[A quick note to self: In developing the method of mapping the stitch path, I was struck by the similarity to the sampler/sampler system I developed with Sean Cottrill, I wonder if this could be modified and used as a starting point for the reconstruction system?]
I felt this first research trip was as more about working out possible study methods so I wanted to try a few different approaches with the coif patterns. While the stitch path drawings contain a low of useful information for me to work with, I wanted to try and capture something of the materiality of the object.
I began by drawing the pattern to ‘thread count’ scale and as a repeat.
When I draw out my own patterns, I often draw the pattern elements ‘breaking down’ – this serves two purposes. First, to work out how these might be used for shading and fading (a modern blackwork technique)
Second, in drawing pattern elements systematically you get an idea of how the might be most efficiently stitched. In modern blackwork the patterns are often worked as component parts in rows of diagonals, i.e.
So if I was sketching this pattern my drawing might look like this:
And from the process of sketching the pattern I discover a more efficient way to work it:
After the pattern sketches, I decided to try and draw the plait stitch. Plait stitches are complex braided stitches used here to form the vine stems – it is not a type of stitch I am familiar with!
I tried to draw the stitch using a more naturalistic style to try and work out how the threads are braided. I found this extremely challenging, working on the drawing from observations through a magnifying lens – it was tricky to switch between two different scales of working and trying to capture something of the texture of the threads (I might try this drawing again from a photo). I also clearly need to try embroidering some plait stitches – they are obviously complex and I need to get a feel for how they are worked.
My final exercise in observation was a physical stitch sample. Experiencing the act of stitching threw up some useful embodied observations.
First, the embroidery thread I use was too thick, so I had to switch to a machine thread (I must get myself some different types of embroidery floss to experiment with).
Second, the fabric I was working on was much coarser – so the pattern came out larger.
Thirdly, this particular pattern seems to be more efficiently stitched in it’s pattern units (as opposed to the broken pattern method I discussed earlier).
And fourthly, my hand REALLY started to hurt – you end up working with one hand when using a hoop (the other hand supports the hoop) – lots of small close stitching puts a real strain on your fingers. I began to wonder about the embroiderer who made the coif. I wondered if her hand hurt, I wondered if she worked on a frame – a frame allows you to use both hands to stitch – or did she work without stretching the cloth at all – something I haven’t tried before.
As you sit and stitch, your mind does start to wander. It suddenly occured to me that I had made a pattern sampler very much like the 19th century one when I first began to practice blackwork – it’s even a similar size cloth. I began to think about the resonances between the embroidereies, the 16th century coif, the 19th century sampler and my 21st century sampler – the similarities in pattern and the three embroidreres seperated by hundreds of years but sharing a similar experience through the act of stitching. I looked at the back of the pattern I’d just stitched and the back of the pattern I’d emulated – without thinking I’d stitched a similar path.