‘show & tell’ Category


November 16th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Sorry about that bad link – I’ve fixed it in the last post and here’s the link Tricia suggested, straight to the book in the mail order shop.

I had an exciting day Friday. I turned on the office computer and it, well, it didn’t exactly swear, but it definitely thumbed its circuits at me. Dennis the IT guy didn’t have good news. “Hmmm,” he said. “That means it can’t find the hard drive.” “Can’t or WON’T?” was my response, not that it helped any.

The bottom line is that my documents are on the server (since last year, when the previous computer was gathered to its reward) but my email may not be. I may very well have lost my emails, including the address updates of Sharon G, Ann B, and two others whom, sadly, my feeble brain cannot recall. As well as anything anyone has asked me to do from before last Wednesday. BUT WAIT, don’t re-send me anything yet. Dennis promised to let me know by the end of next week what he could save, and THEN you can send me updates. And I promise to figure out a better computer filing system. Grrrr.

As this happened on a Friday morning, I took it as a sign to jettison all efforts at correspondence and Just Sew. Sometimes that’s a nice thing. I’m working hard to finish up a few things for the interpreters before they’re done for the season.

Here are a few pictures of what we’ve been up to sewing-wise. The first picture up at the top is Penny and the Stays From Hades. These are hand-sewn, but the real problem was that they were cut out for someone other than Elise, the person she finished them for. She thought they were close enough, and it would be good to finish them and get them in use, but she had to alteration after alteration so that by the end, she could have made three pairs of stays. She says she’ll never do that again. The good news is that, after all that, Elise is happy with them. They look great on her.

I finished Beth L’s sandy-pink gown a while ago and here are the pictures to prove it. In the closer picture you can see just a little gap; Beth and I decided to see if it relaxes in the wearing. If not I can put a hook & eye closure there. I finished the gown in the morning and brought it to her on her lunch break. She went right away and changed into it and I took these, so it hadn’t been worn more than a couple of minutes.

I think she likes it.

Now I’m working on a pink waistcoat for Whitney. Arianna’s already made her a brown petticoat to go with. The weekend after Thanksgiving there’ll be a wedding in the Village – not a real wedding, a pretend 1627 wedding. Whitney’s going to be the bride and I’ve promised her this outfit for early next week. Arianna’s making a canvas suit for Austin. Penny just finished a gold wool waistcoat for Kelley, which I need to photograph. At this point in the season she probably won’t start something else new, but move on to a little housecleaning to get us ready for the Big Piles of Dirty Stuff which will arrive the Monday after Thanksgiving.

I owe you all a mess of pictures from the show & tell portions of the last several embroidery sessions. I’m thinking to save them for the last half of December. It seems appropriate viewing for the season of celebrating treasures.

Who is Doing the Spinning?

October 16th, 2008 by Tricia

There was a mistake on the panel that was very interesting to me. One of the questions I have been working on for the MET exhibit has been the method of manufacturing gold threads. This also begets the question, who was making them. From the research so far, we see gold and silver wyre drawers making the wire and possibly flattening it. Then it seems to be turned over to ‘Gold Spinners’ who put the wire or strip around the silk core thread. We have not found any description of this process yet and the current processes used are a product of the industrial revolution and therefore don’t provide us clues as to the past.

The mistake was a small leaf under the bird’s tail. The buttonhole had been started with a strand of silk with a silver strip wrap. Then it changed to just silk at about the natural point that a 12-14″ strand of thread would have run out and have to be changed. What was interesting is that both the jacket and panel have only silk leaves. No metal wraps. But here we have a mistake…oops…started with the wrong thread. But they never seemed to take anything out if they could help it. Hardly noticeable in the final effect unless you are overly familiar with the pieces.

The ah-ha moment came when I saw that the thread wrapped with the metal strip was the same two color silk (green and yellow) as the rest of the leaf. We have talked in depth before how they achieved this heathered effect with a two color twisted thread. Our hypothesis has been that, at the frame, they twisted the two colors they needed to blend. But now we see that the blended thread is also wrapped. Chris, Lynn and I had a long discussion on this – repeated the next day with Susan with additional thoughts being added.

The wrapped blended thread implies that possibly someone in the workshop was skilled at spinning the silver strip or wyre onto the silk thread. Susan repeated what we all would have originally thought – that you bought the colors and threads that you needed from a third party as we do today. The vertical integration of gold thread or composite thread making with the embroidery studio has been a working hypothesis of mine for years. I especially see a great deal of evidence on professional pieces where there are multiple composite threads such as flat silk, wyre wrapped silk, and wyre wrapped silk purl that are all the same dye lot. Based on inventory records, the threads were a valuable commodity and thus having the flexibility to make what you need as you need it would be economical. But we do see that gold threads were certainly bought pre-made by the crown and then supplied to the embroiderer. Many new questions came from this discussion. Susan posed an interesting question: if the gold thread was pre-purchased by the person who commissioned the piece and given to the embroiderer, how would they know how much to buy and could they insure that the workshop wouldn’t skim off the top?

We talked at length about how we have gone about estimating thread for this project, a very important issue to make sure that we have silk of the same dye lot and that the threads we are having manufactured will be enough. Susan was very interested in the process. We have a lot to think about and these questions will color how we look at inventory and account book records in the future.

And if we were to think that this was usual, while I was at the EG collection, they thought I might be interested in seeing other pieces and brought out two coifs. On one of the coifs, this heathered thread with metal wrap was all over the piece. Nice.

I’ve added pictures of the two-color thread we used to prove how the heathered effect was done for you to reference.


Thanks are in order

October 13th, 2008 by Tricia

Before I get into details, I must thank the people who helped me immensely by taking time to host me for the appointments. First, Lynn Szygenda, Senior Curator at the Embroiderers’ Guild and Chris Berry, Past President of the EG.  Chris happened to be down in London on business this week and took time out to join me in the examination of the panel.  Chris is an expert on Tudor embroidery stitches and I was very pleased to finally meet her.  Having more experts at the table examining a piece is fantastic because you can both look at the same detail and debate them.  Sometimes your first conclusion will be wrong or there might be other data that one of you is aware of that can help make a new hypothesis.  Chris volunteers in the collection at the Burrell Collection and has a wealth of knowledge to share.

We had a lot of fun; I had my laptop full of my research photos next to the piece.  Lynn and Chris spent hours poring through the photos, including ones that we had from the V&A of the 1359-1900 jacket which Susan North had provided us with.  We could compare and contrast the
two pieces some.

My second thank you goes to Susan North, Curator of Costume at the V&A.  Susan took a great deal of time to help me move the jackets for photography.  As we discussed and debated what we saw, she would bring out other items to prove her point or to help answer the questions we had jointly proposed.  Susan is working with colleagues to produce a pattern book based on clothing of this period.  While it won’t be completed in time for this project, she and another colleague have been examining the Laton jackets and others (yes they were also on the table) for evidence of construction techniques.  This is the reason Laton was out of the case.  They were very generous to share their thoughts and to show me the evidence on each of the jackets to support it.  Because multiple professionals (embroiderers vs. tailors and/or other professional craftsmen, as well as multiple embroiderers – jmh) were involved in the process of making a jacket, we had a lively debate on which parts were performed by each and how the money/work may have transitioned.  I will comment more on this in a future blog.

I am sorry that I have very little eye candy that I can share with you on the internet from this trip, but here you can see Lynn (back), Chris (foreground) and me with the panel.


I’ve only ever seen photos of the panel with no context – I was surprised how small it is. jmh

Small World

October 10th, 2008 by Jill Hall

I got a call today from one of the gift shop staff. There’s a lady here from Australia, and she wonders if it’s possible to see the jacket? This sort of thing is becoming more and more common, as more people find out about the jacket and of course want to see it. Work on the jacket happens almost completely behind the scenes. A few of us have done some embroidery in front of the public in the Crafts Center, but that is unusual and special. Many people who find out about the jacket here don’t realize the work isn’t ordinarily on display.

We try to accommodate these requests when they come up so I said I’d meet the Australian visitors in the Crafts Center. Because we’re behind the scenes we can’t just give museum guests directions to find us, they need an escort. And if you’re planning a visit to Plymouth particularly to see the jacket, please, please get in touch with me beforehand. There are days when no one is in the office, or times when we’re “in” but unavailable. You know where to find me.

Anyway, I met Mary and David from New South Wales and walked with them up to the office. Turns out that Mary didn’t know about the jacket before a day or two ago, when she was visiting the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Mary, a lace maker, was chatting with someone at the museum, staff or volunteer she wasn’t sure, about ivory bobbins for lace when that person, also a lace maker, told her about “what’s going on over at Plimoth.” Thank you to the anonymous lacer from New Bedford for spreading the word.

Mary told me about a lace teacher and researcher in Australia, Rosemary Shepherd, who is currently working on a book about metal laces. Definitely someone we’d like to get in touch with. It was a pleasant episode in a busy day, and another example of how this project is making connections among those who love historic dress and the techniques that created it all over the world.

Tricia did say that she got a photo of herself with the Embroiderers’ Guild panel and permission to post it, so we’ll see that at least. What a trip; I’m sure she’ll always remember this one.

Here’s a picture for today. This is the cover of Catherine’s workbox. There are all sorts of goodies inside, but this will whet your interest.

For the past few days Penny, Arianna, and Penny’s mom Betty have been preparing for a two-day dye demonstration that will happen outside the Crafts Center at Plimoth Plantation tomorrow and Sunday. They’ve been skeining, washing and mordanting, and preparing an indigo stock solution. Tomorrow will be the “hot” dyes, dyes that need to be heated to work, like madder and cochineal and fustic; Sunday will be the magic of indigo. I’ll take some pictures to share, and Penny and Arianna are planning to write about the experience. I promise no one’ll be wearing flip-flops this time.


October 9th, 2008 by Jill Hall

In addition to the pin ball I showed you yesterday, Sharon also brought a pair of needlework accessories, a shoe and a pinwheel. The shoe’s sole isn’t completely attached to the upper; inside is a place to store needles. Sharon explained that the shoe was a “test project” taught to her sampler guild by the designer, who wanted a group to troubleshoot her instructions.

Jennifer was very excited to see Sharon’s shoe; Jennifer made and brought a similar shoe. The same designer had published a needle shoe project in a magazine and Jennifer made it. We of course took photos of the two shoes (Sharon’s on the left, Jennifer’s on the right) and the two shoemakers. (And I hope I got all those details right. Every session I promise I’ll take notes on the fascinating backstories of all the needleworked treasures, and every session things happen too fast for that!)

On the table in front of Sharon and Jennifer you can see Sharon’s pinwheel that matches her shoe, and Jennifer’s scissors case that matches hers. Also visible are Sharon’s Quaker motif sampler and Jennifer’s blue needlework accessories, plus a second pinball of Sharon’s (the sage-brown one). Riches.

Our Girl in the UK wrote a couple of times today. I wouldn’t have thought it possible to sound breathless in an email. The Laton jacket, through heaven only knows what conjunction of chance and chocolate gifts, was not on display. It was behind the scenes, unmounted, on a table in front of Tricia. She gazed, studied, photographed and worshiped it within an inch of her life, and as she says “almost cried.”

Then, of course, she also got to spend time with 1359-1900. I doubt her feet have returned to earth.

Our Foreign Correspondent

October 8th, 2008 by Jill Hall

I got a note from Tricia today. She’s in the UK, on a special birthday trip with a couple of friends. In addition to sightseeing and spa visits, she spent some quality time with the EG panel.

The Embroiderers’ Guild in the UK owns a flat panel of embroidery which has sometimes been called a coif and sometimes a cushion. Either way, it is the same embroidery pattern as our jacket and as the V&A jacket #1359-1900. Because this panel is flat, studying photos of it back in the winter of 2007 helped Tricia to see the master pattern repeat of the jacket, which then made it easier to transfer the pattern to the jacket pieces. The panel helped, but the process still involved several hours at least of staring and thinking and comparing and considering before the master repeat revealed itself.

She said that she’s got some great photos of the bird beaks and feet, and she’s ready to start work on the birds when she gets back. She also said that the flowers on the flat panel are stuffed, and she’s curious to see if they are on the jacket also, which she’ll be visiting tomorrow (today by the time you read this, I expect).

She’s already taken over 350 photos and will have lots to share with us when she gets back to an internet connection (this note came from her iPhone). I can’t wait to hear what she has to say about the jacket.

Here’s a photo of one of Sharon’s needlework treasures, that she shared at show & tell this last session.


October 6th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Melinda is working on the narration for the video of our project for her exhibit. She asked, how many hours of embroidery have been done so far?

In the fine old tradition of passing the buck, I asked Arianna to go through the heap of time sheets from over a year’s worth of embroidery sessions. She patiently, and painstakingly, combed each one, totaling the minutes, figuring hours, totaling hours, checking, double checking, walking away for coffee ….

After a couple of days, she gave me a little yellow post-it with the total so far -


Very nearly 2200 hundred hours. This is, as Tricia says, “time spent moving the needle”. This isn’t shopping, or chatting, or even practicing on the doodle cloth. This includes time spent on the coif and forehead cloth, but not Tricia’s hours or some of Wendy’s, so it probably all evens out. Of course we still have the gold and sequins to go, so the final, grand total may top our original estimate, but we’ll continue to keep good records so we’ll be able to report back.

I’m amazed and humbly grateful. Thank you all so much for your dedication to this project.

Because a number like that deserves some eye candy to go with it, here’s a photo of show & tells waiting their turn. I love this; it’s such a heap of riches, of time and skill and precious needleworked beauty and usefulness. Included here are items by Sandye, Jennifer, Sharon and Catherine.


October 4th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Norma has been here stitching at least a couple of times before. She comes from Connecticut.

This past weekend for show & tell Norma brought her in-progress nightcap, the project Tricia taught last February in Williamsburg. It is an awesome piece, even in-progress. The kit came with a slate frame. Oooh.

Plus Norma brought another couple of Tricia’s pieces – the glove and a rose with goldwork set into a box. I particularly love this one. It unites two of my favorite things, red and something to put things in.

Norma also brought a box with one of Elizabeth Creeden’s designs set into the top. This is a mourning piece, and is dedicated to a friend of Norma’s who passed away while helping out another friend. The second friend and her family were all down with what seemed like the flu. Norma’s friend Kathy went over to help out, but turned out they didn’t have the flu. They were slowly being poisoned by carbon monoxide. Norma’s friend Kathy died as well as two members of the family. Norma finished this piece in tribute to her friend, and part of a very long tradition of women memorializing loved ones through needlework.

During the weekend Norma completed fifteen detached butterfly wings. I haven’t had a chance yet to count how many there are total, but 15 must win her the Butterfly Queen crown. Thanks, Norma.

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