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ElgaKoster

Building a 17th century embroidered casket

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ElgaKoster

Once you start doing petit point it isn't too long before you run into somebody talking about caskets and not the type you put six feet under the ground, but a small box covered in the most exquisite needlework from the 17th century. Once I saw some of the miniature ones...well, I wanted one too, but nobody was making them anymore and some people that came late to the scene also wanted some...and so I decided to make a few.

There are a few plans out on the web plus some examples that other miniaturists have made, but I felt reluctant to just copy them, since I had never seen a real one I thought it would probably be a good idea to do some research, find out how they big they were, etc. It was when I came across this casket in the Boston museum of Fine Arts that I knew that I wanted to take on the challenge of making it as close as possible to this one. Most photos show the caskets only with the front doors open and doesn't reveal what is going on in them...which is a lot as you can see in this photo of the casket in the Boston museum and there are more photos on the museum's website.

http://www.mfa.org/collections/object/cabinet-118799

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All those drawers, the top row completely hidden by a sliding panel, drawers hiding behind other drawers, there are just so many pieces in the casket, and the real caskets aren't that big either as I discovered when I studied the dimensions. Problem number one was deciding on which wood to use to make the casket, it needed to be as thin as possible, both to resemble the real one in scale and to be able to fit all the drawers into the miniature casket. Eventually I hit on the idea of using 1/32" plywood for the body of the casket and 1/64" plywood for all the drawers and inside partitions, by this time I knew I was going to cover all the pieces with paper on the inside and outside. Most of the antique caskets had paper on the outside of the drawers and were lined with silk, well silk was going to be too thick and after I had seen some caskets with marbled papers I decided to use that and found somebody to hand make it specially for the casket in Britain.

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Here is my miniature version with all it's drawers out.

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And a side view to show the double lid.

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This is the twelfth casket that I am busy making, I thought it would be fun to show you how I make one of the pieces for the casket.

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These pieces will become the ink tray that fits into the front of the top section of the casket, I found the easiest way to work with all these tiny pieces was to cut the paper into strips and glue the plywood to the paper strips.

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Almost done, just the last two dividers needs to be glued in.

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Busy covering the outside of the ink tray with paper.

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There is a secret hidey hole under the ink tray.

And last but not least, I have spend many evenings on stitching the petit point that will cover my casket on 90 count silk gauze and will still spend many evenings doing that.

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This is the two side panels and the back panel all stitched onto a single piece of silk gauze that will be folded at the corners and the bare gauze will be covered with a tiny metallic trim.

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Right now I am working on finishing the left door panel with some back stitching. I chose to reproduce the stitching of this casket in the Metropolitan museum in New York City.

http://www.metmuseum.org/collections/search-the-collections/226422

This has been a very challenging project to work on as well as one of the most rewarding, lots of hard work but also loads of fun.

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Wm. R. Robertson

Elga….. WOW that is amazing, I can't wait to see it finished! I was lucky and got to see this in real last year, it is incredible. Yours is better than the one my mom and I did! Years ago Annelle Ferguson asked us to make one for her book, it was on the back cover. At the time no one had ever done one of these caskets in miniature so we started on it……. Mom had trouble with the graph so I ended up designing it, then she worked it on 60 mesh as I recall, Annelle did the drawer fronts on 72……. I made the chest which was a little smaller than yours but it didn't have nearly the detail or number of compartments, nor was it lined in papers. I think the casket had 20 some piece of needlepoint that had to be mounted and Mom had a fit when I cut right to the edge of the worked part. She braided some tape that I attached around the edges….. I made a bunch of sewing accessories for in it including a tortoise shell needle box.

 

Here are some photos…. 

 

I also want to get some of that marbled paper…. it will be perfect for a project I have in mind.

 

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We only made the one of these and it is in the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures in Kansas City.

 

Again…. yours is just FANTASTIC

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ElgaKoster

Thank you Julie and Bill.

Bill, you and your mom's casket was the first one I saw, Annelle's book was one of the first I bought after I saw an article of hers in a Miniature Collector magazine, I am busy stitching a rug out of it, her instructions in the book says 60 count, I just noticed, there are no charts for the drawer fronts in the book, when I saw that many of them had velvet on the drawer fronts I decided to go that way, you sure did a great job putting all those tiny pieces on the drawers. I am curious, did you use glue, many of the petit pointers used double sided tape, but some of the textile conservationists says don't bring any glue to needlework, it will deteriorate the needlework in about a hundred years. Guess that is one of the reasons I am not in a hurry to finish, I am still debating with myself which will be the best way to attach the needlework to the casket. And I still cringe every time I have to cut my own petit point...so I can imagine how your mom must have felt, so many hours go into petit point!

As to size, I spend many hours drawing the casket roughly, the drawers in the bottom wasn't a big issue, but the top compartment demanded space for everything that needed to fit in there, finally I found a few larger antique caskets and based my dimensions on them, this tiny secret drawer just wouldn't have been possible in a smaller casket.

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With time I will make a few things to put in the casket, they used them for storing writing equipment too, I plan on making ink bottles to put in the ink tray with a feather, a few letters, some sewing items as well.

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Wm. R. Robertson

As I recall I used "YES" glue, it is a silk fat glue that is acid free to attach the needlepoint to the chest. It is made for mounting paper and doesn't even wrinkle it. It is a thick paste. On a game table I did many years before this I used a linen tape that you wet with distilled water. This was expensive at the time and came from a archival supply company, it was also acid free. That table is going on 30 years old with no problems.

I would never use just any old double sided tape, tapes dry out, the adhesive may bleed through, it may gum up, who knows. Just make sure when mounting your hard work you do it to last with the right products.

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ElgaKoster

Thanks, I have heard of YES glue, but I haven't ever seen it here in the shops.

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Susan

Amazing embroidery skills Elga! It's lovely you put up so many pictures of the build too. I do hope you can get your hands on the best glue to attach your hard work to your casket. (note to myself; YES!) Such a shame, some goods are hand to get your hands on, if you live on the other side of the globe. But then again, you have some wonderful African woods to work with!

 

Thanks for sharing and keep us posted on your progress!

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Annelle Ferguson

I truly admire the casket created by Bill and Esther. It was delightful having them contribute to my book.  After seeing the finished piece, I certainly wanted to make one for myself. The thought occurred to me that doing needlepoint for a casket would make a great Guild School project. Mark Murphy was commissioned to create the wooden boxes and the first class was held in 2007. The class was such a success that it was offered again in 2009. However, there were several other interested parties from the Yahoo group, Petitpointers.  Larry Marshall was commissioned to create the box for that group. I haven't counted how many needleworked caskets are in collections but I am sure there must be over sixty. It would be lovely for all those that created a casket to send pictures for an exhibit. Is there a section here for a special showing of caskets? I will look forward to seeing Elga's finished piece. 

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Corky Anderson

I was happily able to participate in Annelle's first casket class…. it was so much fun to work on a 3-D needlepoint project.  I think these caskets are a wonderful testament to how much miniatures continue to be refined and reimagined.  The internet provides so many possibilities for sharing ideas and achievements that spark the next person to build upon the successes of previous projects.

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Bill Hudson

Wonderful Elga, I probably would go cross-eyed  trying that.  I must warn everyone Annelle's class is so quiet you don't know they are even next door to your class room. One year our class had to go in and wake them up.   :D

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Josje Veenenbos

I absolutely adore this piece.  I am so happy I will get to see it for real in a few weeks time.  And, in time, will be the very proud and very happy owner of one myself!  

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ElgaKoster

You hope Josje, maybe I will have one finished before I come, just posted the last complete one this wednesday, 12 done with 4 more to make...but I did start on your first embroidered panel this week.

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Josje Veenenbos

You have?  How exciting!  

I thought you would be bringing one of your pieces to show us all Elga.  But if they're posted, well then that means someone else will be very happy in a few days time.     

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MissyBoling

Can you post a picture if the finished casket, or is there a picture somewhere else? 

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ElgaKoster

Missy, I will post a photo...once I actually finish one, this project has landed on the back burner for various reasons over the last two years, once I am back from Castine I do plan on making time to work on finishing two of these with their petit point. All the others were sold unfinished and I have no idea of anybody ever finished it with their petit point. 

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Frances Peterson

I was one of the many Petitpointers who stitched Annelle's casket from her book using the box by Larry Marshall. At the time, I thought everyone was crazy, I just wanted the plain box. I changed my mind and ended out being one of the first to stitch it. Elga, this reminds me I bought one of your caskets a couple of years ago to stitch. I need to do something with it. I hope you're bringing your panels to Guild School so we can drool over it.

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