Back to the Sleeve

I think I left off last week with the idea that I would try to recreate the sleeves on Master John’s portrait of Catherine Parr but I didn’t have any good photos of the brushwork.  Well, Challe came to my rescue once again and provided images that she had taken a while ago before the National Portrait Gallery closed for renovation.  It appears to be embroidered with cords on venice gold, purl and pearl on a ground of crimson velvet.  The aglets are intriguing: gold with little black beads of onyx maybe.  And the linen puffs from the undersleeve are beautifully embroidered in a geometric pattern in red silk.  I won’t be attempting them but I fully intend to interpret the brushwork on the dress and foresleeve based on research from extant embroideries and other sources but for now I’ve decided that I will continue with the original plan of gold acorns strawberries and honeysuckles on white satin.  If there is anyone out there who would like to attempt the inner sleeve, please let me know and we can collaborate…I’ll plot out the geometric and even provide the linen and silk!

© Challe Hudson

Back to the satin sleeve… A square of fine white linen was framed up and the square of white silk satin was secured with herringbone.  The outline of the sleeve pattern was basted on the silk, and I’m very lucky that I happened to leave enough space to accommodate the seam allowance that I had neglected to add to the pattern!

I had the sketch of the design worked out a couple weeks ago based on the design etched into Henry VIII’s c1515 armour.  The pomegranates were changed to honeysuckles and the roses to acorns and strawberries.  It was sketched at half size so it had to be made into a full-size line drawing.  Not a computer graphics whiz, it took me far too long to transfer the outline of the sleeve pattern so it would print out the correct size.  That done, the sketch had to be transferred and drawn to fit inside the pattern of the sleeve.  When it was done it was printed out on two overlapping sheets.  I haven’t been able to see any inked lines on the extant articles from this period but that isn’t to say they weren’t there in the first place and have disappeared and I’m not absolutely convinced the Tudor embroiderer would have transferred with prick, pounce and paint on white satin but I can’t think of an alternative.  I couldn’t trace because the satin was already mounted on the linen.  I don’t trust myself with black ink and any hesitation would allow the ink to soak into the satin weave and make quite a mess!  As I write, the thought comes that they may have used a thickening agent to avoid that though.  I’ll do some experimentation on that subject at a later date.  For now, I used a very small amount of charcoal in my talc so it would show up on the satin and painted with ochre watercolour and a very fine brush. 

That done, what threads should be used?  Smooth purl and check purl were used on several extant items that can be dated to the first half of the 16th century.  Even though the metal threads are not exactly the same, the method of applying them over padding is. Sometimes the purl wasn’t cut into small pieces and the length was couched through the coils to make curves but this is very difficult to do with modern threads so a twist of venice gold was used for couching the outlines.  I am using some purl from Maurer this time because they are available in slightly smaller sizes and this design is very delicate.  Practice is important so a border design was transferred to an area outside the perimeter of the sleeve so the choice of thread and technique could be attempted without the risk of marring the surface of the satin if things went wrong. 

First the twist was couched onto the outline in a single pass.  Then select areas were padded with linen thread.  The top petal of the honeysuckle was worked across the padding with smooth purl, the centre in the opposite direction with check purl, the side petals with smooth purl and the two oddly shaped petals were dotted with chips of check purl.   And that is as far as I got on the sleeve…

The cushion progresses slowly and the first section is complete with knots.  Not quite the look I expected but it is growing on me.  It will be set up on the frame so I can just sit down and stitch when I have a moment. The sleeve is also set up but it’s a little more difficult to pick up and you can’t just leave off anywhere, so a dedicated time period will have to be scheduled-ish.

The other part of this Tudor Embroiderers project involves analysing the data I’ve collected over the years.  Written documentation with regard to individuals such as wills and other sources has to entered into a database.  Not as enjoyable as the embroidery but equally, if not more, important!  All the information from the wills that I have transcribed over the years has to be extracted to end up on a spread sheet and that’s one of the other tasks I am trying to accomplish.  Then there are all the extant embroideries I have had the good fortune to examine in person… they have to get into a database too.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be trying to work on the two embroideries and the two databases but I’ll probably find another potential Tudor embroidery project to get distracted by… Queen Mary’s chair is intriguing…

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