December, 2008

Video of Plimoth Project and More

December 31st, 2008 by Tricia

If you happen to attend the exhibit ‘Twixt Art and Nature‘ you will be treated to footage of the Plimoth project in the video which is on the second floor.  The story of how our project was added to such an important exhibition is an interesting one, and starts with the sorry state of many blackwork objects.

During the planning stages of the exhibition, Melinda Watt was having conversations with Susan North and Mary Brooks about blackwork and how degraded the pieces which are in collections are usually and how the viewer may not understand the glory of the originals.  Thoughts developed about using digital techniques to restore an object and therefore be able to show what it looked like originally.  Mary knew that the person who would need to do it would need to be both technical and knowledgeable about needlework technique to be able to deduce what each needle hole meant.  That’s how the project got to my door steps – would I apply my engineering and needlework skills to digitally restore a blackwork nightcap where more than 80% of the blackwork was missing? Obviously from this jacket project – I can’t resist a challenge.

So while working on the exhibit, conversations would also turn to the jacket at the MET and why it was so intriguing to me.  That stitch for the gold coils came up again and again.  Melinda then decided that the public might not understand how complex the objects they saw were and so a case study might help them comprehend it.  Would I consider animating the stitch?  The answer was yes – but only because I have been working with Charles Wilson of Smudge Animation for years to try to animate difficult stitches.  You might recognize the last name – it is always useful to have a professional animator in the family!  See the final stitch diagram here to get a feeling for what Charles animated. To complete the case study of the jacket for the video, Melinda traveled to Plimoth with Han Vu from Bard to video the techniques we were using and overlay the video with discussions of the statistics we had gathered from working on the project.  The completed effect with their jacket, the close-ups, animation of the stitch and views into the professional workshop of the 1600′s afforded by our work were very compelling.

As I stood at the opening and listened to the gasps and comments, I knew that the narrative had worked.  Kudos go to Han Vu for the fantastic videography and editing for dramatic effect. The blackwork nightcap was finished also and features in the video.  The cap is displayed next to the video so as it is restored to its former glory on screen it is contrasted with its sad losses of thread on the original.  The interesting part is that the restitching digitally is impressive, but the crowd really gets excited when the badly corroded blackened silver and silver-gilt thread becomes sparkly and metallic before their eyes showing the blaze this piece was in its original state. Tricia

Jacket Tiling

December 29th, 2008 by Tricia

I thought that more explanation was needed about the coil patterns and how they repeat.  So I drew this diagram to help you understand the way our pattern repeats and how the MET jacket repeats.  Hope it helps!

Tricia

Jacket Pattern

December 27th, 2008 by Tricia

Going back to view the MET jacket was great as I was able to look at it with a more measured eye this time.  Even though I had spent hours with the piece in January 2007, I was new to the jackets and therefore didn’t ‘see’ everything because I couldn’t filter out the details to see the whole picture at times.  This time I had gone through the process of figuring out the embroidery pattern for our jacket and therefore knew the mentality of how to look for the pattern and where on the jacket the pattern would be most recognizable (the back).

There are a few ‘models’ for the coiling stem patterns which I am not recognizing.  Of course symmetry plays a role in the patterns and tiling does also (think of brick patterns).  Most of the existing jackets are quite simple with a large coil that has more than one motif inside and only two or four large coil types which repeat across the jacket.  The Laton jacket has a basic four large coil pattern with some variation of secondary motifs (I am interested in examining this further soon).  Ours is quite complex with 12 individual different small coils to make up the base pattern.   The MET jacket is more similar to ours.  Small coils with one major motif in each coil.  Standing there on the day after the opening, I looked at the piece and within a minute had picked out the pattern.  It is a 3×3 pattern which shifts over one coil on every new course (think tiling).  I need to draw out the pattern and then expand it like we did on our jacket and then verify, going through the same procedures to make sure my analysis was correct.  It is amazing how fast it is to figure these out once you have done it once before.

The motifs in the MET jacket are, in order left to right:

Row 1:  Borage, Carnation/Pink, Daffodil
Row 2:  Pea Pod, Tulip, Strawberries and Flower
Row 3:  Pansy, Rose, Acorn

Then there are the fauna which are sprinkled in between the coils.  Two different birds, butterflies, worms and snails.  One of the birds is often eating a worm/bug.  The thing that made the pattern harder to figure out on this jacket was that often the flowers colors are changed on each new row.  So the shape has to be referenced to deduce the pattern.

Tricia

The MET Jacket

December 24th, 2008 by Tricia

The MET Jacket on display at the new exhibit in Manhattan (Twixt Art and Nature) was one of the two pieces we visited while planning for the project.  I am so thrilled that many of you may be able to go visit it while it is out. The jacket was breath-taking to us for several reasons.  First, it has a wide variety of motifs and a very heavy and complex gold stitch for the coils.  Secondly, it is tiny.  And I mean TINY.  This really surprised us.  We knew that the fashion for waistcoats at this time (around 1620-1630) was for very high waists, but the shoulders on this piece are very small.  Standing there looking at them, they are a bit smaller than my 8 year old child’s shoulder width.  I hope that Susan North (who is an expert on costume of this period) will be able to examine this piece soon and make comments.  We looked at all the seams and embroidery along the shoulders and sides and have some thoughts about the areas that have and haven’t been modified.

The gold coils are stitched with a complex stitch that starts with a ladder stitch and then follows with a second pass which wraps the bars together.  It takes up a great deal of thread and is time consuming to work.  Jill loved the stitch and wanted to do it on our jacket but I said I would stage a mutiny!  Check it out here on a sampler of mine.  It really makes you wonder about how much the cost of this particular jacket was to make.

Tricia

Reviewing ‘Twixt Art and Nature’

December 22nd, 2008 by Tricia

I had the honor of attending the opening of the new embroidery exhibit ‘Twixt Art and Nature‘  on December 10th.  The exhibit is a collaboration between the MET and the Bard Graduate School of the Decorative Arts.  If you look back at the comments for December 8th, one of our lacers, Devon, was also at the opening and did a nice review also.  Devon is a volunteer in the textile department at the MET and has provided us with valuable information on metal laces during the project.

I am bringing this exhibit up a few times as it has an intimate connection to the Plimoth Jacket project which I will detail in the next few blogs.  Also, it may be one of the only times you will see an embroidered jacket similar to ours that will be on display in the United States.  The exhibit runs from December 10th to April 12th, 2009 and it is located at the Bard Graduate School on West 86th Street at Central Park West.  The exhibit has three floors of the most amazing embroidery from 1580-1700.  Almost all the objects are from the MET’s collection and are some of the finest examples of their type.  As Susan Brown, Assistant Curator of Textiles at the Cooper-Hewitt, said that night – “I always think we have nice things, and then I see what they have at the MET!!”

If you want to see a few pictures of the jacket on display and a slide show of some objects in the exhibit, click on this review of the exhibition in the New York Times on-line.

Tricia

Getting Close to The Finish

December 15th, 2008 by Tricia

I thought you might like to see the left front and how close to being finished this
piece is.  Impressive is all I can say about it.  There are areas where the spangles
are now being filled in between the embroidery.  We had some extra visitors on
Friday to help us.  Actually, they came to talk about a possible visit by their
organization to the project.  But since we are all about inclusion and getting this
project done, we sat them down with needle and thread and had them start to
embroider on the pieces, adding spangles (also called paillettes or oes).

A few weeks ago we were going to have some close photos taken of the motifs and
so needed to add our first spangles with multiple stitchers.  So we were faced with
the question – where and how many per inch.  With spangles, its not a question of
too little or too many, but the number per inch.  We wouldn’t want to have one part
of the jacket have a much higher density of spangles than another.  So to make
sure that didn’t happen, we took the master pattern repeat and drew red dots in all
the places that we wanted spangles.  That is to be used as a guide to sew them on.

Of Golden Coils

December 11th, 2008 by Tricia

During the latest session we had made enough progress on the plaited braid that
we could do some calculations.  Because the gold thread was made specially for
the project,  we needed to know if there was enough to finish the project or if
another round of thread would need to be made.

So we went around on Friday and counted gold coils that needed to be finished
and those that were done.  The count was 62 done and 155 needing work.  We
counted the jacket pieces along with the coif and forehead cloth.  Then on to the
spools of gold thread.  We have been careful to use a spool fully before opening
another spool and keeping the empties all together, just for this purpose.  So we
had 16 spools that were empty and another 48 left that were full.

Putting on the math hat, we were 28% done with the plaited braid coils.  Wow.  That
made us feel good!  The gold coils are obviously the part of the project that we
have stressed about the most.  I am happy to report that all that hand ringing was
for nothing.  I have been surprised by how fast the stitchers have become very
competent at the plaited braid and how the hand is not easy to identify.  One added
bonus that we will be able to see soon is what types of variations we see in the
hands and therefore go back and review existing embroideries to see if we can see
the subtle differences and therefore the number of professionals.

But back to the numbers, we have 28% of the coils done with 25% of the spools.
Phew.  We still have extras to do, the tendrils and centers of flowers.  But I have a
small stash of nine spools from the manufacturing run in reserve and so we think
we are ok.  Now I hear all you out there who want this thread.  I will do
my darnest to try to get some more made – but at least we don’t fear running out of
thread on the project.

The progress per spool was validation of our thread estimation methodology.  If you
look back in the blog, you will see how we counted coils, measured a few and then
came up with the number of meters of a coils to work.  Then worked an inch of
plaited braid and measured how much thread we used.  The estimate is holding
pretty well.

Now how did they do it in the 17th century?

Twixt Art and Nature

December 8th, 2008 by Tricia

A few months ago, staff from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Bard Graduate School of the Decorative Arts came to visit the project and film the stitchers, lace makers and spangle maker.  The product of that film footage will be part of the exhibit ‘Twixt Art and Nature‘ opening in the Bard Graduate School on December 11th.  The exhibit will also showcase a spectacular jacket which was studied as part of the preparation work for this project.  I highly recommend the exhibit if you are in the NYC area.  You will be able to see a real jacket and also footage of our project along with some discussion about the relationship between these objects.

The exhibit website can be found here. For some eye-candy, here is a glove I brought for show and tell the other day.  This is a project for the public program at the exhibit on December 12th.  It uses several threads developed for the jacket project or those that were developed as an offshoot of the relationships developed during the project.

Tricia

© 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.