Applied Tudor Motifs, cont’d


The second category of applied motifs are those that were used for furnishings and hangings.  The Inventory of Henry VIII describes the use of this type of applied design as 9090 “ one Cusshion embrawdered with a cut of carnacion vellat” and 9884 “two fruntes for an aulter of crimson satten allover embraudered with a cutte of cloth of gold”.   These were mainly shapes cut from fabrics sewn onto a onto a contrasting ground creating a pattern.   Santina Levey defines this technique as follows: “The term ‘cutwork’ denoted applied motifs cut from fabric, and it was an important aspect of embroidery” and notes “The terms ‘applied work’ or ‘appliqué’ were not used.” IHVIII Textiles and Dress Pg 148.

The shapes could be applied and outlined without further embellishment however additional embroidery stitches could be effectively added to provide detail such as the motifs on the pall commissioned by Henry VII in the Ashmolean (AN2009.52). The rose (below left) is red satin embellished with details in red silk threads with a large padded centre.  The crown and portcullis (below right) are cut from cloth of gold with fine embroidery and padded areas in the crown to create a three dimensional appearance.

Another example of cutwork employing additional stitching is a large textile fragment (below) in the Victoria and Albert (T.90-1926). It incorporates two elegant designs running vertically, a scrolled vine in the centre, flanked on both sides by a repeating floral motif set sideways.  The shapes of leaves and berries are cut out of black velvet and sewn onto the red wool ground fabric.  These are embellished with surface embroidery and outlined with yellow silk cord.  It was once part of a bed cover, hangings and wall coverings in Berkeley Castle.

Another example is a small fragment of green wool (T.265-1959) embroidered in a floral pattern with flowers and leaves cut from satin and velvet.  Additional embroidery has been added to detail petals, leaves and stems and provide an outline to cover raw edges.  It is suggested that this fragment could possibly have come from a saddle cloth, however, it could conceivably be from a larger furnishing.

Additional embroidery wasn’t necessary when the shapes were cut from luxury textiles.  The heraldic embroideries at Hardwick Hall mentioned in last week’s post made great use of cutwork with many luxury textiles providing the shapes.  A set of four valances in the V&A collection (T.4513-16-1858) have a ground of deep red (murrey) velvet embroidered with an arabesque design in gold cord highlighted with shapes cut from cloth of gold tissue. There are many detailed images of both sides of this object on the V&A website.  Because the cloth of gold is very fine, the cuts are lined with linen before applying to the velvet.  There is also a backing of linen that provides an extra layer to accommodate a small amount of padding to be inserted between the lining and the velvet.  This technique will be the subject of a future experiment. (Not sure whether this is Italian or English – V&A notes that T.4513-1958 was made is London and the other three in Italy.)

Next week: Slips

Tudor Motifs, Cuts and Slips

Many terms have been used to describe a piece of fabric sewn onto a larger ground fabric.  Currently, we commonly refer to it as an appliqué, having co-opted the term from French. Applying motifs, plain or embroidered, was a very common embellishment technique in England during the 16th century and several words or phrases were used in written accounts to describe various aspects of the technique through the century.

Ecclesiastical Motifs

Ecclesiastical motifs were often embroidered in detail on fine linen, trimmed closely and sewn securely onto a larger ground. This was common practice from early in the 14th century.  In the fifteenth century, in the context of an embroidery contract for a set of vestments, the word ‘slip’ was not used to identify the motifs that were placed onto a religious textile.  A velvet ground was to be “sett and powdered with armes images and angels” and “garnished about with fine gold of venice and spangles of silver and gilt”.   This was to be done in accordance with the established standards for the production of such goods within the embroidery profession. 

The image on the left shows a conventional 16th century angel embroidered (V&A 240-1908) in silk threads using a variety of techniques.  The linen ground is visible where the silk threads are worn particularly in the face, collar and scroll.  The embroidered motif has been sewn in place on the rich silk velvet ground and the edges have been hidden by an outline of couched silk.  Venice gold (aka passing or filé) and spangles are embroidered directly on the velvet. The angel on the right is rather unusual; instead of holding the typical scroll aloft, it is playing a lute. Angels were accompanied by an array of other motifs including saints, fleur-de-lys, stylized flowers and other religious emblems.

The motifs of stylized flowers (above left V&A 230-1879) bear a remarkable similarity to those illustrated in Ashmole 1504 in the Bodleian Library (above right). There are seven designs in the Tudor pattern book ranging from fairly basic to very elaborate. They can be found on folios 26 to 29.

Although they have been likened to pineapples, these may have been identified as water flowers during the 16th century.  In the Inventory of Henry VIII, there is a reference to “one Coope of crimson vellat enbrodered with water Flowers.”  For further information detailing the different classifications and possible design origins of these flower motifs see Rhodes, Frank & Peter. Late Medieval English Embroidered Conventional Flowers in Vol 51, Textile History, 2020.

Heraldic Embroidery

I had planned to explore cutwork this week but got distracted… I’ll try again next week.

There are many extant embroidered heraldic shields from the 16th century.  Several are in the possession of the National Trust, the largest collection being at Hardwick Hall and attributed to Bess of Hardwick, made to furnish her many residences.  Her four marriages, her children and their consequent marriages provided an almost endless supply.  See page 32 in Santina Levey’s The Embroideries at Harwick Hall. 

The imagery in a coat of arms could be executed using a variety of stitches, materials and techniques depending on the skill level of the embroiderer and the end use of the object.  There are many examples in museums such as this cushion cover in the V&A. T.262-1968 (below left).  An early example of a royal coat of arms is embroidered on a pall in the collection of the Ashmolean commissioned by Henry VII circa 1504 (below centre).  The supporters, shield and crown have been padded, embroidered and appliquéd onto a red velvet ground.  In a previous blog post, the coats of arms on the Elizabethan Burses in the British Museum BM 1997, 0301.1 (below right) and the V&A were discussed with reference to the use of goldwork.

Arms were important for the Livery Companies as well, appearing on ceremonial and processional objects such as hangings, banners and funeral palls.  The Coopers’ Company had a new hearse cloth made in 1563 which took seven months to complete.  A painter was employed specifically to draw the arms for the embroiderers to stitch.  Unfortunately, it is no longer extant.  Other companies do have 16th century palls in their collections including the Saddlers’ and the Merchant Taylors’.  The charges on their arms include objects that are integral to their work and they are of a similar size and technique.   The Saddlers’ Pall arms has three identical saddles (below left) and the Merchant Taylors’ (below centre) depict imported fabrics in the form of two mantles (long cloaks) and a pavilion (tent). The Broderers’ have in their possession four banners thought to have been embroidered in the last quarter of the 1500’s (below right). In the image, you can see the dimensionality of the embroidered lion and broche.

To gain a deeper understanding of what was involved in creating a new heraldic shield, it was decided to attempt a small embroidered version suitable for a book cover.  The coloured and annotated image of the arms granted to John Parr late in the 16th century, provided an authentic design for this endeavour. Embroidered arms on previously photographed book bindings, particularly those of Katherine Parr on British Library catalogue number c27e19 (at the bottom of the page), were referenced for appropriate materials and techniques.

A black line drawing was made of the shield and the outlines were traced onto a ground cloth of linen.  Each section would be embroidered separately, transferring the individual charges as required.  The background of each section was prepared according to colour. Silk satin squares in red (murrey) and blue (azure) were applied to the linen (below left) and rows of laid passing in gold and silver filled in the areas of yellow and white as indicated by the notes on the original drawing.  In the case of the lower right section, blue and red satin, and silver passing were all used to create the necessary ground onto which the charges were then embroidered.

The upside down fetterlocks (above centre) presented a bit of a challenge.  Small motifs on the extant arms were often embroidered using purl and, as established in previous posts, the purl available now does not produce a comparable effect.  The modern wire is much finer and not meant to be applied in lengths that require shaping with overstitching or couching which, even when extra care is taken, causes visible kinks in the purl to appear.   A modern smooth purl was used for the fleur-de-lis under the horn but they more closely resemble ears of wheat (above right).

Transferring the designs for the boar, griffon and pheasant required stitching the outline shapes freehand in running stitch using the line drawing as a guide.  The areas were then filled in with the appropriate coloured silk thread.

As noted, there were many steps involved in every section on the new embroidery. Some of them, applying the silk fabric and the laying of the passing, were fairly effortless. Others were physically challenging, such as embroidering through the laid ground of passing, requiring a good deal of patience. The finished embroidery has only six sections while the Katherine Parr arms have eleven squeezed into the same area making it an even more daunting task and further expanding my admiration and respect for the Tudor embroiderer.

Tudor Borders

While here is a huge amount of information available concerning what was worn, what was permitted by law to be worn and by whom, how extravagant it was and what it meant about the person and the level of society they inhabited, there is not a lot of information about how, by whom and with what the embroidery that conveyed a lot of that messaging was produced.  Learning a little more about the practical side of Tudor embroidery on clothing is the objective of the next few experiments.

The portraiture of the period is the best place to start as there are not many extant garments to examine.  The cartoon drawn by Holbein for the mural of the Tudor family provides an excellent contemporary image of Henry VIII.  Information about the drawing and the history of the painting can be found at

King Henry VIII; King Henry VII
by Hans Holbein the Younger
ink and watercolour, circa 1536-1537
NPG 4027
© National Portrait Gallery, London

The cartoon clearly depicts the designs used to create the embroidery on his gown and tunic, sleeves and bodice.  In the wardrobe accounts, the decoration on a gown with a border such as this might have been referred to as ‘embraudered with a brode garde of venice golde’.

How can the technical details of the embroidery be determined in order to attempt a reconstruction of the garment the cartoon represents?  The border on the tunic is a complicated knotwork design and it is difficult to follow in the drawing so a line drawing is helpful.  The result is a single knot design that overlaps to appear as a continuous border (below). 

There are several versions of this portrait that depict a knotwork border pattern that is quite different than the original cartoon. In particular, the portrait of Henry VIII in the Walker Art Gallery (above right). Holbein likely painted it after the original mural was complete, depicting a different, much wider border pattern.  This same pattern appears on most of the full length portraits based on the original. The same border also appears on the skirt of Henry’s doublet depicted on the later painting of Henry VIII and the Barber Surgeons.

It is not a continuous pattern either.  The blue and bright green loops link through the knot but the knot would have to be worked in an additional three sections.  Is it possible that Holbein drew the initial cartoon using an existing garment from Henry’s wardrobe as a model and made it more elaborate for the painted image? Or was it the other way around and the cartoon was simply an approximation and an actual gown used for the painting?

British Library C21F14 (top), C23E11

How would the embroidery have been worked?  And what materials might have been used?  Although there are not any extant garments from Henry’s wardrobe, there are two examples of embroidered curvilinear designs on book covers from Henry’s library.  Both are couched three ply cord made with twisted filé or “venyse gold”.

A close inspection of both book covers makes clear that there are as few stops and starts in the couched thread as possible.  The longer the length of thread that can be continuously couched without having to be ended, the more efficient the stitching. Stopping to end a corded filé thread and begin a new one adds considerably to the time required to complete a project.  Different sizes of twisted cord were used as well.

The pattern was transferred to the velvet by the prick, pounce and paint method It was repeated a second time overlapping the end loops.  Then a #2 passing twist was sewn in place on the motifs.  The 16th century embroiderers must have found a better way to transfer the pattern because, no matter how light a line is painted or how carefully you try to cover it, it leaves a visible residue.  The residue is not very noticeable with the naked eye but the camera picks up every little mark. The larger loops of the second motif were stitched with the same twist and a lighter silver twist was used for the knot.

The gold thread picks up the light very effectively and the repeated motifs really make quite a rich addition to the velvet.  There is documentary evidence that pearls were a popular addition to embroidery at this time, so it seemed like a good time to add to the experiment.

Next week: A “cutwork” border

An Elizabethan Rabbit Hole

Another intriguing 16th century book cover is the one traditionally said to have been worked by Elizabeth I at the age of about 12 years.  It is in the collection of the Bodleian Library and a wonderful, expandable digital image of the cover and one of the manuscript pages can be found at

The Miroir or Glasse of the Synneful Soul, a poem by Marguerite d’Angouleme, was translated and written onto vellum by Princess Elizabeth as a gift for Katherine Parr.  More information about the poem and Elizabeth’s translation can be found on Tudor historian and author Claire Ridgeway’s blog

The book is 18 centimeters high and 13 centimeters wide.  The embroidered cover is a continuous piece of blue silk thread worked in an undetermined technique, front, spine and back.  The knotwork design with Katherine Parr’s cipher in the centre is worked identically on both covers.  Embroidery historian Jacqui Carey has included it as a case study it in her book Elizabethan Stitches: A Guide to Historic English Needlework.  She has carefully provided a step by step process to recreate the stitches used to work the design.  These stitches became ubiquitous in later 16th and 17th century fashionable embroidery despite the fact they can be quite complicated and extremely difficult to master – at least for me! 

The image above is from the V&A.  It is part of a waistcoat that was embroidered c1615.  Note the similarity of the gold thread to the thread manufactured today.  In the 16th century this type of thread was referred to as Venice gold and we now call it filé or passing. An important point to make here, and one that Jacqui Carey noted in her study, is that the thread used to work the stitches on Elizabeth’s cover is very different from the ones that were used in the early 17th century.  It is a puzzle that has occurred before in the mystery of the knots worked on the small panels in the British Museum.  BM 1895, 0810. 

The image above left is a detail of the knotwork on the small BM panels and on the right, a detail from Elizabeth’s book. 

The width of the knotwork on the BM panel is about .8 cm and the stitch on the Elizabeth is about .4 cm.  The composite silk and metal thread however appears to have the same characteristics on both: the diameter of the coil is larger than the thickness of the silk leaving the wire with less stability than had it been wound around the core as tightly as the thread in the later V&A example.  The BM panel knotwork is couched to the surface of the satin ground likely because it wouldn’t pass through the closely woven silk fibres without damaging them or the thread.  Elizabeth’s knotwork is stitched through the blue silk ground but the majority of the thread remains on the surface.  This may be made possible by the thick blue thread and more open technique stitched on linen to create the ground. Both techniques would still be very difficult to achieve with threads of this kind.

Time to experiment… I haven’t figured out how to replicate the loose wire thread but I did try to achieve a close approximation of the technique used on the ground of Elizabeth’s book.  I estimated the scale from the photo taken with the measuring tape.  The image you see (above right) is the result of lots of trial and error to achieve just a close approximation of the scale.  I used coton perlé #8 on a 14 count evenweave modern ground.  This worked well for the 3.5 stitches over four threads across but not for the 9 rows down, so a little adjustment to the number threads per row of stitch was needed to get the correct row count. In the images above the twist in Elizabeth’s thread makes the stitches difficult to distinguish because the twist gives the illusion of a diagonal.  The blue stitching is damaged in a few small areas and the linen ground cloth is visible. The underside of the ground is not really visible except inside the spine but it is covered in glue and difficult to photograph, so not very helpful. Therefore, it is only possible to try to recreate the stitch from what shows on the front.  I tried to follow the sequence by colouring in each stitch (above left).  The coton perlé lost the little twist it had and became fuzzy so it is also difficult to see the stitches.  There are many ways to achieve what looks a bit like a knitted reverse stocking stitch… Above left is what resulted, but I am still not convinced that it is correct.

The stitches used by Elizabeth were identified by Jacqui Carey as Elizabethan ladder with a filling of backstitch (p 96) and Elizabethan plaited braid stitch (Cherry variation p 72) and I’m so thankful that I had a copy of her diligently researched book so I could try them out.   Note that the thread used to create Elizabeth’s ladder stitch is made with round wire almost like a modern rough purl with a core of narrow thread as mentioned above, and the modern passing has a flattened outer wrapping, tightly wound around the core.  Elizabeth’s ladder stitch with the backstitch filling is on the left below and in modern passing on the right.

The thread used to work the Elizabethan plaited braid Cherry variation on Elizabeth’s book is made with a flattened wire loosely wrapped around the thread core. The photo of the damaged area shows the core visible in several places.

All three of Elizabeth’s extant embroidered book covers are worked similarly and represent outstanding examples of a person working in a domestic environment rather than a guild trained professional. In a future experiment, I will try to recreate the highly twisted silk thread. For now, I have learned that the braided stitches can be worked through an embroidered ground with relative ease (once you have mastered the sequence of ins, outs and throughs, but until I find a way to reproduce the loosely coiled metal threads, I will not able to recreate the experience of the Tudor embroiderer – domestic or professional!

The Holy Ghost

There have been a number of embroidered crowns appearing on this page but this is an actual object.  It is one of two embroidered headpieces possibly used in the yearly ceremony confirming the election of the warden of the Broderers’ Company in the 16th century.  There doesn’t seem to be any reference to it in the company records until the early 20th century but it appears to have been in their possession since it was created in the late 1500s.  

The ground fabric is silk velvet, possibly originally scarlet, and it is trimmed with a fringe of green silk and gold file.  The botanical motifs are embroidered separately on fine linen with a variety of metal threads and polychrome silks.  The examination and recreation of the garland was the subject of an article in Medieval Clothing and Textiles Journal #16.  For today, I’d like to focus on two of the badges that remain in place, but are sadly in very poor condition.  

London guilds were often affiliated with a religious brotherhood in the late medieval period. For example, the Merchant Tailors supported the Fraternity of St John the Baptist and the Goldsmiths’ religious affiliation was to St Dunstan.  The Worshipful Company of Broderers was associated with the Fellowship of the Holy Ghost in the early 1500’s.  The first recorded mention is in the company ordinances approved in 1528.  The ascending Dove represents the Holy Spirit and it appears on the crest of the Broderers’ official coat of arms granted by Mary I and Philip in 1558. 

Each badge is embroidered differently and the materials and techniques are unique.  They are both of a similar size; the circle containing the dove is just over 2 centimeters in diameter.  Note the triangular shaped pieces of metal representing rays and how they are treated differently in each badge.   On the left, a stitch of gold file is carefully placed from the bottom to the point and silk is sewn across each ray shading from yellow at the base to red at the tip.  The blue silk separating the rays has been stitched horizontally on the left and in a circle on the right.  The rays on the right are the same triangular shape but they are only stitched across with pale yellow silk.  A coiled wire has been stretched and sewn in between each ray on the stitched blue ground on both badges.  

Although both birds are quite damaged, a close inspection reveals they are embroidered differently.  Fine round wire is coiled and flattened for the halo and on the wings of the dove on the left and is also stitched upright outside the lizerine.  Wire does not appear to be used on the dove on the left, the halo is couched gold file. On both doves, the upper edge of the wing is couched silver file but the direction changes with the feathers on the right. The body of the dove on the right is stitched with rows of vertical silver plate which are over stitched horizontally with silver file. On the left, the body is too damaged to identify definitively, but the silver plate appears to be sewn horizontally across the bird’s head indicating perhaps that it would continue to the body.  The blue background stitching behind the doves reflects the same direction as in the blue behind the rays. The feathers of the wings on both birds are silver plate over sewn with white silk.

This has been a comparison of two areas of only about 3 centimeters square.  It is only a small indication of the astounding creativity and skill of the 16th century embroiderer.

A Mystery Solved

During my study visit to the BM, I had the opportunity to examine the two small panels c 1540 featuring the Tudor knots of a previous blog post.  Having attempted to recreate the knot border, I was eager to see the underside of the embroidery.  Unfortunately, they had both been securely attached to a mount and the reverse was inaccessible.  Luckily, I was able to examine two black and white photographs which had been taken prior to the conservation measures. 

British Museum 1895,0810.37.a./b

While I am not permitted to reproduce the black and white images here, I did compare them to the experiments and with new, more detailed photography, I can now provide some details that reveal a little more information about how they may have been constructed.

Above are the two experiments with their corresponding undersides.  On the left is the tied knot experiment and the cut purl knot experiment is on the right.  In comparison with the black and white conservation image, there are not enough stitches on the original to have placed all the cut purls individually as in the experiment on the right and there are more than required to simply attach the tied knots with the two cut purls in between each knot.  A further examination of the front of the panel was required.

An overall survey of all the visible stitches indicates that the knots were made first, then secured to the satin ground with well placed stitches. There are a series of stitches that were placed within the knot area, some falling between the stitches and some on the edges that are visible above left). There are consistently two stitches appearing on both sides of each knot.  Often there is a stitch across each pair of threads that join the knots in addition to the two purls between each knot. To confirm this theory, there is an area of damage that clearly indicates a continuous metal thread (above right).

This is a very intriguing piece of early Tudor metal thread embroidery.  Green coloured silk thread has been used sparingly to add colour to the rose leaves (above left).  The use of “couching” stitches to secure a long length of metal thread in place can be seen in several areas of this design (yellow arrow, above right).  These coiled metal threads have a thread through the core that keeps the coil from pulling out.  When necessary, only the thread is couched and the metal can be bent into another direction.  On the larger coils the couching thread disappears between the coils (blue arrow).  The use of cut purls to cover padding is also used (red arrow). In the image on the right, the appliqued cloth of gold in the crown is clear. These two tiny panels of embroidery will provide a further series of experiments at some point in the future.  The first thing to figure out is how the thread gets into those very narrow and sometimes very long coils…

Next week: A royal binding from a future queen.

The Broderer’s Apprentice

Derbyshire record office D258/34/86

During the 16th century, skilled craftsmen in London belonged to professional organizations known as companies or guilds which were run according to rules laid out at various times by the wardens of the guild, the ordinances of the City of London, and by acts of parliament.  The guild to which the embroiderer belonged was known as the Fellowship of the Arte and Mistery of the Broderer.  A professional embroiderer apprenticed for at least seven years and might also work as a journeyman for perhaps five more under the guidance of a master before he could be admitted to the “Freedom” of the City of London and identify himself as a Citizen and Broderer. 

To become apprenticed or “bound” to a master in any London guild, the apprentice or his family would pay a fee to the wardens of the guild at the beginning and sometimes also at the end of their terms. An apprentice usually began his years of indenture around the age of sixteen with a bond made between his family and the master with whom he would live for a period of years specified in the written document.  An apprenticeship indenture was a legal document and, regardless of the company it was made with, was registered either within the City of London Guildhall prior to 1562 and after that. 

An apprenticeship indenture for a London embroiderer during the Tudor period has not been yet been discovered.  The one pictured here is dated 1604, one year after the death of Elizabeth I.  It indicates the master is Alexander Found and the apprentice is John Bowne, the son of a farmer from Mattock in Derbyshire.

The wording of the apprenticeship indenture was fairly generic and a similar document could be used for many of the skilled trades.  It outlined the behavioural responsibilities to which the apprentice would conform: “He shall not inordinately waste nor lend.  He shall not … contract matrimony.  He shall not play at dice, cards, nor at any other unlawful games.  The taverns nor alehouses he shall not frequent… He shall not depart nor long absent himself without leave, but in all things as a good and faithful apprentice and shall well truly and honestly bear and behave himself unto and towards his said master and all his during the said term.”  In return the master would “well and sufficiently teach and entrust him with reasonable chastisement and shall and will find and allow unto him meat and drink, linen, woolen, bed, hose and shoes … during the said term”.

More specific apprenticeship rules were laid out in the official ordinances of each guild and changed with the passing of each new set of by laws.  The 1528 ordinances, for example, included the apprentice’s oath to be sworn upon his presentation to the wardens at the beginning of his term.

Ye shall swear that ye shall be good and true to our sovereign lord the King and to his heirs kings of England. And well and truly ye shall serve your master for the terms of your apprenticehood, and in all lawful and honest causes ye shall be obedient, as well to him as to the wardens of this company, and them that be and hereafter shall be, of the clothing. Ye shall have them in due reverence.  The lawful secrets of the said fellowship ye shall keep and give no one information nor instruction thereof to none person but of the said fellowship.  In all these things ye shall well and truly behave and surely keep the said oath to your power so help you God and his saints as by that book.

The Broderers’ Company approved three sets of ordinances during the 16th century and a close examination of them may provide an insight to the how the unfolding political, social and religious events might have affected them. For example, by 1582, the oath was no longer mentioned but three new rules had been added. The apprentice was now required to give a silver spoon of the value of 10 shillings to the Company rather than providing a meal for the Warden and Assistants on the day of his freedom. This reflects the necessity or desire of the Company to acquire long term wealth as silver plate could be added to the Company’s inventory of assets as moveable goods.

A Hidden Gem

Last week, I forgot to mention that when we were finished looking at the embroidered bindings on the Douce Bible, ( I asked to have a glance inside at the illuminated title page. It is vibrantly coloured with cherubs, Elizabeth’s cipher, crowned Tudor rose and fleur-de-lis but it paled beside the discovery of more embroidery… Attached to the inside of the front cover was a red silk book mark.  It was about 4 inches wide and embroidered with file twist, spangles and purl.  Because it was attached, it was impossible to see the reverse.  The design is laid out with a single length of file twist and all the metal threads including the purl and spangles are stitched down with red silk to match the tabby woven silk.  One corner is trimmed with a fine lace in file thread.   The embroidery is much less complex than the binding but it may have been made to accompany the bible at the same time as the embroidered bindings.  Unfortunately, by then I was well into the second hour of my two hour visit and it was time to move on to the next embroidered treasure. More study to be done in the future…

Tudor Rose Leaves Revisited

This week, just before Christmas, we return to the Douce Bible, an enormous edition of the Geneva Bible printed in 1583 by Christopher Day and presented to Elizabeth I on New Year’s Day in 1584.  I had the rare honour to examine the embroidery in detail on a very special research trip to the Bodleian Library.  I was able to confirm the exact size, study the embroidery and take a peak inside.  The bible is beautifully illustrated throughout with vibrantly coloured diagrams and initial letters decorated with gold leaf.  It measures approximately 41cm high by 29cm wide by 12cm deep and weighs an incredible 6 kilograms (over 13lbs).

For the most part, the embroidery is worked directly on the crimson velvet but the metal thread and areas of padding add texture and dimension.  The framework of the design is a uniform vine pattern featuring roses and leaves which are outlined for the most part in filé twist with a large Tudor rose in the centre.  There are smaller roses, half roses, roses from the underside and rose buds in various stages of opening and they are all uniquely stitched. The central motif (below) of the large Tudor rose has two rounds of five petals. The outer edges of both sets of petals are raised and covered with check purl.  The insides of the petals have an open zig-zag plate over the velvet ground.  Then rows of slightly stretched coiled wire are stitched across each petal over the plate.  Between the coils, long straight stitches in pale pink or white silk angle toward the centre of the flower.  The five small leaves between the five outer petals have a main vein of lizerine and the sides of the leaves are filled with rows of stretched lizerine.  Adding a bit of colour are over-stitches in pale green silk.  Unfortunately, whatever was stitched on or over the padding in the centre of the rose has disappeared but there are some remnants of metal thread resembling lizerine.  It may be that the lizerine was stitched in a spiral from the outside of the circle and getting smaller towards the centre.  The centre of the padding is missing so the velvet below is visible and my creative imagination places a large pearl in the void. 

There are several intriguing aspects of the embroidery on this artifact but it would take too long to describe them all in today’s installment so I will come back to them on occasion in the future – the smaller roses (completely different from the larger ones), the placement of the pearls, the design on the spine, the lace and so much more.  For now, back to the leaves…

A while back, I posted an experiment in which I tried to recreate the rose leaves that are very delicately stitched in silk and metal.  There was a question of exact size and I opted to use the smaller scale on the newly commissioned images.  I learned a lot trying to reconstruct the leaves at that size and it helped enormously when I recreated the experiment at the much larger and correct scale.  Here are the results of yesterday’s experimentation…

After having used multiple strands of a filament silk for the under-stitching on the initial experiment, I decided to switch to a less uniform thread in an attempt to more successfully cover the velvet.  I had some yellow on hand but I also needed green so it had to be dyed.  While I waited for it to dry, I painted the enlarged pattern on my scarlet velvet and filled the appropriate areas with the surface satin stitch in yellow.  Long stitches provided a guide for the placement of the plate.  The width of the plate required was somewhere in between the full size No. 6 broadplate and the 11’s plate so I carefully trimmed the No. 6 plate to the correct width with scissors and stitched it down over the satin stitch.

The plate was overstitched with a single strand of yellow silk and a single strand of #3 passing was stitched in between each row of plate.  The outline of these leaves is unusual in that flattened coiled wire is used instead of zig-zag file as on all but six of the over 40 leaves.  Small straight stitches in yellow silk represent the serrated edges of the leaves. The small thorn like features were stitched in #9 wire check and #2 twist was stitched in place to represent the stems.

Stitching on velvet is a challenge I will have to overcome as it was a very popular ground for Tudor embroidery.   Here are some things that still need to be addressed:

Managing the pile of the velvet – the leaves appear to be a little narrower than those on the original which may be attributed to stitching on velvet and not taking into account the pile.  Perhaps stitching just outside the painted line instead of on the line or stem stitching an outline before placing the satin stitch would help to keep the correct shape.

Shaping the wire – flattening the coiled wire to the correct spacing and stitching it down without damaging it is difficult.  It could be that the wire I am using is just a bit softer and easier to disturb.

Attention to detail – more attention should be paid to the placement of the stitches representing the serrated edges of the leaves in order to achieve the correct angle and the precise length.

Consistency of the silk – the stitches placed over the plate are not as fine as on the original and there are too many.  Subdividing the silk and tightening the twist may help.

Next year: A Broderer’s Apprentice

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