After identifying as many plants as I could, I decided to try to reproduce one of the motifs. I had been provided with a glance of the reverse of the cloth, through a break in the seam, so I knew the colours had faded and, when new, were more vibrant. I chose the pansy for my first attempt simply because there was an opportunity to explore the use of blended threads, file and a couple of exquisite, very tiny flies.
The ground fabric would be impossible to find. It is a white, weft faced silk fabric woven with a supplementary flattened silver wire on every second weft. It has been identified as a silver chamlet, chamblet, or perhaps even a silver tinsel or tissue. The rib (weft) count is very fine, approximately 21 per centimeter. In the image on the right, you can see that the silver strip has been broken and much is missing. (Note also the randomness of the seed stitches.) I had on hand a white poly cotton ribbed fabric with a count of 16 per cm. I knew I’d never find one with a silver strip and I was eager to get started. I drew the pattern on a graphics program and printed it onto the fabric – not historically correct, but it provided a finer, less wobbly line than by tracing or painting and it was the stitching experience I was curious about.
Using a printout of the photograph, I chose colours as closely as possible to what I thought the faded ones would have been when new. From my photos, it was difficult to tell exactly how thick the thread was and whether it was twisted or flat but I had quite a selection of Devere 6 silks so I used them. I kept a record of the colours and number of strands and in which combinations. The pansies are very colourful and I used only a total of five colours for the petals and only combined colours once. Keeping the seed stitches randomly placed was extremely challenging on the ribbed ground, I kept reverting to straight lines. The stems were a single colour of green with a blue outline and the leaves were various combinations of three different shades of green. Passing was used for the woven wheel in the centre of the flowers and chain stitch highlights on the tips of the petals. The little flies were added with satin and straight stitches, and to give the finished piece a bit of the sparkle that the original must have had at one time, I couched short pieces of silver 3’s plate randomly around the sprig.
I have since received images of the back of the BAC from Historic Royal Palaces and find that my choice of colour resulted in a much darker overall appearance than the originals. Matching to a printed image instead of the original makes a difference too. Studying the threads in the detail images of the reverse indicates that the silk was very slightly twisted and there was quite a range in the number of ply used.
I found that sewing so many little random stitches was intense. It was a relief to take a break and choose the next colour combination. It was quite challenging to keep the separate plies together without leaving little loops especially on the stem or outline stitch. The image of the back also reveals that the Tudor embroiderer was as concerned about neatness as I was…
When it was finished, I was quite pleased with the result and decided to stitch a few more…
Next week: Sea Monsters
Wow, beautiful and very interesting. What a lot of random seed stitches, personally I have a very hard time with random!
Random and colourful is lovely for flowers but delicate, white and complex makes for glorious linens!
Very interesting. I love Tudor and Elizabethan embroidery and the progress of the working was inspiring find out more of our historical embroidery and techniques. More please.