‘Stitches’ Category


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).

Professional Workshops

February 8th, 2009 by Tricia

I was hit in the head by a virtual skein of yarn the other day after a post.  (See comments on Stitching Gauge, January 29th)  I welcome discourse as it allows us to debate points.  The commentator was pointing out the close personal relationship that could have developed between two professionals working together at a frame due to conversations (more commonly known to us in the trade as “stitch n’ bitch) and that this had resulted in distress when the relationship ended.  I had chalked up the distress at loosing a partner to more technical issues of getting the work done ala work style.

I thought it would be interesting to all to talk about ‘talk’ at the frame in the workshop as I had just had a very interesting conversation about this very subject just a week ago with a colleague.  There are a few professional workshops that I am aware of their rules and practices.  One is the Japanese workshop (Kurenai-Kai) and the spin-out teaching workrooms in the USA.  In the workroom, quiet behavior is of the essence.  In fact, if the master needs to show you something, he does not tell you but instead sits down at your station and starts embroidering. You are supposed to watch intently and deduce what he wants to show you.  For those of us western embroiderers, this is the most difficult part of learning this embroidery.  As I progressed through the levels, I began to really enjoy going to Japanese embroidery as it was one of the most calm and contemplative parts of my hectic life.  Total quiet except for the specific break times.  I also got allot done in class.

At the Bard Symposium, I met a colleague from the Royal School of Embroidery.  We were talking about our workrooms for the jacket and for their private commissions.  I was shocked to learn that the workroom procedure (in place for over 100 years and only modified in the last decade) was for total silence among the embroiderers.  Indeed, if a break was taken by an embroiderer, her absence is noted and that stitching time must be made up.  My colleague was noting other strict guidelines and how some of them had been relaxed a bit in the last ten years.

I laugh because our workroom is staffed by volunteers (including myself and Wendy) who have given up time and money to be there.  For those of us volunteers who are there every session – out goal is quality and reducing the number of sessions which take us away from our families by making progress.  Of course, we understand that for the other volunteers, this is also a social gathering where there is lively discourse on the history of embroidery, technique, interesting collaborations and of course more than a few funny stories.  But we have found a SIGNIFICANT correlation to progress versus talk.  In fact, those who talk allot make the least progress and those who are silently listening sometimes make as much as 3-4 times the progress.  I therefore totally understand how the paid workshop has a ban on socializing in the workroom.

I will admit that sometimes if it gets bad and my husband screams again about having to take care of the kids while I am monitoring the workshop, I have a CD turned on in the room the next day to discourage conversation and to pick up pace!  Now you know our secret.


Oes and Spangs

February 6th, 2009 by Tricia

I have been reading ‘Dressing the Elite’ by Susan Vincent and wanted to share a quote she included in the text with you.  She writes of Francis Bacon’s advice (1561-1626) in his Essays on the costuming of masques with regard to embroidery.

“The Colours, that shew best by Candlelight are: White, Carnation, and a Kinde of Sea-Water-Greene: and Oes, or Spangs, as they are of no great Cost, so they are of most Glory…As for Rich Embroidery, it is lost, and not Discerned.”

I love thinking about that quote when looking at certain areas of our jacket in low light.  I so want a time machine!

We met Susan last week at the Bard Symposium.  A delight she is.  After hearing her speak, I very much wish her book was on tape as her cadence, prose, and pauses make the material dance off the page.  She let us in on her next project, a book on period costume from a very unique perspective of anatomy.  At first I was confused as to how this structure would lend itself to the discourse but after her sneak-peak talk at the symposium on dress accessories – starting with an in depth review of the cod-piece – I can’t wait for the volume!  She brought the mindset of the Tudors alive and at the same time our human frivolity with fashion and function was ever so apparent.


Winter Progress

February 1st, 2009 by Tricia

We have learned over the last two years that making progress on the jacket from Thanksgiving to the thaw is tough.  Between the holidays and the threat of snow, getting groups together is difficult.  Here in New England, we have had an unusual string of big weekend storms all through December and January so I am glad we didn’t plan sessions for those months – especially since I have to drive over an hour to get to them myself.  Allot of people have been emailing and asking about sessions (thank you, thank you!).  We will be looking to start getting together big sessions in either late February or early March when the snow hazard starts to die down.

That doesn’t mean we can’t accommodate the occasional embroiderer under special circumstances.  Kris Andrews was in the area last week and was able to  carve out a day to work on the jacket.  Her plaited braid is shown here.  We are almost done with the gusset frame entirely.  We need to add a few spangles and we can take it off the frame and celebrate.

The lace is also progressing under Carolyn’s hands and Justin has let me know that the silk is off the loom!  I hope he can hear the cries of delight from hand weavers (and those who wish our wingspan was big enough) everywhere.  He and Kate will be indigo dying it soon and he promised me a bevy of photos of the process for the blog. Mark is reviewing the photos of historic hooks and eyes and figuring out how to make them to close our jacket on the museum form.  We have also been making plans on how the jacket will be mounted on a form with Joanna Hill, a textile conservator.  I have learned much about carveable mannequin forms.  I never knew they existed!  So progress continues, slow with the weather but I expect to speed up toward the finish line in a few weeks.


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.


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.

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