‘Knitting & Spinning’ Category

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

Pocket Goods

September 8th, 2008 by Jill Hall

From Marty, via the comments:

What would they have kept in their knitted pocket? Also, were these pockets made in other ways, such as quilted or of leather?

We surmise that the colonists kept small personal items in their knitted pockets, also coins, although there was little use for coins during Plymouth Colony’s early years. We guess perhaps a comb or a thimble, a handkerchief, a letter, or ? I recall one interpreter who was portraying the mother of a five year old son. She always kept two or three little pebbles in her pocket as if he’d brought them to her. I thought that was kind of weird, this being long before I was the mother of a small son. Years later, I thought of her whenever I emptied my pockets at the end of the day and found pebbles.

Our interpreters keep all of those things in their 17th-century pockets, plus marbles, or a steel striker and flint and tinder (for period fire starting) and reproduction 17th-century coins. I know they also keep bent nails, bits of twine, yarn or rope, books of matches (for non-period fire starting), hard candy/cough drops and cigarette butts. These things I have cleaned out of pockets prior to washing/dry-cleaning.

If you look carefully at 17th-century paintings, especially crowd scenes, you can find many shapes and sizes of personal bag/pouch/pocket. They seem to be made of a variety of materials. Some look sewn of cloth or leather. Of course quite a number of embroidered “sweete bags” survive in modern museums, but these would have been beyond the means of most of the Plymouth residents. The V&A has a book called Bags, written I think by Valerie Cummings. Most of the examples are post-1650 (alas) but it is worth a look.

We have two or three kinds of small-to-medium-sized leather pockets/pouches represented on our sites as well as the knitted ones. There several more kinds I would like to have, but have not yet developed either the methods to make them or sourced all the components we’d need.

August Show & Tell

August 28th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Here are a few more treats Carli brought for us to see.

She makes both knitted lace and bobbin lace. The knitted lace is draped across the small pieced and appliqued quilt she made – entirely by hand – for her grandfather.

The bobbin lace she “just learned to make in March, so this is all I’ve done.” Hmm. Seems like a lot of lace to me.

Treats for Emily

August 20th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Penny knitted another awesome hat, this one for Emily. The pink is yarn Emily dyed with cochineal, which are indeed little bugs. Penny duplicate-stitched a skull, because Emily has a pirate aura.

I suppose going back to school is an acceptable excuse for leaving us.

Knitted Pockets

August 19th, 2008 by Jill Hall

In the comments Meg asked about the small knitted bags several of the female interpreters wear suspended from a belt. In the early 17th century pockets in clothing weren’t as universal as they are now (although Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 1560 – 1620 has several examples of extant items with either pockets sewn in or evidence that there used to be). People, men and women both, often carried a pouch or bag on their person to hold small items.

We base the bags used on our sites on one found on the Gunnister man, a late 17th-century body found in the mid-20th century in a peat bank in Scotland. The Gunnister man’s knitted possessions are described in Richard Rutt’s book A History of Hand Knitting, and also in an article by Deborah Pulliam that appeared in Piecework magazine.

About 20 years ago Plimoth Plantation, in conjunction with the Weavers’ Guild of Boston, published a booklet of knitting patterns, including one for this sort of little bag. The booklet is out of print, and most of the patterns have been vastly improved through further research in the intervening years. A few years ago a former wardrobe department tailor developed a pattern for a bag the same size as the Gunnister man’s but with a different pattern. I’ll find out if it is available through the museum gift shop and let you know.

Tomorrow is Emily’s last day with us. She did great work this summer, as did Lacey, who arrived home safely a few days ago. We’re going to miss them both, especially since we’re only in the middle of the process of finding a replacement for Shaina, who departed in June. This autumn will be a major transition time for us.

Kandy asked about the exhibit opening in May. I guess I have neglected to mention that much, since we won’t shift into high gear on the planning and implementation of that for another couple of months. We are planning to open an exhibit which will include the completed jacket in May of 2009. I will of course share the details as they develop.

I also have more pictures of Rebecca transforming into her 17th-century character – on a disk at the office.

Show and Tell August

August 17th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Betty-Anne, Rosemary and Abigail all brought lovely show and tell objects to the last session. Wendy kindly photographed for me, as I had very cleverly “lost” my camera in the trunk of my car. We missed getting a snapshot of Rosemary’s gorgeous Victorian style beaded scissors case, with the beaded fringe and beaded neck cord.

Here is a photo of some of Betty-Anne’s doll beds. She has made eight or nine of them illustrating different historic styles of bed hangings. She brought these two to show.

And this is Abigail’s blackwork truly-a-sampler. She adds to it as she finds designs she wants to record, has used at least one (the double acorn on a garment) and in working another discovered she never wants to use it again. That’s just how samplers were used in the early 17th century.

And here is a picture of Lacey modeling her Plimoth souvenir hat and holding the coveted Janet Arnold book. Lacey dyed the yarn with madder and Penny knit it for her. Turns out the Virginia girl collects winter hats. I’ve been told it gets cold in Virginia. Mmm-hmm. (Lacey spent ten years in Germany, where it really does get cold. We just like to tease her.)

Lacey headed home about a week ago, and we all miss her very much. She’s promised to come back for the exhibit opening in May. This is Emily’s last week with us and today she’s fighting off a cold and valiantly soldiering on with the green canvas suit. She’s determined to finish it before she has to go home. I’m not liking the empty nest.

Our next embroidery session starts Friday August 22. We’ll have several embroiderers and a lacer or two. There’s still room if you have some time, come and join us.

Dye Workshops and Departures

August 14th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Emily is guest-posting today.

As someone who takes great pleasure in all things weird and wonderful, I am extraordinarily pleased with my blue right thumbnail. That’s right. It’s blue. Navy on the edge, fading to a gentle sort of sunny lakeside-ish color in the middle.

I haven’t taken a nailbrush to it because I tend to be pretty lazy when it comes to general fingernail maintenance (although they all get a good weekly biting), but also because I’m not sure I want it to go away.

I’m not sure I want to go away.

This weekend (August 9th -10th ) is the weekend that the intern house bids farewell to two of its six occupants. My counterpart in the Wardrobe Department, Lacey, is one of the young ladies departing, and the whole department is sad to see her leave.

In the past few days, Ms. Lacey, with the help of Tricia, has been making a web of numbers she should call in order to find out what becoming a textile conservator would be like. In this line of work, I am told, a certain amount of chemistry is necessary. Lacey proved her aptitude for working with potentially volatile elements during our dye workshop (Figure 1See Figure 1) and was pleased and proud to see her work come to fruition. She was fascinated and frustrated by the exactitude necessary to produce both the solution for the madder (See Figure 2)Figure 2 and the solution for the indigo (See Figure 3).Figure 3 You can see the beauty produced by her meticulousness was well worth her effort.

I was just psyched to put bugs in a coffee grinder.

Lacey handed me a little container of dead insects (cochineal bugs), and I crushed ‘em up and boiled ‘em, dumped the wool in, and when I took it out, it was a dashing, daring shade of red (See Figure 4), whereupon I did a little dance of joy.Figure 4

Through those two days of wool dyeing, Penny (or “Big Grasshopper”) imparted her knowledge of natural dyestuffs upon us, making sure that we had a good handle on what we were doing and surreptitiously checking over our shoulders to keep us on the right track. She was very pleased by the end of the workshop, and it was very pleasing to see her, a fiber artist I love and respect, that pleased. And she brought us chocolate croissants when we were done, too, which was pretty bomb.

Lacey’s farewell gift from Penny was a little hat made out of some of Penny’s handspun yarn, which Lacey had dyed with madder during the workshop. If I were the kind of person who could knit more than a straight line (I make a mean scarf, but anything else? Forget about it), I would be all over this yarn. Seriously. And I’m not just saying that because my second job is in retail.

I’m just thankful that Penny let us make up a second indigo dyebath, exclusively for cotton. With characteristic precision, Lacey dipped and dipped her button-down shirt until it was a stunning shade of midnight blue. I went all art school and dumped my shirt in, relishing the air bubbles that made odd striations and pockets of color all over the garment. We both went into the indigo dyebath after our clothing (and skein upon skein of yarn) with bare hands, hence the blue fingernails.

It has been more than a week since we had our dye workshop, and I am still very happy with my subtly blue fingernails. I am less than happy about the fact that I will be returning to Bennington in three weeks, with a play to costume and a fashion show to complete. It was, however, brought to my attention that I should probably get my B.A. before I’m a contestant on Project Runway. Thus, it is with a brain laden with knowledge and a heart laden with sorrow that I leave the Plimoth Plantation Wardrobe Department. I will keep in touch and will hopefully be back to work on the jacket.

And I’m just going to let the blue in my fingernails work its way out.


Blue Silk Lining II

June 9th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Justin “picking the cross” of the lining warp.Tonight I have more pictures of the blue silk lining, but right now the lining is still threads. Very fine threads, and lots of them. The first picture is “picking the cross.”

The second is of Justin putting the cross on the pegs of the warping board. Justin explained the importance of the cross, and maintaining it, in a previous post.Putting the cross on the warping board

Justin suggested that I post a copy of the paintings of the serge (kind of cloth) industry in Leiden “which are my all time favorites of textile production (and) show a fellow warping with a horizontal scarn behind the woman spinning.” These paintings are in the collection of the Lakenhal Museum in Leiden, the Netherlands. I did look to see if I could find any online, but had no luck. Posting copies of things not in the public domain zips you right to a lower circle of licensing-and-permission hell; I’m not going there. I’ll ask Justin if he can refer us to a print copy, if so I’ll post that information.

These are Justin’s thoughts about weaving this way:

NLThis process is the same way that weavers have been making warps since the 17th century. Producing cloth using these traditional methods is a lot of why I’m interested in textiles. Going through the same steps using the same tools as all of the people who’ve done it before makes me part of a real and viable tradition, and not part of an exhibition of so called ‘forgotten arts’. This spool was made and used in the 18th or early 19th century by ‘NL’. Although we don’t know who N.L. was, we are continuing to work the same way he did.The cross on the warping board.

I’ve heard similar sentiments from some of the embroiderers and lacers, but this was particularly nicely put. The last two pictures are of the cross on the board and the rest of the warp. Justin takes really nice pictures, in addition to all the other things he does well.The Rest of the Warp.

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