Month: February 2014

The Governor’s New Chair by Thomas Pennington

As those of you who follow the Gardiner’s blog know, we’ve been involved in providing two sets of clothing for the new Row House at the Jamestown Settlement museum.  Additionally, I’ve been working on a project to help furnish the new building, a turned chair for the Governor’s bedchamber.

There are already some nice examples of the joiner’s craft in the row house, such as this frame and panel chair with linenfold panels.


Or this joined chair with an upholstered back and seat.


Both of these examples use mortise and tenon joints, a method of construction restricted among the London trade companies to joiners.  Other furniture making trades, such as carpenters and turners, were in theory forbidden from their use.  For carpenters, basic nailed board construction was typical, such as these classic six-board chests.


Turner’s were left to round mortises and tenons, essentially a round peg in a round hole.  Since the turner’s trade is not represented in the Fort’s furniture, I volunteered to build a chair that would be appropriate for the new Governor’s bedchamber.  Turned chairs were reaching their height of popularity in the late 16th and early 17th century, from simple three-post triangle stools to elaborate great chairs with masses of turned spindles, knobs, and rings.

The model we settled on for the new chair was an Anglo-Welsh piece, circa 1600.  Appropriate for a high-status owner, this chair uses a relatively new style of construction where the back is slightly reclined, rather than the traditional medieval style of a straight, vertical back.  Such a chair would have been turned on a pole lathe, a foot-powered lathe that uses a back-and-forth, reciprocal motion to spin the workpiece.  More about early modern lathes can be found here.

The Jamestown Settlement curator requested that the chair be made of white oak, as opposed to the original ash.  In addition, I took a few liberties with the design to make it more durable for its role in an open-air museum.  The original had wide, flat captured rings on the back rail, and sharp profiles on some of the back spindles that I thought would not hold up under rough use.  Most of the differences are subtle, and the captured rings have been replaced with more conventional solid ones.

Here is the chair thus far,


And a close-up of the back,


I still have a few rails to turn, and of course the seat panels to mortise in, but otherwise it is getting close to completion.  With luck, it will go to the fort for the weekend of Military Through the Ages.

Jamestown Volunteer Training Weekend by Thomas Pennington

Some of Gardiner’s Company escaped the ice and snow over Presidents Day weekend and headed to Jamestown Settlement for volunteer training. Gardiner’s was well represented, with several folks down for the first time. After an exciting round of paperwork and fire extinguisher training (hey, the fort did burn several times), we proceeded with interpretive techniques, black powder safety, Elizabethan edged weapons, and domestic activities. Vince did a great presentation on the processing of iron ore into wrought iron using a period style bloomery, as well as other processes and types of iron and steel.  Not to mention fresh Duck Donuts!

Sunday, Mary Bull presented a class on the other colonial and trade ventures that we’re going on in the New World, giving some additional context to what the English we’re doing at Jamestown. Then some folks got additional black powder training while others checked out more progress with the Governor’s House and renovations to the fort office. The day wrapped up with a Volunteers Retreat, where the Governor’s new clothes were displayed and a call was put out for help staffing the new house so we can display more high-status artifacts without them going walkabout or getting damaged.

The next Jamestown event will be Military Through the Ages the weekend of March 15th, where Gardiner’s members will volunteer in the fort to provide military and domestic demonstrations, as well as judges for the various competitions.

Turks Head Knot by Ester Pickering

The turks head knot, a decorative, yet challenging little knot. It was commonly used on sweet bags and is still used today as a decorative knot and seems to be popular for Boy Scouts as a Wood Badge Woggle. Initially I used the instructions from Jacqui Carey’s Sweet Bags book but was confused that it didn’t match some of the knots shown in the close-up images of period bags. There seemed to be various sizes of the knot.

After perusing various books, I found a wealth of information on the internet. It seems there is an entire class of knots known as Turk’s head. They are characterized by leads and bights. What are those you ask? Leads are the number of loops the knot is created from and bights are the indentations created by the weave pattern.

So the knot instructions from the Carey book on Sweet bags is a 3 lead 4 bight knot, which was perfect for the small knots. However, I wanted a wider knot for the top of my bottom dangles and that matched the knot seem in some of the sweet bags shown in the book. I found instructions for a 4 lead 5 bight knot. This was perfect. This is a 4 loop knot with 5 indentations.

I found great instructions for this knot from The International Guild of Knot Tyers. They call it the 5 x 4 Turk’s Head on Hand. I started the knot on hand as it set up the weave. Then tightened this down over a chopstick. The knot is then transferred to the sweet bag and tightened further. You can’t tighten too much as you need room to weave 2 more passes of thread to bulk out the knot.

I used #4 Gilt Smooth Passing Thread from Access Commodities. It is challenging to tighten this knot down evenly before you start weaving, but the result was a nicely woven knot that covered the area I wanted. Instructions for the smaller 3 lead 4 bight knot are found in the Sweet Bags book. Carey gives great instructions. The initial weave also makes a decorative flat knot also found on sweet bags usually made from gimp.

3 loop knot
3 lead/loop Turks Head knot flat made from gimp
4 lead Turks Head knot start
4 lead/loop Turks Head knot start
4 lead 5 bight Turks Head Knot in place
4 lead/loop 5 bight Turks Head Knot in place
3 lead 4 bight Turks Head Knot
3 lead/loop 4 bight Turks Head Knot

Fingerloop Braiding for my Sweete Bag


2-1-14 Casa Mellin – The sweet bag continues to come along slowly. I am in the final stages working on the trimmings. Today I worked on the drawstrings and handle. The width of my bag is 5.5″, an average width on sweet bags I surveyed from the V&A. So a drawstring is normally twice this width with a couple of extra inches. I targeted my drawstrings to be a finished length of around 15″. The handle varied in length but according to Jacqui Carey’s survey of bags for her book, “Sweet Bags”, quotes 60cm or about 23.5 inches to be an average length.

Fingerweaving was a technique used to make purse strings and lacings in period. There are dozens of patterns created by this technique involving one or more workers. The handle and drawstring braid patterns typically match in period examples. Braids are created using all silk or a combination of silk and silver or gold passing threads. I chose a common pattern that had metallic passing threads in a chain pattern with silk border. This is referred as a French string in a 17th century pattern book written by Lady Cecilia Bindloss Standish.

The French string pattern actually involves 3 workers with 10 bowes of silk and 2 of silver or gold passing thread. The pattern I used is referenced as the Grene Dorge from an early 15th century manuscript translated by Lois Swales in “Purse Strings and Lacing Points”. This pattern is made from 6 bowes, 4 of one color and 2 bowes of two other colors and can be done by one worker. If you substitute the 2 other colors for metallic threads of one color you get the French string look. This is the pattern referenced in “Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns: Book Two” on page 141 that surveys a sweet bag from the V&A.

To determine the length of bowes needed, take the final length you want then add 1/3 to it. Take this and double that for the length of silk or metallic thread used. I added another 2 inches since there is wastage at each end. I need two drawstrings about 15″ long and a handle about 24″ long. So my calculations to determine the length of each string is below.

15 x 1 1/3 = 20 x 2 = 40 + 2 = 42″ – drawstrings
24 x 1 1/3 = 32 x 2 = 64 + 2 = 66″ – handle

Here is a link from a great site managed by Zoe Kuhn and Lois Swales with directions for the braid I did.

If you own Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns Book 2, page 141 has directions as well.


Carey, Jacqui. Sweet Bags:An Investigation into 16th & 17th Century Needlework. Devon, UK:Carey Company, 2009.

North, Susan & Tiramani, Jenny. Seventeenth-Century Women’s Dress Patterns, Book Two. New York:Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2012.

Swales, Lois. Purse Strings and Lacing Points: Instructions from an Early Fifteenth Century Manuscript. Not published, 1997.

Yule 1594

Mistress Olivia Carlyle reports that a good time was had by all at the celebration of Yule 1594.  There were many new and delicious dishes served upon the board, and the mystery of Marcus Carlyle’s death has been solved. 

It seems that Nicholas Trent is indeed clumsy, and did strike his halberd upon Master Carlyle’s head!  This occurred whilst they were escaping from a tavern where a group of the Carlyle clan was being arrested for pirating.  In their haste, Master Trent betumbled down the hill and did kill Master Carlyle.  Master Trent feared that no one would believe it was an accident, so he did move the body and escape to the most southern reaches of Ireland.  Master Gamble did determine that Master Carlyle died of a blow from a halberd, based on the wound.  Master Gamble also decided that it was at the hand of Nicholas Trent, since he was nowhere to be found he could take the blame.  Hence, the story we have always known. 

Ezekiel cleverly solved the mystery, finding the confession hidden within the journal found amongst Master Carlyle’s recently returned belongings.

Thanks to all who were able to attend, and adding to the enjoyable evening.