I like that term, when Jill said it the other day to describe what we were doing it gave me all the validation I needed to go buy myself an Indiana Jones hat and bring a whip to the next session!
What she really meant was that we were listing all the means we could imagine to get the results we were seeing from the photographs of a particular detail on the jacket and then trying all of them on the side to see what results we got and comparing them to the original. It often takes more than one person to do this as you feed off each other to come up with various options that the embroiderer of the past may have tried.
The details in question were the veins on the leaves. Since a portion of the embroidery pattern was traced from the Embroiderers’ Guild (UK) piece, we had their veins on our linen. But as comes up constantly on this project, you can see the forest but don’t notice the grass until you need to walk through it! The veins on the EG piece all have a main vein and all the nice off-shoots. We noted that the veins on the jacket in the V&A collection only have the main vein. Disappointing at first, until you realize that we have to do about a hundred or more of them. As we looked at them, we were confused. I have to admit that my ‘forest view’ had told me that they would be couched down and so I had carefully selected a couching thread the night before and brought it with me.
They didn’t seemed couched, in fact they looked like two twisted gold threads. But how was it secured? Options were a) can’t see couched thread, b) it is one long stitch that is wrapped on itself after coming back up through the fabric, c) the gold is used to couch itself, or d) a loop of gold is twisted and held down at the tip. In the next two photos, you can see all these options worked except that with a couching thread made of silk. We discounted that option until all others failed. These embroiderers were going for speed, remember.
If you want to see the original, there is a nice close-up on the V&A website that shows these veins. You can compare to our work and see if you agree. In the end, the easiest method worked the best and looks just like the original. We come up at the base of the leaf and down near the tip. Go back up again near the needle hole and wrap the laid gold thread three-four times and back in at the base of the leaf. Very fast.
If you want to see the close-up on the V&A website, remember you have to go from the V&A main page to the “collections” page, and use THAT search function – the “search the collections” one; NOT the search box that appears on the upper right corner of the main page. Once you have the search-the-collections box, put in 1359-1900 to see the embroidery pattern jacket. jmh