Now that the ecclesiastical motif has been stitched, it is time to decide on the second project. One of the goals of this undertaking is to identify embroidered items in images and documents and attempt to re-create them from the images or the written descriptions. There are plenty of extant religious objects to develop into designs and numerous embroideries to examine to determine technique, so painted or drawn images weren’t really required to execute the design. Secular items do not survive in as great a number but inventories are chock full of embroidered items of every type. Furnishings such as chairs, cushions, and bed hangings were already popular but as the century progressed, the selection of items richly embellished with gold and silver embroidery increased. Books, coffers, hunting accessories, and mirrors are described as being “enbrawdered allover” with “damaske and veanice golde”. The increasing popularity of embroidered clothing is evident in the pages and pages of kirtles, foreparts, gowns and sleeves. The problem is that the actual design is rarely noted, and here is where the drawings and portraits come into play.
Working through the century on a chronological path, the next period of embroidery is the last half of Henry VIII’s reign – so 1530ish to the late 1540’s. The source for the type of embroidered items is the transcript of the inventory taken after his death in 1547. I planned to do a sleeve but going through the inventory item by item located many embroidered sleeves but only a few with a mention of subject matter, usually acorns, honeysuckles and pomegranates. The mention of honeysuckles and acorns reminded me of the famous set of valance panels in the Burrell Collection. They are not worked with gold thread but at least it is an example of an embroidered design from the period and if a sleeve is to be next, I will need some inspiration.
Then there is the actual pattern for the shape of the sleeve. Not being very experienced in tailoring or dressmaking, I headed to the bookshelf for a recent addition to my library: The Tudor Tailor. The thought of making an actual garment had never crossed my mind until this project so I have only recently become aware of the complexities of Tudor dress. There are so many unfamiliar items of dress in the 16th century and I will never be able to keep them in mind. Tudor sleeves are complicated and there are several patterns in this wonderful book but which ones are the ones in the Henry Inventory?
To determine the style of sleeve that was most popular, I went to the portraits of the day. The sleeves mentioned in the inventory were usually tied with aglets and there are quite a few helpful examples. I located the pattern in the TT and to become more familiar with the size and shape I would be working with I drew out the pattern and made a muslin mockup. Then I asked Challe if she might have any photographs showing the sleeves on 16th century effigies so I could see a three-dimensional example. There are, of course, no embroidered sleeves but looking from below I could see the closures and how the puffs of linen were pulled out between them and I marveled at the skill of the carver! Other parts of the dress on the effigies such as the girdles and headgear provided examples of patterns used in the period.
Before starting on the design, I collected images of Holbein drawings from the BM and looked through all the pattern books that were published before 1550. Armed with all that and the design from the Burrell valance, I was ready to sketch…
Next steps: finish the design, source the appropriate material and frame it up!