The time has come to decide the subject matter for the first practical exercise. An ecclesiastical motif would represent the greatest number of extant embroidered objects from the early part of the Tudor era. Little angel image. The small angel with a scroll emerging from a cloud was stitched as an experiment a few years ago.
Since then, I have studied a variety of motifs featuring techniques requiring a range of materials and skill levels. Copes, chasubles and other vestments are powdered with conventional flowers, fleur de lys, saints, angels and many other symbols including rebuses and coats of arms. Surviving hearse cloths have some wonderful biblical scenes and hagiographical imagery. An outstanding example is the Fishmongers Pall which was on display at the V&A Opus Anglicanum exhibition, but the Vintners’ and the Merchant Taylors’ cloths also have some incredible embroidery.
To begin this exercise in late 15th/early 16th century ecclesiastical embroidery, a single motif that features a number of techniques would be ideal. Face, hands and hair in fine silk and drapery in laid gold, with accessories such as keys, books or wheels worked in silk and metal threads can all be found in a figure of a saint but an angel has wings with feathers too. I didn’t want to just re-create an extant motif, so I selected some images of angels that were not embroidered and began by sketching them. It has been quite some time since I have attempted to draw anything and the pencil in hand felt even more awkward than a needle.
The angels depicted on the wooden ceiling of St John Maddermarket in Norwich came first. They are beautifully painted examples that are very reminiscent of the embroidered angels powdered on many extant vestments. They are all different and have a lot of interesting elements – the scrolls, the head pieces and the circles on the wings. The sketch worked out well but the figure is very static.
For the second attempt I chose this lovely little angel tucked in a crevice in a tomb in St Mary’s Warwick. The angle that it was taken at makes it very appealing but not quite detailed enough for a Tudor embroidery.
The third angel was from a series of stone bosses scattered throughout Tewkesbury Abbey. All the angels were musicians playing instruments and the one playing a harp featured the drapery, the accessory and the wings. As I sketched, I was imagining how it might be adapted to incorporate a few of the different techniques found on the embroidered figures on the hearse cloths. I kept erasing and sketching (need more practice with drapery) and eventually stopped at a point that might include all the elements I was looking for in a complete motif. Next step is to make a line drawing, determine where the padding might go to most effectively portray the drapery, make a preliminary selection of coloured silks and metal threads, find an appropriate linen ground, and do some experimental stitching…