Tagged ‘V&A’

Holy Spangles, Bat Girl!

October 28th, 2008 by Tricia

The title of this post was Wendy’s reaction to my email that the Laton Jacket was sitting in front of me ready for inspection.  I loved it.

Back to the jacket, Wendy had a number of questions for me pertaining to the embroidery on 1359-1900.  They all centered around one issue – “did we figure it out right????”  The great thing was that I didn’t find many elements that we had been mistaken about.  Phew.  But there was one which really surprised me.  The carnation (or pink) calyx was actually stitched in trellis stitch on most of the jacket and not detached buttonhole like we did.  It took awhile to figure out how we
were wrong about that one.  But then I noticed that the two carnations/pink calyx (so what is the plural of calyx?) on the back of the jacket were stitched with detached buttonhole and this was the only photography we had at the time.

My goal when I entered the storage room for both the V&A and EG was to photograph a close up of every motif on the piece so I could go back later and look at this type of detailing which I wouldn’t have time to systematically do at the piece.  I achieved that goal with over 1000 pictures total. Thank heavens for digital!  I think it will take months to review the data as questions come up.  But I am trying to record what I learned immediately in the blog while it is sharp in my mind.

Here is our calyx.  Even though we are wrong on some…we aren’t taking them out now!



October 27th, 2008 by Tricia
Ok –  I can’t seem to let this plaited braid on the seams go.  Fear I think.  When I expressed dread and how were we going to keep the jacket from getting so wrinkled this brought up the jackets with pre-installed gussets.  Yes, there are examples out there that have the gussets installed in the back and fronts first and then the embroidery pattern is worked over the seams.  As luck would have it, there was one of these types of jackets laying on a nearby table.  (I can’t tell you the personal strength it took not to run around the room and open every cabinet and look in!)
The jacket in question is accession number T.70-2004 and it is available on the V&A collection database.(Remember to use the search the collections function, not the search box on the V&A main page.) It is a simple but effective treatment with the background being a meandering line stitched with silver thread in reverse chain stitch, a speckling of spangles and the bobbin lace edging.  There are very large gussets in this piece to give quite a flare off the waist.  The embroidery pattern and embroidery travels right over the seams without stopping.  The jacket is interesting also because the fabric is fustian, a mix of cotton and linen.

So the big question is – was all the embroidery done in the hand on the linen with the gussets installed or was most done on a frame and then it was taken off and the gussets installed and the local embroidery then finished in the hand.  I couldn’t figure out a way to determine this.  Darn it.



October 26th, 2008 by Tricia

Having been trained as a scientist, I am apt to always question a statement, think about other ways things could have been done and ask for data to back up the statements.  I have to thank Susan and her patience with me all day.  The lack of written records because of the Great Fire in London frustrates us because many of the answers to these questions would have been recorded or derived from the record. But we have to try to derive the answers from the limited number of
embroidered examples.

When Susan brought up that the pattern outline was drawn on the linen by the tailor and then given over to the embroiderers workshop for the embroidery pattern to be applied, I had to question.  Not because I thought she was wrong, but I always need to find the evidence to defend the position.

We had the sleeves in front of us.  So I started looking closely at the inking.  What I saw was that the outline for the sleeve was done in strokes and contained similar errors to my tracing of the pattern outline.  Slight places where the ink was off track and a redo of that area happened a few times.  Also where the ink was thicker where the stroke started and then thin where the ink ran dry.  I asked if they had any evidence of tracing or template using.  We didn’t come to a conclusion on that.

Then the inking of the embroidery pattern.  It was much better done. There were thickenings of the ink and some places I noted where the drawing had elements that overlapped.  Not printed for sure.  The person who drew the pattern was very expert.  The same deviations from the intended line weren’t seen – possibly the difference between a tracing and freehand drawing by an expert.  What I did see that was interesting was an overlapping of motifs.  Let me explain.  On a particular butterfly, the outline of the wings contained stripe and half circle details.  On one wing the pattern of half circles did not overlap the stripes.  But on the other, one half circle overlapped a stripe – as if the drafter was free handing the design and couldn’t make the elements fit.  I don’t know how the embroiderer would have treated this mistake in the drafting.  There were several of these
types of errors when I took a cursory look.

Overall the pattern for the sleeve was custom for the shape and size of the sleeve, not a cut of a repeating pattern like ours is.  It is beautiful and very complex.  I would so love to analyze the ink on the outline and the embroidery pattern to determine if it was from the same bottle or not.  :-)   Won’t happen, but wouldn’t it be interesting to know!

I do agree with Susan that an expert drafter made the embroidery pattern and that the tailor did the outline.  But it was worth looking closely at the piece to support the claim.  Susan suggested that the master embroiderer in the workshop may have been the pattern designer/transferrer.  There is evidence to support that in the practices of today’s workshops.  In the Japanese tradition, the only person who can make a new design is the master.  Here you see me trying to trace our pattern.



October 23rd, 2008 by Tricia
As we were having the debate on who was seaming what and whether the jackets were custom made to order, Susan went to a cabinet and got out another piece to show me – the best part of working in the storage room that day.  She brought out a set of fine blackwork sleeves which were never finished.  I knew about these sleeves as they used to be on display in the textile study room, but what I hadn’t known was that they also own the fronts which go with the sleeves, confirming that it was to be a jacket and not the separate sleeves so often referred to in Elizabeth’s era.
This was fantastic!  So many questions could be answered from this.  First, the point she was trying to make to me was that the tailor drew the outline of the pattern pieces and then the embroidery drafter took over and worked the pattern inside the outline.  There were four sleeve pieces on the linen, nested with two vertical and two horizontal.  From our own layout of the jacket, this was a much more linen-efficient manner, requiring only about 2/3 of the linen we had used for the four pieces.  Susan reminded me that the linen itself was very valuable and hand woven.  We had a mindset that we needed to put each piece on a separate piece of linen so we could maximize the number of embroiderers in the room and thus the speed for our project.
We do know from later workshops in the 18th century and modern Japanese workshops, that two people or more would typically work at the same time on a large frame.  We didn’t try to do that to our volunteers.  We might have had a riot! (I think I remember at one of the very early sessions we had Kris and someone else, I can’t remember who, working on each end of the back for a short time. It was too hard on them physically, not being able to adjust the frame to a personally comfortable working angle, and we never did it again.)
Well, if there were two people working on this frame then we have a better idea of how long chronologically it may have taken to embroider a jacket once we have the actual labor hours when we finish.  I asked if the fronts were on one piece of linen too, much like the existing unfinished waistcoats of the 18th century.  She didn’t remember and we will have to look this up later.
If you want to see the pair of sleeves we were looking at, type accession number 252-1902 into the search box at V&A collections.(Remember to use the “search the collections” search box on the collections page, not the search box on the main page of the V&A website. The main page search boxes looks for things like publications and exhibit openings.)
PS. Several people have asked for an update on the blue silk lining. Justin, who is the weaver of the blue silk lining through Eaton Hill Textile Works as well as an interpreter in Plimoth’s 1627 English Village, PLUS he’s been weaving in Plimoth’s Crafts Center one or two days per week, is pretty busy through Thanksgiving (hmm, wonder why that is?). He’s going to concentrate on the lining in December and January, after Plimoth closes for the season, which works out just fine since I won’t be needing it before then at least. Arianna has taken some pictures of Justin weaving in the Crafts Center, and when Tricia’s research arc is done I’ll post those with story.


October 22nd, 2008 by Tricia

As it happens when researching these things, one ah-ha leads to many questions. I am blogging all this so I don’t forget anything and so please forgive my rambling from one subject to another. So after I went “oh crud”  and joked about a lot of stitching in front of American
football to make those covered seams, I started to think about the order of
things. This was great as I verbalized it to Susan and she went and got a
colleague of hers who is working on the pattern book and had been thinking
about exactly these questions about the Laton jacket.

So the back
seam on the arm would have to be joined and then embroidered upon. Also
the godets or gussets would have to be installed on the fronts and backs
and then embroidered. Also the fronts would need to be joined to the back
along the side seams and then embroidered. Then the rest of the seams could be made along with the cuffs, collar and wings being installed.
Again the vertical integration idea came up.  Well, I asked, then who sewed
the initial seams? A tailor on-site with the embroiderers or the
embroiderers themselves? Or could the tailor embroider plaited braid. Susan and her colleague felt that the well known tailors guild and
embroiderers guild meant that the people were separate and the pieces would
have been turned over. The implication was that the initial seams were done by the embroiderers and then the partially completed jacket was turned over to a tailor’s shop who finished it.

They brought up that
the bespoke (English for Custom-Made) nature of the jackets meant that the
tailor had made a muslin for the person or had modified a general pattern
they had using measurements they had made of the person. They mentioned
that measurements weren’t like we make them, in inches, but more like
positions on a tape. The order would then have been to draw the outline of
the pattern pieces on pieces of linen to then send to the embroiderer’s
workshop for design application and embroidery.  They mentioned evidence
from inventory books that the commissioner may have supplied the linen
themselves to the tailor.  (This brought up the question about suppling
embroidery threads too). Certainly we can see on many jackets that the embroidery was worked to the pattern outline and stopped and that on many jackets the outline is visible and so hasn’t been altered. I had asked if they thought that there could have been an industry supplying partially completed jackets for final construction after purchase. I mentioned this in light of the comment in ‘The French Garden’ about embroidered jackets for sale in the Royal Exchange, implying ‘Ready-Made’. Susan and her colleague really felt that the jackets were commissioned bespoke. And certainly there is plenty of evidence from the garments themselves to support that along with the great cost we now know in making them on risk of having a buyer.

More tomorrow
about the linen and pattern making.


More Lace Thoughts

October 21st, 2008 by Tricia

Another question we had was how the lace was applied to the jacket and what happened at corners when the lace had to change direction (think front edge corners).

Well, the lace is whipped down with a white thread in a very fast and crude fashion.  Susan and I joked that we would need to replicate the haphazard way it was done – maybe enlisting someone who couldn’t sew.
Was the lace applied by the wearer herself?  Maybe.  When the lace turned around the corner of the front of the jacket, it was eased in place.  No folds at all.  Just a small amount of bunching of the straight edge to help the lace turn the corner.   This was consistent with a nightcap in the MET collection that I had studied earlier this summer.  The lace was whipped into place on the internal edge of the cuff on this nightcap and the join was rough as I saw on the jacket.  On the jacket, the lace edge was whipped to the front of the jacket, on the linen edge.

As we talked further, I asked Susan if more was known about the Laton jacket.  Certainly the portrait and jacket survived and ended up together.  Were there any contemporary family papers, an account book perhaps that survived?  Sadly, no she said.  The pieces had surfaced in the early century with auction houses and no papers have been found.  There are so many questions we have about the commissioning of
jackets and price that one good account book could give us answers.  I also told her that if we had a price for the embroidery or jacket we could make all kinds of calculations based on our work to give order
of magnitude answers to so many questions.  Again, the day put ideas in our heads of info we needed to  be on the watch for in the future.  I put it out there for all of you reading – if you come upon any of
this – let me know!


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

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