A Mystery Solved

During my study visit to the BM, I had the opportunity to examine the two small panels c 1540 featuring the Tudor knots of a previous blog post.  Having attempted to recreate the knot border, I was eager to see the underside of the embroidery.  Unfortunately, they had both been securely attached to a mount and the reverse was inaccessible.  Luckily, I was able to examine two black and white photographs which had been taken prior to the conservation measures. 

British Museum 1895,0810.37.a./b

While I am not permitted to reproduce the black and white images here, I did compare them to the experiments and with new, more detailed photography, I can now provide some details that reveal a little more information about how they may have been constructed.

Above are the two experiments with their corresponding undersides.  On the left is the tied knot experiment and the cut purl knot experiment is on the right.  In comparison with the black and white conservation image, there are not enough stitches on the original to have placed all the cut purls individually as in the experiment on the right and there are more than required to simply attach the tied knots with the two cut purls in between each knot.  A further examination of the front of the panel was required.

An overall survey of all the visible stitches indicates that the knots were made first, then secured to the satin ground with well placed stitches. There are a series of stitches that were placed within the knot area, some falling between the stitches and some on the edges that are visible above left). There are consistently two stitches appearing on both sides of each knot.  Often there is a stitch across each pair of threads that join the knots in addition to the two purls between each knot. To confirm this theory, there is an area of damage that clearly indicates a continuous metal thread (above right).

This is a very intriguing piece of early Tudor metal thread embroidery.  Green coloured silk thread has been used sparingly to add colour to the rose leaves (above left).  The use of “couching” stitches to secure a long length of metal thread in place can be seen in several areas of this design (yellow arrow, above right).  These coiled metal threads have a thread through the core that keeps the coil from pulling out.  When necessary, only the thread is couched and the metal can be bent into another direction.  On the larger coils the couching thread disappears between the coils (blue arrow).  The use of cut purls to cover padding is also used (red arrow). In the image on the right, the appliqued cloth of gold in the crown is clear. These two tiny panels of embroidery will provide a further series of experiments at some point in the future.  The first thing to figure out is how the thread gets into those very narrow and sometimes very long coils…

Next week: A royal binding from a future queen.

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