Captain Cook Waistcoat Project

This project grew out of an email exchange with Sophie Forgan, Curator of the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby. We had been considering ideas for developing my needlework post-retirement, and I mentioned the idea of making myself suitable period costumes and sitting in museums and stately homes doing period needlework. I love both historical costumes and traditional hand embroidery techniques, so it fitted well with my interests. That Sophie thought it was a good idea was a great encouragement!

Sophie suggested re-creating a waistcoat she had seen in the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney. This was being stitched by Captain James Cook’s wife, Elizabeth, while he was away on his third voyage. It was intended for him to wear to Court when he returned, but sadly he was killed in Hawaii in February 1779, so it was never finished. The pieces were kept by Elizabeth and eventually went to Sydney along with other memorabilia of Cook.

The waistcoat is embroidered on Tapa Cloth, a Tahitian bark-cloth he had brought back from an earlier voyage. The bark-cloth was backed with linen, and the stitching is in silk and metal threads, with spangles (sequins), and seems to be in silk shading with chain stitch or tambouring. A bit of exploration on the Internet gave me the images of the piece, and the stitching seems to be within my compass, so we are going ahead with the plans!

Sophie is hoping to put on an exhibition based on textiles for 2015, so that gives me a time-frame to work with. The plan would be to make a period costume while researching the waistcoat, so I can work on the recreation next summer at the museum. So the first stage is to research Georgian costume in books and on the Net, and in museum collections. I have been making a start on this over the summer holidays: one advantage of working in teaching is a reasonable summer break.

I also need to get my embroidery business set up and online, as well as thinking about items which might be suitable to sell, and pieces for competitions and exhibitions. I also need to get a studio set up at home - converting the garage is probably the simplest option! So I have a lot of work to do to get my business properly up and running.

Since we first planned the project a couple of months ago, I have been accepted for an offer of redundancy from the FE College where I work (Hull College), so I will suddenly have all the time I need to work on this! I am hoping to record the work as a blog, as well as lecturing about the project as the work develops, so watch this space for further news. It’s an exciting time for me, and a great challenge!