Now this is hand sewing pt.2

17th_century_embroidery [The first entry on hand sewing was published back in 2006 and has nothing to do with this entry -other than that both are about embroidery.]

I love hand embroidery; it was a cherished hobby for years. In the forum, Mary Alice posted a link to a story about the reproduction of a 17th century linen waistcoat. This is how it started:

Three years ago, Plimoth Plantation approached Tricia Wilson Nguyen, an MIT-trained engineer specializing in, of all things, historic needlework, to see if she would help lead an ambitious project. The museum wanted to re-create a lavishly embroidered 17th-century woman’s waistcoat as the centerpiece of an upcoming exhibition on how America’s founders dressed themselves.

“I told them they were totally crazy,’’ said Nguyen, who lives in Arlington.

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.

In the end, Nguyen was right, it took hundreds of volunteer stitchers and over $12,000 to complete the work. At top right is a close up of the stitching detail.

The story of the jacket and the required labor is told on Nyguyen’s site Thistle-Threads on the Plimoth Plantation website. There’s lots of photos of the work and fitting in process. This entry will be educational if you can’t imagine how the work was structured. While cumbersome and difficult to handle the work piece, I really don’t think there is a better way to do it than this.

Not to be missed on Nyguyen’s site is a listing of artisan manufacturers who stock unusual embroidery (and complimentary) supplies. I know what I’ll be doing for the rest of the afternoon.

Edit 5/9/12: Tatiana (thank you!) left a link in comments below to the Flickr album with over 300 images.

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Clara Rico says:

    Oh I’ve been having fun looking at their website and drooling over the pictures. The ones in the candlelight are breathtaking. Thank you for showing us this. It makes me wonder how many people would have worked on a jacket like this in the 17th century, or how long it would have taken them.

  2. Robyn says:

    That’s really amazing. I took up embroidery and crewel this year, but I couldn’t even have imagined something like that. It gives me great appreciation for that work.

  3. This is a great post. I am enlightened and impressed that the bulk of the work was volunteer. It must have been such a great feeling to be involved in something like this!! Our mother started us out with beading before hand sewing tiny things and eventually sewing on the machine at a very young age. I will never forget how close I felt to her while working on those projects. I can only guess how this event changed the lives of those involved, and hopefully gave some perspective on how time consuming making beautiful garments can be.

  4. Violette says:

    Gorgeous! Embroidery was my first stitching art, back when I was five years old. It was my mother’s favorite rainy-day activity for us kids. Even my brother did some, though I doubt he’d admit it today.

    I never really understood the appeal of cross-stitch when there are so many other beautiful, intricate stitches available to add life and texture to your designs. What fun this project must have been!

  5. Louise says:

    Thanks for posting those, Tatiana – I’ve only just seen this entry and the small photo Kathleen posted was not enough! What beautiful work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.