September, 2008

Manic … Saturday?

September 30th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Saturday morning I was the hostess on duty for the embroidery session. I’ve done this before. I can make coffee, set out Marcia’s yummy snacks, open the office door so everyone can find the frame they’ve been working on. Well. This past Saturday, the Stars were aligned in Klutz.

I was running a few minutes late, which my loving family and friends will tell you is pretty much my usual operation procedure. I’ve come to accept this as a character flaw. Anyway, I thought, it’s grey and drizzly, I’ll get there before any of the embroiderers, they’ll be lingering over coffee . . . not so much. At 8:37 half a dozen cheerful volunteers were standing out front, enjoying the fact that it wasn’t pouring cats and dogs. They all were very forgiving of my lateness, trooped in and got right to work.

I set off to make coffee, but the water cooler was out of water. I’ve loaded the 5-gallon bottles onto the cooler loads of times, but today it just . . . got away from me. I dropped the whole thing, and as I scrambled to pick it up before it glugged over the whole floor, it bounced and the bottom broke right out. Glug, glug, glug.

This is a coffee-drinking group, so I left the water on the floor (couldn’t really hurt anything) for the moment, grabbed another 5-gallon jug, proceeded to spill about another gallon trying to tip it into the cooler, but did manage not to drop it. I poured out a pitcher of water, squelched out to the coffee maker, pour, scoop, turn on.

After a hurried search, I determined that there is no mop in this building. Mop handle, mop bucket, no mop head. Makes sense, who wants a dirty damp mop stinking up a closet? But a mop would’ve helped. I threw an armful of rags onto the fairly deep puddle, poured some milk into the carafe – what is that smell? Whew! The milk’s gone off. ‘Kay. Marcia called to let me know that she had to go out but the breakfast snack was on the table in the kitchen, which gave me the opportunity to ask if we may we have some milk, please? Yay. Marcia to the rescue, sent up milk with the really fabulous berry coffee cake.

Check the coffee. Why is there only a half pot? Yikes! the grounds overflowed, the basket is full of water and grounds, the pot is full of grounds. OK. Try the big coffeemaker in the kitchen. Pour the water, measure the coffee – here’s Marie!

Marie is one of our child volunteers. She had made previous arrangements to come up this morning to find some warmer clothes to take her through the autumn. I forgot. Set her up looking for wool stockings (thanks, volunteer knitters!) and then shoes that’ll fit with them.

Back to pick up the wet rags – wait! This pot is done, but still only half full. Grrrr. This is one of those pots where you put in water and it pushes out the water that was put in last time, which is already hot. Coffee faster. Unless there’s not enough water in from last time, which was what happened here. Put a little more water in. Panic. People want coffee. Put more water in. A little more. Ah, here it comes. Full pot – fuller pot – STOP! Switch pots. Taste coffee. This is acceptable. Leave the coffeemaker with a second pot to catch the overflow, leave the wet rags for now – set out coffee, the milk from Marcia, open the coffee cake, announce coffee’s ready! Wait, who is that?

Oh, no, is it 9:45 already? Again, previously made arrangements to meet with Vicki, newest Colonial Interpreter. Vicki was coming this morning to pick up her period clothes, get a little intro-to-period-plain-sewing lesson, and ask any questions about clothing in New Plymouth that came up during her pre-site training, pick out a hat, just odds & ends, but still, requires some brain power, which seemed to be in pretty short supply with me at the time.

OK. Get Vicki started, say goodbye to Melinda, answer the phone, PHONE? WHO IS CALLING ME ON A SATURDAY?

Things started to settle down about 11:30. By noon Vicki was dressed and heading to the Carriage House for lunch, Marie and her warmer clothes were long gone, the phone had stopped, the embroiderers were happily caffeinated and snacked and back to the frames, I was sipping my third cup of coffee (if you pour it and forget about it for a half hour you can then drink it pretty fast), the rags were halfway through the wash and the kitchen floor, which gets washed pretty often but still was no worse off for having had several gallons of water sloshed across it and then wiped up.

No, strangely enough, I didn’t think to take any pictures. You’ll just have to imagine it.


September 29th, 2008 by Jill Hall

This is a photo of the Sunday, September 28, 2008 volunteer embroidery crew. They are holding out of service frames.

That’s what I said when I saw this photo. (I was off yesterday, so I found this about 9:30 last night.)

So that’s Cheryl on the left in the back, holding the frame with the collar and cuff pieces. The cuffs are done except for gold (and all the stuff that comes after the gold, like sewing on the detached pieces and the round sequins), and the collar is completely done. Next to the right is Sharon, Sharon the Trefoil Queen from last winter. Sharon has some of the gussets over her shoulder (they’re all done but gold, and gave up their frame a while ago to make another piece more manageable). She’s holding the left front, all done but gold.

Next to the right is Debbie, holding the frame with the rest of the gussets and the upper right sleeve, both only waiting for gold and what comes after. Behind her is Deb. Deb came out from Kansas last winter with Catherine, who is in the back next to Deb. In the winter they brought us chocolates and a coffee maker; this time they brought a huge box of chocolate treats and their friend Sandye, who is standing in front of Catherine holding the forehead cloth. Deb is holding a sleeve which is all done but gold, Catherine is holding the right front on which right now as I type Sandye is stitching the very last worm. When she’s done that piece will be all done but gold.

The forehead cloth has only 1 1/2 borage and 1 1/2 pansies left to do. The coif has a bit more. Both the coif and the forehead cloth were put aside during the sessions when we had more jacket pieces than stitchers. It doesn’t matter, in fact it would be good, if the coif & forehead cloth weren’t done at the same time as the jacket, then we can have embroidery demonstrations as part of the exhibit. So we’re very not worried about that. (Secretly I’m a little pleased – my day job has prevented my doing as much as I’d like on the jacket so now I have a little more chance to shirk my real work and play embroidery.)

Next to the right of Sandye is Carli, holding the back. There are a couple of worms and a couple of leaves still to do on the back, but they amount to maybe a day or two of work, and Carli is still working as I write.

Next to Carli, in the back, is Joanna, holding one of the sleeve pieces and Norma, next to her, is holding another. Joanna worked here in the Colonial Wardrobe Department in the early 1990s, and designed the embroidered coif kit with that great instruction booklet that is so beloved by embroiderers. I was very glad Joanna was able to join us. She, Norma and Cheryl mostly worked on detached pieces this weekend. Norma stitched thirteen detached butterfly wings. Wow. They finished all the detached pieces except two that Tricia wants to do personally, and a couple for the coif & forehead cloth.

Jennifer has been here this weekend but isn’t in the photo; she was felled by a migraine on Sunday, probably because of the plunging barometric pressure from Hurricane Kyle which was charging towards Maine (Jennifer’s home) and dumping rain on us over the weekend.

And that’s Wendy in front, of course. On Saturday, after Melinda left, Wendy clapped her hands and said,”OK. Company’s gone, out comes the whip.”

What does this mean? Well, we have a few odds & ends of embroidery, but not enough to schedule a  session. Local embroiderers may still come a day here or there to work on things, and of course there is lace to make. I’ll have three lace makers here for a weekend in November. We’ve got the beginnings of a gold plan. As we get the coiling vines done on each piece, it will go back into service for the little gold bits, the sewing-on of the detached pieces and the sequins. So if you’ve been wanting to come work on this project, don’t despair, there is more to do. I will of course make any new session announcements here.

Thank you to everyone who has come to embroider or make lace, who has bought an embroidery kit or lace kit, who has excitedly told a friend or neighbor about what’s going on over at Plimoth, who has read this blog, who has left a comment …. we couldn’t have come this far without each and every one of you. That sounds rather final, doesn’t it? It isn’t. This is a milepost only. I’ll still be posting almost every day. Keep visiting this week as I share with you all the magnificent needlework treasures from the latest show & tell.

Embroidery Enlightenment

September 28th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Part of the point of doing a project like this is to spread knowledge and appreciation of embroidery and lace making and other needlework. I’ve mentioned before how Laura, our 2007 summer intern, did her first needlework project because of her association with the jacket project, and how others have been inspired to pick up old projects, start new ones, or learn new styles and techniques.

Han, the videographer who was here over the weekend, has been inspired too. He said a few times how much he enjoyed this assignment, and how much he learned. He said that he has seen and admired embroidery before, and thought he appreciated it. But after about eight hours of filming our volunteers, examining their work, hearing about the stitches and the research behind them, filming Carolyn making the lace, and in the photo here Mark making the spangles for the lace.

I wish I could remember exactly how he phrased it, but you could see how much of an impression this whole project made. He said that he not only appreciated embroidery now, he understood it much better and would look at other examples of embroidery with whole new eyes.

I think that’s just as important, maybe even more so, than communicating with folks who already embroider.

PS. Here Mark has set up his spangle-making kit (he carried the tall stump on his shoulder) in our “snack room”, also known as the Colonial Interpretation Department conference room. They kindly hand it over to us for our weekend embroidery sessions. Mark set up here because the wardrobe office was full of 9 embroiderers, Wendy, Tricia, Carolyn making lace, and me trying hard to stay out of the way.

Exhibit Opening New York City

September 27th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Melinda Watt, the curator from the MET who was here filming yesterday, and Han Vu, the videographer from Bard College’s Graduate Center for the Arts, said goodbye this morning and headed back to New York.

Melinda is a teeny-tiny bit stressed over the way time is accelerating and the to-do list is lengthening as she gets closer to the exhibit opening. She’s still working on the catalogue for it, which sounds absolutely amazing and I can’t wait to see it. In fact, I’ve already pre-ordered a copy through our gift shop book buyer, but I refrained from mentioning this to her because I thought the idea that people were pre-ordering a book she isn’t finished with yet might be a little alarming. So send her encouraging thoughts. This exhibit is going to be excellent.

I promised you details – English Embroidery from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580 – 1700 Twixt Art and Nature December 11, 2008 – March 15, 2009, at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture 18 West 86th Street, New York, NY 10024 –

Melinda left a great brochure for the exhibit; here’s a bit of the description:

English Embroidery comprises approximately 80 objects from the MMA’s collection of embroideries and comparative supplemental material from the Museum and other institutions and private collectors. The exhibition is presented on three floors of the BGC and is organized in sections that explore thematic and typological characteristics of the embroideries. Original printed images and texts, combined with high-quality photo reproductions, help the viewer contextualize the embroideries in a way that has not been attempted previously. There is also a special animation component, consisting of three digital videos that demonstrate stitch techniques, to enhance visitors’ understanding of this art form.”

There’s a lot more, but I bet you’re drooling already. And as if that weren’t enough, Tricia and Melinda and the other exhibit coordinators are finalizing various special events around the exhibit. I’ll ask Tricia to do us a blog entry when the details are set.


September 26th, 2008 by Jill Hall

We’ve got a lot going on this weekend (OK, how many times have you heard me say that?). But we really do.

Aside from working with us, and her several day jobs, Tricia has also been working with the Metropolitan Museum in NY on a exhibition of 16th-17th century embroidery which will open in December of this year.

This exhibition will include a video of some of our volunteer embroiderers and lace makers actually doing some of this kind of embroidery. So in addition to the 11 embroiderers and one lace maker working in the office today, we also have Melinda, assistant curator at the MET, and Han, videographer from Bard College filming and asking questions and doing all sorts of things – including, in Melinda’s case, a curlique of the gold embroidery.

Penny caught her at work, and there is Tricia in the background photographing her contribution. I, of course, forgot my camera at home.

New England Lace Group

September 24th, 2008 by Jill Hall

My camera was hiding in the trunk. It came out as soon as I wasn’t looking for it anymore, and I got these pictures. The first is of Mary D, who came up from Virginia to work on the lace this weekend. She set herself a goal of 6 repeats/day, and was well ahead of that by Sunday afternoon. Her hands moved so quickly the photo is blurred.

It was a treat to me to have some quiet time to chat with Mary; bobbin lace as a technique doesn’t really call to me (fortunately, my fiber room is bursting with supplies and tools) but it was fascinating to hear about how she came to learn to make lace, and how she enjoys the puzzle and challenge of working complex patterns with many pairs of bobbins. I asked her if this lace, simple as it is and with very few bobbins, comparatively, is boring. Fortunately the answer was no, because working with the metal threads presented its own challenges.

Here are two pictures from my visit to the New England Lace Group on Saturday. I thoroughly enjoyed the day, and was pleased to find I knew more people than I thought I was going to – Bryce, Jill H and Carolyn W have all been to work on the Plimoth lace, plus there was Carolyn H who had invited me, and Mary came for the meeting, and also Elisabeth whom I’d met a few years ago at a Weavers’ Guild of Boston meeting. They all, old friends and new, gave me such a warm welcome, and were so admiring of the work. I feel funny, always in the position to accept all the praise for the project – I’m officially passing it on to all of you, who really deserve it!

Penny and Arianna

September 23rd, 2008 by Jill Hall

Update from the Day Job:

Penny’s been working on this pair of hand-sewn stays for the past many weeks. Working off and on, and having to do some alterations on the fit, but she’s really been plugging away at them for a lot longer than she wanted to be, you know?

And now they’re done! Hooray!

And here’s Arianna, our autumn intern, who is off to a fantastic start. Here she’s working on the last bits of a new lightweight waistcoat for one of our new interpreters, Vicki, who will start on Saturday.

Arianna had just had a very successful second fitting, and now only has to sew on the wings, finish the sleeves, and do the buttons and buttonholes and it’ll be done!

I’m also making a waistcoat for Vicki, a wool one,  but have a lot more than that to do. I’m also almost done with a smock for Vicki, and have done an initial fitting of a wool waistcoat for Jenna, another new interpreter. Jenna’s actually already started on site, but will need this as quick as I can pull it together.

Then we’ve got one more new interpreter, Molly, who will be working with the Education Department presenting programs in local schools. The stock of clothing was so totally picked over by Jenna, Vicki, and everyone who came before that Molly needs quite a lot of sewing…tomorrow Penny will be remaking the waists of two petticoats so they’ll fit Molly properly, as well as altering the neck/shoulders of a second smock for Vicki.

Back-Lacing Stays

September 21st, 2008 by Jill Hall

We had a couple of questions about the stays or corsets that our interpreters wear.I’ll try to answer them, but if I miss something or raise more questions than I answer, let me know.

There are precious few extant examples of early 17th-century (or earlier) stays. The one we use most is in the collection of the Nationalmuseum, Munich. Janet Arnold drafted and published a pattern from them in her Patterns of Fashion 1560 – 1620 book. These stays were the grave clothes of Pfalzgrafin Dorothea Sabina von Neuburg. She died in 1598 at the age of twenty-two.

These stays were made of lightweight finely corded silk. Ms Arnold states that there would have been a linen lining and likely an interlining as well, but all that has disintegrated. If these stays were worn with a 2″ – 4″ gap when laced, as we have found ideal for proper support, then the Pfalzgrafin probably had about a 25″ waist.

Needless to say, these stays fit properly on only a few modern women. In order to fit everyone we have to make a lot of alterations.

I’ve only ever seen one other pair of period stays in person, the late 17th-century pair in the collection of the Pilgrim Hall Museum here in Plymouth. I’ve examined depictions in paintings (most in reproductions of paintings rather than in person), including the pink (probably silk) front-lacing ones worn by Elizabeth, Countess of Southampton in the c.1620 portrait. Incidentally, the Countess is also wearing an embroidered jacket, although the cut is very different from the one we’re making.

Then there’s the Queen Elizabeth I effigy pair, which some folks say are original to 1603, and some say are not. I don’t know one way or the other.

Carl Kohler describes a pair which (I think) he calls early 17th-century in his book History of Costume. Those ones are larger, and are front lacing. I’m not sure they’re early 17th-century, and I’ve never been able to track down what museum collection they’re in and so have never seen pictures of them, only the line drawing in his book.

All of which to say, I wish we knew a lot more about 17th-century stays. We’ve done a great deal of experimental archeology over about 20 years, figuring out by trial and error how to construct and fit stays to a wide variety of shapes and sizes and get them to look like the early 17th-century fashionable shape. I feel pretty good about our results most of the time, but I suspect early 17th-century women had more options than we have figured out.

And yes, the women interpreters can do up their back-lacing stays themselves. I guess it’s sort of like doing up a back zipper, you can do it yourself but it isn’t easy. We do make front-lacing stays, and front-and-back-lacing stays, but we’ve found that the Dorothea Sabina ones fit best on certain body types. The front-lacing ones work better on other shapes, and of course for nursing mothers.

The New England Lace Group invited me to speak about the jacket project at their monthly meeting in the library in Sturbridge, MA, yesterday. I had a lovely day, perfect day for a ride, thoroughly enjoyed meeting with them and of course loved talking about the jacket with people who get why I’m so excited about it. I even took a couple of pictures, but the camera is hiding. When it comes out I’ll share them with you.

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