Hilton Head Island woman helps re-create Pocahontas' wedding jacket for 400th anniversary at Historic Jamestowne + video

eshaw@islandpacket.comApril 4, 2014 

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    To watch a video of embroiderers working on Pocahontas' wedding jacket, go islandpacket.com/entertainment and click on this story.

Four hundred years ago April 5, a wedding took place between an American Indian princess and an Englishman.

The princess was Pocahontas. Her betrothed was John Rolfe.

It is said that their union was the first interracial marriage in American history, and one that eased tensions between the Native Americans and the Virginia colonists.

For Hilton Head Island resident Joyce Herkner, the most interesting part of the story, though, is what Pocahontas was wearing that day.

Herkner, who owns a commercial embroidery business, recently participated in a clothing project to re-create a sleeved waistcoat that researchers believe to be close to something Pocahontas might have worn at her wedding.

The project is a collaboration between Preservation Virginia's Historic Jamestowne and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and is part of a series of public programs, lectures, and an exhibit focused on the life and marriage of Pocahontas at Historic Jamestowne.

On April 5, the jacket will be revealed to the public for the first time and there will be three re-enactments of the wedding between Pocahontas and Rolfe on the exact spot they were wed four centuries ago.

Herkner will be in attendance to see the finished garment she helped create.

More than 70 women from all over the country volunteered to come to Historic Jamestowne in January to work on the elaborate jacket, said Sheryl Mays, director of public programs and operations at Preservation Virginia. Their combined efforts totaled about 1,200 hours of work, she said, because hand-embroidery is extremely labor intensive.

"Joyce was great. We couldn't have done it without the volunteers. They were a godsend," said Brenda Rosseau, manager of the Colonial Williamsburg Costume and Design Center.

For Herkner, the best part was the chance to practice hand-stitches at the Colonial Design Center in Williamsburg, Va.

"I felt like a kid on my first day," she said.

Herkner and her husband travel to Williamsburg, Va., often, and when she saw an opportunity to become a volunteer embroiderer, she jumped at the chance.

She didn't get to do as much work on the jacket as she would have liked, she said, because it was during January and heavy snow made traveling to the design center difficult. She did put in a solid seven hours on the bottom of a sleeve, however.

Pocahontas' jacket was modeled after a garment in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Rosseau said.

Commonly known as the Falkland Bodice, it is worked in black silk on white linen and has embroidered images of birds, beasts, fish and flowers.

Rosseau and design supervisor Tom Hammond, who drew the image outlines on the linen, adapted the Falkland design for Pocahontas' garment, adding things that would be specific to Virginia and the life of Pocahontas in the 17th century, Rosseau said.

Of the 130 figures, there are sturgeon, eagles and a ship to represent John Rolfe's shipwreck in Bermuda before arriving at the colonies. Embroiderers used basic stitches -- stem and outline, long and short and speckling or seed -- as the women of Jamestowne would have done.

Still, the garment is merely an educated guess. "We have no earthly idea what she wore," Rosseau said. "It's in the realm of possibility."

Follow Erin Shaw at twitter.com@IPBG_ErinShaw.

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