It was fun last week to read all your comments on how many hands may be represented in the photographs of the same elements. This is a very important question and I was happy to have all you as ‘reviewers’ of the process. I will give you the answers below, but beforehand, a diversion.
Last week Jill and I were honored to be invited to participate in a scholars forum at the ‘Twixt Art and Nature’ exhibit at the Bard Graduate School of the Decorative Arts. It was an exciting day to have so many experts in 17th century textiles in one place wandering the exhibit together and discussion the objects and the larger framework. Of course, questions of ‘who and how long’ come up all the time. Jill and I had many an opportunity to bring up the lessons we have learned on this project to support certain hypothesis about the answers to these questions. We had a long discussion as a group in front of the MET jacket and discussed how we expect to mine the data we have been generating on this project. Never before have we had a large object where not only the length of thread, number of minutes stitching, and individual can be matched with an exact motif on a piece. Certainly the group was intrigued with the possibilities.
I put forth that for freeform embroidery, the average gauge (stitches per inch) for a person is like a fingerprint. This is an observation from years of observing students in class and is a function of tension, distance, etc. Certainly, as a person becomes more adept, their gauge distribution plateaus. Also, there is always a distribution of stitch gauge for a person as a consequence of needing to fill in small, tiny areas such as petals. My theory is if you were able to measure their work over the time frame of apprentice to master, you would find a curve such as this. (Sorry for the math, but its my nature and high time it was applied to this field). I enjoyed the comments to the blog as you allowed me to vet the idea without putting it forth yet. Now I hope you all comment again on this idea from your own experience as stitchers working on detached buttonhole.
The one thing this doesn’t capture is the highly skilled professionals and how close their work might overlap. I know this from experience of having Kris Andrews help me at times finish pieces. We worked together on my nightcap and it is hard to see who was who, although I did not measure anything yet. There is antidotal evidence from later periods of professional embroiderers being paired (left handed and right handed) to work on the same frame and how painful it was when your partnership was divided. I don’t know if that was because each knew the others moves and therefore didn’t rock the frame or if the seamlessness of their stitching was the cause of the dismay.
So the idea is to first take our jacket pieces and measure the gauge distribution for individuals and then see how much unique variation there is. This would result in a set of graphs which could show how sensitive the measurement is to identify # of people or even individuals. It might not be sensitive enough to distinguish between the battle hardened professionals, but maybe we can see the apprentices versus the master group. The data will tell. Then on to the actual historic work and it will be exciting to see what ghosts we can tease from the embroidery!
Now the answers! I only considered the actual flowers and not the other embroidery in the photos. So for the Borage, there were three stitchers for five motifs. On the foxglove, there were 2 stitchers for the 4 flower motifs there.