January, 2009

Stitch Gauge and Hands

January 29th, 2009 by Tricia

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.


More Hands

January 23rd, 2009 by Plimoth

Here are a selection of the foxgloves stitched on the Left Front.  The game again is to try to figure out how many people stitched these four flowers.  Answers in a few days.  I am happy to report that this job isn’t so easy.  Something we had worried about a lot at the beginning.  We have been careful to critique the reverse chain of the stitchers who come to work on the project as it is the single most important factor in determining the guage of stitches for the detached buttonhole that is built upon it.  I think that this has been pretty successful.  Not to say that there still aren’t areas where some linen shows through or the stitching is very dense, but the range is acceptable across the jacket pieces.


How Many Hands?

January 21st, 2009 by Tricia

A few weeks ago I spent some time trying to figure out how many hands had worked on the jacket at the MET.  I could clearly see that there were several – but how to prove to others that there were different people.  I realized that we have the types of evidence we need on the jacket to answer this question or at least start to provide a framework for others to use.  I when I returned, I started taking pictures of all the same flowers on the Left Front of our jacket.  Here are the borages from this piece.  I am not going to tell you today how many people worked these borages.  I will let you look at the pictures and come up with your own conclusions.  But we have signatures on the master pattern for each piece.

Sometimes as we progress on the project and these ‘questions’ come up – I am sooo glad that we decided early on that more data was better than less.  The kind of analysis that all this data allows is really exciting.


Dyeing the Silk

January 19th, 2009 by Tricia

Some interesting things about the woven silk that I noted when I was visiting Eaton Hill Textile Works are shown in these pictures.  First, I kept seeing these pins with silk wrapped around it.  This is where the warp threads had broken, both ends are wrapped around the pin.  After the weave is done, these ends will be darned into the fabric and cut off.

You can also see the warp here – it was dyed with indigo last year and warped.  When it is on the beam, it looks indigo but when the warp spreads out during weaving you can see stripes show up where the individual warps have faded.  Kate thinks that the scouring of the silk might now have been done well enough for the dye to take. Because of this, the weft wasn’t dyed and is being woven with white.  When the entire piece is done, they will re-dye the fabric with indigo.


Trying it Myself

January 15th, 2009 by Tricia

It is my goal on this project to try as many of the techniques as possible so I can describe it on the blog, in lectures or in an eventual book.  So I gathered up my hutzpah to ask Justin and Kate if I could ‘drive’ the loom.  They were very gracious and helped me in the steps.  Open the shed, grab the shuttle, throw it through (and CATCH), beat it and start again.

As you can see in the pictures – I found this to be much harder than I thought!  It is like chewing gum and rubbing your head while hopping on one foot.  Opening the shed by pushing on the foot petals took strength as I am shorter than Justin.  But the hardest part was throwing the shuttle.  I thought it would fly out the other end and I would have trouble catching it.  NOT a worry!  The shuttle kept getting stuck between the two layers and I would have to stick my fingers in between the warp to scoot it along. Justin made it look so easy and fast.  You can see me looking close after beating down the weft to see if the weave was tight enough there.  I don’t want that ‘defect in the weave’ to be because of me!

You can see the wonderful length of woven silk at the bottom take up – he estimated it to be between 1.5-2 yards at that point.  I can only take credit for maybe three or four passes – not even an 1/8″ of it!  Working on the sequence, it was really physically demanding and I can’t imagine doing a piece of fabric that is wider.  You need some wingspan for that!


Symposium Changes

January 12th, 2009 by Plimoth

I need to take a small break from my description of the weaving going on at Eaton Hill Textile Works for the jacket and let you know about a important change regarding the symposium.

We have been hearing from many of you asking about early registration for the symposium that was being planned for September 2009 around the project.  I am disappointed to have to let you all know that the economic conditions we are all experiencing have resulted in the need to delay the symposium and have us look at alternative time frames and plans for a revealing of the project and gathering to go over the results.  Unfortunately as we are working on those options at the moment, I don’t have definitive news to give you and we had been waiting to notify the speakers first.

As we have been receiving daily emails wanting to register – I know many of you were excited to come to Plimoth.  We too are disappointed that funding and the economy have made the need for such changes.  As soon as we have a better picture of the plans, we will post them here.

The Loom

January 9th, 2009 by Tricia

Here you can see Kate and Justin at the hand loom where the 17.5 inch wide silk is being woven.  Lovely view too of the Green Mountains of Vermont in the background. Very calming to be in the workshop.  Kate told me that the loom was 19th century and there is even an older loom in the workshop – 18th century!  Justin is holding the shuttle he had just re-spooled on a spinning wheel to show me more of the process.  I was amazed to watch him re-spool, he said he has to be very careful to form the cone of thread on the spindle (I think) so it will pull off just right.  There is no going back and rewinding.

Visiting the Silk

January 5th, 2009 by Plimoth

Justin has been working on weaving the silk for the lining for weeks at Eaton Hill Textile Works. They started last year indigo dying the warp silk threads and setting up the loom. Before I go into the current progress, a few words about Eaton Hill Textile Works.  They are a small textile mill in the Green Mountains of Vermont specializing in 18th and 19th century weaving techniques.  Kate Smith both weaves custom fabrics for reproductions and period rooms and teaches a wide range of hand weaving and dying techniques.  If you have ever been interested in learning about weaving, you couldn’t find a more interesting spot to work in.  And in the tradition of all those who love handwork, the food is great also! I was served a rare treat when I visited this week – plum pudding.  YUM.

I wanted to let you see some of the fantastic fabrics that Kate has produced in her workshop, along with the range of naturally dyed fibers hanging in the workshop.  Just scrumptious!

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