Don’t Blink!

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.

© Challe Hudson

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…

9 thoughts on “Don’t Blink!

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    1. I’d love it if you join me! I’ll post the drawing when it’s done and anyone can stitch it any way you want! No need to stick with what I’m doing. You can choose the colours and threads you have on hand and there are lots of different Tudor techniques that can be used!

      1. So excited. This will be a glorious project to do – use all those Tudor books I have bought to work out techniques and colors. Could also try how different eras would interpret the design – thinking of the Loretto Angels at the RSN. From one extreme of heavy Goldwork to the other of fine line. My imagination is running wild😂

  1. Hi Cindy,

    I have been enjoying your posts very much. I read them with interest and sometimes have a question or comment that creeps into my mind but I’ve never actually tried to put them to words. However, your design development process fascinates me.

    Are the choices you are making now for Tudor Embroidery 2 or examples for your book, or both?

    I like the fact that you are creating your own design – not replicating an existing one – and using non-embroidered angel motifs as inspiration. What would you say would have been the design sources for Tudor embroidery designers?

    What criteria are you using for the selection of design elements, stitch types and colours?

    Are there trends in angels that seem to evolve throughout the Tudor century – trends in form & shape, elements & motifs, embroidery techniques and colour?

    You have listed embroidery techniques. How many and how were they used in the embroidered angels you have studied?

    Forgive me for peppering you with questions. Choosing to design your own angel seems like the hard way to go about it. It’s as if you’re attempting to ‘get into the Tudor designer/embroiderer’s head’.

    I’m fascinated and look forward to seeing more.


    1. Hi Ruth, so many questions! The choices are for the Janet Arnold Award project first and foremost but then they can be adapted for any one of a number things for the future – just don’t know when… Just speculating here but the Tudor embroiderers probably had a series of patterns they could work from and specifics provided by the client. They might also have used older vestments or other images in the church such as carvings or paintings. There were lots of painted walls in churches at the time. Or if they were better artists than I, they may have just been able to use their own imagination. The stitches and colours will be based on extant embroideries but none will be exact, I will adapt them to fit the angel I have drawn. There are definitely different styles of extant embroidered angel motifs and there are noticeable differences in skill level. The ones that appear in more elaborate scenes are more technically difficult but they all end at the Reformation. Any extant religious embroideries done after that (ie hearse cloths) don’t tend to have any angels on them – rarely saints (although there are some) and usually coats of arms or symbols related to the organization or donor. Since I already tried to copy one, I thought I’d attempt to do one based on the research I’ve done. And you’re right, I am trying to appreciate the work of the Tudor embroiderer, looking back from the perspective of a 21st century one, and taking into consideration as much information (historic and practical) from the period as I can uncover…

  2. You are such an inspiration! Thanks for making the drawing available. I’m with Darcy in wanting to stitch along with you. And I’m loving your responses to Ruth’s great questions about your process. Here’s to getting inside the head of those Tudor professional embroiderers!

  3. I have never much enjoyed the prep before embroidery can begin but having recently (in recent years, that is) done several stitch transfers where I have first traced the image onto tissue paper, I have come to realise the value of that time drawing (tracing and then stitching) the design and using the time to imagine embroidering the piece.
    I love your angel and really look forward to seeing it progress!

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