Tagged ‘silk’

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!


October 17th, 2008 by Tricia

The panel at the Embroiderers’ Guild has often been referred to in some texts as a coif. The confusion may have occurred because the dimensions (width and height) are similar to many coifs. But it is a panel. We took a look at the edges and it was obvious that the piece was in its entirety and not cut from something larger. The small amount of linen around it had either nail marks or holes from being stretched on a frame. There was an embroidered stem stitch outline around the four sides and the embroidery appropriately started or ended at the boundaries if the motif was cut by the boundary.

Other details that are different from the jacket: there are less flowers, only nine types instead of the 11 borage being repeated twice) of the jacket. (I had to read this twice, my brain doesn’t move as fast as Tricia’s. The jacket master repeat is 3 x 4, therefore 12 motifs, but there are two borage so only 11 different motifs.) The borage and strawberries are missing. The blue and red flowers (carnation, gillyflower, or cornflower?) on the pieces are different between the two pieces, but not much different in terms of tracing. Just embroidered differently.

The calyx of the foxglove is stitched in silk and not gold. There is a different technique used for the detached pea pod parts, detached buttonhole in silver strip wrapped silk on the jacket and silk buttonhole over a gold thread (return) for the panel. The roses have an extra set of detached petals. Some of the thistles have an extra layer of detached buttonhole. The coiling stem is also a different stitch. On the jacket it is plaited braid whereas on the panel the stitch is ladder with wheat sheath. This stitch is much slower to work than plaited braid and done in two passes. Overall, the panel has a higher level of detail work which is absent from the jacket.


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.


Bird – Beak and Feet

October 15th, 2008 by Tricia

We haven’t worked the birds on the piece yet as we had questions about some of the detailing and were awaiting my trip to examine the EG piece closer. The birds on the EG piece are in yellows and greens with blue beak and feet. The jacket has red, green, pink and yellow as the color scheme. But the left over silk that had degraded from the beaks and feet were in a tan color.

The one bird on the EG panel has a complete set of feet and beak. I was happy to find a combination of reverse chain and stem stitch on the feet and a heavy ceylon for the beak. All set, I thought. But when I saw the jacket the next day, there was a beak on one bird. Worked in trellis stitch. The legs were a little different too. Reverse chain and satin stitch at the top to help give the impression of a thigh.

Another thing I noted was the use of the blended thread for the motifs. It shows up in the bird to make transitions between the stripes of color in the body and head. The body is worked in trellis
and the head in spiral trellis. The wings were another spot where we had questions. The wings are made of of segments of stitches worked in different colors of silk and silver gilt thread. The segments are outlined in black. Two birds were worked with heavy chain and ceylon, but the third had more variety with plaited braid and a fly stitch thrown in.

On the EG panel, the wings segments were worked with plaited braid and heavy twisted chain all in silver gilt and silver threads. It is interesting to see how the same overall scheme is used on both pieces and motif to motif but there are slight variations. I am not sure if this is hand differences or just bored embroiderers. The black outline seems to be a combination of stem stitch and reverse chain. Hard to tell if one or both were used as the black thread gets brittle and pieces snap away, leaving just holes in many areas.

To give you some eye candy – here you see the time trial piece I stitched from the book photos of the jacket.  From afar, the stitches on the bird wings appeared to be the braid stitch/knot stitch. Now we know it is different. For all of you who slaved over learning this stitch in the sample kit, sorry!


Carli’s Needlebook

September 17th, 2008 by Jill Hall

Since the very first embroidery session, Tokens & Trifles has been donating a small commemorative needlework project designed by Wendy White to each new embroiderer. The back of the needlebook, which is stitched on Thistle Threads’ perforated card with cotton floss, has the date of the session the embroiderer attended. Many participants have completed their needlebooks; our 2007 summer intern, Laura, stitched hers as her very first needlework project.

Carli was here for the first time two weeks ago, and this time she brought her completed needlebook for show & tell. Carli didn’t just stitch as written, though, she made improvements. First off she chose different, more vibrant colors. You all know how different the same design in a different colorway can be.

She was afraid she’d smash up the corners of the perforated card, carrying it around with her, so she decided to protect them with – - detached buttonhole stitch. Yes, really.

There is no end to the ingenuity, creativity and ambition of needleworkers.

For Susan, who wrote in the comments asking about stitching on the ‘oes’: yes, thank heaven, we can carry the thread. They are sewn on with a fine silk, and it doesn’t show. I’m so relieved – tying off each and every oe would have been a nightmare.

(There is, however, an end to my patience with this program. I’m having a lot of trouble with the newest version of WordPress; anyone out there know how to wrap text? What am I missing? Send me a note at jhall@plimoth.org if you can help. I have tried the WP documentation page, but I’m not finding the secret key.)

Stitch Your Peas!

August 7th, 2008 by Tricia

Tricia wrote this post for us:

Today we excitedly added peas to one of the pods that are on the jacket to make the instruction sheets. The bottom of the pod is stitched in silk detached buttonhole and then two gold spider web peas are added on top. Here you can see me practicing the spider web pea in a corner to try to get the right size. With the spider web stitch using a thick thread, you need to make the legs really long to end up with a smaller circle. I had to try it a couple of times to get the right size. The peas looked really, really bright on the silk. We had alot of squealing in the room as passersby saw the peas. Very cute. Tricia practicing stitching peas.

We had a question from a curator the other day as to why we were stitching the gold last and not first. Apparently there is an unfinished piece in their collection that has only gold on it. Having not seen the piece, I can’t comment on that piece. I can comment on this jacket and why we are working in that order, along with many other pieces I have viewed. There are several clues that lead us to the ‘gold last’ argument. First, the leaves and peas all have gold worked directly on top of the silk. Second, almost every vine end or calyx (as in the foxglove or peas) overlaps the Adding the peas to the pea pods.silk work, showing that it had been done last. Another point from experience – filament silk catches on raised gold stitches so much that it becomes impossible to work. And we have already shown that much of the silk worked on the original was hand twisted filament in a medium – loose twist, which would have caught on the gold plaited braid as each buttonhole was worked. Just wanted to document our thinking process for those who may have wondered.


blog as documentation helps us, too, when we later try to reconstruct the decision-making process jmh

There’s Gold in Them Hills!

July 29th, 2008 by Tricia

Tricia sent me this post:

The new gold thread has arrived!As you can see in this picture, the gold threads have arrived. Remember earlier this summer the second trial of gold-silver-copper on silk arrived and was a slight bit thinner than the first trial. It worked well for stitching plaited braid. I excitedly called Lamora at
Access Commodities and let her know that using two silk plies for the core worked and we could go ahead and ask Bill Barnes to make a full run. If you check back in your blog a long while back, you will remember our rough estimates of how much we would need. Over 1000 meters. Well, I was surprised that Bill was able to turn it around as fast as he did – and nothing got caught in customs this time!! Customs has been the enemy #1 of this project. I can’t tell you how any times our supplies have gotten delayed there!

So I have more than 1500 meters in my hot little hand right now. Well of course I had to have extra! Some for me and some for you stitchers out there! Give me a few weeks to get my act together and we will have a little kit for sale to benefit the jacket with a needle and
gold thread and maybe a few instructions thrown in too.

Just in time. Next week the workroom will be a hub of activity. My son is going to summer camp at the Plantation and so I have a great excuse to be there all week. I will be starting the gold work and working on attaching detached pieces. Then we have a session starting
at the end of the week (still have spots if you are in the area for a day). Some lucky ladies may even start couching gold and doing reverse chain with this new limited edition material. Cool.


Spin, Span, Spun

May 29th, 2008 by Jill Hall

We get COMMENTS! WHOO! I loves comments, yes I does.

Carolyn H wrote: Jill, Plimoth is so lucky to have this offer from Carol. (I think so too!) I think you’ll be so pleased at the durability of stockings knit from combed long wool. Some years ago I knit a pair of socks for my husband. He put a hole in the heel within a few months (I had used woolen spun Cheviot wool). I subseqeuntly combed some Cotswold long wool, and he has been wearing those socks for over ten years!! This is one of the wonderful things about this blog — chances to read and learn about all aspects of textiles at Plimoth! Thank you.

Thank me? Pfffft. Thank you. I love writing about stuff I love to write about.

Margaret wrote:
In your wildest dreams, did you ever imagine how exciting and interesting this blog would be? I feel humble and proud to have worked on the jacket and toured your costume studio last August. I can hardly wait to see what you do next.

It’s good to hear from you, Margaret. You should be proud, you do lovely work. This project seems to be inspiring a lot of humility and gratitude, though; I feel that every time I get to welcome generous talented embroiderers and lace makers to work on it, and even when I just get to talk about it. And, no, I had no wild blogging dreams, only nightmares where no one came.

Carol from the UK wrote with a technical question:

“two strands S spun and double plied Z”

Is this just another way of saying 2-ply or is this a different technique? I really appreciate all the information you are sharing with us. Yes, I already know a few of the things you write about but I am learning more all the time, and I thank you for it.

This has been an incredible journey, even for those like me who can only watch from the side lines.And before I even had a chance to see this, Kat had written in with the answer:

I’m so flattered that Jill put this up! (I maybe should have warned Kat that everything gets in the blog. Inquiring minds, you know.) I love to spin and this is just such a fun thing to do.

To clarify the “two strands, S spun, and double-plied Z” directions — wool that is S spun was spun on a wheel moving in the clockwise direction (clockwise from where the spinner sits). Wool that is Z spun is spun in a counterclockwise direction. To ply, you want to go in the opposite direction from how the strands were spun. If you ply in the same direction as the spin, you will get a really hard yarn!

The direction also has to do (historically, anyway) with the type of yarn being made. S spun for woolens; Z spun for worsteds. I always think of it in terms of: Woolen — carded — S spun/Worsted — combed — Z spun. Distinguishing between carding and combing is also a tip as to the breeds of wool being spun.

It would be interesting to see if silk responds differently to S or Z spin. An archaeologist friend sent me an article where a colleague of his proved that flax naturally spins in one direction, and hemp in the other. She was able to use the cordage impressions in pottery shards to determine what the clay had been wrapped with, which absolutely blows me away!

Kat, inquiring minds will also want the citation for the article, would you send it please, when you have a chance? Thanks.

And Melanie Anne connected the dots for us:

Ah, another instance of S and Z. In embroidery, we see the S and Z as the differentiation between the Stem Stitch and the Outline Stitch. Depending on the direction you make your stitch it creates a twisted border that makes an “S” or a “Z”. I can never remember which is which, but I believe the “S”tem stitch makes the S and the Outline stitch makes the Z. In practice, most people interchange them without differentiation- but technically there is a difference. This of course, is completely different than just using a stitch to outline something… but I digress… Now that I realize that yarn also has a directional “twist”…. does silk spinning also vary with the directional S & Z?

Yes, I believe that anything you spin, whatever fiber it is, fine like silk or coarse like rope, can either have a right-leaning or left-leaning twist, usually described as S/Z, or clockwise/counterclockwise. I remember seeing an article by Deb Pulliam in Piecework? Spin-Off? one of those magazines about spinning Z and plying S for crochet; that the natural motions of the crochet stitches tended to un-spin “usual” S-spun Z-plied yarn.

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