Author Archives: Esther Pickering

Sweet Bag at the Met

Last month several of us visited the Ratti Textile Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They were very friendly and accommodating of our visit. Anyone can get an appointment to view textiles, but the items must be in their department – no costumes/clothing unfortunately and the items can not be on view in the Museum. We were allowed to take as many pictures as we wanted as well. Appointments were limited to 2 hours.

We were allowed 10 items and viewed both embroidery and lace items from the 16th and early 17th centuries. It was amazing to see these items in person. They were all laid out on a table with bright lights for easy viewing. We are not allowed to touch anything, but Isobel, our docent, was happy to flip the items over so we could see both sides.

I will gradually post about the items we saw and share my observations. I cannot share my images online but am happy to show them to anyone that is interested at a work weekend or event or if you want to come by for a visit. The images I have posted here are from the Met website. Unfortunately for the first item all they have is B&W, one of the reasons I choose this bag to see in person.

Bag, first half 17th century British, Silk and metal thread; L. 4 5/8 x W. 4 5/8 inches (11.7 x 11.7 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, by exchange, 1929 (29.23.21)

Bag, first half 17th century
Silk and metal thread; L. 4 5/8 x W. 4 5/8 inches (11.7 x 11.7 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Rogers Fund, by exchange, 1929 (29.23.21)

The first item we saw was 29.23.21 a sweet bag. I was overwhelmed by how exquisitely delicate it is. Embroidered on white silk satin, the threads are incredibly delicate and fine; every stitch detailed.

The main motifs were different on each side of the bag. Something I haven’t seen before. The side not shown has a lovely pink/white tudor rose in middle, a blue borage in the upper right, a yellow and white pansy in the upper left, some blue leaf like thing in the lower left and a honeysuckle flower in the lower right corner.

The silk threads are a variety of soft whites, pinks, yellows, blues and more bold greens and blues used in a satin stitch for the motifs.  I am sure there is some fading with age, but I thought the piece in remarkably good condition. The motif on the lower left shown above has an underlying satin stitch fading from dark blue to light blue to white with gold silk threads couched on top to create a grid pattern. Then inside each grid is a tiny french knot.

The pailletes are incredibly tiny, about 2mm in diameter. Each one is secured with a tiny piece of purl. The coiling stems are pieces of couched purl (looks like rough purl – round gilt as opposed to flattened gilt) out-lined with a 3-ply twisted gold thread that is also couched down with a gold silk. The metal threads are a combination of tarnished silver and gold.

I briefly viewed the interior of the bag. The interior pink silk lining is quite pale and deteriorating. The purse string is the Green Dorge pattern I did for my sweet bag, 4 pink silk threads bordering two gold threads in the middle. Seems to be a popular pattern. It was easy to weave.

There are no tassels anywhere. The bead is woven similar to that described in Jacqui Carey’s book on Sweet Bags and that I used to make mine. There are turks head knots as well. The sides just look like they are sewn together and then lined with the 3 ply twisted gilt thread.

I enjoyed viewing this item in person, it was an incredible experience to see it, experience it and take the time to really look at it. Pictures just don’t do it justice.

Gardiners Site Cleanup


Cleared site, entrance is on far left side

The site is cleared and cleanup has begun! Several members spent this past weekend, cleaning up debris, pulling up small roots, moving logs around and marking out the kitchen and tavern site.

The site is beautifully situated with a large level area dotted with beech and oak trees for shade and completely surrounded by forest. There’s a nice rise of trees on one side creating a perfect berm for archery and black powder. It’s far enough from the road for privacy, atmosphere and quiet.

The morning was spent picking up branch debris and digging up or hacking away roots waiting to trip you up. Then Bob and Alan headed up the driveway to move some trees. Alan used his tow chain to line the drive with a few, while others were towed to the kitchen site for firewood.

Driveway lined with logs

Driveway lined with logs

Harv, Rob, Jeff and Jen tackled the large pile of trees left by the clearing company. The hope is to have someone come with a portable mill to cut the trees for use in the kitchen and/or tavern in exchange for them taking some trees for their own. We’ll see if that works out. The group spent some time rolling some logs off the huge pile onto a sled so they can be worked. A combination of strategic chainsawing, leverage and the occasional tow chain from Rob’s Suburban brought down a dozen or so logs without injury.

Jeff & Rob lever a log

Jeff & Rob lever a log

That wrapped up the day, but there is still a lot of work to do. There are several holes where large trees came down that will need to be filled. Bob and Harv  will be starting on the kitchen soon, digging footers and tackling the brick work. The plans for the kitchen along with a cut list will be done soon.

Jen shows marked out kitchen

Jen shows marked out kitchen

Thanks to Bob and Laura for hosting and coordinating everything! Jeff and Rob who drove down for the day from Maryland and Harv, Alan and Jen for all their work!

To see more images of the site, visit my Flickr site.

Turks Head Knot by Ester Pickering

The turks head knot, a decorative, yet challenging little knot. It was commonly used on sweet bags and is still used today as a decorative knot and seems to be popular for Boy Scouts as a Wood Badge Woggle. Initially I used the instructions from Jacqui Carey’s Sweet Bags book but was confused that it didn’t match some of the knots shown in the close-up images of period bags. There seemed to be various sizes of the knot.

After perusing various books, I found a wealth of information on the internet. It seems there is an entire class of knots known as Turk’s head. They are characterized by leads and bights. What are those you ask? Leads are the number of loops the knot is created from and bights are the indentations created by the weave pattern.

So the knot instructions from the Carey book on Sweet bags is a 3 lead 4 bight knot, which was perfect for the small knots. However, I wanted a wider knot for the top of my bottom dangles and that matched the knot seem in some of the sweet bags shown in the book. I found instructions for a 4 lead 5 bight knot. This was perfect. This is a 4 loop knot with 5 indentations.

I found great instructions for this knot from The International Guild of Knot Tyers. They call it the 5 x 4 Turk’s Head on Hand. I started the knot on hand as it set up the weave. Then tightened this down over a chopstick. The knot is then transferred to the sweet bag and tightened further. You can’t tighten too much as you need room to weave 2 more passes of thread to bulk out the knot.

I used #4 Gilt Smooth Passing Thread from Access Commodities. It is challenging to tighten this knot down evenly before you start weaving, but the result was a nicely woven knot that covered the area I wanted. Instructions for the smaller 3 lead 4 bight knot are found in the Sweet Bags book. Carey gives great instructions. The initial weave also makes a decorative flat knot also found on sweet bags usually made from gimp.

3 loop knot

3 lead/loop Turks Head knot flat made from gimp

4 lead Turks Head knot start

4 lead/loop Turks Head knot start

4 lead 5 bight Turks Head Knot in place

4 lead/loop 5 bight Turks Head Knot in place

3 lead 4 bight Turks Head Knot

3 lead/loop 4 bight Turks Head Knot

Fingerloop Braiding for my Sweete Bag


2-1-14 Casa Mellin – The sweet bag continues to come along slowly. I am in the final stages working on the trimmings. Today I worked on the drawstrings and handle. The width of my bag is 5.5″, an average width on sweet bags I surveyed from the V&A. So a drawstring is normally twice this width with a couple of extra inches. I targeted my drawstrings to be a finished length of around 15″. The handle varied in length but according to Jacqui Carey’s survey of bags for her book, “Sweet Bags”, quotes 60cm or about 23.5 inches to be an average length.

Fingerweaving was a technique used to make purse strings and lacings in period. There are dozens of patterns created by this technique involving one or more workers. The handle and drawstring braid patterns typically match in period examples. Braids are created using all silk or a combination of silk and silver or gold passing threads. I chose a common pattern that had metallic passing threads in a chain pattern with silk border. This is referred as a French string in a 17th century pattern book written by Lady Cecilia Bindloss Standish.

The French string pattern actually involves 3 workers with 10 bowes of silk and 2 of silver or gold passing thread. The pattern I used is referenced as the Grene Dorge from an early 15th century manuscript translated by Lois Swales in “Purse Strings and Lacing Points”. This pattern is made from 6 bowes, 4 of one color and 2 bowes of two other colors and can be done by one worker. If you substitute the 2 other colors for metallic threads of one color you get the French string look. This is the pattern referenced in “Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two” on page 141 that surveys a sweet bag from the V&A.

To determine the length of bowes needed, take the final length you want then add 1/3 to it. Take this and double that for the length of silk or metallic thread used. I added another 2 inches since there is wastage at each end. I need two drawstrings about 15″ long and a handle about 24″ long. So my calculations to determine the length of each string is below.

15 x 1 1/3 = 20 x 2 = 40 + 2 = 42″ – drawstrings
24 x 1 1/3 = 32 x 2 = 64 + 2 = 66″ – handle

Here is a link from a great site managed by Zoe Kuhn and Lois Swales with directions for the braid I did.

If you own Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns Book 2, page 141 has directions as well.


Carey, Jacqui. Sweet Bags:An Investigation into 16th & 17th Century Needlework. Devon, UK:Carey Company, 2009.

North, Susan & Tiramani, Jenny. Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns, Book Two. New York:Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2012.

Swales, Lois. Purse Strings and Lacing Points: Instructions from an Early Fifteenth Century Manuscript. Not published, 1997.

Man’s embroidered shirt

“These shurts are wrought throughout with nedle work of silke, and such like, and curiouslie stitched with open seam. ” Phillip Stubbes, the Anatomie of Abuses, 1583.


Once I finished the Jamestown shirt, I was able to once again work on my own shirt. I originally started the project in October 2012. The shirt pattern is based on a boy’s shirt from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion volume 4 on page 17. However, several patterns were reviewed for various options and techniques. I wanted monochrome embroidery and open work seams.


Boys shirt in the V&A

I planned to embroider the collar and cuffs and possibly the front opening. Based on the thread count of the material I was using, I needed a tall collar to get an intricate design. Since the collar was relatively tall I decided against a ruff.

The cuffs needed to be rather narrow due to my tiny wrists, so the design for this was simple. I had planned for ruffs on the cuffs as well, but decided I liked the look better without them.

The pattern was pretty straight forward as I had made various versions of shirts/shifts prior to this. I used measurements that worked for those. This pattern does not have the shoulder gores often found in shirts/shifts from the period. So I tried without them. I failed to account for their lack in my  measurements so the shirt did not fit or lie properly when assembled.

This was a minor setback as the entire shirt was assembled with open work seams. However, once the gores were added everything fit great! Only lost a couple hours work. So for future reference different chest measurements are in order for shirts/shifts without gores in the shoulder/neck area.


Shoulder Gores

I wanted a geometric pattern with blue thread for a manly look. The period shirt I based mine on uses cross stitch of a geometric pattern. I choose embroidery patterns from period pattern books: Esemplario di Lavori Vavassore for the neck and Giovanni Ostaus plate LXVIII for the cuff’s. The cuff pattern was adapted somewhat as it was too tall for the narrow cuff’s so I just cut off the top and bottom parts.


Collar and cuff embroidery completed


collar pattern001

Collar pattern from Vavassore in center

Cuff Pattern from Ostaus

Cuff Pattern from Ostaus at bottom

The shirt pieces were individually hemmed with a rolled hem using a whip stitch of waxed linen thread. The end of the sleeves were sandwiched in between the cuff’s. While the neck pieces were finished individually and then stitched together with waxed linen thread. All other pieces were assembled with an open work seam with the blue silk used for embroidery.

I love the decorative effect of open work seams. My first attempt was the Jamestown shirt with a relatively simple stitch. For this shirt I tried a new stitch. Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4 shows a few examples on period pieces and in her opening remarks on page 6. Sadly they are not clearly defined or does she show you how they are created.

Referencing a modern stitch book from the early 20th century, Samplers & Stitches by Mrs. Archibald Christie, I found a stitch called tailor’s buttonhole that creates a knotted tight seam. This looked like some of Janet Arnold’s examples so I moved forward with it.


Open Work Seam

The front neck slit has a simple working of thread that I created on the fly. I liked the simple look.

Finally, the 7-8 inch long ties are all finger weaving using 8 bows, 4 of white and 4 of blue silk in a spiral pattern. It took 80″ of thread per bow to create 26″ of usable cord.


Front slit embroidery and spiral ties

i enjoyed creating this shirt. I did not have everything planned out from the beginning. For example I did not choose the patterns to embroider until I was ready for that step, nor did i have the open work seam worked out until I got to that part. When starting a project I often feel overwhelmed at all of the steps involved. This approach made it easier to tackle each step. And it broke up the research as I went along. 

Materials used:

  •  off white linen fabric – 40 thread/inch – unknown brand
  • off white linen thread – unknown brand
  • Soie Perlee #356 blue
  • white silk – unknown brand

Total estimated time – I’m bad and didn’t keep track of everything, research, practice and assembly – 90-100 hours

Jamestown Shirt Done!

So Wednesday after 3 months of hand-sewing and embroidery, one of the Jamestown shirts is done!


Each piece was hemmed by hand with white linen hiding each raw edge. The pieces were then assembled using open work seams. This seam consists of a blanket stitch on the edge of each piece, buttonhole stitch just wider. Then the pieces are joined by stitching around the black silk on the blanket stitch with a white silk to join the pieces and create a decorative spiral look. This was based on examples from Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 4.









The neck was reinforced with a spider type stitched, based on examples from Janet Arnold.


The embroidery was stitched with a simple back-stitch and a reverse chain for the stems. A french knot was used for flower centers.









Finally the ties were finger woven using 5 loops into a square cord using white silk.








Materials used: Soie Perlee black silk and Gemstone white silk. The Au ver a Soie line is colorfast with washing while Gemstone silks will fade with time and washing in my experience. White linen thread and white linen fabric. I will post close up shots of the open work seams and embroidery later.