Today is the first day of the Winterthur Conference Embroidery: The Thread of History. Approximately 200 people are in attendance, representing a number of states. The focus of the conference is how embroidery serves as a historical record of the socioeconomic issues of the time, allowing for a view of embroidery from a historian’s perspective. The exhibit of the same name is on view from October 5, 2018 to January 6, 2019.
The morning agenda was four fabulous talks on very different topics. We started with Tricia Wilson Nguyen of Thistle Threads whose program was Materials for Historically Inspired Needlework. Tricia spoke about creating threads and other materials for adaptions in order to make the reproduction as accurate as possible. In addition to showing extensive slides of historic needlework, she discussed the economics of producing materials for a limited market.
The second speaker was Virginia Whelan, a textile conservator and owner of Filaments Conservation Studio. Her talk, entitled Material Witnesses: Testimony of Embroidery, focused on how she was able to trace information about furniture, cotton manufacturing, and Independence Hall by using information extracted from the study of three different samplers given to her for conservation.
The third speaker was Joan DeJean, Trustee Professor of French at the University of Pennsylvania, who spoke on The Price of Beauty: Embroidery and Louis XIV’s Versailles. She discussed the role of embroidery in the rise of Paris as the center of fashion during the reign of Louis XIV and his construction of Versailles. She spoke about the loss of the wonderful tapestries that used to hang in Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors as well as the garments created for Louis XIV (the Sun King), because he needed the gold and silver threads used in their creation to finance his wars.
Our final speaker before lunch was Sally Tuckett, Lecturer in Dress and Textile Histories at the University of Glasgow, who spoke on the Ayrshire whitework industry. Needle Crusaders: The Ayrshire Whitework Industry in Nineteenth-Century Scotland described the production of this popular alternative to lace through a cottage industry. In the mid-nineteenth century it employed thousands of Scottish and Irish women but by the end of the century the industry had fallen into decline due to changing fashion as well as advances in textile manufacture.
After lunch the attendees participated in a variety of workshops that included tours as well as needlework projects, either 90 minutes or 3 hours. I was able to attend a 90-minute tour of the needlework collection on public view at Winterthur.
We were also able to visit the study room and see some of the pieces in the collection that are not on public view.
My second workshop was to participate in stitching the Plymouth Tapestry. Rather than paraphrase I will quote directly from the brochure:
A large-scale embroidered tapestry telling the story of Plymouth, Massachusetts, is being created for Pilgrim Hall Museum, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the 1620 founding of Plymouth Colony. The Plymouth Tapestry will portray the experiences, familiar and unfamiliar, of the English settlers who arrived on the Mayflower, and the Wampanoag families who inhabited the region for millennia before their arrival. The tapestry is a visual exploration of history, memory, and cosmology, depicting the culture and everyday life of the Wampanoag, English, and American peoples who have inhabited this unique place.
The multimedia thread-on-linen embroidery will be comprised of twenty, six-foot-long panels. Three of these panels will be at Winterthur, where embroiderers (beginner to experienced) will have an opportunity to participate in the project. Elizabeth Creeden, who designed and drew the tapestry, will lead the work. For those who wish to learn more or simply witness the work in progress, she will also be available to describe the steps required to plan such a heroically scaled project.
The Plymouth Tapestry is a signature project of Pilgrim Hall Museum, repository of many of the real 17th-century belongings of the Pilgrims and will be exhibited in conjunction with Plymouth’s 400th anniversary commemoration in 2020.
I was able to put in some yellow stem stitching on the banner edges on the panel that includes the image of Henry VIII. The stem stitch on the top from “excommunicates” to “publishes” is my stitching, as is the bottom line in between Henry’s legs. Each stitcher signs the Record of Stitchers and there is a full-size drawing of each of the panels that each stitcher indicates exactly what (s)he stitched. It is an amazing undertaking and I was honored to be able to be a small part of it.
Tomorrow morning I will be touring the exhibit at a leisurely pace since I have no workshops scheduled. After lunch we will hear from four more speakers. At the end of the conference I will be heading home so tomorrow’s blog may have to wait until Sunday to be posted.