clothing and one hat.)

In addition, every society has standards for appropriate dress in particular situations. The colonists clung to their standards in the face of extreme conditions partly as a way to express their Englishness and maintain what they considered to be civilization in opposition to the perceived wildness of their surroundings.

The funny thing is that the modern visitors toiling around our outdoor sites on such days in t-shirts and shorts (often without sunhats and water bottles) aren’t really any more comfortable than the layered staff.

Even though in modern America our standard for fully dressed in the summer involves much less clothing than the 17th-century colonists wore, there are lines we won’t cross either. Besides which, at a certain point removing more clothing isn’t going to make you any more comfortable.

I realize I uncharacteristically threw a bunch of references in this post without complete citations. I will get them for you when next I’m in the office. I’m home for a couple of days, and have been much of last week (sick kids, husband away, not a REAL vacation) but the fact that my home computer does not like this heat has made my posting erratic. Apologies for that.

No Weaving for You

July 18th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Marilyn, a frequent contributor to the comments and embroiderer on the jacket as well as a student of Japanese embroidery, recently asked me if any weaving was going on in Plymouth Colony as early as the 1620s.

The answer is no, we have no evidence that any was and lots of evidence that there was no fiber processing or textile production happening in Plymouth Colony until the late 1630s. There are several reasons why not, mostly that the point of having a colony was for it to provide raw materials and a market for finished goods to the mother country. The Plymouth colonists were under agreement to work for the betterment of the merchants who put up the seed money for the colony, not to become self-sufficient.

Many people expect that these colonial foremothers were self-sufficient, though, especially in a textile sort of way. That whole myth (which annoyingly has a grain of truth in that some colonial housewives in some places at some times were doing it all) is explored and explained in Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s The Age of Homespun. I “reviewed” and recommended it last summer, August 19 to be exact (thanks, Lyn). Maybe it isn’t beach reading but it is well worth a look.

Not So Much Seeing

July 17th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Another thing I’ve found, now that I’m working on the embroidery with something approaching regularity, is that once I get going, feeling the work is just as important as seeing it.

I was wondering if working in the Crafts Center would slow me down a little or a lot; most of the point of being there is to engage the museum’s visitors in conversation, after all. I thought looking up and down would cause me to lose my place and focus and impede progress. What I’ve found, though, is that people are quite happy to watch the work and don’t always need eye contact to keep the conversation going, for one thing. For another, feeling with the needle where the next stitch goes is really effective – both the detached buttonhole and trellis require you to loop the next row of stitches through the previous row. If you’re encountering resistance you likely haven’t got the right spot. I don’t mean to say I’m stitching without looking, only that looking up frequently doesn’t slow the work and is probably better for my eyes anyway.

Tonight, Tricia’s directions for the detached buttonhole needlelace. This is what she named the stitch for the completely detachable pieces, the pea pod covers and the butterfly over-wings. These three stitches (this one, trellis and detached buttonhole, links to which I posted earlier this week) are the most important right now. If you’re practicing, work on these.

See Robbin’s note in the comments about working trellis stitch up vs down; Tricia will send us a note too I’m sure and I’ll post that when we get it.

About the symposium conflicting with Rosh Hashanah, could someone let me know which parts of the weekend specifically conflict with observing the holiday? Linda left a comment about whether a person could attend the parts that don’t conflict, and in order to answer that or arrange things that way I’d need more information. Thanks. ETA: the symposium dates have been changed so as not to conflict with Rosh Hashanah. The New Dates are 24-27 September. jmh

Lace sample received from Linda K and embroidery sample from Nicole R. Thanks to both.

And Superhuman Eyesight

July 14th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Tonight, Tricia’s Trellis Stitch Directions

The other thing visitors to the Crafts Center often say to me is, “you must have really good eyes.” Umm, no, actually. My eyesight is so poor that whenever I order new glasses the technician delicately suggests I go for the ultralight lenses “so they won’t look so thick.” I think my glasses correct my vision to almost – but not quite – 20/20.

Many people use magnifying lenses to work on the jacket. Good light plus my almost-coke-bottle glasses work fine for me. One thing I wonder, though, and seems to me true, can you train your eyes like your other muscles? When I first tried this work I had more of a hard time than I’m having now, after several months of practice. Can your eyes get used to seeing fine work like your arms can get used to picking up heavy bundles?

Colleen asked in the comments why I scheduled the Symposium to conflict with Rosh Hashanah. Not on purpose, but not completely unaware either. We had to schedule around other events at Plimoth, staying aware of (and avoiding) high visitation periods, and try to take advantage of hotel availability. We also tried hard to avoid known needlework events at other museums. Plus early autumn is a very pleasant time of year to visit Plymouth. I know we’re going to lose potential attendees because of the holiday and because we’re scheduled opposite a conference on furnishing fabrics at (I think) Colonial Williamsburg that same weekend. Sorry. ETA: The dates have been changed. The Symposium no longer conflicts with Rosh Hashanah. Please note the NEW dates are 24-27 September. jmh

Slate Frames

July 13th, 2008 by Tricia

Ahem. I owe an apology; Tricia sent me this information to post way back in February and I don’t think I ever did post it. I was looking for something else in my emails and found it. As a poor defense, the cover note mentioned that her sons had just come down with what my son was just getting over – a virus with high fever – and I must have still been boggled. I included a photo of Tammy working on the forehead cloth; it clearly shows the slate frame. Tammy was here about the same time Tricia sent this note; it was one of the snow-shortened sessions. Seems a long time ago now. I haven’t heard anyone say with certainty that they know the reason they’re called slate frames, by the way. Anyway, Tricia wrote:

Several people have asked where to get slate frames. As we talked early in the blog, we had a great deal of trouble finding slate frames in the USA for this project. There are one or two small makers in England but they wouldn’t export to the USA and we didn’t have the budget to fly there to get them! The frames that are pictured were a really nice product line that was manufactured in Europe for Access Commodities. A combination of factors resulted in these frames coming off the market a few years ago – the rising Euro, some manufacturing problems, and a brief intro of a lower quality copy by a vendor ended up resulting in the product line being taken off the market.

Tammy working on the forehead clothAccess was great to take all the leftover on their shelves, seconds, and a list of what stores had formerly bought from them to allow me to find enough for the project. (What Tricia then did was call all the stores to see if they had anything left of their last orders. She usually leaves out the part about her tedious legwork.) We combined this with some long slats made by Plimoth staff and my entire vast personal collection (note again that STASH comes to the rescue!) and a wonderful stitcher’s stash (this generous stitcher has long-term loaned us a few essential frame parts) we found through the list from Access to complete the sizes we needed.

Recently Access has made a test run in-country to see if this product line can be brought back as a favor to me and because of interest in this project. I am testing out the new frames next week with a class I am teaching. (Since this post is so old, that test-run happened in February. It sounded like it went well. Norma B brought her nightcap project from that class to a show & tell at one of the sessions, all drawn out and laced into the frame.) If things go well, the frames might come back to market. I am sorry I can’t give a simple answer to the question of ‘how do I get a frame’. The good news is if everyone out there who wants a frame, requests it of their local shop , maybe you can help the push to get these back again as momentum is now in our favor.

This is again an example of how fragile the needlework market is. Fundamental products come and go off the market very easily. I made a friend years ago who was the retired R&D head of a major needle company in Germany and founder of a museum of needle technology. Germany and England had been the centers of the needle trade since the time our jacket was made. Today there is one English vendor and a French vendor. Between them they make 80% of all needles and brand them with different names. My friend
showed me hundreds of different types of needles that were made prior to WWI by dozens of companies. Needles that I knew must have existed to do embroidery I couldn’t do today because I couldn’t find the right needle. He showed me how the governments of England and Germany had restricted the product lines during the war to divert steel to munitions. When the war was over, women’s lives had changed so much that the demand wasn’t large enough to reintroduce the large variety again. Hence those forms of embroidery are now gone from our lexicon,effectively extinct. Today most needlework manufacturers are very small entities, entire product lines can disappear just because someone retires or there is a medical emergency in the family and the business owner needs to find a ‘real job’. I wish every stitcher knew the background on the products they use and understood the economics of the situation. It would stop all chart copying, sharing, and buying cut rate floss from big craft stores in a second. Unfortunately it is the big secret that no-one wants to talk about. While not everyone can afford to fill their closets – there are small everyday decisions when shopping for our craft passion that make or break the industry.


© 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.