Recreating a 17th-century embroidered jacket, The Embroiderers' Story chronicles its progress.

Special Guests

June 23rd, 2007 by Jill Hall

Today’s pictures are all courtesy of Robbin. (Thanks again, Robbin.) She and her camera captured several events I missed, all of which occurred on Day Three (Thursday, for those of us who are having trouble keeping track…).

First, here’s Laura the Extreme Costumer, in her embroidered jacket, and the rest of her ensemble, working at a frame which I think wouldn’t have been that foreign to a real 16th or 17th century embroiderer. Laura and Jennifer flew in to join us for Thursday and Friday. It was a treat to meet them and see their work. On Friday, Laura shared with us some of her sketches of items in the V&A collection – her drawing is as beautiful as her needlework. While waiting for an open embroidery frame (at times on Thursday and Friday we actually had more qualified stitchers than we had frames for them to work at), Jennifer made ties for a forehead cloth out of sewing thread by the fingerloop braiding technique. Another guest, Marilyn, was knitting and conversing about Japanese embroidery techniques. It was like a smorgasbord of fiber arts.

Our next special guest was Shay Pendray, who couldn’t escape being set to work. I came back into the room just as she was leaving the frame, and forgot to ask if she made any stitches? I hope so.

Today I attended the Patuxet Strawberry Thanksgiving at Plimoth Plantation, a really special event. The weather was gorgeous and we had a great time, but it did involve walking from one end of the museum to the other, more than once. And after this busy week, I’m too tired to think. Tomorrow we’ll finish up the story of Session One.

Day Three

June 22nd, 2007 by Jill Hall

…was a long one, and eventful and productive. I got home late, although that wasn’t the reason for no blog entry. The thunderstorm I whirled home in was; I thought it unwise to turn on the computer. I think it’s going to take me a few days to catch you up on what’s been going on.

First, let’s go back to Day One, specifically to the Dead Bird conversation. I was in it, so no pictures, but Robbin cleverly caught the whole thing. Here I am, feeling awful about having to break the news to Tricia that her design is upside down. She’s got the reference books out, attempting to convince us all that it’s fine and she doesn’t need to trash two or three hours of work. Wendy’s trying to be diplomatic.

Seeing is believing as they say, so we taped the paper together in order to demonstrate how a coif sits on your head (sort of). Wouldn’t she make a sweet colonist? Thanks so much for these pictures, Robbin.

Day Three (yesterday, Thursday) was busy. The Needle Arts Studio crew started filming in the 1627 English Village shortly after 9:00 AM, then to the Wampanoag Homesite to capture some images of Native women making traditional textiles. They got a lovely shot of milkweed plants, an important source of fiber for cordage and textiles, in the foreground, and a woman working in the background.

Then to Accomack, to interview Tricia about the project and get some pictures of the work, and of Kris’ hands executing detached buttonhole stitch. That was a bonus; we didn’t think we’d have time or the proper equipment to capture that. The filming wrapped up shortly after 2:00.

Below is another picture from Robbin, of Tricia explaining the plan for tackling this project.

Later, the participants were treated to a presentation on the history of Thanksgiving - the holiday and the food - by Plimoth Plantation’s Foodways Historian Kathleen Curtin. After asking everyone to name their special, traditional Thanksgiving dishes, she explained how and when each was added to the menu and how the food reflected the changing nature of the holiday. You can get the same entertaining presentation of the food and the history in Kathleen’s book, Giving Thanks.

Next Kathleen and I went to scout our next location. Remember the One Big Glitch, having to move shop from Accomack to make room for a previously booked event? We were able to reserve another space on the grounds, but when we went to see if there were sufficient tables and chairs (there were) we discovered that it was just too warm to be comfortable for embroidering.

After a hasty conference, we decided to move to the Wardrobe Department’s workshop. I had thoughtfully invited several of the museum’s interns (read: willing helpers) to join us for supper, and after plying them with Marcia’s yummy food they swiftly and efficiently helped us transfer embroidery frames, floor stands, lamps & magnifiers, and all the food service supplies to the Wardrobe office. Thank you, Laura, Kate, Kassie, Mirelle, and Jessy and Ryan, who arrived too late for supper but were bribed — I mean thanked — with dessert for their help.

We spilled out of the Wardrobe office, occupying nearly the whole building (thanks to our co-workers for their hospitality!). The lighting and layout of the Wardrobe office proved very suitable for about four or five embroiderers. This was a happy discovery, as a few local embroiderers are interested in volunteering a day here and there rather than coming for three or four days together. Now I know we can accommodate an embroiderer or two in the office on occasion.

After The Move we repaired to the Crafts Center for a presentation by Peter Follansbee, joiner and historian, on 17th century furniture, the craft of the joiner, and the process of historical research. And a few comments on how lots of birds feed upside down and if its feet were on a branch maybe it wasn’t dead…. Peter’s conversation was thoroughly enjoyed and, if we didn’t need to walk back before night fell completely, we would have kept him longer.

Thus endeth Day Three. I did manage to take a few pictures today, which I will share with you tomorrow night, the computer and camera being willing. I’ll also mention our special guests, and maybe have some pictures of them, if Tricia has a chance to send them over.

We got a new comment from Crystal, who is both sharp-eyed and curious:

Since the majority of the embroidery is being done with one strand of the soie perlee, how will you be handling the parts that are embroidered with two or more colours mixed (such as on some of the butterfly wings and some parts of the leaves).
If I recall, I remember seeing a blue/white/gold and some green/yellow blends.

And some pink and white. Glad you asked. Tricia’s been conducting some research and development (how can I get this effect? Try this? No? Try something else?) and will post about her results soon.

Day Two

June 20th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Day Two is in the books. I’m amazed at how quickly some of the stitching is going; one embroiderer has completed everything that can be done on her frame (it was one of the smaller ones, but still!). Some parts can’t be worked until the threads arrive, and all the goldwork has to wait till last. So she’s sharing a frame – two people working on opposite ends of one of the larger frames. I’ll try to get a picture of that tomorrow.

A huge thank you goes to Tricia Wilson Nguyen, Wendy White, and Justyna Teverovsky of Tokens and Trifles for donating kits for this sweet needlebook to all the stitchers. This project was designed by Wendy using motifs adapted from one of Plimoth Plantation’s samplers, which we’ll see Friday.

Another huge thank you goes to Ann Blalock of Coats & Clark, for donating the threads for the kits, and supporting embroidery outreach in general. Tokens and Trifles plans to donate kits for all the stitching sessions, ‘personalized’ with the dates of each session, as you can see on the back here.

Thank you doesn’t even approach what is due Kathy and Laura. Wendy nicknamed Laura ‘our girl Friday’ because she’s everywhere something needs to be done. This whole week would be impossible without Laura’s good humor and willing hands and Kathy’s quiet attention to every detail.

Here are a few pictures of the progressing embroidery. My photography doesn’t do them justice. The bits of embroidery look like little jewels on the mostly-still-black-and-white pieces. Every day there are more jewels. The stitchers are now working mostly on their own, giving Tricia time to trace off a right-side-up coif pattern, and transfer it to linen. No silly paper hats today.

Wendy and Kris bagged the next batch of kits, which are waiting for one more element and then should go out Monday.

I have been taking notes on what’s working schedule-wise. I’m thinking next time we’ll have to build in a time for show & tell. Several people have brought in original embroidered pieces or latest new creations for us all to admire during breaks.

I spent quite a bit of time walking around in the humidity, planning tomorrow’s Needle Arts Studio filming. It should be a great show. I’ll post the airdate when we know it. Likely it will air in early 2008.

See you tomorrow.

Day One

June 19th, 2007 by Jill Hall

Day One of Session One is history and went very well. I was really more nervous about yesterday, when so much had to be done. Today was just meeting lovely people I’d only corresponded with, or at most talked with on the phone.

Much of the morning was spent in introductions, ground rules (NO COFFEE NEAR THE WORK AREA), and adjusting frames, lights, and magnifiers. Tricia assigned work stations and got everyone started. It seemed like that first stitching was a little nerve-wracking; breaking up the white space with the first bit of colored silk is so irrevocable.

Lunch was delicious, like all the other food. Our meals are being catered by Marcia, a southern cook in the best tradition. We’re eating like princesses. Cheese & tomato tart, abundant salad, fruit, pound cake; if we’re not careful we’ll all have to be rolled out of here in a few days!

A bit of shopping was squeezed in after lunch. Volunteers receive a 10% discount in our museum shops, and a number of special treats including books, scrimshaw needlework tools, and charts, were stocked especially for the delight of the embroiderers. There are more goodies on order that will be in before the August session.

This is the back of the jacket, where Tricia has been stitching one of each motif. As she worked, she took detailed photos of the steps which she used to create instruction manuals for each station.

The only cloud in the day involved what is now called ‘the dead bird coif’. While everyone was working, Tricia began to trace the embroidery pattern onto the paper coif template. This bit is truly fascinating, as it is a glimpse into how these patterns may have been used in the 17th century. Months ago Tricia had deciphered the ‘master pattern repeat’ of the jacket. She and Denise created a master pattern, several repeats of the pattern both vertically and horizontally which enabled them to then lay the garment pattern pieces over the embroidery pattern and trace.

Tricia had the coif-shaped paper I traced off for her and laid it over the master pattern on a light box. She was about 2/3 done when I peeked over her shoulder. She showed me how she’d moved the paper around to get the most complete repeats in strategic places. “Wow, that’s beautiful. But, umm, the birds are upside down.” The coif shape is odd, and it is really hard to see how it goes together unless you’ve made some (and sometimes even then) or worn them. In order to really see how the pattern would lie when worn, we eventually had to tape it together and put it on. Amid hearty laughter at the silly paper hat, we all agreed that, sadly, the birds were not only upside down, but with their feet in the air like that they looked dead. “It’s a lot faster to trace than embroider” Tricia observed, glad we’d discovered the mistake sooner than later.

Tomorrow I’ll have more pictures of the embroidery.

ALMOST the Last Minute

June 18th, 2007 by Jill Hall

First, the new arrivals: samples came today from Irene A, Ann B, and Patricia E.

Today Tricia and Kris brought down everything else we needed for tomorrow. Wendy, Kris and Ann showed up (or were drafted) a day early to help. Most of the day we worked in the Colonial Wardrobe Department’s big workroom.

Lots happened today: pieces of linen with patterns drawn in ink were stitched to the canvas strips of slate frames (here’s Laura working on that);

The frames were assembled and the linen pieces laced onto the side bars of the frames to maintain correct working tension (Kris in the foreground lacing, Wendy on the other end of the couch stitching linen to a frame);

Tricia traced a section of the master pattern onto a triangle-shaped piece of paper so we can make that forehead cloth I told you about last week. A little later, she transferred the pattern from the paper to a piece of linen, which was then sewn & laced into a frame.

Late in the afternoon, we moved to Accomack, which is where we’ll be working most of this week.

Here’s Kris & Laura putting together some floor stands. These will hold the framed pieces of linen. The stands are adjustable for height and angle of working to suit the embroiderer. Those boxes on the table on the right hold four daylight lamps with magnifiers; we unpacked them a few minutes later.

Ann sorted the spools of silk into boxes. The boxes will go on the tables so supplies are in easy reach. Don’t they look like bags of candy?

I didn’t get any pictures of it, but Kathy and Laura moved all the supplies we’ll need for coffee & tea breaks and meals to Accomack, and set everything up. It looks beautiful.

We left Accomack by 6:00 pm, well ahead of schedule. Tricia referred to doing things at the last minute a couple of times today. I’ve seen The Last Minute (remember those ambitious exhibits I told you about?) and this wasn’t it. I even got home in time to post tonight. We’ll all be back by 9:30 tomorrow morning to meet the rest of this session’s embroiderers.

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