Williamsburg Embroidery

my favorite patriot

If we’re connected on social media, you’ll know that I recenty visited Colonial Williamsburg with my favorite eight-year-old patriot and one of his older brothers, who prefers to remain more anonymous.

George Wythe House
George Wythe House

In case you’ve never heard of Colonial Williamsburg, its a non-profit organization and outdoor living history museum consisting of 18th century shops, homes, gardens, out buildings, taverns, government buildings. As capitol of the Virginia colonies in the 1700’s, Williamsburg was a hot bed of political activity before, during and after the American Revolution. Yes, George Washington undoubtedly slept there. Thomas Jefferson too.

Capitol building, Williamsburg
Capitol building, Williamsburg

Today, Colonial Williamsburg is populated with a staff of historically attired re-enactors who work, play, and intrigue in the 18th century style – discussing politics, cooking meals, forming militias, selling 18th century goods in shops, and crafting all manner of 18th century essentials, like wigs, tin cups, and wooden barrels. Every day, at 10am, they storm the Governor’s Palace, and there’s Revolution in the Streets at noon.

My little patriot got to try his hand at kitchen chores, military training, and 18th century children’s games. We all got to see shoes constructed by a cobbler, spoons hammered out by a silver smith, and watch an outdoor performance of Moliere’s Scapin that was so inventive and silly that it held my 8 year old’s attention.

work in progress at the milliner's shop
work in progress at the milliner’s shop

Above all, my favorite Williamsburg activity was our trip to the Milliner’s shop, where they were working on embroidery projects. I dragged my little patriot there early one morning, while his elder brother slept in.

Thankfully, even 18th century stores are prepared to keep children entertained while their mothers browse. A kind seamstress (milliner’s apprentice?!) pulled out a basket of historically correct children’s activities. They embarked on a reproduction puzzle of the monarchs of England, from William I (1066 -ish) to George III (1770 -ish).

I was so busy asking questions and gawking at the embroidery projects, that I didn’t take nearly enough photos, and neglected to document the good ladies’ names.  Yet here are some of the hand made needlework projects I saw there.

A wool pocket book, suitable for 18th century men and women, edged with wool tape, and lined with linen, with rag paper in between to add structure and stiffness. I love the scalloped edge of the top flap and the way it closes with ties.

Case for spectacles, line with wool and leather and hand-stitched with a awl.
Case for spectacles, lined with wool and leather and hand-stitched with an awl.

Likewise, this spectacle case is edged in wool tape and closes with ties, but it was made with a leather inside to help hold the shape and prtect those precious spectacles.

I also learned about bone thread winders, knotting shuttles, and a lucet. I negleted to take photos of the beautiful crewel works in progress, the embroidered silk handbag on display, or how to use the lucet to make squared silk cord. But I did emerge with an book recommendation: 18th Century Embroidery Techniques by Gail Marsh

18th century embroidery techniques

I’ve just borrowed a copy from my local library and I’m enthralled. Who knew that “pattern-drawer” was an occupation in the 18th century? Doubtless the ladies of the milliner’s shop did, but now I do too. I don’t plan on stitching any spangled waistcoats, but if I do, I’ll have the Colonial Williamsburg staff to thank, and you’ll be the first to hear about it.

8 thoughts on “Williamsburg Embroidery

  1. What a special trip! If only our sons were on the same page about their American wars, we could meet up! Mine will be in the grey wool reenactment jacket he is getting for his birthday. I am glad you found some artistic pleasure I. Williamsburg, the only reason we go there is for lacrosse tournaments.

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    1. We’ll have to trade tips on children’s re-enactment gear 😉 Funny how the closer you are to something the less likely you are to make time for it. We still haven’t made it to Sturbridge Villiage – another living history museum here in MA.

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