Monday, September 27, 2021

Deerfield Virtual Symposium - Education in the Early Republic

Deerfield will be putting on a two-day virtual symposium this fall (October 22-23) and registration is still open.  The official title of the symposium is:  Skilled Hands and Cultivated Minds: Art and Education in the Early Republic.  Needlework figures prominently in the talks.  Here is the description of the event:

According to the best political science of the 1780s, a well-educated citizenry was crucial to sustaining a healthy republic. New England and especially the Connecticut River Valley became a center for education and reform in the early 19thcentury, with dozens of academies founded to teach young men and women. Many offered a curriculum in English grammar, foreign languages, arithmetic, geography, and science including astronomy and natural philosophy. For additional fees, girls could take drawing, painting, embroidery, and other ornamental work. A few academies even rivaled the resources of universities by comprising museums, libraries, and expensive scientific equipment. Twice a year students demonstrated their newly acquired knowledge during a program of speeches, dialogues, and orations attended by parents, trustees, and townspeople. Workbooks displaying exercises, and special projects such as drawings, maps, needlework, and painted furniture prepared for school exhibitions survive in sizeable numbers and testify to the skills and at times budding activism of young learners.

This two-day virtual forum brings together a dynamic roster of academic and museum professionals discussing the development of early New England academies, their goals and curricula, and the decorative and graphic arts produced. Lectures will include topics ranging from educating children in the New Republic, a survey of art from academies, ornamental arts at the Litchfield Female Academy, New England schoolgirl needlework, the creation of anti-slavery needlework by white schoolgirls, drawn and copied maps, scientific instruments (orreries, telescopes, microscopes, sextants, air pumps, etc.), and short talks by Historic Deerfield staff about objects from the collection. 

The entire schedule of talks is available here.  For registration go to here or:  

Registration Information

This program is presented live via Zoom webinar. The link to the webinar is sent to registrants prior to the event. Recordings are available to registrants for a period of two weeks after each session. 

The cost of the webinar is $110 ($100 for members), $135 for new members*, and $50 for students. For more information, contact Julie Orvis at or (413) 775-7179.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Attacking Big Projects - Feeling Overwhelmed so Can't Start?

We have been talking on NING among the casket makers about how it is so easy to get stymied by a big project.  As everyone has been talking, I had forgotten that most people don't often take on enormous embroidery projects or likely very large projects in other aspects of their lives.  It is my 'speciality'.  

Since I was little, I often worked on very large embroideries for a youth competition or some sort of big project with many people.  A PhD, writing research grants/running big product developments, and dealing with a new 9-12 month robotics competition build every year.  All things that hone your ability to look up at some imagined skyscraper that needs to be built, which doesn't have a recipe book, and feel comfortable putting the first brick down for the foundation.

The key to this is LISTS.  Lists are also the key to creativity but I will talk about that a different time (it is counter intuitive to people who aren't used to exercising creativity).  The list is a way to both plan and off load your anxiety to a different place - it sits captured in the list.  Every time my dyslexic kids start to hyperventilate and insist that they are just overloaded, I use this technique as well with them.

Take whatever you want to do and write down all the parts or tasks.  Let's take an example of the Harmony Casket, starting with the parts first.  

Front Panel
Front Frieze
Left side
Left Frieze
Right Side
Right Frieze
Back Frieze

Then you sub divide it down to a monthly level of parts or tasks.  Then you subdivide the first few months even finer.  (I have only done this for a few months just to illustrate and save space).  Then assign a week or a day for each depending on the amount of work it looks like is reasonable.

Front Panel:

Month 1 - Satin Stitch of Front Panel
    - Satin stitch flowers (2 weeks, one flower or leaf a day)
    - gimp stems and centers (2 days)
    - gimp around ovals (1 day)
    - mounds (2 nights)
Month 2 - Center of Front Panel
    - mound (2 nights)
    - stumpwork animal (2 weeks)
        - work outline (1 night)
        - fill with needlelace (4 days)
        - couch padding (1 day)
        - install eyes (1 night)
        - tack down needlelace (1 day)
        - mane and ears (2 days)
        - gimp around edges (1 day)
        - flower/bug/clouds (1 week)
Month 3 - Garland of Front Panel
    - cut and bend Facette (2 nights)
    - lay out segments (1 day)
    - couch Facette (3 days)
    - detach buttonhole blue flowers (4 days)
Month 4 - Silk Purls and some needlelace
    - silk purls - 4 nights
    - Tulip petals - 4 days
    - Tulip Leaves - 1 day
    - Rose Petals - 4 days
    - Rose Leaves - 2 days

Then I will add these things for the first month to my calendar or other to-do lists, integrating them into the daily running of what I want to do.  It spreads it out.  If you look at month 1, I have a goal of doing the satin stitch for one flower a day for two weeks.  I get the flower done and I have accomplished all I need to get my casket done in the 24 months of my schedule.  I don't need to fret - because I am on schedule.  Sometimes I will feel calm and accomplished because of this and will do three flowers in that one sitting.  Now I am AHEAD of my casket schedule by THREE days.  I am not only getting my casket done but I am CRUSHING it with those three little bits of color on the big expanse of linen.  I bet that isn't how you feel when you look at three petals worked on a slate frame.  It is all about tricking your head and playing mind games with it.  Then when I get behind by a day, I just think to myself  - hey... you were ahead of schedule.  You just need to get all these satin stitched flowers done by day 14.  No sweat.  Everything else is off of my mind because it is written down in a schedule in my list.  As I complete things, I can bring new things into the weekly or daily to-do that runs around on my phone or in my head.  And when I start to approach the end of those fine grain listed tasks for panels, I do the same for the next set of a few months.

This is easy for courses like the Harmony with Nature or Five Seasons, etc. because I have already done the first list for you - I have divided it up into chunks that can be done in a month (some months are heavier than others).  And you can even go motif by motif or paragraph by paragraph and assign the number of days to it.  So it doesn't take too long for a project like this to be inputted into your daily calendar with days off in between.  And if you get ahead, you can just start some of the next stuff if you want to or put it aside for another project, confident in the knowledge that you are going to get this casket done 'on time'.  

You may have even taught your own kids to do this to plan out a research paper or something like that.  But those are usually short term projects of less than a month and not something that takes nine months to a few years.  Those types of projects just start to overwhelm.  We always have a set of big calendar pages on the wall in the robot room to allow the kids to see the calendar and take their program plan (i.e. lists) and distribute them in pencil on the calendar.  Then they see what has to be accomplished by what date to keep on schedule.  Sometimes you are ahead and can screw around a bit having fun doing something else.  Sometimes you see you are behind and need to come over and do a little more work to catch up.  You can apply that to your needlework life too.  You can space out the casket and still have time inside that schedule for not stitching (we all have periods of time where we aren't) or for some other project to be woven into the off days.  You can choose a different schedule - 36 vs 24 months if that is more realistic when you get the fine grain list done.  You should never feel like you have to embroider every day to make the list+schedule.  That is unrealistic.  

Usually my list for a month has all the big projects on it and I will look and determine that it is doable with slack or something needs to be kicked down the road.  I will have to have slack as always something comes up in life.  Or maybe I need to do a little overtime across the board and stay focused because this is my job.  

I can say that I completed the Harmony Casket AND Five Senses casket in the same 24-month period of time.  I was working on them both at once.  AND I ran the robotics group, my household and did all the writing of the instructions and shipping.  So I know it is possible if you are actually dividing the tasks up into small doable bits to get one of these done in that time frame.  I also had to stop and fret over the decisions for everything as I was originating the decisions for each thing - looking up examples, taking the pictures, etc.  Now the Tent stitch one took 3/4 of my time and the Harmony one took 1/4 of my time a month.  That is because there are less needle moves in a stumpwork casket.  So you can modify your estimates of what you get done accordingly - Tent stitch takes much longer.  Were their days that I worked for the day stitching - yes.  But I have a hand condition that doesn't usually allow me too.  So that is rare.  

I believe that the bigger issue is whipping yourself for not completing multiple panels a month... for having done a few petals and the frame is sitting there looking completely blank.  It is the slow and steady progress of a few stitches a day on a plan that gets enormous projects done - it sounds like boring 'exercise every day' advice.  Yes, it will be months before anything looks like something and it is so much easier to just whip out a Christmas ornament to make yourself feel great.  But will that be the item that proudly sits in the middle of the house in a few years that everyone who enters will see and go absolutely crazy about because they just can't fathom how you found the time to make such an amazing huge piece?  

First step is make some lists.  And afford yourself the luxury of slowly doing the framing up and tracing on that list.  Or divide the steps to getting to design changes.  Add all the stuff you can think of to it so you can cross it off when that part is completed. You will know you have made progress and can turn to something else on your daily/weekly/monthly to do with not only a clean conscious but a feeling that you are accomplishing your casket - you are crushing your long term schedule with progress.