Earlier this summer I visited The Bostonian Society in Boston, MA to view a very special 18th c. embroidered wedding dress; my posts on the dress and the bride who made and wore it are here and here.
But that wasn't all I saw that day. Patricia Gilrein, collections manager and exhibitions coordinator at the Bostonian Society, had another example of Elizabeth Bull Price's embroidery to show me. Carefully laid in white preservation paper was this exquisite triangular neckerchief, or scarf, stitched about the same time as the wedding dress, in 1730s New England.
Made of fine green silk imported from China and embroidered with silk and metallic threads from Europe, this was another masterpiece of needlework art: the designs are perfectly composed and balanced, the colors still rich and well-chosen, and the embroidery itself is breathtaking. I was especially impressed with the serpentine border, a true test of any embroiderer's skill. The kerchief would have been worn around the shoulders of a gown with the narrow ends in front (much how women often wear triangular shawls today), and pinned in place to the bodice. It must have made quite an impression when it was new, with the metallic threads bright and sparkling by candlelight.
There's no question that time has taken its toll. The fine green silk cloth has deteriorated around the threads, with small holes and spots of wear that make the piece fragile, and the gold and silver threads have tarnished over time. But the quality of one woman's imagination, talent, and skill remains undiminished, and it's easy to imagine Elizabeth sitting beside a window for light, taking great pleasure in choosing her threads and patterns.
Many thanks to Patricia Gilrein, Kimberly Alexander, and the staff of the Bostonian Society for sharing their treasures with me. Above: Neckerchief made by Elizabeth Bull Price. Collection of The Bostonian Society. Photographs copyright 2014 Susan Holloway Scott.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.