This week, just before Christmas, we return to the Douce Bible, an enormous edition of the Geneva Bible printed in 1583 by Christopher Day and presented to Elizabeth I on New Year’s Day in 1584. I had the rare honour to examine the embroidery in detail on a very special research trip to the Bodleian Library. I was able to confirm the exact size, study the embroidery and take a peak inside. The bible is beautifully illustrated throughout with vibrantly coloured diagrams and initial letters decorated with gold leaf. It measures approximately 41cm high by 29cm wide by 12cm deep and weighs an incredible 6 kilograms (over 13lbs). https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/db9330ae-0b61-413a-8751-cdc31235d898/
For the most part, the embroidery is worked directly on the crimson velvet but the metal thread and areas of padding add texture and dimension. The framework of the design is a uniform vine pattern featuring roses and leaves which are outlined for the most part in filé twist with a large Tudor rose in the centre. There are smaller roses, half roses, roses from the underside and rose buds in various stages of opening and they are all uniquely stitched. The central motif (below) of the large Tudor rose has two rounds of five petals. The outer edges of both sets of petals are raised and covered with check purl. The insides of the petals have an open zig-zag plate over the velvet ground. Then rows of slightly stretched coiled wire are stitched across each petal over the plate. Between the coils, long straight stitches in pale pink or white silk angle toward the centre of the flower. The five small leaves between the five outer petals have a main vein of lizerine and the sides of the leaves are filled with rows of stretched lizerine. Adding a bit of colour are over-stitches in pale green silk. Unfortunately, whatever was stitched on or over the padding in the centre of the rose has disappeared but there are some remnants of metal thread resembling lizerine. It may be that the lizerine was stitched in a spiral from the outside of the circle and getting smaller towards the centre. The centre of the padding is missing so the velvet below is visible and my creative imagination places a large pearl in the void.
There are several intriguing aspects of the embroidery on this artifact but it would take too long to describe them all in today’s installment so I will come back to them on occasion in the future – the smaller roses (completely different from the larger ones), the placement of the pearls, the design on the spine, the lace and so much more. For now, back to the leaves…
A while back, I posted an experiment in which I tried to recreate the rose leaves that are very delicately stitched in silk and metal. There was a question of exact size and I opted to use the smaller scale on the newly commissioned images. I learned a lot trying to reconstruct the leaves at that size and it helped enormously when I recreated the experiment at the much larger and correct scale. Here are the results of yesterday’s experimentation…
After having used multiple strands of a filament silk for the under-stitching on the initial experiment, I decided to switch to a less uniform thread in an attempt to more successfully cover the velvet. I had some yellow on hand but I also needed green so it had to be dyed. While I waited for it to dry, I painted the enlarged pattern on my scarlet velvet and filled the appropriate areas with the surface satin stitch in yellow. Long stitches provided a guide for the placement of the plate. The width of the plate required was somewhere in between the full size No. 6 broadplate and the 11’s plate so I carefully trimmed the No. 6 plate to the correct width with scissors and stitched it down over the satin stitch.
The plate was overstitched with a single strand of yellow silk and a single strand of #3 passing was stitched in between each row of plate. The outline of these leaves is unusual in that flattened coiled wire is used instead of zig-zag file as on all but six of the over 40 leaves. Small straight stitches in yellow silk represent the serrated edges of the leaves. The small thorn like features were stitched in #9 wire check and #2 twist was stitched in place to represent the stems.
Stitching on velvet is a challenge I will have to overcome as it was a very popular ground for Tudor embroidery. Here are some things that still need to be addressed:
Managing the pile of the velvet – the leaves appear to be a little narrower than those on the original which may be attributed to stitching on velvet and not taking into account the pile. Perhaps stitching just outside the painted line instead of on the line or stem stitching an outline before placing the satin stitch would help to keep the correct shape.
Shaping the wire – flattening the coiled wire to the correct spacing and stitching it down without damaging it is difficult. It could be that the wire I am using is just a bit softer and easier to disturb.
Attention to detail – more attention should be paid to the placement of the stitches representing the serrated edges of the leaves in order to achieve the correct angle and the precise length.
Consistency of the silk – the stitches placed over the plate are not as fine as on the original and there are too many. Subdividing the silk and tightening the twist may help.
Next year: A Broderer’s Apprentice