Alison Larkin, accomplished embroiderer and costume historian, in a return visit to Te Papa, delighted and enthralled an appreciative audience with her lively and informative technical and historical update of three of the waistcoats associated with Captain Cook.

Whilst little is known about Elizabeth, wife of Captain James Cook, Alison’s sense of curiosity and investigative skills (she is a retired Biology Lecturer!) gave us intriguing glimpses of Elizabeth, an amateur embroiderer of her time.

It was through Alison’s patient perseverance (it took more than 260 hours to embroider) in the recreation of the linen backed tapa waistcoat that Elizabeth had embarked on prior to her husband’s death, and the many questions that this quest posed that fascinated us all.

Did she work from a pattern? A monthly magazine The Lady’s Magazine: Stitch Off was first published in the 1770’s and featured patterns. Was she stitching it for Cook to wear to court? Perhaps he was expecting a knighthood? It was not very elaborate; did she mean to do more or was she preserving the novelty of the tapa cloth, or maybe it was because Elizabeth didn’t want to seem uppity as she knew her husband to be a ‘plain man’?

I wonder, will the anticipated 250th commemoration of Cook’s Voyage of The Endeavour 1768-1771 see Alison Larkin return to Te Papa and offer further insights into the embroiderer and the construction of Captain Cook’s waistcoats? I am sure that there are many of us who do!

Feature images:  Te Papa staff, Collection Managers, Alison Larkin and an enthralled audience compare Te Papa’s waistcoat and map sampler to Alison’s meticulous recreations.