The Ceylon Stitch and much, much more…

The past two weeks have been more random than usual… Doing a little of this and a little of that, another thing and then some of something else, has left me feeling I’ve accomplished very little, so it’s time to do a little review…

Remember last blog post I couldn’t identify the chain like stitch that was used for the trailing stems on the jacket and I put off trying to stitch it to find out? Well, I have a lovely correspondent in Scotland who has come to my rescue. Chris Berry, embroiderer, tutor, textile artist and historian knew which stitch is was right away and has taken the time to stitch a sample of a linear Double Ceylon stitch.

Here is Chris’s sample and the one from the jacket – perfect!

Classes that provide a historical context are not often offered at national seminars and places go fast when they are.  In her role as an embroidery tutor, Chris specializes in stitches used during the 16th and 17th century and I was very fortunate to secure a place in her class “Historical Notes: Stitches on Samplers” at a seminar in Ottawa a few years ago.  I’d never taken a notebook class before and I loved it. Chris provided notes on the history of the stitch, examples of how it was used and instructions on how to stitch them. I really enjoyed trying all the stitches in little samples and then arranging them in the spiral bound notebook provided. After the class was over, I continued to look up portraits and patterns and stitches adding them to the pages and pretty soon I had an excellent reference. When Chris mentioned the Ceylon Stitch and I saw the sample she stitched, it reminded me of my little book.

A couple of weeks later, I took a weekend course at the School of Historical Dress in London. Unsurprisingly, it was also a historical class, this time covering a completely different selection of stitches also used during the Tudor era. This time the sample was stitched on a large slate frame but when it was finished, I cut them out and added them with example of use to my growing reference. Here are a few more pages.

Still on the subject of Tudor embroideries but from a completely different angle, the number of extant embroideries entered into my little database is growing but not as quickly as I’d like. For now, I’m concentrating on the embroideries that I have been fortunate to study in person.  Book covers comprise the majority of entries as of today and this is probably because books were (and are) a treasured possession.  As I write though, it occurs to me that any Tudor embroidery that has survived into the 21st century was very likely a treasured possession – be it a book or a hearse cloth or an article of clothing.  The thing is, the books were likely kept primarily because of the content and not the embroidery.  This placed them in libraries and not museums and therefore they have been catalogued according to what’s inside and the fact that they were embroidered was not necessarily of note.  There are a wide variety of techniques and styles and as I enter them, I assign them a nickname because it’s easier for me to remember than the number.  This one is “Drop Spangles and Wheels”.  It is only 7 cm wide and 13cm high, an exquisite little prayer book containing the Psalms of Confession.  An unusual geometric design combining silk, flattened wire purl and punched spangles worked on a ground of linen canvas. 

Again, on the subject of Tudor embroidery (what else?) but from a completely different perspective, the wills of those who identified themselves as “broderer and citizen” are also being entered into a separate database.  The wills are not as numerous as the extant embroideries, but they tell us about the professionals, people who worked hard to produce the huge quantity of embroidered textiles that have not survived. They tell the story of the middling sort, the ordinary individual and about the things that were more broadly important in their lives – family, friendships, community – and they give us an idea of how they wanted to be remembered by them.  They range from a hastily dictated but a possibly life altering ten lines, to pages and pages of bequests and detailed instructions with respect to the testators’ legacies.  The longer wills can tell a detailed story of a life that may not be recorded in any other way.  On the other hand, a short will may not reveal anything more than a name and place of residence obscuring the reality of a long, exciting and productive life that may be revealed in events recorded in separate documentation…

Last week came another bout of very inclement weather and another power outage forcing me out of my basement and away from the computer.  I brought one of my frames upstairs and decided to make a concentrated effort to finish the cushion… Still not there yet but I estimate it will take only one more dedicated day of work to finish.  Then it’s on to the sleeve to get that done before I leave for Cleveland.  It will be a rather long drive, but at the end there will be the reward of a few days of total immersion in the exhibition The Tudors: Art and Majesty in Renaissance England.  After that, I have been notified that a study session at the Burrell is finally a possibility so I will be making plans for an excursion to Glasgow during the summer research trip to the UK.  Such an exciting time!

2 thoughts on “The Ceylon Stitch and much, much more…

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  1. Oh! my that book cover! It is exquisite. The silk background is interesting. It puts me in mind of ms8932 the embroidered almanac that Jacqui Carey wrote about, although it appears to have been stitched in a different way (difficult to tell from the photographs).

  2. Jacqui’s book on MS8932 is so very thorough, historical and practical. The stitches on the little cover are so lusciously complex! I took many photographs of “drop spangles and wheels” C183AA6 but could not discern how the ground was stitched.  Time, travel and organization have been my nemesis!  I was on a mission to photograph as many as I could to collect more general data on materials, technique, design, size for the data base.  From there, I hope to select a few for a more detailed analysis of a representative sample of the range of embroidery produce.  

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