Tell us about your duties and work at the Historic Textile and Costume Collection, University of Rhode Island.
The University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection (HTCC) contains about 25,000 pieces, including clothing, accessories, household textiles, textile fragments, photographs, books, magazines, and textile-manufacturing equipment.
My basic responsibility is to keep track of everything and to find as many ways as I can to make the collection accessible to students, faculty, researchers, and those interested in clothing and textile history. My tasks are diverse: editing and entering information onto the collection’s website, helping install exhibits, writing labels, assisting faculty and students, and researching artifacts.
Faculty members use objects from the HTCC in a variety of classes for students studying design, apparel construction, or textile conservation, as well as some of the general education classes, which are open to all. The department offers graduate-level classes on textile conservation and collection management. Graduate students write detailed research reports, which are used for exhibits and the collection’s website.
I’ll never forget a group of undergraduates who chose a garment to study for a general-education class on design. The four students were looking at a bright, bubble-gum pink bodice, circa 1860. A tall young man, who was a computer science major, looked up to exclaim, “This is so cool!”
How did you become a needleworker?
My mother was not one to sew, knit, embroider, or work with any of the needle arts; she painted. I took Home Economics in 7th and 8th grades, following in my three older sisters’ footsteps, and just kept on sewing. I also learned how to knit. Each of my sisters helped me to learn both crafts. Embroidery came later. I once took a class on crochet but have never gotten the knack!
Do you have other textile hobbies?
I continue to knit and embroider. In the spring of 2020, when I found myself staying home more because of the pandemic, I finished a knitting project given to me, along with a lot of yarn, books, and knitting needles. Working on that sweater project inspired me to do more knitting, so I worked out a pattern for the same sweater in different yarn. Next, I tackled some lacey shawls. I also finished a counted cross-stitch sampler, which I started 38 years ago. Then I dug out other kits I had bought but never started. So, I’m set for a year or two.
Do your work duties and your needlework hobbies ever overlap?
Yes, they do! I have a great interest in women’s history, which comes from many years of working at the Mystic Seaport Museum and combines nicely with my interests in the needle arts, clothing history, and textile history. The history of needlework can be examined from many angles, including politics, religion, science, class struggles, and gender rights. I’m also a textile conservator and work on projects, such as mounting samplers to archival materials for framing or quilts in need of careful repair. In addition, my work and interests involve membership in several organizations. I serve on the American Quilt Study Group Board of Directors and on the Northeastern Regional Board of Directors for the Costume Society of America. If there is one downside, it’s that there doesn’t seem to be enough time.
How does needlework fit into the rest of your life?
I sew to earn money and for fun. I knit and embroider for myself, but also do both during my other job, which involves helping the elderly. Needlework fits into all areas of my life. I like to have my hands doing something. Handmade projects make excellent gifts and provide a sense of satisfaction.
What is your favorite thing about needlework?
I enjoy the process and getting to the end. Framing a finished sampler, giving a knitted shawl as a gift, and wearing a sweater or pair of trousers that I have made—that’s the best.
To learn more about the University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection, visit uritextilecollection.omeka.net.
This article was published in the Spring 2021 issue of PieceWork.