Guest Blog: Beasties, Carnations & Pea Pods, Oh My!

This week, I’m pleased to present a guest blog by my colleague and fellow costume historian Katie Andusko. Katie and I went to graduate school together at NYU’s Visual Culture: Costume Studies Master of Arts Program. She has experience with such institutions as Doyle New York, The National Museum of the American Indian, The Museum of the City of New York, and Sotheby’s. Most recently, Katie worked on the Brooklyn Museum’s Mellon cataloging project that allowed for the transfer of its collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute (Details on that historic transfer of clothing is available here). When I interned with Katie at the Costume Institute in New York, she was always particularly fascinated by detailed embroidery – especially Todd Oldham‘s work. I think it is therefore highly appropriate that her guest blog for WT is on an exhibition of historic embroidery. And now, on to Katie’s post.

I had wanted to see the Bard show and this assignment put a fire under me to just do it. The show (now closed) was called “English Embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1580-1700: ‘Twixt Art and Nature.” Beautiful to say the least! Please forgive my dark photos– I took them without flash.

Bard is such a beautiful, intimate setting and is always a treat to visit. The show, co-curated by the Met’s Melinda Watt and Bard’s Andrew Morrall, was split up onto three floors and included articles of clothing and accessories, home décor and personal objects such as book covers and the ubiquitous caskets. The caskets, mirrors, panels and book covers showed not only the intricate time-consuming work of the embroiderers, both professional and amateur, and the variety of stitches and materials used to create realistic motifs such as water and leaves, but also showed the common themes and patterns of the Tudor and Stuart eras. Biblical stories, various flowers, plants and insects and scrolling floral vines were all well-represented. In my opinion, the piece de resistance, however, was the embroidered woman’s jacket, ca. 1616 (photo above).

The creativity in the choice of motifs is stunning. Strawberries, acorns, a plethora of real and mythical flowers, caterpillars, flies, dragonflies, birds and my absolute favorite: pea pods with delicate raised sections made to look like peas (hopefully you can see these at the bottom CF). The vines are vibrant metallic thread and the edges are trimmed with metallic bobbin lace studded with spangles. As our friend Tim Gunn says, it’s staggering.

Here are a few more pics from the show:

A plate showing various motifs to inspire embroidery designs, from “The therd booke of Flowers Fruits Beastes Birds & Flies exactly drawn,” English, 1661

A panel including various stones at the bottom such as agate, coral, carnelian and rock crystal, English, third quarter 17th century

An unfinished panel depicting David and Abigail, English, mid-17th century

Accompanying the exhibition was a short film called “The Art of Embroidery.” It explained the various materials, such as silk floss and metallic strips, and how they were actually made into different types of threads such as filet and purl. It walked the viewer through some of the complicated stitches used on various pieces that were actually in the show, such as a coif and gloves. It also discussed the types of people wearing these exquisitely embroidered pieces, such as Queen Elizabeth I and various other nobles. The highlight of the film is the discussion of the Plimoth Plantation’s valiant undertaking to recreate a 17th century embroidered jacket. The work the embroiderers, lacemakers and spanglemakers (if that’s even a word) are doing is extraordinary and really shows the level of quality and beauty that were once put into these bodices, truly works of art in their own right. Here’s the website which discusses the project in detail: Enjoy!
For more detailed information and more images from the exhibition, see:
For information on upcoming exhibitions at Bard, see:

Special thanks to Katie for her contribution this week. Her recap seems especially fitting for Earth Day! I’ll be back next week with a regular post. For those of you who missed the show, and are interested in learning more, a catalog for this exhibit is also available (released by Bard in January of 2009)
English Embroidery in the Metropolitan Museum 1580-1700: ‘Twixt Art and Nature

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    July 15, 2009 - 10:47 am

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