‘Materials’ Category

Silk Delivery Man!

February 15th, 2009 by Tricia

Justin made a special delivery this week – the completed silk lining!  What a happy day to see it in its glory, all 6 yards of hand woven silk.  It was like giving up a baby – he gingerly handed it over. Justin promises me that he will write up his experience dying the piece and he has a few pictures of the scouring to show.  Apparently he had such a difficult time letting go of the fabric into the dye pot that he forgot to take a picture!

I loved how the sheen of the fabric was so soft and pretty when we unrolled a bit of it.  The piece is about 17th in width.  It seems to have been a common width for hand weaving in the 1700′s too – I spent a day looking at pieces at the Connecticut Historical Society yesterday and 20″ was the selvage to selvage for many of the silk ground fabrics.

Thank you Justin!!



February 11th, 2009 by Tricia

While in NYC for the symposium held in conjunction with the exhibit, “Twixt Art and Nature” I had the privilege to accompany Tricia on a visit to the Textile Conservation Department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We met with Conservator, Cristina Carr and were wowed with the opportunity to view several bags, pairs of gloves and an unmounted set of sleeves. Cristina uses a large microscope with tremendous magnification, the picture or image shown on a large computer screen, that enables you to see the individual fibers, that make up the strands of a fiber and anything else that the lens is focused in on. In short- mind blowing.

So when she unveiled the set of unmounted sleeves it was an opportunity to look at the reverse side (wrong side) of the stitching to see how the ending of threads was handled and to see if our “production” method of working the Borage was reflected there.  The Borage repeats twice in our pattern so there are a lot of them on the jacket and each Borage has 5 pointy petals, a horseshoe shaped inner ring and a two-color trellis fill. In order to get the point nice and crisp, the reverse chain begins at the top of each petal and is stitched towards the main body of the flower, to complete the other side of the petal; the stitcher must go back to the top of the petal and stitch down the other side. All of this makes for a LOT of stopping and starting.

In the workroom progress was slowing down as the stops and starts took their toll. Examining the stitching paths and overall coverage of the petals led to the decision to discontinue the stopping and starting and to instead take running stitches from the petal base back up thru the petal itself to the tip to continue stitching. This decision resulted in increased speed and reduce the amount of GST that was being used as a result of all the stopping and starting, additionally the bulk in the stitch edges was reduced and made the actual stitching of the buttonhole much easier because the reverse side of the chain stitch was no longer heavily encrusted with the tails having been wrapped thru it.

When Cristina turned over the first sleeve for examination my heart jumped, there on the sleeve in the Borage was evidence of the same approach and issue!


(Note from Tricia:  The borage on these sleeves had the same funny horseshoe shaped detached buttonhole that ours does.  We saw the same excessive amount of dragged thread on the back on the sleeves as ours.  This is in contrast to the thread-less backs of the rest of the motifs on the sleeves – same as ours too.  Seems that the problems we ran into were the same 400 years ago.  See our examples here).

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.


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!


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!

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.


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