On Tuesday afternoon I was treated to quality time with several embroidered objects from the museum’s textile collection. I started at the table closest to me: a man’s cap in blackwork, museum number 1942.165. It is a single piece of fabric, unlined, the four points joined at the crown and the seam running from tip to bottom edge. The brim is embroidered on the opposite side to the crown and turned up. The design is a traditional coiling vine with birds, strawberries, daffodils and leaves. The same design is repeated on each of the four sides.
The coiling vine is worked in standard Elizabethan plaited braid using a filé or venice silver (gilt?) thread a little larger than a modern 9drm tambour but smaller than a #2 passing. The coverage of the metal over the white silk core is not uniform, some areas are closely spun leaving no silk visible and some leave large bands of white between the coils creating an almost stripey, checker effect now that the metal has darkened. The smaller tendrils are worked in stem stitch in black silk.
The black silk used to outline the motifs is very fine and the stem stitch is not as neat as would be expected by today’s standards. The shape of the strawberries is rather unusual, some are quite plump and luscious looking and some are inverted heart shapes but all have a little dimple in the bottom with a with a bump. Perhaps they aren’t strawberries at all. Much of the black silk used for the fillings has perished but enough remains to see that each strawberry on the pattern is worked differently in a series of strategically placed straight stitches that can’t be described as speckling. Some berries are quite detailed and some just have a series of three stitches that indicate seeds. One half of each leaf is worked in a series of tiny branching patterns that resemble the path a little bug might have taken as it ate its way over the surface of the leaf, and the other half is a simple series of small stitches that follow the veins. There is a single bird on each quarter and they are fairly static with a woven wheel in filé for the eye.
The filé used for the looped edging is a larger diameter than the plait stitch and it has aged to a lighter colour – a different quality of metal, perhaps a higher content of pure metal? It is woven and stitched in place with a running stitch. In the closeup, the weave structure is visible, just in case someone would like to try their hand at it.
There was a second man’s cap (1950.352) which is embroidered quite differently in looped stitches. The pattern is a coiling stem incorporating motifs worked in Ceylon filling, standard Elizabethan plaited braid, Elizabethan corded detached buttonhole, ladder stitch, woven wheels, chain stitch, lace and spangles, both round split and drop. All the seams have been covered with plaited braid.
I’m not sure of the size of the silver filé thread but the stitching is very compact. Once again the spacing of the metal wrap is variable. I’ve never tried any of these filling stitches in passing but I think it would require plenty of practice to get it right without stripping all the metal off the silk core. The large petals of the rose are the corded detached buttonhole (at least I think that’s what it looks like using Jacqui Carey’s “Elizabethan Stitches” for reference) and the centres are very tidy woven wheels. The larger leaves are worked in the same stitch, as are the strawberries… I think!
The Ceylon filling is used for the longer, narrower petals of what appears to be a borage and the longer petals on the ?pansy. But the most appealing (at least to me) is the pea pod. It looks like an Elizabethan ladder stitch but the rungs of the ladder have been grouped in alternating groups of two (chevron) along the length but it’s not clear whether it has been worked integral to the ladder stitch or as a second pass. In any case it is very effective.
On the reverse, the long stitches on the back of the Ceylon filling are noticeable. The shape of the leaf is visible as the thread passes through the ground on the edges of the leaf (see page 88 in JC’s ES).
Finally, the brim is embellished with a fine edging in bobbin lace with picots and drop spangles. I am not an authority on Elizabethan looped and braided stitches, so if I have misidentified any of the stitches (flowers or fruits), please let me know!
Ooh ..it’s a real treat to see these treasures !