Snow day, Stitch day

It’s a very snowy day today and it makes me wonder how a Tudor embroiderer would fare on a day like today. I don’t think a London embroiderer would have to deal with this volume (it’s been snowing for 18 hours without a break) but it would probably have been this cold (-6°C) on some days. There were different hours for journeymen in summer and winter but were there “it’s too cold for work” days or “I can’t get out my lane” days? Imagine the sights, sounds and smells in the 16th century city…

As I’m tucked up nice and warm in my studio, and the internet is still working, its a good day to post my progress this week:

In Tudor embroidery, the background and the figure would often be embroidered on two separate pieces of linen: the saint on one and the setting on another. Although the stitching has not survived in good condition the front and back images below are perfect illustrations of this technique. A close examination of the stitching on the back reveals that the coloured silk areas behind the figure is worked in surface satin stitch which keeps most of the silk in long stitches on the top of the fabric and very small ones on the back. Sometimes, when you can see the back of the embroidery, it is covered with paper. In this case it is a drawing that has been pricked for transfer. Unfortunately, the design is not decipherable. Before starting the embroidery I made the decision to work the angel and the surrounding area together.  This may have to change…

The background of many embroidered images is often pairs of filé (venice gold) couched in a diaper pattern with a coloured silk.  You can see this a bit in the tarnished filé stitched vertically around the figure’s head. Having done this technique before, I felt fairly confident that I could do it without practice and needing a break from experimental embroidery, I chose a basketweave and #3 passing couched with crimson silk. All was progressing smoothly until I came to the area behind the head and between the wing – far too narrow for the couching pattern I had chosen.  I had also stitched the filé horizontally… What I completed looks great but now it will all have to come out and something very different will have to be used.  So much for confidence!  Mrs. Zinkewich would have called it hubris…

Figures depicted on ecclesiastical embroidery are often found on a lovely embroidered hillock of green grass dotted with flowers and the occasional skull. I particularly like the one on the Vintners’ Pall. The problem with the feet had been solved with the scroll so the little green hillock wasn’t possible.  It would have to be a floor and because many of the saints are set in castle niches there are also some tiled floors.  This one is pretty sketchy but the one on the Fishmongers’ Pall is lovely at https://pieceworkmagazine.com/i-spy-couching-stitch/. The next logical step was to embroider the tiles.  Drawing the tiles to a vanishing point was a challenge and then transferring the lines to the linen after the embroidery had begun was almost impossible but they finally look like they belong.  Each tile was filled with surface satin stitch to ensure I would have enough thread to complete them all.  Then rows of passing were couched across the area.  The individual tiles have to be indicated with a darker thread but I haven’t quite decided on just how dark or how thick, so that part will wait until more of the figure has been completed.

The long feathers came next and although I had experimented, I wasn’t sure which metal thread I should use.  I decided on one strand of #3 passing and filled in the silk but it just didn’t look right so I had to add a second thread to make a traditional pair. 

The little feathers were done in steps, first was to fill in the background colour.  Once again, I was using the Fishmongers’ Pall but I don’t have my own images and there is far too much stitching to determine how it was stitched.  I needed to see the individual feathers so the areas were filled individually using split and satin stitches.  Following layers were:  black silk for the “eye”; a pair of tambour for the circles; silver tambour for the rachis; saffron circles; black outline; the individual barbs; and sea blue for the inner circles.  When I’ve posted this, the blue will have to come out because I used too many strands and it doesn’t sit properly around the gold.  How far will I get by next Thursday?

Head, Hair and Harp

The experimental stitching is almost complete but choosing the colours of the edge feathers has still not been accomplished.  Since they are one of the last elements to be stitched, I’ve gone ahead and started the actual angel.  I’m hoping the colours will kind of choose themselves when all the other colours are in place. 

I’ve embroidered a few faces in the past, in a number of different techniques, and rarely can I get them to look a little like the person I’m trying to represent.  Luckily, this angel had no real model so as long as it looks relatively “angelic” it will be an achievement.  Inspecting a variety of embroidered faces of the late 15th and early 16th century, from angels to evangelists, helps to understand how they were achieved.  In this period, the stitching is usually a series of long stitches that encroach into previous stitches.  If we had to classify it today it would be called “long and short” but the image that term conjures for a 21st century person very precise and perfect (see https://rsnstitchbank.org/stitch/long-and-short-stitch).  The Tudor embroiderer’s long and short faces were lovely but not so perfect from our perspective today.  The appearance of the “long and short” stitch could be quite different from face to face.  Here are just a few examples from extant 15th and 16th c English embroideries I have had the opportunity to examine:

As you can see, innumerable expressions and stitching styles, and all are very appealing in their own way.  And they can’t be classified as anything except embroidered faces. The thing is to recognize this, you have to spend quite some time looking very carefully at each element in every item!  Just think of the different embroiderers who worked these faces and how each embroiderer’s work may have changed (or not changed) with the number of faces they embroidered. As an experiment and for practice, I completed the entire face but now I have to repeat it and I wonder if I’ll attempt to change anything as I’m stitching…

The hair was challenging as well.  For my angel, I used the hair on the Fishmongers’ angel for a model.  Working the shape of the curls first in very tiny split stitch and then filling the areas with more tiny split stitch worked in the direction of the curls in a lighter shade.  I haven’t completed it but I have the concept and hopefully I will take a little more care with the direction of the split stitch filling on the actual piece.

I tried a couple of different things for the harp, beginning with single rows of couched gold passing but changed my mind to try satin stitch in a dark gold silk.  Eventually I decided to try to introduce silver and this was the result.  White silk satin stitch with a greyer tone for depth and a little vine design worked in couched silver passing and green silk. 

There are many different ways to stitch a scroll and after looking at a number, I decided that it would be white with rows fine silk couched to secure the long surface satin stitches.  The most appropriate Latin motto would be the 16th century Broderers’ Company motto:  Omnia desuper or Omnia de Super.  It has been spelled both ways on different extant documents.  Omnia de Super would fit very nicely!

As you can see from the over all image, I have also tried the tiled floor in a number of colours and layers.  I’m not in love with any of them and haven’t made a decision for the final as yet.  It’s a little out of focus because I wanted you to see that I do have some company as I stitch!

A special note for those readers who have been fortunate enough to take a class on Medieval Embroidery with Jessica Grimm… If you look carefully at the image at the top of the page or below, you can see that the linen under the couched file (passing) has been painted with what is likely madder!

With needle in hand… finally!

This was never going to be easy, but if it wasn’t a challenge and nothing to learn there would be no point! I’ve been experimenting for about five days, on and off of course, my left hand index finger bears the brunt of fine embroidery after not picking up a needle for a whole year.  It guides the point of the needle on the underside of the frame and with this super pinpoint placement through several layers of thread, it gets in the way sometimes.  It takes a while for the skin to toughen up.  That’s the physical challenge and after so many years and sometimes long hiatuses, I’ve already learned how to deal with that.  But I always learn something from choosing colours:  I just wish I could remember from one project to another.

I began by forgetting that I can’t be afraid of deep, rich colour, which is a hallmark of Tudor textiles!  I almost always begin with what is in the background and on the angel, it is the long feathers.  Right off the bat, my colour choice was too bland and it didn’t take long to decide to put the needle down and do a little more research.  Since this was to be based on the techniques used in the figures in a vignette, I went back to the images on the palls.  The wings on the Fishmongers’ Pall were the inspiration for the new angel but the longer feathers are quite different so I didn’t think they would help.  Think again… I haven’t been able to photograph the pall as yet but friend and colleague Natalie Dupuis wrote an engaging article for Piecework about the couching on the pall at https://pieceworkmagazine.com/i-spy-couching-stitch/.  The image of the angel provided the clues I needed to develop the long feathers and here is what I have come up with so far.  I still have to make some decisions with respect to final colour choice but that will depend on how all the different elements go together. 

For the smaller feathers, since the colour choice had been made by the embroiderer of the original, I just followed their lead.  This is where the guidance of the needle is important.  The background is worked in split stitch and then the small coloured circles are also split stitch and to split the super fine stitch from the underside through two layers of stitching you have to be very precise.  Then the circles of gold have to be couched.  The exact sequence of stitching on the original is hard to determine because the layers overlap so much.  I tried two different ways but it will take a little more practice to result in a more refined feather. 

The drapery, arrgh… I’ve tried or nué a couple of times and abandoned it fairly quickly.  I appreciate that it is a very skilled practice and the colour placement is challenging but despite the glittering gold and the potentially gorgeous result, it bores me to tears – not enough messing around. This is where the learning and dogged determination comes in.  Beginning with pairs of #3 passing and a selection of three colours, it only took two rows to learn it was not going to work and blue was not the colour. Back to the drawing board (literally) to get a better understanding of how the shading works because isn’t a piece of fabric a single colour?  The depth of colour just changes as the light hits it… and can’t that be done by adjusting the spacing of stitches and the gold?  A little more research and yes, shaded gold was achieved in many different ways.  A single colour, a little string padding and some black lines for definition might work.  After that, some additional directional stitching on top to add a little detail.  Not there yet but it looks promising.

The smaller feathers on the edge of the wings are what really attracted me to the Fishmongers’ angel.  Once again, I’ve begun with a very unTudor-like colour and will have to re think.  However, I love the way the feathers fold into one another and they are so textural, I just have to trial and error to achieve the correct colour combinations – and that’s fun!

Prep Work

I thought the line drawing was going to be pretty straightforward but the more I worked at it the more it became apparent that it was not going to work without some adjustments.  The feathers on the outside of the wing were too prominent and the whole shape was wrong.  I am not an accomplished artist and my skills usually only get me as far as I need to get the shape on the fabric and then work the details out in needle and thread but this project will require more steps.  Thank goodness for tracing paper… After many attempts the feathers finally looked like they should but then I couldn’t just tweak the shape so scrapped the rounded wings and spread them out.  Then they were too straight so a little curve had to be put back in. 

Hands are difficult to draw realistically but the feet were always going to be a problem – there were none on the original stone carving and I have no idea where they should be so, I added the scroll.  I will think about what will be written on the scroll as I stitch but I will have to be in Latin so a little research will have to be done.  The drapery is going to be a huge challenge and I haven’t come up with a solution for the harp that is still floating in mid air – maybe I can explain that away as “heavenly”…

In any case, this is the final line drawing.  I have an idea of the order of work and which threads and techniques to use but since they will be new to me for the most part, I knew I would need to transfer the design twice.  I will have to experiment as I progress trying out the combinations initially on one angel to make sure they will work.  Then I’ll go ahead and complete the stitching on the second design and hope I’ve got it right.  I have chosen a fine white linen and it has been prepared and mounted on a slate frame.  It looks quite like the one in the image from Opera Nuovo except the figure is angel not a saint and there will only be one embroiderer.

As a 21st century embroiderer who focuses on goldwork techniques, I use texture more often than colour to achieve my design objectives so adding colour is a real challenge.  Normally, I would dive straight in to the stitching but this time it is important to consider colour first.  The colours on the motifs on the Fishmongers and Vintners Palls are quite vibrant, so a coloured rendition of the line drawing would assist in the selection of threads.  I have quite a few pencil crayons that have survived over the years, some Derwent and Reeves watercolour pencils, Prismacolor, Laurentian, Crayola and a gold metallic gel pen – nothing that hasn’t been around for at least 5 years (the gel pen) and lots that have been in my collection for over 25 (the Prismacolor and Crayola)! 

As with the sketching, it was slow going at first but as I worked it began to get more comfortable and I was able to get a better feeling for how the embroidery might work: the length and direction of stitches, the layering of colours and the addition of passing for highlights.  Moving onto the drapery in green and gold, then the floor and the background in laid gold with a diaper pattern. I hope the stitching goes as smoothly…

For the keen Tudor embroiderer… if you would like to experiment with your own angel, send me an email request and I will send you a pdf of the line drawing. Please note: This is not a teaching project, simply my research blog with pictures of my experimental embroidery of a Tudor Ecclesiastical Motif. At this time, I will not be able to help with any stitching related questions… comments and research questions only, please!

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…

2022 in the rear view mirror

I’ve been sitting here at the computer for a while now trying to think of something to write about for the last post of the year and I can’t settle on any one thing. I have just finished and submitted the report for the first year of the project this blog was created for – Professional Tudor Embroidery: Investigation and Re-creation.  The three-year project was to start in September 2021 and the first report was actually due in January 2022 but it soon became clear that travel to the UK was still a very iffy proposition.  My well-planned seven-week research trip was much delayed and turned into three-week scramble.  I filled those three weeks with research but none of it was what had been planned so the whole project was well behind already and the carefully laid out three-year timeline was toast!  Hence, the first report just having been submitted.  Instead of one seven-week trip in September 2021, there were three separate trans Atlantic trips for a total of 12 weeks away and my travel budget already blown.  There continue to be innumerable challenges in keeping to any planned schedule as there are ongoing closures and strikes but I’m determined to get back on track to finish by January 2025.  To wrap up this first phase of the project and to put myself squarely on the path forward, I thought I’d post an illustrated review of the work accomplished to date.

I’ve looked at hundreds of extant artifacts… from both sides and through different lenses…

I’ve studied the brushwork on paintings of embroidery…

I’ve struggled to decipher over what seems like a million handwritten 15th and 16th century documents…

I’ve purchased supplies… and watched them being made…

I’ve experimented with re-creating painted embroidery… and had some spectacular failures…

I’ve visited loads of churches, libraries, museums, stately homes… and found loads of Tudor embroidery in all kinds of media…

I’ve tried my hand at translating medieval French…

I’ve travelled by plane, train, tram, tube, bus, car and foot…

I’ve searched for Tudor pins and aglets… and found lots of pipe stems…

I’ve gone to exhibitions and lectures and given a few zoom presentations… I even sat on a jury…

In short, it has been a very busy year and 2023 will be even more so… I hope you’ll follow along me as I start the new year, hopefully with needle in hand!

Embroiderers’ Seals

Quality control was paramount to the reputation of the Broderers’ Company and the sealing of embroidered goods is detailed in the ordinances as approved by the City of London in 1528 (LMA  Letter Book O COL/AD/01/014).  Every piece of embroidery was to be brought to the wardens of the Broderers Company to be inspected within two days of completion.  “All such works tents with flowers or powdering or garments” that were lawfully made were to be sealed with a lead seal.  The charge for sealing was determined by the value of the goods: for work or garment under the value of 6s 8d the cost was 1d and 2d for anything above.

Because the cloth trade was vital to the English economy, thousands of 16th century cloth seals have been collected and catalogued.  To my knowledge, none have been associated with the embroidered textile trade but there would have been few in comparison to those of the woollen cloth industry.  I have not yet had the opportunity to check the 2017 publication Cloth Seals: An Illustrated Guide to the Identification of Lead Seals Attached to Cloth: From the British Perspective by Stuart Elton. If you happen to have access to this comprehensive guide, perhaps you can have a look.

The seal for approving embroidered goods was to have the arms of the city on one side and on the other side the seal the Broderers’ Company.  The Broderers’ had not yet been granted an official set of arms so it isn’t clear what image the craft may have used at this time, but it is possible that the print may have been the personal seal of one of the wardens.  Thomas Packard was one of the two wardens who submitted the proposed ordinances to the city for approval.  This image from his will is quite fuzzy but it incorporates what may be a quill of gold thread between his initials T and P, surmounted by a dove, the emblem of the Holy Ghost.   It would be a very fitting visual for an imprint of the Broderers’ on a seal in 1528.   

Personal seals belonging to members of the Broderers Company can be found on other extant documents such as the deed for the purchase of the property on Gutter Lane on which Thomas Forster’s seal is firmly attached (NAL MSL/1999/6).  Thomas Forster’s initials flank an arm bent at the elbow with the hand holding a bow and an arrow.  It is very similar to the image on a crest for Thomas FForster of London found in the British Library (Add MS 36354). 

Thomas Forster was a prominent member of the Broderers’ Company and was instrumental in the establishment of the first Broderers’ Company Hall.  His name appears often in the royal accounts for Henry VIII.  In 1516, the office of the revels notes that was paid for creating, amongst other things, “a wreath of green satin, embroidered and wrought like pomegranates… using 8 oz. flat damask gold for the bunch of pomegranates” for the king.  Imagine a young Henry sporting a garland of golden pomegranates, a symbol of his beloved, at that time, Queen Katherine.

Forster was the recipient of Letters Patent from King Henry VIII on 28 April 1524.  The illuminated charter is reputedly the work of Lucas Horenbout a painter of the Ghent-Bruges school who came to work in the royal court.  The decoration includes a miniature portrait of Henry VIII and is very unusual at this early date and possibly the first of its kind.  The property identified on the manuscript is located on Funkes Lane in Cornhill very close to the Merchant Tailors’ Hall.  The document was at one time on display in the British Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum and is illustrated in Illuminated Manuscripts and their Makers, by Watson and Rowan, V&A, 2003 ISBN 185177385. Manuscript. MSL/1999/6

The search for silk camlet and a visit to Meg Andrews

The ground fabric of the Bacton Altar Cloth (BAC) has been identified as a silk camlet: a fairly simple weave with the weft being much thicker than the warp, giving it a texture similar to grosgrain.  However, nothing in the 16th c is either simple or straightforward and so it is not surprising that “camlet” is written many different ways in 16th c documentation.  A quick look at the index of The Inventory of King Henry VIII notes: “CAMLET (chablet, chamblet, chamblette), a warp-faced tabby cloth showing a pronounced weft rib, in mohair, wool or silk.” There is also a separate entry for SILK CAMLET.

Image © Historic Royal Palaces and
St. Faith’s Parish Council by permission

In the case of the BAC the fibre is silk but what makes the ground of the BAC very special is the supplementary weft of flattened silver wire or fine plate.   The detail image shown here has been published in Eleri Lynn’s Tudor Textiles. The warp threads are not a consistent width but they are very fine in comparison to the warp, which simply weaves over and under the weft.  It gets a little more complicated when the silver strip is added: it is caught on the face of every second weft thread with every second over, leaving the silver a little more visible.  There is no separate entry in the Inventory’s index for silver camlet.

Image © Challe Hudson

The search for extant fragments of silver camlet has found several textiles that are woven with wire, or filé.  An example shown above from Hardwick Hall has a pair of super hair-fine wires woven into the silk in a satin weave.  The wires tend to fall into the crease between the warp threads, rather than remaining on top as the silver strip on the camlet does.  This might be an example of plain cloth of gold as illustrated in The Embroideries at Hardwick Hall F6, page 46.

An example of a textile woven with fine filé is this fragment from the Whitworth Gallery (above left).  It is the void area of a patterned velvet and these pairs appear to be sitting on top of every second weft.  Note that the metal thread is turned before the selvedge. Above right, the patterned green velvet (also Whitworth Gallery) from the previous post has a fine flattened silver wire in the void areas in the background.  Unfortunately, the image is not very clear but the dark horizontal dashes are the broken lines of silver.

Image © Challe Hudson

The quest for flattened silver wire turned up Meg Andrews’ website: https://www.meg-andrews.com. The 16th century red satin valance shown above is embroidered with crimson velvet and yellow cloth appliqués in a “grotesque” design that incorporates vines, vases, birds and fish. The yellow cloth is woven with a silver strip that has fragmented and all but disappeared.  The entire valance is about 9 feet long and 11 inches high.

Images in the grotesque style were popular in the 16th century Europe, as illustrated below by the border in the collection of the National Gallery of Art.  www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.4333.html German artist Seobald Beham’s engraving of a border of two stylized dolphins is far more elaborate than the appliqué in the valance but the similarity is notable. 

Another red valance in this style is in the collection of the V&A below. (37.1903) https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O130320/valance-unknown.  The ground in this valance is velvet and the appliqués are identified as silver tissue but it is unclear whether the silver is round or flat.  The appliqués are outlined with metal thread that may be a filé twist and are further embellished with embroidery stitches in coloured silk thread.

The Burrell Collection also has a valance in a similar style.  The set of embroideries known collectively as the Kimberley Throne includes a canopy and a hanging for the front of the seat.  It was made for the visit of Elizabeth I to Sir Roger Wodehouse of Kimberley Hall on 22 August 1578. The applied cloth of gold, and cloth of silver in the strapwork design, is painted with a coloured wash to add depth and is outlined in couched gilt and silver-gilt threads.  The Kimberley design incorporates a bird, a lion’s head and two bunches of fruit including apples, cherries, grapes and pears.  There is an arabesque floral design with eglantine roses and leaves on the border, and down the sides and along the bottom.  (Scottish Museums 14.217.e and 14.217.b).  For more information on the Kimberley Throne go to http://collections.glasgowmuseums.com/mwebcgi/mweb?request=record;id=595884;type=101

The first two valances shown above (Meg Andrews and the V&A) have been identified as Italian work.  Although there is no place of origin mentioned in the Glasgow museums collection entry, I would venture to guess that it is considered to be English in origin.  I would love to be able to make a detailed study of the valances in the V&A and the Burrell to make a comparison of threads, materials and workmanship, but for now I have to settle on having had a close look at the one in Meg’s collection.  Here is a link to it on her website:  https://www.meg-andrews.com/item-details/Italian-Mythical-Beasts/9136

The design consists of two alternating panels repeated along the length of the valance.  One is of a narrow vase between mirrored dolphins with tendrils and stylized leaves.  The other is a tall cup from which two birds are drinking.  The cup is flanked by bird-like creatures tied by the neck to grape vines.  The two designs overlap but do not interlock.  There is a narrow border along the top and bottom which is a repeating alternating s-shape decorated with circles and flowers.  The three designs are worked in crimson velvet and yellow cloth.  The velvet has worn on many of the appliqués; there does not appear to be a discernable pattern that might explain the reason for the wear.

It was the yellow fabric that attracted my attention in the search for a second example of a camlet the same as on the BAC.  The weave is similar to the camlet on the BAC with a fine warp and a heavier weft.  It is also a simple over and under or tabby weave but the difference in the diameter of the warp and weft threads produces the grosgrain effect.  The threads may have once been the same colour and it is possible that the yellow warp has faded: in the areas where the warp has worn, the weft is visible as a brighter yellow bundle of threads. 

Image © Challe Hudson

The darker areas indicate the addition of a metal strip.  In this close up of the scales on a dolphin’s body/tail, the fine strips of silver are added to the top of every weft rather than every second one, as on the BAC.  It has also slipped to the side of the warp rather than remaining on top.  Also, the warp doesn’t skip an over as on the BAC.  The condition of the silver varies throughout the valance and often appears to have disintegrated or melted into the silk. It also isn’t clear whether the silver was integrated to convey a pattern or design.  

Image © Challe Hudson

The valance is fully lined with linen so the back of the embroidery was hidden.  Meg very kindly allowed me to carefully remove the stitches at one corner to reveal the stitching on the underside.   The valance is stained on this corner, so the threads were stuck in place and couldn’t be pulled.  Meg produced a pair of embroidery scissors and I cut just enough stitches to see the inside of the corner. The little opening revealed an interesting tabby woven base fabric which requires further investigation and it was obvious that some of the motifs have been restitched.   You can see in the picture below that the top border had been restitched with white thread but it wasn’t clear if the brown thread or the base fabric were original to the embroidery.  Not being a conservator and not wishing to do any further damage, I was reluctant to remove any more of the lining and the rest of the investigation was done from the front of the embroidery. 

The appliqués were first basted to the ground with a few stitches in quite coarse thread.  Then the twist was couched in place around the perimeter with the same thread and the details added after.  The same thread was used to couch the red velvet, the yellow fabric and the details.  The colour of the thread varies throughout and it still isn’t 100% clear whether the base fabric was original to the valance but the thread used is similar to the thread visible on the exposed corner, so it is certainly a possibility.

The search for a second extant example of the silver camlet used on the BAC continues but the opportunity to study the valance was invaluable.  I am extremely grateful to Meg for her kindness in allowing me to examine it so closely.  It is an outstanding survivor and would be a wonderful addition to any collection of 16th century embroidery.

Extraordinary Luxury Textiles

Textiles used in embroidery during the Tudor period covered a wide range of weaves and fibres.  Elizabeth, Countess of Hardwick famously re-used a vast number of former garments and furnishings to create the hangings used to decorate her house at Chatsworth and at Hardwick Hall.  The most comprehensive illustration of the variety of textiles she worked with can be found in Santina Levey’s catalogue “The Embroideries at Hardwick Hall”.  The photographs are clear and her explanations are beautifully written but the weaving process is extremely complicated so they are very difficult to understand and recognize.  What is a tissue, what is a cloth of gold, and what is a brocade, brocatelle, lampas or tinsel?  And what about velvet? Solid colour, flat velvets were very often used to provide a rich, deep ground fabric on which to embroider, and patterned velvets were applied to other grounds such as silk damask and wool.  A velvet pile is easily identified, but there can be so many combinations of thread woven into a myriad of plains and patterns: is there a simple way to categorize them? 

Zenobia, detail illustrating a variety of luxury textiles, Hardwick Hall

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to be invited to attend a lecture at the University of Manchester. “Serial Production and individualization in Late Medieval Silk Weaving,” was presented by Dr Michael Peter, an expert in medieval textiles from the Abegg-Stiftung Museum in Bern.  Dr Peter’s lecture clearly identified the role of the consumer in the aesthetic development of luxury textiles and how unique and expensive special commissions were adapted to create economically viable ones.  He described how the fabric was woven and even drew a diagram of a simple velvet with a two step structure but it was still far too complex for me to grasp.  The videos showing the weaving of velvet on 17th century looms are intriguing but just think of how much more complicated it was a century before.  The addition of two different heights of pile, cut and un cut, as many as three types of metal thread and a pattern of little loops makes it absolutely incredible.

Fragments of luxury textiles from the collection of the Whitworth Gallery. Image copyright Challe Hudson.

Happily, there was a practical component to the lecture that would help to visually identify some of the technical aspects Dr Peter had addressed in the lecture.  The following day, the attendees were invited to the Whitworth Gallery to examine fragments of 16th century textiles from the collection.

Fragment of ciselé velvet, Whitworth Gallery T.12324

The image above is of a fragment of velvet from the collection of the Whitworth Gallery (T.12324). On the website it is identified as ciselé velvet with metal thread, woven in Italy and dated 1575 to 1599.  It consists of silk thread and flattened silver wire. The cloth has plain tabby weave areas (voided) and cut pile filling an uncut velvet pile (loops that look like little dots) outline.

Fragment of cloth of gold velvet, Whitworth Gallery T.12261

This example is also in the Whitworth and it has cut velvet pile, loops of fine venice gold thread and the voided areas are woven with pairs of gold wire added to the silk weft.  It is identified as a strip of velvet cloth of gold (T.12261).  This type of velvet is beautifully illustrated in the portrait of Mary painted by Master John c 1544.  Here is a link to the image on the NPG website: https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw04264/Queen-Mary-I?LinkID=mp02995&role=sit&rNo=1  If you scroll in tightly, you can see the little loops on her sleeves and bodice.

This fragment of patterned purple velvet has been embellished with stitches of venice gold. Couched venice twist or cord in gold and silver outlines each motif.  The reverse shows the colour of the couching thread alternates for gold and silver and the single stitches go through the ground making smaller stitches on the back. I was unable to locate the accession number of this fragment on the Whitworth Collection website but it may be T.10678.

I am extremely grateful to Dr Gale Owen Crocker, Dr Michael Peters and the staff at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester for the opportunity to tip a toe into the exciting world of luxury Renaissance textiles.

A visit to Hardwick Hall

In 1998, I purchased Santina Levey’s book Elizabethan Treasures: The Hardwick Hall Textiles.  I read it thoroughly and regularly referred to it for research until the publication of her catalogue, The Embroideries at Hardwick Hall in 2007.  Copies were quickly snapped up by scholars and knowledgeable embroiderers and it became a collector’s item in no time at all. (Amazon currently has a used copy for $552 US.)  I borrowed it on interlibrary loan from various universities on several occasions as it was not available from any of the city libraries.  A wonderful friend let me know that she had a copy and very kindly allowed me to borrow it.  I returned it thinking I had finally noted all the information I required.  That was not to be the case… after several more borrows and returns, I was generously gifted with the book.  I am very grateful and it has become absolutely invaluable to my research, not only for Hardwick, but for almost every other fragment of Tudor embroidery I examine.

So, when it came to actually scheduling a visit to examine some of them for my survey, I thought there would be few surprises… I was so wrong!

I had prepared a long list of embroideries I would like to see but circumstances dictated that the initial appointment could only be two hours, so I selected only what I thought would be key pieces. 

When the day arrived, we spent the morning in the study room examining and photographing some smaller, less well known fragments.  We took note of materials, silks, metal threads, painting and design transfer, designs and piecing techniques.  Here is a small selection of the photos we took before lunch.

The best was yet to come… After lunch we began a wander through the Hall itself.  I had read all the catalogue entries and I knew all the details of the different textiles and stitches and I had studied the photographs.  Somehow, I was still taken aback, floored actually, by the reality of all those elements coming together.  I won’t take you through room by room but you will get an idea of how important this visit was – just to place all the items in the catalogue in the context of the building.  I’m looking forward to a longer visit in the autumn.

Visits to special places require assistance from a number of very generous people.  For Hardwick Hall, I’d like to express my sincere thanks to Emma, Liz, Ninya, Elena, Tara and a number of very helpful volunteers on the staff at Hardwick Hall.  And an extraordinarily huge thankyou to Challe for her organizational skills, her photography skills, her company and her enthusiasm even after hours and hours of sorting through photographs and discussing minute details of the stitching in every one!

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑