Thistle Threads | Harmony with Nature Casket
6th December 2019
The incredibly intricate embroidered cabinets of the 17th century have captivated and intrigued many over the years, but for Tricia Wilson Nguyen from Thistle Threads, they have become something of an obsession.
Tricia Wilson Nguyen with some cabinets of curiosity (source)
Almost 20 years ago, Tricia began working on crafting together one of her own versions of these extraordinary caskets, and in doing so pioneered the way for over 600 other stitchers to realise their dream of stitching one as well.
After studying all the various components of the cabinets in depth and then searching for artisans who had both the skills and willingness to join in on her adventure, work commenced in 2010 on the first of the elements.
Committing herself to the project wholeheartedly, Tricia quit her job as an engineer and for the past 10 years has focused all her attention on these cabinets of curiosities.
Most needleworkers would have concerned themselves with the embroidered elements first, but as a product designer Tricia could foresee there were other more difficult problems which required solving first, well before any embroidery could be considered.
These included designing and fabricating four locks that don’t exist in the 21st century.
Throughout her years of searching, Tricia had met many other collectors and experts of historical cabinets and even found several original boxes that had been heavily damaged, lending themselves to having the hardware removed. This enabled the locks to be reverse engineered and new reproduction castings to be made.
Analysis of other elements such as the original glue, paper and wood used, gave direction for additional reproduction materials to be made by expert artisans exclusively for Thistle Threads.
Finding highly skilled artisans is one thing, to then ask them to re-produce the same item hundreds of times over is quite another – imagine if as an embroiderer we were asked to repeat the same project over and over and over again!
While a weaver might agree to make dozens of yards of the same fabric, cabinet makers work completely differently. They typically make unique pieces of furniture, never the same piece twice. Enter Richard Oedel – an instrumental player in getting this project off the ground.
Richard was so committed to the project he began researching the 17th century caskets by travelling with Tricia and examined more than fifty boxes in collections, allowing him to get inside the heads of the original makers.
Now, as the only worldwide expert on 17th century caskets other than Tricia herself, Richard’s commitment to accuracy and miniatures-level precision has enabled the fabrication of what will be in the end, almost 900 boxes.
Even at the very outset of this adventure, it became evident that inherent factors would mean an end to the project was inevitable.
The very same artisans who had attained the needed skills to make the project possible in the first place, were also the same artisans who would bring it to a close on account of the fact they were all in the last decade of their working life.
On one hand you have the first wave of the finished cabinets now coming out of the embroiderer’s personal workshops, yet on the other the fabrication of the non-stitched components is now winding down. In fact, at the time of this writing, Richard Oedel will be retiring from the project in a few months and plans to spend his twilight years going back to making incredible art-furniture.
With Tricia and her artisans almost at the end of their adventure, there are now only 250 boxes left from which to teach new people just learning about these magnificent cabinets.
If this is something you are interested in getting involved with, Thistle Threads is now offering the ‘Harmony with Nature’ casket project as a 24-month online class.
To find out more visit thistle-threads.com/harmonycasket
Casket Coming to Paris
In recognition of all the support and encouragement Au Ver à Soie has provided Tricia throughout her journey, the ‘Harmony in Nature’ casket will, for the first and possibly only time, be travelling to Aiguille en Fete in Paris March 12-15, 2020, as part Au Ver à Soie’s 200th anniversary celebrations.
Harmony in Nature Casket
Tricia would love to see you there and show you her incredible craftsmanship firsthand.