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More Questions than Answers: A Case Study for Researching Embroidered Textiles

Updated: May 5, 2020

This gorgeous if somewhat faded cushion cover from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston is an enigma.  If you were looking at this piece passively in a museum, you might notice the imagery first: a woman sitting on a hillock looking in a mirror, stags, flowers…  Or you might be struck by the stitching technique: turkeywork, burden stitch, couching, satin stitch. You would rightly be amazed by the amount of work and the riotous cacophony of figures stitched to create this cushion cover.

But when we look at a piece for research, we’re trying to answer questions: When was this piece created and why? What are the materials and why were they chosen? Why were these motifs selected and what was the source?  Who did the work? Additionally, this piece invites even deeper questions: What were the current events and influences of the time? Who would have had access to such materials? Was this stitched by more than one person?  

In the coming weeks, we are going to examine different aspects of this piece and invite you to join in a lively conversation about it.  We’ll share our methodology and findings and ask that you share your ideas as well. Oftentimes, the important goal of research is not about the answers but about finding the right questions.  Stay posted for more pictures (including some gorgeous close-ups) and ideas as we go forward together.

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