The Embroiderer's Story

Embroidered Jacket Premiere!

December 8th, 2009 by Plimoth

As the fire flickers and the candlelight twinkles, a project three years in the making will be unveiled at Plimoth Plantation on December 10, from 4-8 PM.  Plimoth Plantation’s Historical Clothing and Textiles Department has just completed an exciting new project of interest to historians, scholars and lovers of period needlework internationally. Since the winter of 2006, the Museum has worked closely with historic needlework scholar, Dr. Tricia Wilson Nguyen, who has coordinated the unmatched creation of a woman’s 17th-century linen waistcoat lavishly embroidered in silk and gold. This unique and significant jacket is based on surviving pieces from the first quarter of the 17th century in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London, England.  Additionally, because of the intricate and specific detail of this jacket project, historic metal threads that have not been in production for centuries, have been brought back, not just for use in this project but also for the general public too.

“It is interesting to note that the Museum’s research into these jackets has yielded several interesting discoveries, helping to recapture lost technologies, which have now been shared with the next-generation-needlework community and beyond,” said Ellie Donovan, Plimoth Plantation Executive Director. “Rediscovering lost technologies and sharing them with the world is at the heart of what we do at Plimoth Plantation, and it is of the utmost importance to future innovation in all areas.”

Over the course of two years, more than 200 volunteers, expert in embroidery and lace-making, carried out the meticulous recreation of the Plimoth Jacket. In order to evaluate the individual ‘hand’ of each volunteer, potential stitchers completed a sample kit that served as an embroidery audition. Interested embroiderers tried-out in droves and those who met the stringent criteria were selected, came to the Museum on their own time, and at their own expense.

“We were amazed by the dedication and talent of the people who supported this wonderful historic reproduction. They were thrilled to work on this once-in-a-lifetime project, which utilized such rare materials, tools and techniques,” said Richard Pickering, Plimoth’s Deputy Executive Director.

In addition to pre-qualifying the embroiderers, the sample kits, or audition submissions, enabled the jacket’s organizers to match stitchers of similar thread tensions and styles into teams, which in the end enabled Plimoth Plantation to create a cohesive and meticulously reproduced jacket.

Though not something that would have been worn in Plimoth Colony, linen jackets embroidered with colored silks and metal threads were fashionable for members of England’s privileged classes in the late 1500s and early 1600s. The expensive garments, lavished with thousands of hours of labor and expensive materials, represented the society’s ideal of conspicuous consumption in matters of personal dress and ornament.

Presented as a Museum fundraiser, this rare, re-created jacket will be unveiled for the first time on December 10, 2009, from 4 to 8 PM, in the Gainesborough Hall of the Henry Hornblower II Visitor Center. One of Plimoth Plantation’s colonial role players will wear the jacket, along with a matching embroidered coif, handkerchief linen shift, and silk dupioni and silk brocade petticoats. The reveal will take place by the fireside, in a candle-lit room, so that the spectators will be able to view the twinkling luminescence of the gilded silver spangles, golden lace and shimmering silk thread on the embroidered jacket – just as it would have been seen four centuries ago.  The jacket will be worn only once before it is loaned for two years to the Winterthur Museum in Delaware.  Refreshments, harp music and poetry will be an accompanying part of the celebration.  Anyone who has ever worked on the project has been invited to attend, and the general public is invited to participate as well.  Tickets to this very special event are $35.00 per person, and $60.00 per couple.  Plimoth Plantation Museum members receive a discounted ticket rate of $25.00 per person and $40.00 per couple. Tickets must be purchased in advance, by calling 508-746-1622, ext: 8666.

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