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A Stitch Out of Time

Medieval Embroidery for the Modern Era


Appendix D: Tools for Museum Research

In the course of my work with this style, I collected a 'museum kit' of specialized tools. These helped me to make the most of each visit, and to continue the work once I got home again. There is nothing in my kit that is overly expensive or hard to come by and I'm including the list in the hope of helping future researchers.

1)Notebook.

Never go into a museum or library without something to write on and at least a pen and pencil to write with, even if you are just going in to wander, or for some mundane purpose. If you have a notebook, then when you stumble across that wonderful source, or that incredible illumination, or see that they are giving a talk next week, you have somewhere to write the details down. I used to come home with a pocketful of smudged paper scraps to decipher. Now I can look back through my notes to the day I noted down the museum catalog number for that Elizabethan coif.

2)Graph Paper.

Along with the note book, or even in place of it in a pinch, your kit should contain a pad of graph paper. The type of grid is up to you, I use 2 mm quadrille paper, but another person might be comfortable with a larger grid. Having this pad allows you to graph counted stitch patterns, and to sketch more accurately. Transferring a design becomes easier when you can scale your measurements consistently.

3)Magnifiers.

For viewing fine detail, I carry two pocket magnifiers. One is a cheap plastic page magnifier, of the flat Frensel type. Light and flexible, it can be shoved in a pocket, or tucked in a notebook for ready access. The other is a folding stand magnifier that was called a "Linen Tester" (see below). It unfolds to form a lens supported on a metal stand, the base of which is cut out and marked in millimeters and sixteenths of an inch. This one is especially good for studying photos in detail, and in the case of the Victoria & Albert Museum, where the embroidery is displayed in flat frames, it is invaluable for charting fine needlework.

If the item you wish to study is far from the glass of the case, you will not be able to use a magnifier to study its detail, but for some uses the magnifiers are irreplaceable.

4)Camera.

Properly used the camera is your most powerful research tool. It allows you to take home a visual record of your subject, to be studied in detail. This lets you answer the questions that crop up AFTER you have left the museum, and to correct any errors in your notes. I prefer using a 35mm SLR camera, but a simple instamatic can provide you with excellent pictures. You can buy attachments quite cheaply that will increase the usefulness of the camera. For example, I have two magnifying lenses that can be used alone or in tandem for varying magnifications. For getting rid of the glare and reflections of the glass cases in museums, I use a polarizing lens. A simple attachment holds all of this onto the camera lens. All together these cost me less than thirty dollars.
One caution about using a camera. Some museums prohibit photography without a special permit. Also, flash photography is quite often forbidden to protect light-sensitive exhibits. Call ahead, and be sure to choose a film that is good in low light conditions.

5)Ruler/Scale.

To take measurements and to provide some idea of scale in my photos, I use a cheap plastic six inch ruler. In a pinch any item of known size will do, for example, a car key. For items like costume and needlework I place the ruler next to the item to be photographed and then I can compute the size, thread count, etc. later.

6)DMC Chart.

One item I have found endlessly useful in this research project is my DMC color chart. For those of you who have not seen one, it a card containing a sample of each of the DMC embroidery floss colors, neatly arranged by color and number. This card folds up neatly for packing in your bag or briefcase. This card can then serve as a standard color reference for the colors of the items you are researching.

Source for specialized magnifiers:
McMaster-Carr Supply Company
P.O. Box 440
New Brunswick, N.J. 08903-0440

Page Magnifier (index card size)...part number 6796T14.....$3.43.
Linen Tester Magnifier (6x)........part number 1493T26.....$16.79