A little about Embroidered Jackets

If you are a keen history of embroidery researcher, especially of the 16th century English sort, you may have noticed that the information available on institutional websites to date is not very explicit when it comes to finding the objects that should be included in this study.  To make it a little easier for researchers like me in the future, one of the projects that is on my list of things to accomplish this year is to enter all the extant objects a professional embroiderer may have embroidered into a searchable database. The original idea was to actually physically examine each object so that more data specific to each extant object with regard to the technique and materials used is readily available.  I have been fortunate to see a whole lot of embroideries in my recent travels and collect a huge amount relevant information about each of them. 

The time has come to start entering that data into the computer.  What I am realizing is that so many of the embroideries I have been able to gain access to don’t really fit into either the time frame or the technique category.  I think I knew that to begin with, but I hoped that the information gleaned from the search would somehow help with the challenge of identifying exactly what constitutes the work of a professional embroiderer.  Most of the objects were selected based on a very brief written description or a very low-resolution image.  The major challenge has been that a large number of the embroideries that are pertinent to the study reside in collections that are inaccessible.  The Burrell and the V&A are two notable public institutions and then there are the impossible to find out about private collections… I have not been able to access any that reside in private collections and I know there are some significant embroideries there that are crucial to include.  

All that being said, there were definitely some very exciting AHA moments on my travels and as I enter the data, review all the images that we took and the exceptional things I noted about each item as they were examined, what I’m realizing is that the exercise has been absolutely essential because the rather nebulous idea I had about what constituted the work of a professional Tudor embroiderer is becoming a bit clearer and, happily, a little broader.

One of the items I really want to see is in the V&A (above) so it seems, deadlines being what they are, I won’t likely be able to get my hands on it (so to speak) in time for it to be included in this study.  On the website it is described as early 17th century and the ground fabric of silk which makes it special and very significant.  But what makes it even more so is the embroidery which is dated 1590-1600.  “It is richly embroidered in silver and silver-gilt thread, purl, strip and spangles.”  The technique is quite different than the one used on extant jackets such as the one popularly known as the Plimoth Jacket and the famous Margaret Layton Jacket that is paired with her portrait. These jackets are often described as being embroidered in coloured silks on a linen ground and I didn’t really include them on my list of potential items to search for.  Fortunately, sometimes a curator who knows their collection intimately can suggest an item that may otherwise have been overlooked and that is just what happened…

The jacket in question fits into the “embroidered in coloured silks on a linen ground” category but it isn’t the detached buttonhole technique I would have expected to see.  The stitches made in silk thread are very uncomplicated – simply satin, stem and couching.  The file or passing is worked in what looked like a basic version (if there is such a thing) of the Elizabethan Braid so I looked it up in Jacqui Carey’s Elizabethan Stitches.  The closest I could come was on page 106 and a reference to a Modern Vandyke stitch in Fig. 118.  I had a vague recollection of the name so I looked it up in my trusty 1967 version of Anchor’s 100 Embroidery Stitches and without actually stitching it with smaller legs to make sure, I think that is exactly what it is, all the others look far too complicated.  However, I stand to be corrected if anyone wants to try to stitch it.

The best thing about this object is the fact that the underside of the embroidery is accessible.  I know very little about fashion, but even I could tell that it had been remade from a much larger item.  What is also apparent is that the original garment was pieced before it was embroidered.  The little berries which are stitched in a wide variety of colour are an intriguing combination of layers of satin stitch with further long stitches couched with smaller stitches going through to make a three dimensional and very textured and tidy berry.  I’m not sure what all this means just now, but I’m sure they are clues that will help to determine when it was stitched and what it may have looked like originally – time and further study will tell.  It was an extremely exciting opportunity to study an embroidered jacket inside and out!

Along with all the extant embroideries and the embroiderers’ wills, there is also a database for images of embroidered items (portraits etc.) so I’m still bouncing from one database to another interspersed with actual embroidery on the sleeve and cushion, and writing blog posts when I get bored with the data entry. Tomorrow will be a relaxing day consisting of one embroidery or Tudor related Zoom after another for about 7 hours – I think I’ll knit while watching!

Back to the Sleeve

I think I left off last week with the idea that I would try to recreate the sleeves on Master John’s portrait of Catherine Parr but I didn’t have any good photos of the brushwork.  Well, Challe came to my rescue once again and provided images that she had taken a while ago before the National Portrait Gallery closed for renovation.  It appears to be embroidered with cords on venice gold, purl and pearl on a ground of crimson velvet.  The aglets are intriguing: gold with little black beads of onyx maybe.  And the linen puffs from the undersleeve are beautifully embroidered in a geometric pattern in red silk.  I won’t be attempting them but I fully intend to interpret the brushwork on the dress and foresleeve based on research from extant embroideries and other sources but for now I’ve decided that I will continue with the original plan of gold acorns strawberries and honeysuckles on white satin.  If there is anyone out there who would like to attempt the inner sleeve, please let me know and we can collaborate…I’ll plot out the geometric and even provide the linen and silk!

© Challe Hudson

Back to the satin sleeve… A square of fine white linen was framed up and the square of white silk satin was secured with herringbone.  The outline of the sleeve pattern was basted on the silk, and I’m very lucky that I happened to leave enough space to accommodate the seam allowance that I had neglected to add to the pattern!

I had the sketch of the design worked out a couple weeks ago based on the design etched into Henry VIII’s c1515 armour.  The pomegranates were changed to honeysuckles and the roses to acorns and strawberries.  It was sketched at half size so it had to be made into a full-size line drawing.  Not a computer graphics whiz, it took me far too long to transfer the outline of the sleeve pattern so it would print out the correct size.  That done, the sketch had to be transferred and drawn to fit inside the pattern of the sleeve.  When it was done it was printed out on two overlapping sheets.  I haven’t been able to see any inked lines on the extant articles from this period but that isn’t to say they weren’t there in the first place and have disappeared and I’m not absolutely convinced the Tudor embroiderer would have transferred with prick, pounce and paint on white satin but I can’t think of an alternative.  I couldn’t trace because the satin was already mounted on the linen.  I don’t trust myself with black ink and any hesitation would allow the ink to soak into the satin weave and make quite a mess!  As I write, the thought comes that they may have used a thickening agent to avoid that though.  I’ll do some experimentation on that subject at a later date.  For now, I used a very small amount of charcoal in my talc so it would show up on the satin and painted with ochre watercolour and a very fine brush. 

That done, what threads should be used?  Smooth purl and check purl were used on several extant items that can be dated to the first half of the 16th century.  Even though the metal threads are not exactly the same, the method of applying them over padding is. Sometimes the purl wasn’t cut into small pieces and the length was couched through the coils to make curves but this is very difficult to do with modern threads so a twist of venice gold was used for couching the outlines.  I am using some purl from Maurer this time because they are available in slightly smaller sizes and this design is very delicate.  Practice is important so a border design was transferred to an area outside the perimeter of the sleeve so the choice of thread and technique could be attempted without the risk of marring the surface of the satin if things went wrong. 

First the twist was couched onto the outline in a single pass.  Then select areas were padded with linen thread.  The top petal of the honeysuckle was worked across the padding with smooth purl, the centre in the opposite direction with check purl, the side petals with smooth purl and the two oddly shaped petals were dotted with chips of check purl.   And that is as far as I got on the sleeve…

The cushion progresses slowly and the first section is complete with knots.  Not quite the look I expected but it is growing on me.  It will be set up on the frame so I can just sit down and stitch when I have a moment. The sleeve is also set up but it’s a little more difficult to pick up and you can’t just leave off anywhere, so a dedicated time period will have to be scheduled-ish.

The other part of this Tudor Embroiderers project involves analysing the data I’ve collected over the years.  Written documentation with regard to individuals such as wills and other sources has to entered into a database.  Not as enjoyable as the embroidery but equally, if not more, important!  All the information from the wills that I have transcribed over the years has to be extracted to end up on a spread sheet and that’s one of the other tasks I am trying to accomplish.  Then there are all the extant embroideries I have had the good fortune to examine in person… they have to get into a database too.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be trying to work on the two embroideries and the two databases but I’ll probably find another potential Tudor embroidery project to get distracted by… Queen Mary’s chair is intriguing…

A little bit of everything…

I’m still struggling to find or create a design for the sleeve, so I’ve been working on and off on the cushion.  I ran into a bit of a problem at the beginning because the silk thread I had planned to use to attach the velvet shapes gets caught up going through the layer of glue.  I tried several types of silk thread that I had on hand and settled on Surfine, a fine twisted silk from AVAS. It goes through the glue beautifully without any stutters.  This is very important because this modern silk velvet is not very closely woven so the little tufts tend to loosen and fall out quite easily.  It also crushes quite easily and leaves a mark if you have to take out a stitch.  I’d love to get my hands on some real 16th century velvet just to get a feel for working with the quality of textile that the Tudor embroiderers were working with – I’m pretty sure it would be denser with a shorter pile but it would likely present a whole set of different challenges. 

In any case, after securing the shapes for the first motif, I had to decide what colour to outline them in and whether or not to twist the silk.  I’ve used twisted silk for appliques in the past and anyone who took the Introduction to Tudor Embroidery Course a couple summers ago, knows it can be a pain.  First of all you have to twist upteen yards of silk thread and then you have to sew it down keeping the twist consistent and it takes a lot of practice to make lovely sharp points every time.  I was very happy to use the example of the HA panel which is just couched bundles of thread.  Sharp points are still a nuisance but it works up much quicker.  As for colour, I tried black, crimson to match and a gold colour, and, with some help from a couple of friends who are far more clever about colour than I (thank you Ruth and Natalie!), I settled for the gold.  Eight separated strands couched with one of Surfine in the same colour. 

Figuring out where to start and which path to take was the next step.  Extant examples of couching often follow a very specific path with as few starts and stops as possible (see the post on Tudor Borders).  I tried to see if it was possible on this design but there are too many shapes that have three passes of thread.  Once again, the HA panel doesn’t follow a specific path and often two or more bundles of thread are couched together in odd places, seemingly to get to the next section without having to end a bundle only to begin again an inch away.  I have started the first section by only couching one bundle throughout.  When the outline doesn’t follow a logical path, I start a new bundle and end it when it joins the first.  As you can see, this means a lot of starting of new bundles which are a pain to end off because it have to clear my frame and turn it over to secure the ends.  So in the spirit of experimentation, I will finish this section as I started but the next section will have doubled bundles and fewer stops and starts – at least that is the theory…

Having almost finished a section, it was time to decide on the size and colour of the little knots.  With Mike’s help this time, we decided to start with the red and but they would have to be much smaller than the ones made with the eight strands of the outline.  The exact placement and density will be determined as I stitch and when I move on to the next section, I may change the areas that are filled in or, just because I can, I may change the colour to gold, or I may not.  I do have to be careful though, once in, the knots can’t be removed because the silk satin is very delicate and the stitches leave marks that don’t disappear!

The cushion is the type of project that can be worked on for a while and walked away from without worrying about where to leave off so I’ve been wandering back and forth from frame to frame to drafting table.  I finished the angel by adding the gold passing on the tiles and a few stitches in fine black thread to the side of the face.  The white expanse of the ermine collar/cape has always seemed unfinished so I added some couched gold. Then I turned it over, glued the back, trimmed it from the linen and sewed it onto a piece of velvet.  For the colour of the velvet, I once again relied on assistance from Natalie and Ruth.  We looked at many velvet swatches in lovely jewel tones but the scarlet brought out the red in the embroidery and set off the gold very nicely.  The circle was outlined with couched black silk in a thick bundle of threads and the scroll was outlined with about half the number of threads in the circle bundle.  Then a pair of passing threads were couched with red silk thread just to add a little highlight.  It still isn’t finished because it has to be made into something that might have been used in the early 16th century.  I think it will become a small banner such as one mentioned in the inventory of one of the livery guilds with a lovely silk fringe, similar to a pulpit hanging you might see in a church today. 

Also this week, Challe and I continued our journey through the effigies and we finally found a foresleeve tied with aglets.  I also had a second look at Katherine Parr’s portrait and it has loads of embroidery with gold and pearls but with what may be roses instead of acorns and strawberries or honeysuckles.  I figured someone must have attempted to reconstruct this amazing dress and indeed there are many images on the web but I haven’t found any dedicated experiments to reconstruct the embroidery so maybe that will be added to the list of possible projects.  I just have to find a detailed image of the brushwork, research the likely techniques, draw up the pattern, experiment with threads and pearls and, voila, done in no time – like the angel, still underway and the cushion, still in progress…   

Change of Plan

I wasn’t totally pleased with the sketches for the sleeve design and I got distracted while looking for more inspiration.  The images from Pellegrino’s La Fleur de la Science de Pourtraicture et patrons de broderie reminded me that a cushion was also on the list of potential projects for this period.  The pattern book was published in 1530 in Florence and dedicated to Francois I (notice the beautiful design on the embroidery near his shoulders) however, it is very possible that it was in use in London by the middle of the decade.  Many of the designs are similar to the Holbein drawings in the BM.  They are lovely flowing scrolls of stylized foliage in what is often described as “arabesque”. 

There are hundreds of cushions listed in Henry’s inventory but once again for the most part they aren’t described further than the type of fabric and that they are embroidered. The Henry/Anne honeysuckle/acorn valance in the Burrell Collection is worked in an arabesque design on white silk satin with shapes of cut black velvet sewn on.   I went back to the list and found an entry that could be developed to a finished project: “Item one Cusshion of white Satten enbrawdered with a cut of carnacion vellat fringed and tassaled with silke.” I just happened to have white silk satin and some lovely crimson silk velvet on hand and all I needed was a design. 

I surveyed some of the same type of cushions in the inventory and determined that 30 inches by 20 inches would be an appropriate size.  The sizes of the cushions in the inventory are all written in 16th century measurements like “one cushion… in length iij quarters di of a yarde and one ynche and in bredthe di yarde and one nayle”.  By today’s standard of measurement, that would be approximately 31½ inches by 20¼ inches, but the cushions average about 18” by 27”.  The image below is of a panel of cutwork in the V&A: there is no size given but you can imagine it as a valance on a Tudor bed with hangings and cushions to match.

I had been working on the sleeve design for a while so I took a break and did a little stitching instead of going back to the drawing board.  Having been fortunate to have studied the valance at Meg Andrew’s in the fall, I knew there would be a linen support for the silk.  I had purchased some coarser linen for just such a purpose at the re-enactor’s market in Warwick, and I decided to frame it up and attach the silk so it was prepared to receive the design when it was ready.

I chose a few potential designs from the Pellegrino and to draw the pattern this time I went to work on the computer.  Once again, it is never as easy as I think it will be: first I had to determine the approximate size of the appliques on the extant embroidery so the finished cushion would have the same overall appearance as the extant examples.  I resized the image of the HA panel so it would print the actual size and it turned out that the shapes were smaller than I’d imagined.   I would have to make sure the shapes on the pattern I chose were similar in size and coverage.   I tried a number of examples from the pattern book and finally settled on one that looked about right. I worked up a full design but wasn’t satisfied with the end result so I began work on another.

I cut and paste and rearranged and finally realized this pattern was not going to fit the shape of the silk I had already framed up either and if I wanted to use it I would have to adapt the design.  There were three repeats and to centre them on the silk a meant removing some of the lines and shapes on the sides to fit within rectangle and still look like a complete design.   Just when I thought it was done, I realized that some of the shapes were too small and fiddley to be cut from the velvet so they had to be combined into a single larger shape.

Next step, transfer the pattern to the silk.  The pattern repeats had to be printed out to size so each sheet of paper had a complete section.  Only one half of the pattern had to pricked because it could be flipped to complete the other side. I used pencil so it wouldn’t show much and probably wear off if I went off line.  That done all the little shapes had to be cut out.  I traced the pattern shapes onto a sheet of vellum and noted the number and orientation needed. 

I had used the same type of velvet for the Broderers’ Crown so I knew the pile would be a nuisance.  The back of the fabric was painted with diluted PVA glue to ensure I wouldn’t get lost in fluff and the edges would not fray.  I’m not sure what they would have used in Tudor times but gum Arabic or rabbit glue has been suggested in various publications.  Each pattern was traced onto the back of the velvet and cut out.  And this is where I am now… can you spot the errors and omissions?

Item one payer of Sleves of white satten enbrawdred

Now that the ecclesiastical motif has been stitched, it is time to decide on the second project.  One of the goals of this undertaking is to identify embroidered items in images and documents and attempt to re-create them from the images or the written descriptions.  There are plenty of extant religious objects to develop into designs and numerous embroideries to examine to determine technique, so painted or drawn images weren’t really required to execute the design.  Secular items do not survive in as great a number but inventories are chock full of embroidered items of every type.  Furnishings such as chairs, cushions, and bed hangings were already popular but as the century progressed, the selection of items richly embellished with gold and silver embroidery increased. Books, coffers, hunting accessories, and mirrors are described as being “enbrawdered allover” with “damaske and veanice golde”.   The increasing popularity of embroidered clothing is evident in the pages and pages of kirtles, foreparts, gowns and sleeves.  The problem is that the actual design is rarely noted, and here is where the drawings and portraits come into play.   

Working through the century on a chronological path, the next period of embroidery is the last half of Henry VIII’s reign – so 1530ish to the late 1540’s.  The source for the type of embroidered items is the transcript of the inventory taken after his death in 1547.  I planned to do a sleeve but going through the inventory item by item located many embroidered sleeves but only a few with a mention of subject matter, usually acorns, honeysuckles and pomegranates.  The mention of honeysuckles and acorns reminded me of the famous set of valance panels in the Burrell Collection.  They are not worked with gold thread but at least it is an example of an embroidered design from the period and if a sleeve is to be next, I will need some inspiration. 

Then there is the actual pattern for the shape of the sleeve.  Not being very experienced in tailoring or dressmaking, I headed to the bookshelf for a recent addition to my library:  The Tudor Tailor.  The thought of making an actual garment had never crossed my mind until this project so I have only recently become aware of the complexities of Tudor dress.  There are so many unfamiliar items of dress in the 16th century and I will never be able to keep them in mind.  Tudor sleeves are complicated and there are several patterns in this wonderful book but which ones are the ones in the Henry Inventory? 

To determine the style of sleeve that was most popular, I went to the portraits of the day.  The sleeves mentioned in the inventory were usually tied with aglets and there are quite a few helpful examples.  I located the pattern in the TT and to become more familiar with the size and shape I would be working with I drew out the pattern and made a muslin mockup.  Then I asked Challe if she might have any photographs showing the sleeves on 16th century effigies so I could see a three-dimensional example.  There are, of course, no embroidered sleeves but looking from below I could see the closures and how the puffs of linen were pulled out between them and I marveled at the skill of the carver!  Other parts of the dress on the effigies such as the girdles and headgear provided examples of patterns used in the period.

Before starting on the design, I collected images of Holbein drawings from the BM and looked through all the pattern books that were published before 1550.  Armed with all that and the design from the Burrell valance, I was ready to sketch…

Next steps: finish the design, source the appropriate material and frame it up!

Ta Da – ish…

I began the week still puzzling over shading the drapery, so I went back to my photographs to study how the detail stitching helped to define the folds.  There are not many seated angels and there is a wide range of skill and detail in the Tudor saints I have seen.  Many are damaged, some are quite rudimentary and a few are absolutely awesome.  Here is an example of the range: 

I concluded that I should have used a deeper green for the couching and the shading wouldn’t show unless a darker colour was used.  Placing stitches in just the right place, on just the right angle and at the perfect length is a challenge on laid gold and because I was using the dark green, any odd angle showed up like a beacon.  After a few abortive attempts I settled on using only vertical stitches in varying lengths and densities. 

The experimental face stitched up beautifully in seemingly no time at all and I figured I could stitch it again with little trouble.  Experience has shown that one improves the second time around but it came out three times before I remembered where I had placed the under stitching.  If you recall, I mentioned that I felt the flesh tone was too pink.  I mistakenly changed the colour I used for the shaded area on the neck and tried to fix it by adding stitches in a lighter colour over top.  By that time, it was too late to unpick without it affecting the stitches that did work.  Note taken: don’t change colours unless you actually try them to make sure they work as planned.

Note ignored:  I did the same thing with the hair!  I wanted it to be a bit darker with a hint of red and I chose a darker colour than on the experiment, ginger to put in the major waves, with a lighter strawberry blonde shade to fill in the curls.  Luckily, this time it worked very well.

The ermine cape was a late addition.  The upper portion of the drapery appeared to be separate from the lower portion – a cape of some sort.  The angels on the Maddermarket ceiling are wearing ermine capes and a little research indicated that ermine was quite popular as a trim.  Heaven must be chilly!

The harp ended up as a filling of split stitch which worked well but it was very plain and flat.  I didn’t find any Tudor embroidered harps but the space called out for something – a little scroll design in gold passing worked well but perhaps a little much?  The strings are of silver passing and there are more than on the original because only five didn’t have a chance of showing up against those feathers!  Each finger of the arm was padded with several layers of split stitch to raise them to about the level of the strings.  The individual fingers are satin stitch over the padding and “tapestry” shading in long and short filled the rest of the hand and arm.

The last major element was the scroll.  There are many examples of scrolls in extant embroideries and I enjoyed looking at all of the different ways they were done.  My favorite is the one that accompanies the “walking dead” on the Vintners’ pall.  The motto for the Broderers’ Company was the most appropriate Latin phrase to include.  The base was stitched with surface satin but for some reason (I was in a hurry and didn’t take time to make sure I was doing it correctly!) I decided the surface couching should go straight across instead of with the curve of the scroll – arrggh!  The pressure of time!  The words were sketched out to fit nicely centered on the length and the lettering was chosen from the examples.  I used a single strand of white silk to place the letters first but it probably wasn’t necessary.  After the lettering was done, any empty spaces are just an invitation to fill with more curls of passing.  Once again, maybe a bit much…

To finish up, the different elements were outlined with black as if they had been stitched separately and then assembled and secured onto a prepared ground.  Going in and out and over the edges of the laid gold was a challenge.  I will be taking a break from the angel for a bit and move on to something else for change but there are still some little revisions and tweaks to be made.  Also, the whole piece will eventually be glued, trimmed and fixed onto an appropriate ground.  I’ve made a few altar cloths and vestments in my time and I think I will be able to find a lovely scrap of damask that will be perfect!

For now, all the notes have to typed up and the hours spent have to be calculated.  I will analyze them and figure out just how long it would take to stitch a second one without the agony of design decisions because five weeks spent on a single angel would be a recipe for starvation in Tudor times!

How not to do drapery!

Before finishing the right wing, the background pattern had to be filled in.  Putting the basting lines on the ground at the points of the diamonds helped a bit (thanks for the suggestion, Mike) but the short rows were still a counting nightmare!  It was definitely a little easier on the longer runs on the side.  If I was to do this again, I would try the pattern first in a small area to ensure I could follow it and finish in a timely manner!  Finishing up the lovely little feathers on the right wing was a joy in comparison.  Just look at how the colours glow in the light of my magnifier!

The drapery has taken ages too.  I couldn’t get comfortable with the many horizontal folds of the seated angeI.  I had done a little sample of the technique I wanted to use and knew it would be difficult to cover the padding with rows of passing because it takes more threads to up, along and down than just over the vertical padding.  So I tried painting, pencil crayon and colouring a black and white image, I even tried putting my husband to work as a model and simplifying the drape! I lost track of the fact it was to be a 16th century project and found myself adrift on a sea of green pseudo or nué… not just the colours, but I was counting again and filling in areas like a paint by number!  One of the issues was that the third colour I chose was much finer than the others and didn’t show up as it should so I had to go back and add a second stitch.  I kept on stitching, hoping it would eventually come together, I tried adding the lines to define the folds in one strand of green, two strands of green, black… nothing was working.  Finally, I was wasting so much time that I had to give it up and start over.  It all came out in a fraction of the time it took to put it in but what a mess I made of the linen with the lines marking the areas.  Also, having sunk the gold threads weakened the cloth and I ended up with a hole that needed to be darned!   What a week!

Back to the original plan… and the passing went in quite smoothly in a morning!  The horizontal areas are a little loose but I’m hoping they will adjust when the shading goes in.  Stay tuned…

Taking a break from the drapery, I decided to work on the harp.  I was never quite sure about the silver so I’m trying a wooden harp instead.  Early stitches but I’m liking it better so far.  I will put a nice little floral or knot design on the brown and highlight with gold…

My lovely little angel project seems to have taken on a bit of a life of its own and is taking much longer than planned. However, I have a goal and plenty of determination so I hope to have it finished this week!

Back to Bacton…

Way back in November, Challe and I went to visit St Faith’s Church, the parish that preserved the Bacton Altar Cloth for over 400 years. We had a lovely visit and Challe presented a slide show of the BACstitch Group’s research over the past two years to a small, very receptive and appreciative group of parishioners.

We have just had our first article published in the journal Archaeological Textiles Review 64. It describes the methodology we have used to date. Jenny, Challe and I continue to meet every week for an hour to examine the secondary motifs one at a time, and it still amazes me how much there is to see and learn.

If you would like to read it, click on the bird below to open the article Unpicking the Bacton Altar Cloth: innovative methodologies for interpreting embroidered artefacts. You will have to scroll a bit to get to the article.

2 Stitch 3 Stitch OOPS!

It’s been one of those weeks when nothing is working.  The basketweave pattern I originally chose for the background was lovely but too distinctive and had large unstitched areas that didn’t work well in the narrow area between the hair the wing.  I found a piece of graph paper where many years ago I had charted the patterns used on motifs from late 15th and early 16th c vestments I had seen.  The diamond pattern looked like it would be perfect, I just needed to add a couple of stitches to fill the empty spaces.  Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  It was not! 

As I stitched, I realized that the pattern is very complicated where it crosses, and the large diamonds shift as they meet, the double line going over one at the cross. I had to rechart adding the extra stitches and expanding the pattern to include four full squares.  I messed up so many times trying to compensate the pattern at the turns and because the rows were so short and the overall design so large, I couldn’t recognize the pattern as I went from one row to the next.  I tried following with a pencil, colouring the squares and marking out the spaces between the stitches but nothing really helped and all I did was make a mess of the paper pattern.  I did remember to lay the passing vertically this time and thought my brain might be having difficulty with the direction so I tried turning my frame to work horizontally but it didn’t help.  The little area on the left side took me almost ten hours working in silence because anything more was too distracting! All the effort was worth it though, the pattern is recognizable but not overwhelming. I still have to figure out what to do with the little spaces in between the feathers. The red silk is very noticeable at the turns and that will also have to be rectified.

On to the next section – the feathers on the edge of the wing.  I began well by choosing some lovely bright colours but when I stitched them in, they didn’t seem to work.  Several attempts later, I tore it all out and decided to take a break from thinking and just complete the floor and the wing on the other side because all the decisions had already been made.

Early this morning, I went back to the original premise – vibrant colour is good – and stitched in the feathers.  Now I just have to do a little blending of colour, add the outline and touches of gold. Hmmm, there may be more unstitching…

Snow day, Stitch day

It’s a very snowy day today and it makes me wonder how a Tudor embroiderer would fare on a day like today. I don’t think a London embroiderer would have to deal with this volume (it’s been snowing for 18 hours without a break) but it would probably have been this cold (-6°C) on some days. There were different hours for journeymen in summer and winter but were there “it’s too cold for work” days or “I can’t get out my lane” days? Imagine the sights, sounds and smells in the 16th century city…

As I’m tucked up nice and warm in my studio, and the internet is still working, its a good day to post my progress this week:

In Tudor embroidery, the background and the figure would often be embroidered on two separate pieces of linen: the saint on one and the setting on another. Although the stitching has not survived in good condition the front and back images below are perfect illustrations of this technique. A close examination of the stitching on the back reveals that the coloured silk areas behind the figure is worked in surface satin stitch which keeps most of the silk in long stitches on the top of the fabric and very small ones on the back. Sometimes, when you can see the back of the embroidery, it is covered with paper. In this case it is a drawing that has been pricked for transfer. Unfortunately, the design is not decipherable. Before starting the embroidery I made the decision to work the angel and the surrounding area together.  This may have to change…

The background of many embroidered images is often pairs of filé (venice gold) couched in a diaper pattern with a coloured silk.  You can see this a bit in the tarnished filé stitched vertically around the figure’s head. Having done this technique before, I felt fairly confident that I could do it without practice and needing a break from experimental embroidery, I chose a basketweave and #3 passing couched with crimson silk. All was progressing smoothly until I came to the area behind the head and between the wing – far too narrow for the couching pattern I had chosen.  I had also stitched the filé horizontally… What I completed looks great but now it will all have to come out and something very different will have to be used.  So much for confidence!  Mrs. Zinkewich would have called it hubris…

Figures depicted on ecclesiastical embroidery are often found on a lovely embroidered hillock of green grass dotted with flowers and the occasional skull. I particularly like the one on the Vintners’ Pall. The problem with the feet had been solved with the scroll so the little green hillock wasn’t possible.  It would have to be a floor and because many of the saints are set in castle niches there are also some tiled floors.  This one is pretty sketchy but the one on the Fishmongers’ Pall is lovely at https://pieceworkmagazine.com/i-spy-couching-stitch/. The next logical step was to embroider the tiles.  Drawing the tiles to a vanishing point was a challenge and then transferring the lines to the linen after the embroidery had begun was almost impossible but they finally look like they belong.  Each tile was filled with surface satin stitch to ensure I would have enough thread to complete them all.  Then rows of passing were couched across the area.  The individual tiles have to be indicated with a darker thread but I haven’t quite decided on just how dark or how thick, so that part will wait until more of the figure has been completed.

The long feathers came next and although I had experimented, I wasn’t sure which metal thread I should use.  I decided on one strand of #3 passing and filled in the silk but it just didn’t look right so I had to add a second thread to make a traditional pair. 

The little feathers were done in steps, first was to fill in the background colour.  Once again, I was using the Fishmongers’ Pall but I don’t have my own images and there is far too much stitching to determine how it was stitched.  I needed to see the individual feathers so the areas were filled individually using split and satin stitches.  Following layers were:  black silk for the “eye”; a pair of tambour for the circles; silver tambour for the rachis; saffron circles; black outline; the individual barbs; and sea blue for the inner circles.  When I’ve posted this, the blue will have to come out because I used too many strands and it doesn’t sit properly around the gold.  How far will I get by next Thursday?

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