October, 2008

It Doesn’t Matter

October 31st, 2008 by Tricia

Judy Laning is here working this week on plaited braid.  We choose one of the jacket fronts to work on. She started Monday and worked one whole coil of plaited braid.  Then she started on the second one.

That is when the questions started.  Some of the coils start from another coil in a very shallow angle and some at a very deep angle. So the question was how to do that very tapered area.  And do we start there or from the base of the flower and then finish and taper at the end.  A great excuse to open up the photos and look into it.  The plaited braid forms  a “V” and so you can see where the coil was started and where it ended. We fired up the computer and started going coil to coil.  Towards the flower, away from the flower, away from the flower, towards the flower….

We had our answer. Where you start the plaited braid didn’t matter. So either at the coil base or at the flower, which ever was easier and allowed the tapered coils to be worked.  I have included pictures of both types of intersections of the coils and how Judy worked them. She is doing lovely work.


Hampton Court

October 30th, 2008 by Tricia

The Embroiderers’ Guild is housed in an apartment in Hampton Court, one of Henry VIII’s favorite palaces.  If you ever have the chance to visit, take it.  It is a lovely place.  The Royal School of Embroidery also is located there.  Call ahead, each has a little store with wonderful goodies and books to buy.

Once we were done viewing the panel, we took the rest of the day walking around the palace and viewing the inner rooms that are open to the public.  It became fun to imagine people with embroidered clothing walking through these halls.  I love when I can get closer to the context of the real situation.  Even the gardens reminded me of the embroideries we see.  There was also a few portraits in one hall, one we all recognize with one of the long versions of the jackets.



October 29th, 2008 by Tricia

A few weeks ago we finished all the detached butterfly wings (sans one).  I wish we had the knowledge then that I have now.  The wings are one color and then have a rim of a separate color at the tips. From the earlier photography we couldn’t tell if the detached buttonhole changed color or if there was an edging added after the wing was finished.  Since we didn’t know, we tried both and mixed it up.  From examining the jacket, I now know that the added edging is the answer.

We still have one more butterfly wing to work. The hardest, and it is waiting there with my name on it.  The wing in question has two colors, but instead of being an edging, the wing was split into two (see the picture here) and worked in two colors.  But the question was how to work them and join them – detached.

I didn’t come up with the exact answer from examining the jacket, but clues were there.  It seemed as if the smaller of the wing segments was attached to the linen on both sides with only the tip detached.  Then the larger of the segments also seemed to be stitched on the join edge with the tips and other side freely detached.  I think I will stitch two separate pieces and sew them on
as just described.


Holy Spangles, Bat Girl!

October 28th, 2008 by Tricia

The title of this post was Wendy’s reaction to my email that the Laton Jacket was sitting in front of me ready for inspection.  I loved it.

Back to the jacket, Wendy had a number of questions for me pertaining to the embroidery on 1359-1900.  They all centered around one issue – “did we figure it out right????”  The great thing was that I didn’t find many elements that we had been mistaken about.  Phew.  But there was one which really surprised me.  The carnation (or pink) calyx was actually stitched in trellis stitch on most of the jacket and not detached buttonhole like we did.  It took awhile to figure out how we
were wrong about that one.  But then I noticed that the two carnations/pink calyx (so what is the plural of calyx?) on the back of the jacket were stitched with detached buttonhole and this was the only photography we had at the time.

My goal when I entered the storage room for both the V&A and EG was to photograph a close up of every motif on the piece so I could go back later and look at this type of detailing which I wouldn’t have time to systematically do at the piece.  I achieved that goal with over 1000 pictures total. Thank heavens for digital!  I think it will take months to review the data as questions come up.  But I am trying to record what I learned immediately in the blog while it is sharp in my mind.

Here is our calyx.  Even though we are wrong on some…we aren’t taking them out now!



October 27th, 2008 by Tricia
Ok –  I can’t seem to let this plaited braid on the seams go.  Fear I think.  When I expressed dread and how were we going to keep the jacket from getting so wrinkled this brought up the jackets with pre-installed gussets.  Yes, there are examples out there that have the gussets installed in the back and fronts first and then the embroidery pattern is worked over the seams.  As luck would have it, there was one of these types of jackets laying on a nearby table.  (I can’t tell you the personal strength it took not to run around the room and open every cabinet and look in!)
The jacket in question is accession number T.70-2004 and it is available on the V&A collection database.(Remember to use the search the collections function, not the search box on the V&A main page.) It is a simple but effective treatment with the background being a meandering line stitched with silver thread in reverse chain stitch, a speckling of spangles and the bobbin lace edging.  There are very large gussets in this piece to give quite a flare off the waist.  The embroidery pattern and embroidery travels right over the seams without stopping.  The jacket is interesting also because the fabric is fustian, a mix of cotton and linen.

So the big question is – was all the embroidery done in the hand on the linen with the gussets installed or was most done on a frame and then it was taken off and the gussets installed and the local embroidery then finished in the hand.  I couldn’t figure out a way to determine this.  Darn it.



October 26th, 2008 by Tricia

Having been trained as a scientist, I am apt to always question a statement, think about other ways things could have been done and ask for data to back up the statements.  I have to thank Susan and her patience with me all day.  The lack of written records because of the Great Fire in London frustrates us because many of the answers to these questions would have been recorded or derived from the record. But we have to try to derive the answers from the limited number of
embroidered examples.

When Susan brought up that the pattern outline was drawn on the linen by the tailor and then given over to the embroiderers workshop for the embroidery pattern to be applied, I had to question.  Not because I thought she was wrong, but I always need to find the evidence to defend the position.

We had the sleeves in front of us.  So I started looking closely at the inking.  What I saw was that the outline for the sleeve was done in strokes and contained similar errors to my tracing of the pattern outline.  Slight places where the ink was off track and a redo of that area happened a few times.  Also where the ink was thicker where the stroke started and then thin where the ink ran dry.  I asked if they had any evidence of tracing or template using.  We didn’t come to a conclusion on that.

Then the inking of the embroidery pattern.  It was much better done. There were thickenings of the ink and some places I noted where the drawing had elements that overlapped.  Not printed for sure.  The person who drew the pattern was very expert.  The same deviations from the intended line weren’t seen – possibly the difference between a tracing and freehand drawing by an expert.  What I did see that was interesting was an overlapping of motifs.  Let me explain.  On a particular butterfly, the outline of the wings contained stripe and half circle details.  On one wing the pattern of half circles did not overlap the stripes.  But on the other, one half circle overlapped a stripe – as if the drafter was free handing the design and couldn’t make the elements fit.  I don’t know how the embroiderer would have treated this mistake in the drafting.  There were several of these
types of errors when I took a cursory look.

Overall the pattern for the sleeve was custom for the shape and size of the sleeve, not a cut of a repeating pattern like ours is.  It is beautiful and very complex.  I would so love to analyze the ink on the outline and the embroidery pattern to determine if it was from the same bottle or not.  :-)   Won’t happen, but wouldn’t it be interesting to know!

I do agree with Susan that an expert drafter made the embroidery pattern and that the tailor did the outline.  But it was worth looking closely at the piece to support the claim.  Susan suggested that the master embroiderer in the workshop may have been the pattern designer/transferrer.  There is evidence to support that in the practices of today’s workshops.  In the Japanese tradition, the only person who can make a new design is the master.  Here you see me trying to trace our pattern.



October 25th, 2008 by Jill Hall

It’s funny Robbin should mention Aimee J in the comments as the person who shared a frame with Kris at the first embroidery session.

Yesterday I received an email from Marilyn, who came to the first session as Kris’ guest, on the last day when we had moved from the big workroom up to the wardrobe office. Marilyn is a Japanese embroiderer, as some of our other volunteers are, and has been trying to reach Aimee about a Japanese embroidery class.

Unfortunately, her contact info is out of date. She asked me if mine was any better, and it is not. I said I’d ask here – Aimee, if you’re reading, please send me a note jhall@plimoth.org and I’ll help get you in touch with Marilyn. I think the information is time-sensitive. If anyone else knows Aimee, please ask her to get in touch.


October 23rd, 2008 by Tricia
As we were having the debate on who was seaming what and whether the jackets were custom made to order, Susan went to a cabinet and got out another piece to show me – the best part of working in the storage room that day.  She brought out a set of fine blackwork sleeves which were never finished.  I knew about these sleeves as they used to be on display in the textile study room, but what I hadn’t known was that they also own the fronts which go with the sleeves, confirming that it was to be a jacket and not the separate sleeves so often referred to in Elizabeth’s era.
This was fantastic!  So many questions could be answered from this.  First, the point she was trying to make to me was that the tailor drew the outline of the pattern pieces and then the embroidery drafter took over and worked the pattern inside the outline.  There were four sleeve pieces on the linen, nested with two vertical and two horizontal.  From our own layout of the jacket, this was a much more linen-efficient manner, requiring only about 2/3 of the linen we had used for the four pieces.  Susan reminded me that the linen itself was very valuable and hand woven.  We had a mindset that we needed to put each piece on a separate piece of linen so we could maximize the number of embroiderers in the room and thus the speed for our project.
We do know from later workshops in the 18th century and modern Japanese workshops, that two people or more would typically work at the same time on a large frame.  We didn’t try to do that to our volunteers.  We might have had a riot! (I think I remember at one of the very early sessions we had Kris and someone else, I can’t remember who, working on each end of the back for a short time. It was too hard on them physically, not being able to adjust the frame to a personally comfortable working angle, and we never did it again.)
Well, if there were two people working on this frame then we have a better idea of how long chronologically it may have taken to embroider a jacket once we have the actual labor hours when we finish.  I asked if the fronts were on one piece of linen too, much like the existing unfinished waistcoats of the 18th century.  She didn’t remember and we will have to look this up later.
If you want to see the pair of sleeves we were looking at, type accession number 252-1902 into the search box at V&A collections.(Remember to use the “search the collections” search box on the collections page, not the search box on the main page of the V&A website. The main page search boxes looks for things like publications and exhibit openings.)
PS. Several people have asked for an update on the blue silk lining. Justin, who is the weaver of the blue silk lining through Eaton Hill Textile Works as well as an interpreter in Plimoth’s 1627 English Village, PLUS he’s been weaving in Plimoth’s Crafts Center one or two days per week, is pretty busy through Thanksgiving (hmm, wonder why that is?). He’s going to concentrate on the lining in December and January, after Plimoth closes for the season, which works out just fine since I won’t be needing it before then at least. Arianna has taken some pictures of Justin weaving in the Crafts Center, and when Tricia’s research arc is done I’ll post those with story.

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