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Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Sargent portrait of Ellen Terry

Ellen Terry wearing the costume for her role as Lady Macbeth

Many of us theater people have seen the 1889 John Singer Sargent portrait of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth and admired that beautiful gown of crocheted fabric embroidered with 1,000 beetle wings that she wore for the role.

It turns out that the gown suffered much damage during its 120-year history of wear and display at the Ellen Terry Memorial Museum.  Happily after fundraising efforts of 110,000 Great British pounds by the National Trust for repair and reinstallation and more than 700 hours of work by specialist Zenzie Tinker and team, the restored dress went  back on display in 2011.

When Ellen Terry starred alongside Henry Irving in Macbeth in 1888, there was not a wide choice of fabrics available in England.  Alice Comyns-Carr, the costume designer, could not find the colours she wanted to achieve her effects. She wanted one dress to ‘look as much like soft chain armour as I could, and yet have something that would give the appearance of the scales of a serpent. ’(Mrs. J. Comyns Carr’s 'Reminiscences'. London: Hutchinson, 1926). The famed dressmaker Mrs Nettleship found a twist of soft green silk and blue tinsel in Bohemia and this was crocheted to achieve the chain mail effect.
The dress hung beautifully but: ‘we did not think that it was brilliant enough, so it was sewn all over with real green beetle wings, and a narrow border in Celtic designs, worked out in rubies and diamonds, hemmed all the edges. To this was added a cloak of shot velvet in heather tones, upon which great griffins were embroidered in flame-coloured tinsel. The wimple, or veil, was held in place by a circlet of rubines, and two long plaits twisted with gold hung to her knees.’

Here is some of the damage to the costume:

Adding net to support the crocheted fabric.

Damage to the skirt
 The dress arrived at the Brighton studio of specialist textile conservator Zenzie Tinker with a box of tattered pieces. It appears that the dress had become an amalgamation of two similar costumes--our wardrobe friends can relate to that-- and Ms. Tinker and staff had to remove the later additions, repair the crochet fabric, and reunite the pieces of the original dress to restore the original Victorian look of the costume.  The additional costume might have been a duplicate or a costume for the understudy.

Unpicking the dress

The museum curators at Smallhythe Place had collected the original beetle wings as they fell off the dress over the decades. At least 100 broken beetle wings were repaired by gluing Japanese tissue paper dyed green on to the back of the wing.  The wings were then be stitched back into place; missing wings were replaced with beetle wings donated by an antiques dealer in nearby Tenterden.

           Above: original beetle wings waiting to be reattached.

Stitching on the beetle wings

The restored dress back on display

 The copyright for the images from the conservation process is held by  Zenzie Tinker with permission of Smallhythe Place and the National Trust.  For more on the conservation process or Ellen Terry, here are a few links:

Zenzie Tinker
 Archeology of a Dress
Victoria and Albert Museum
 The Guardian

Monday, April 8, 2013


Need a fun time after the madeness of filing your income tax? I will be teaching 3 classes on April 27 and 28, 2012 at the Innovative Beads Expo in Edison New Jersey.  Here is the info:
                                            WIRE CROCHET

Learn to crochet with wire by making this fun flower and the charming birds nest earrings. Students will learn which sizes of wire are best for crochet, tricks for working with wire, the chain stitch, single crochet, how to add beads to your work, and how to crochet flat shapes and in the
round. Crochet experience helpful but not necessary.
When: Saturday, April 27, 2012   10:30 am-1:30 pm
Class Fee: $60. Pre-register by April 24 and save $10
Kit fee: $30
Kit includes: practice wire, 28 gauge colored wire, 24 gauge colored wire, seed beads, Swarovski pearls, long Magatama beads, ear wires, 2 crochet hooks

Students to bring: scissors, bead mat, diagonal wire cutters, nylon-jaw pliers, chain-nose or round-nose pliers (optional), task light (optional). 

                                              FANCY PANTS

 Start from the very beginning and learn to crochet beads with a chain stitch to make this sparkly necklace that combines pretty nylon cord with a variety of larger beads. Students will learn how to string beads in a pattern, crochet the basic slip knot and chain stitch, crochet with beads, braid 3 strands together, fasten a clasp, and make dangles. No crochet experience needed.
When:   Saturday, April 27, 2012   2:00 pm-4:45 pm
Class Fee: $60. Pre-register  by April 24 and save $10.
Kit fee: $30
Kit contains: nylon cord, size 6̊ seed beads, Magatama drops, 6 mm stardust beads, 4 mm stardust beads, 6 mm beads, 8 mm beads, vintage Czech beads, bead caps, clasp, jump rings, crochet hook, and needle.

Students to bring: scissors, bead mat, pliers for opening jump rings, task light (optional).

                                         AROUND THE BEND

Learn tubular bead crochet with slip stitch so that you can make the lariats that are so popular right now. Students will make a 3.5 inch tube of size 8̊ beads that can be strung as a straight tube or turned into a teardrop-shaped pendant with a few simple wire work techniques. You will learn how to string beads in a pattern, bead crochet in the round, add a new thread; finish a piece with bead caps, and how to combine the bead crochet tube with wire and crystals to create a fun focal piece.

Students must know how to make a slip knot and chain stitch before class.
When:  Sunday, April 28, 2012   11:30 am-1:30 pm
Class Fee: $60. Pre-register before April 24 and save $10.
Kit fee: $30
Kit Includes: Size 8̊ Japanese seed beads, size 8̊Japanese hex or triangle beads, nylon crochet thread, bead caps, Thunder Polish crystals, assorted accent beads and metal charms, 20 or 22 gauge wire, ribbon or cord, crochet hook, beading needles, and safety pin.

Students to bring: scissors, bead mat, task light (optional); also round-nose pliers, chain-nose pliers, diagonal wire cutters, and nylon-jaw pliers if you wish to make the tear-shaped pendant.

Here is the link for class registration Register for Bead Classes.