The Snowshill Bodice

The Snowshill Wade Costume Collection is in the care of the National Trust and can be found at

There are not many items as early as the 16th century in the collection but there were two objects that I thought might add new information to my growing database of Tudor embroidery.  One was a fragment of floral silk embroidery and the other was a small embroidered draw string purse. 

National Trust 1348931

The first object is a small, shaped piece of embroidered linen that appears to have been part of a bodice.  It has been dated to between 1570 and 1599. It is mounted on a padded board covered with cotton fabric but happily to my surprise it was only secured to it along the top edge.  It provided a wealth of inconsistencies and was a joy to examine, front and back.  I completed a full written report but have edited it considerably for the blog and added some images.

The design is an ogee framework with added curvilinear tendrils and a grouping of roundels decorate the joins.  Assorted floral motifs are placed within the curves and leaves are set at intervals along the framework.  Separate, smaller ovals are set in the larger open spaces and they are filled with a full flower including stem and leaves.

The outline of the design is inked in black and is visible in many areas with the line being very uniform.  It is not clear whether it is has been printed, traced or drawn by hand but there is a visible break in the line, which may represent an error in drawing, and the pair of lines which outline the main framework are not drawn at a consistent width.

The framework is embroidered with four pairs of filé couched in rows with yellow silk thread, as are the circular groupings of roundels.  The core of the filé is visible and it is a bright yellow.  There are two distinctly different threads used to couch the filé: one is a fine gold coloured silk with no discernible twist and the other is a thicker yellow s-twist thread. 

Embroidered flowers include easily recognized carnations, cornflowers and eglantine.  Others may be tentatively identified as pea flower, marigold, honeysuckle and borage the latter two being partial flowers only.  These are worked in coloured silks with a very soft twist that may simply be a result the needle movement during stitching.  The blossoms consist of rows of straight stitches, usually directed toward the centre, changing colours as necessary and encroaching minimally into the adjacent colour.  

The full leaves are embroidered in long straight stitches along the stem, one side in dark blue green and the other in a much lighter shade of yellowish green.  The long stitches are secured over with a fine thread of dark red silk couched at regular intervals with small stitches in the same thread.  This creates the appearance of small veins in the leaf.  The tips of some leaves are turned and these are worked in a similar manner to the blooms with the encroaching stitches in two shades of green.  Tendrils of green silk extend from the main frame work interspersed with small circular bud shapes in pink and yellow on fine green silk stems.  These fines stems and tendrils appear to be worked in a crudely executed combination of split and stem stitch.

Turning the embroidery to show the back reveals that the colours of the silk on the front are soiled and have faded.  The marigolds are that appear yellow and dull pink are a brighter yellow and tawny.  The carnation varies from white in the centre, to dark red with a bright pink between, the cornflowers are a very deep blue and the leaves that appear to be quite yellowish on the front are much greener on the reverse.

Most of the raw edges around the fabric shape have been folded to the back and basted with a heavy linen thread.  An inked line at the bottom and side edges of the piece are visible on the turnings and there are solid inked lines along the seams or darts indicating that the outline of the bodice pattern was drawn and the embroidery was completed only to the lines. 

Finally, there are remnants of pink silk ribbon sewn into the seam allowance in two places on the longer right hand side.  The placement of these two ribbons and the drawing of the pattern outline may help identify the type of bodice, if indeed it is part of a bodice, and perhaps provide an estimated date of origin.  A review of Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion 3 may help in this regard.

My first impression is that this is not professionally embroidered but it is an excellent piece for further study in order to have a solid base from which to make comparisons.  There are so many elements that can be further explored, and should be, if a more precise date is to be determined or any other conclusions drawn.

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