I'm not posting this to intimidate those of you who are just learning embroidery. Trust me, some day your work will be good enough to tackle more ambitious projects than the ones you're starting out with. Although this project may be more ambitious than you'll ever do, keep in mind that much of the work was completed by ordinary people who spent a few hours or days of their vacations helping out. I had to share because the finished result is so amazing and gorgeous. The Boston Globe published an article about the project a few days ago but I would have missed it if Kathleen Fasanella hadn't mentioned it on her Fashion-Incubator blog.
Three years ago Plimoth Plantation was planning an exhibition on how America's founders dressed themselves and wanted to re-create a lavishly-embroidered 17th-century women's waistcoat as the centerpiece of the exhibit. They approached Tricia Wilson Nguyen, a specialist in historic needlework, to see if she would lead the ambitious project.
Photo by Ed Nute
“I told them they were totally crazy,’’ said Nguyen. She knew it could take hundreds of people thousands of hours to do the intricate needlework, using a centuries-old embroidery stitch few people know. As if that wasn’t enough challenge, the materials needed - silver gilt threads, hand-cut sequins - had been out of production for centuries and would have to be reinvented.
The design is based on two jackets in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. It's a tight-fitting linen waistcoat heavily embroidered with curling vines, silver gilt stems, gold sequins, gold and silver metal lace, and a wild assortment of flowers, leaves, birds, insects, and three-dimensional butterflies.
Photo by Ed Nute
The project, which was unveiled a few days ago, took three years, cost $12,000, and took the embroidery skills of more than 250 people, most of them volunteers, to complete and construct the jacket. You can follow the story of it's creation on Nyguyen’s site Thistle-Threads and on Plimoth Plantation's The Embroiderer's Story.
A few months ago they received some bad news. Because of budget cuts and fund-raising shortfalls, the museum was forced to cancel the exhibition that inspired the jacket. Although Plimoth Plantation will still own it, the jacket will spend the next two years at the Winterthur museum in Delaware, which has a large collection of textiles and needlework. After that, it will return to Plymouth in hopes that the exhibition will be revived.
Nguyen is convinced that the jacket is the most ambitious embroidery project since Queen Elizabeth ll’s coronation robe and contends it is as fashionable now as it was in the 17th century.
“It’s very stylish,’’ she said. “I hate to say it but, God, it looks great with jeans.’’
I've been wanting to go to Winterthur for ages (it's a couple of hours drive for me) - this might be just the attraction to get me there.