Thursday, August 29, 2013

New Blackwork Shirt - The Greenwork Shirt

Well, I seem to have recovered from the Pennsic experiment. Even though I thought it might be a while before I filled up my queue again I seem to be off and running with a number of projects on deck already.  I had planned on a time of rest with no projects in the queue. I found that I could not relax and could not focus on anything without thinking of something bigger and better to do. Well, after some pondering I have rebuilt my old project spreadsheet. (I recently lost all my research and project data on a computer failure.) I started a new list from memory and began adding things to the list. First on the list was the project I shall describe here. After this post I shall simply refer to this project as the Greenwork shirt. 

The basic design will be a combination of two late period shirts which are depicted in "Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of Linen Shirts, Smocks, Neckwear, Headwear and Accessories for Men and Women C. 1540-1660 (Patterns of Fashion)"

To begin with I sketched a version of each of a number of images from the period shirts.  I then photocopied each image about 6 times so that I could cut them out and move them around to get the right layout before cutting.  I based the measurements for the shirt on a prior shirt that I have made which fits me rather nicely.

Below you can see that I put some painters tape on my kitchen table to mark the size of material that I would be working with.  I could then spread the images out for a good look.  What you don't see here is the fact that this is the second attempt.  The first attempt the images were a bit too large and looked funny.  I scaled them down by about 20% and reprinted them to derive the look you see here.

After moving the pieces around over and over I decided to place them onto the cutting board you see here. I don't know why I didn't think of this before.  It allowed me to easily center the images and make sure the piece would be the right size.  The layout you see below is for one of the sleeves.

After all was placed to my satisfaction I then taped the images onto a larger piece of paper which would become my full size pattern for the sleeves.  I will do the same thing for the front and back of the shirt, but I imagine that I'll be sewing for about 150 hours before I'll get to that point.

Here is an embroidery frame which I have recently purchased from a local thrift store.  I believe it cost about $20 and at the time I had never done any large embroidery.  I had always wanted to make this shirt so when I bought this about a year ago I think I may have had this shirt in mind.  Finally I got to put it to use.  Each of the rollers have a strip of cotton tape attached to them.  I pinned my sleeve to each roller and then coiled up the one end of the shirt.  The frame didn't come with instructions and I've never sought any out.  I don't suppose there are too many ways to put this together so common sense seemed to rule the day.


Here is the frame on the easily adjustable floor support.  I really love the movement in the arms of this.  I have been able to sit and sew for 5~6 hours and simply adjust the angles to make sure I stay comfortable sitting on my butt for so many hours at a time.

The first section I started with is the section in the following image.  After beginning this section I was able to come up with a prediction to determine a rough estimate of the total time it would take for this project.  I have decided to keep a rather detailed log of my time.  Every large project I've done people ask me how long it took.  I have rough ideas, but never a real accurate count of the hours.  As I expected this project to take well over a couple hundred hours I decided to keep a detailed journal indicating when I start, finish, duration, description of task etc.  I have been rather diligent with my time tracking thus far too.  Initial estimates seemed that it would take about three hours to complete one flower and one bee and about four hours to complete the flowered vines and flowers you see on the right.

Had to take a family vacation and decided to pack some sewing for the trip.  I did the following two cuffs while on vacation.  My family often slept in late in the morning and so I was able to sew for a couple hours or more each day.  I finished each of the following cuffs in slightly less than 5 hours.

Just for the heck of it, here is an image of the back of one of the cuffs.  You can see I did some back stitching and so the back of the cuff looks a bit sloppy.  I don't care a whole lot as this will be hidden when the finished shirt is assembled.

Here you see the process for the collar.  While I used a small round hoop to hold the material for the above cuffs, the following collar was done with no hoops.  I find that the finished product looks about the same so I think the hoop helps holding the material but does not impact the finished product.  You can see that I sketched the design onto a piece of paper and then traced that image onto the material with fabric marker.  The marker fades away and rinses off with cold water very easily.

Collar in progress.

The finished collar from the front.

The finished collar from the back.  Again this will be hidden, but I wanted to capture an occasional photo of the back to see how well the quality of my work progressed after 300 hours or so of blackwork..

After I finished each of the cuffs and the collar I rinsed them by hand in cold water, stretched them into shape and smoothed out the material.  I then hung the wet material to dry without ironing.

All three pieces completed.  This is about 20 hours total of work.

After vacation was over and I was able to move back to my large frame I continued as you see below.  I started by making the straight lines which would border the vinework and then filled in the flowers and bees. The one image of the dove was not part of the extant shirt design but as I have doves in my heraldry I decided to personalize the shirt a bit.  So far each of the larger flowers is taking between 1:40 and 2:00 each.  The bees are averaging about 55 minutes a piece.


Once again you can see the back of the blackwork.  These may be a bit more important as this portion will not be hidden away.  These will be on the inside of the shirt, but will not be completely concealed.  If I ever display the piece I am sure that this will be a section which is scrutinized even though nobody will ever see the back when the shirt is worn.  I can see already that my technique is improving.

Here is a small measure of how much work has been done thus far.  I have used 240 yards of silk thread in about 60 hours of sewing.  That equates to 4 yards of thread per hour, or one yard every fifteen minutes.
That means I use about 1 foot of thread every 5 minutes which seems pretty reasonable to me.  The pace is slow going as I am trying to keep the stitches small and even.  After the first section of all back stitches I have changed my technique to be more period and thus looks a little better from the back.  That method takes about twice as long though as each line has to be covered twice.  Seems like I'll probably use about 10 spools of silk thread to complete this if things keep progressing at this rate.

I am now on the third section of the repeating pattern on the sleeve.  The sleeve uses 4.5 iterations of the repeating pattern which means that I am more than 1/2 done with this sleeve.  As I progress I am able to better refine the estimate of work to complete.  That leads to both good news and bad news.  Good news is that the estimate seems to be more accurate and the last 30 hours of work have progressed exactly on target with the estimate.  Bad news is that the total estimate went up from the initial guess of 320 hours to more like 345 now.  I am not entirely decided upon my final seam treatment so that number may go down if I decide to assemble the shirt with a more basic seam.

That is all for now.  I don't imagine that I'll have a lot to say on this project other than a quick photo now and then and an up to date count of hours.  If I hope to get this done by January for an event at the end of the month I will have to sew about 2 hours a day every day from now until the third week in January.  Wish me luck!

Hours By Section

Initial frame setup1
Overall design and layout2
Research, drawing & layout planning1.5
Cuff 14.17
Cuff 25
Sleeve 1 Section 1 - Flowers/Bees5
Sleeve 1 Section 1 - Vines12.33
Sleeve 1 Section 2 - Flowers/Bees4.28
Sleeve 1 Section 2 - Vines11.25
Sleeve 1 Section 3 - Flowers/Bees3.33
Sleeve 1 Section 3 - Vines-15.58
Sleeve 1 Section 3 - Vines-2/31.67
Sleeve 1 Section 4 - Vines1.92
Grand Total68.7