Tudor Motifs, Cuts and Slips

Many terms have been used to describe a piece of fabric sewn onto a larger ground fabric.  Currently, we commonly refer to it as an appliqué, having co-opted the term from French. Applying motifs, plain or embroidered, was a very common embellishment technique in England during the 16th century and several words or phrases were used in written accounts to describe various aspects of the technique through the century.

Ecclesiastical Motifs

Ecclesiastical motifs were often embroidered in detail on fine linen, trimmed closely and sewn securely onto a larger ground. This was common practice from early in the 14th century.  In the fifteenth century, in the context of an embroidery contract for a set of vestments, the word ‘slip’ was not used to identify the motifs that were placed onto a religious textile.  A velvet ground was to be “sett and powdered with armes images and angels” and “garnished about with fine gold of venice and spangles of silver and gilt”.   This was to be done in accordance with the established standards for the production of such goods within the embroidery profession. 

The image on the left shows a conventional 16th century angel embroidered (V&A 240-1908) in silk threads using a variety of techniques.  The linen ground is visible where the silk threads are worn particularly in the face, collar and scroll.  The embroidered motif has been sewn in place on the rich silk velvet ground and the edges have been hidden by an outline of couched silk.  Venice gold (aka passing or filé) and spangles are embroidered directly on the velvet. The angel on the right is rather unusual; instead of holding the typical scroll aloft, it is playing a lute. Angels were accompanied by an array of other motifs including saints, fleur-de-lys, stylized flowers and other religious emblems.

The motifs of stylized flowers (above left V&A 230-1879) bear a remarkable similarity to those illustrated in Ashmole 1504 in the Bodleian Library (above right). There are seven designs in the Tudor pattern book ranging from fairly basic to very elaborate. They can be found on folios 26 to 29. https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/385c0fdd-03ce-42c7-b43f-369003bee8f3/

Although they have been likened to pineapples, these may have been identified as water flowers during the 16th century.  In the Inventory of Henry VIII, there is a reference to “one Coope of crimson vellat enbrodered with water Flowers.”  For further information detailing the different classifications and possible design origins of these flower motifs see Rhodes, Frank & Peter. Late Medieval English Embroidered Conventional Flowers in Vol 51, Textile History, 2020.

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