Sunday, 14 March 2010

Dressing in Starlight

I've recently discovered a historical wonderful blog: Two Nerdy History Girls, written by novelists Loretta Chase and Susan Holloway Scott.

Susan writes often about the 17th century, and most often about details of daily life, which I relish.

One of her recent posts had to do with gloves: Gloves for Show, Not for Snow. The details are delicious: gloves of white or cream perfumed leather, mittens of silk velvet with elaborately embroidered gauntlet cuffs decorated with spangles, pearls or beads.

A previous post on embroidered jackets — All That Glitters: Two Extraordinary Embroidered Jackets — notes that such richly-adorned, hand-decorated fabrics were common wear for the upper crust. Today, it's almost impossible to imagine the time that went into the creation of these works of art, and even more impossible to replicate: yet this is what a team of volunteers for the Plimoth Plantation in Plimoth, Massachusetts, did, in fact.

How many hours did it take to produce the embrodered jacket shown above? Four thousand —  two to three people working full-time for one year. Over two hundred and fifty people took part in this project: stitchers, lace makers, spanglers. The jacket was named Faith, because that's what it took to make it.

The project added greatly to the understanding of history, techniques and materials. It certainly has added to my own understanding. This short video of a woman wearing the jacket in candlelight shows what an evening fête must have been like in the 17th-century, the metalic threads catching the light as a woman moved by, like fireflies on a summer night. This video — click here — shows the same enchanting effect.

The Embroiderers' Story is a blog that documented the process. It makes me long to take up my hoop and needle, but for now, I'll content myself with clothing my characters in starlight.

Sandra Gulland

Author of the Josephine B. Trilogy and Mistress of the Sun


Susan Holloway Scott said...

Many thanks for the link, Sandra, and for your kind words for the Two Nerdy History Girls!
Isn't that embroidered jacket from Plimoth Plantation amazing? I'm completely in awe of the skill and dedication that went in to creating it by 21st c. embroiderers. I've heard that the jacket will soon be making a study-visit to the textiles department at Winterthur, near to where I live, and I hope I'll be able to wrangle a chance to see it in person. As writers, we connect to the past through words, and I'd love to see the product of that same connection made by way of a needle and silk thread.

Sandra Gulland said...

Susan, thank YOU. I was awestruck by that jacket and love your blog. I love the thought of a needle and silk thread connection to the past.

Anita Davison said...

I have never seen anything like that before, Sandra and the video showed just how startling the jacket was. Those Tudor Feasts must have been amazing spactacles.