The Long and Winding Road to Pocahontas

On a lovely Sunday in January, my husband and I joined friends for lunch, then the men went for a stroll while my friend and I stayed in for a stitching lesson. She was excited to teach me some new techniques for raised embroidery stitches. I wasn’t a great student, but I was inspired!

It got me interested in finding more about dimensional embroidery, so I Googled embroidery. This led me to Mary Corbett’s Needle n’ Thread website, which is now my favorite blog to read every day and the main inspiration for doing my own blog. I aspire to create such wonderful content. If you ever need help with embroidery, she has tutorials and videos on just about every stitch and technique.

In my search for embroidery inspiration, I stumbled on a picture of a 17th century embroidered casket. No, not the ones for burial, but incredibly beautiful and detailed wooden cabinets covered in raised embroidery. If you want to avoid my new obsession, don’t look at the examples on my Pinterest page and don’t Google embroidered casket and look at the images.

So (deep breath), after signing up for Trish Wilson Nguyen’s Cabinets of Curiosities 18-month, on-line class to learn to make my own casket, I started following her blog. On it, I learned about a project she helped to accomplish several years ago to recreate an amazing polychrome (multicolored) 17th century women’s jacket for Plimoth Plantation historic site in Massachusetts. The embroidery and lace work on the jacket was all done by volunteers and is featured here. On February 25th, Trish wrote on her blog about another jacket project that was looking for volunteers.

I told you it’d be a long and winding road to Pocahontas!

Jamestowne Rediscovery had decided to reenact the wedding of Pocahontas to John Rolfe on April 5, 2014, the 400th anniversary of of the original wedding. The costumes, which were designed by the Williamsburg Costume Design Center, included a blackwork embroidered jacket for Pocahontas, and they needed volunteers. I immediately contacted them to volunteer and was sent a sample to embroider and return. I completed my bird embroidery and returned it the next day.

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Since my bird passed muster, I drove 2 1/2 hours to Williamsburg the following week to work on the jacket. The Costume Design Center was a revelation. There are people who get paid to design and create historical costumes! They do this for a living. Under the management of Brenda Rousseau, they create all the costumes for the “interpreters” in Colonial Williamsburg. It was so cool to get to see behind the scenes.

When I arrived I was shown into a large room with cutting tables, computers, steamers, racks of clothing and the slate frames holding the parts of the jacket. I was instructed to choose a part to work on and that only 3 stitches were to be used, stem/outline stitch, seed stitch and straight stitches. Under no circumstances was I to use French knots.

The linen fabric was marked with the intricate pattern designed by Tom Hammond. He used the basic design of an historical jacket, but substituted animals, plants and insects native to Virginia. The embroidery was done with black silk thread. If you Google Pocahontas wedding reenactment, there are several newspaper accounts and many pictures of the wedding and the completed costume.

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This is some of the embroidery I did over the three separate one-day trips I made to Williamsburg in March. I worked on the jacket and a coif (head covering) for a total of 15 hours. It was fun and exhausting. I had never worked on a standing slate frame before and it takes some getting used to. It is very different from working on a small embroidery hoop. I had to learn to use both hands to embroider, one under and one above the work.

There were as many as 5 others embroidering when I was there and I met some interesting and colorful people. Many of the local volunteers came almost every day. To complete the project, it took over 100 volunteers and 1,426 hours to complete the embroidery. I got a lovely thank you letter in yesterday’s mail along with the sample of the finished product shown here.

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The complete wedding costume is on display at the Archaearium at Historic Jamestowne through the summer of 2014. They also have products and apparel featuring the blackwork design in the gift shop. I am definitely going to make a trip to see the finished jacket and to shop, since I didn’t make it to the wedding.

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It was a wonderful experience (even with all the driving and aching back and neck), and I will treasure it. My casket class starts May 1; I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Who knew that a friendly embroidery class with a dear friend could lead to so much inspiration!  So, what does this have to do with antique dolls???


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The Long and Winding Road to Pocahontas — 3 Comments

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