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). https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/db9330ae-0b61-413a-8751-cdc31235d898/

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

John Parr Coat of Arms

Coats of arms, once only available to royalty and the nobility, were increasingly common amongst the merchant and artisan classes. To obtain one, it was important to first illustrate your familial history, possibly your current standing and perhaps pay a fee.  John Parr, Royal Embroiderer to Queen Elizabeth I could provide all three.

In 1597, a coat of arms was granted to him by William Dethick Garter King of Arms.  The wording on a draft of the grant indicated Parr would be worthy of the honour. Dethick wrote: “wherefore I have made search in the books and registers of my office and by the sundry rewards monuments and antiquities have found and collected those ancient coats of arms appropriate and belonging to John Parr now of London great and principal embroiderer to the Queens most excellent majesty whose virtuous civil and worshipful demeanour together with his advancement in her majesties service at this time not to be forgotten.” College of Heralds Vincent Old Grants 2 p.426.

A watercolour illustration can be found on a manuscript in the British Library (Cotton Titus B.VIII f294).   It is a shield containing six coats of arms, surmounted by a maiden’s head crest.  The quartered arms include a black boar with a thistle in its mouth, a griffin holding a helmet, and a falcon with a sprig of pea in its beak.  The shield in the upper left is recognizable as the original Parr family crest with the addition of six scallop shells in the black border.

Parr’s arms were one of 23 granted by Dethick and challenged by York Herald Ralph Brooke as unworthy, arguing that Parr’s “father was a peddlar by occupation and unable to prove his surname to be Parr.”  What makes this story a little more compelling is that amongst the other arms challenged by Brooke are the arms Dethick granted to Shakespeare’s father.  The outcome of the challenge is not recorded but it was thought to be in Dethick’s favour. For more documentation and commentary on the dispute from the perspective of the Shakespeare family, the Folger Shakespeare Library has several pages. https://shakespearedocumented.folger.edu/resource/family-legal-property-records.

That John Parr used a coat of arms is confirmed in his will of 1605.  He bequeathed a standing cup of silver gilt to the Broderers’ Company and it was to be engraved with his name and his coat of arms.  The cup remains in the possession of the Broderers’ Company as the Parr Cup but I have never been able to ascertain whether it is engraved as requested.  There is also a facsimile of the cup in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

A second Tudor Binding

The second embroidered binding comes from the first half of the 16th century. It is Katherine Parr’s copy of Petrarch printed in Italy in 1544 (below left). The book measures approximately 21 cm high and 14 cm wide.  The embroidery is on a ground of dark purple velvet which has been affixed to a leather binding and features Katherine’s coat of arms. The shield is very similar to that on the Garter stall-plate of her brother Sir William Parr (below right).  This brass plaque was made in 1552 on his installation as a Knight of the Garter and was fixed to the back of the choir stalls in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor.  (The badge of the Garter was on Elizabeth’s New Testament of the previous blog).  Sir William was indicted for treason a little later and the plaque was purposely broken in two.

One difference is the supporter on the left of the shield on Katherine’s arms is a fire-breathing goat-like creature but on Sir Williams it is a hart/deer/stag.  The only other difference is the addition of a quartering on the upper left.  On Katherine’s shield (below left), the two original quarterings have been condensed to make way for six pink (red originally?) roses on a gold ground pierced with a pennant featuring three white roses on a pink ground.  I haven’t been able to identify the imagery but my imagination sees Henry’s three children being represented as the white roses and each of his wives as the pink ones, Katherine was his sixth and last. The panel measures only about 3 cm high by 1.5cm wide.  Remnants of black silk outlining all the elements remain.

The front and back covers are identical and there is an incredible array of techniques, materials and colours worked on this binding – too many to describe them all here. The detail of the crown (above right) shows the cloth of gold as the ground.  The top of the crown is made separately from the lower, inside part and the rim is trimmed with file twist in z twist and s twist couched side by side resembling a braid.  The raw edge of the upper part of the crown is visible where the black silk trim has deteriorated. The gemstones alternate red and green satin stitch, and they are shaded and outlined with purls.

The bodies of the supporters are appliqued white cloth of gold and blue satin.  They are both sporting chained coronets around their necks (in heraldry “gorged”).  The chain is composed of three plies of twist, the lower two couched together with black silk and the third also couched with black separating the pair below creating a very credible looking chain terminating in a large ring of check purl. The body of the goat is very colourfully stitched in blue, yellow and pink (although it was probably red originally). The wyvern (easily identified, even by me) is appliqued blue satin.  The scales are represented by filé and purl, and the feathers by rows of filé twist.

Although Katherine is traditionally said to have stitched this binding, the variety of materials and creative techniques suggest that it may have been created by a professional embroiderer. 

Next week: Another Parr’s arms…

A Tudor binding or two

The production of printed books in England was in its infancy at this time and they were often imported from the continent. Books were quite valuable and literacy was not common in the general population.  As luxury items, they were often given as gifts or they were cherished possessions deserving of special treatment such as embroidered covers.  Bindings were often personalized, displaying the cipher or arms of the recipient or owner.  I’ve chosen two to provide an insight into different techniques and materials the embroiderer could use to create a unique and individual treasure.

The first is a very diminutive book – only 11 cm tall and 7 cm wide.  It is a copy of the New Testament in Greek published in Geneva in 1576.  Not surprisingly this little treasure was owned by Queen Elizabeth I.  It has been rebound with a leather cover but the original embroidered binding was conserved and attached to the front and back boards. (The tooled edge of the new leather binding is visible on the header image.)

This is the image of the front of the book from the British Library’s Database of Bookbindings taken some time ago https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/bookbindings.  The shelfmark is c17a14. 
The back cover, badly stained, showing the identical embroidery. You can find also find the book on the Library’s Main Catalogue using the same shelfmark, c17a14 (no image).

The embroidery on the front and back is identical and the ground fabric is white silk satin woven with double wires of silver or silver gilt running vertically.  Both sides are embroidered alike with a central motif of the badge of the Order of the Garter.  The garter is framed in a cartouche of large, couched wire check thread with a vine of double and single roses, buds and leaves.  All the metal threads appear silver, however they may be silver gilt:  in the very detailed photographs, the metal has a gold cast but that could be a result of the lighting available in the reading room.

Much of the red, green and blue colour that can bee seen is provided by a colour wash of paint or dye directly applied to the fabric.  A very close examination reveals what looks to be a design line drawn onto the ground as a guide for the colour placement and embroidery.  However, this may also simply be a residue left behind by the metal threads that have disappeared.  The six little lions in the red quarters are exquisitely stitched with gold filé and the tiny fleur-de-lis are composed with small chips of silver purl.  The centres of the roses are also purl and the outline is lizerine.  The letters of the motto, HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE, are worked in the same lizerine, and the outline of the actual garter is a larger diameter lizerine.  Outside the lizerine on the garter is a split stitch in what was probably a yellow silk but now appears to brown.  There is green silk highlighting the leaves, and the roses are similarly picked out in a pinkish brown silk. A single seed pearl decorates the crown on the front cover now, but there are still five remaining on the crown on the back, along with a single seed pearl on the buckle of the garter. 

Queen Elizabeth I was well respected for her fluency in several languages including Greek. Perhaps this little gem was given to her as New Year’s gift from an admirer, a courtier seeking favour or a token of esteem from a European ambassador.

Next week: An earlier Tudor binding…

A Visit to the British Museum

Challe and I had the great privilege to visit the Britain, Europe and Prehistory Study Room at the British Museum to examine two of their embroidered treasures.  The two small panels will be discussed further in a future post revealing a little more about the method of stitching the knots featured a couple of weeks ago.  For today, the continuing study of the Burse provides an insight into the fascinating and complex work of the professional Tudor embroiderer and every time it is examined, it reveals a few more details of its construction.

Many years ago, on a previous visit, I noticed that it was possible to turn the burse to photograph the reverse, but there wasn’t enough time left in the appointment to arrange to have the whole object be turned over by members of staff.  Instead, the four corners were carefully lifted so I see what kind of backing it had and whether the original stitching was visible.  The conservators had cut away portions of the modern (19th century) backing which had been added when the burse was repaired and framed for an 300th anniversary exhibition of Armada artifacts in 1888.  I was subsequently given permission to return to take the photographs of the underside but was unfortunately unable to make a date during that trip to do so.  The burse has since been conserved again, and this time it has been permanently mounted on a solid backing.  It is also unfortunate that it appears the conservators did not photograph the back before it was concealed.  So here are the only images I am aware of that show a bit of the original stitching on the reverse.

The embroidery is intricate and meticulously executed.  On this visit, with the very generous and skilled help of the two staff members on duty, the burse was placed under a microscope exposing some details not available to the naked eye.  The microscope was not equipped to take images so we attempted to take some with our phones.  Challe took some incredible images through the lens of the microscope but we haven’t reviewed them yet – a treat for a future post.  My phone didn’t work very well but you get an idea of the detail we could see. 

Detail of the cloth of gold in the crown

Detail showing the irregularity of the metal purl

Another matter for consideration is the comparison of the BM burse to the V&A burse.  Here are some photos that reveal a preliminary look at the development of design, material and technique.

Next week: an embroidered Tudor book binding or two…

Five days in London

A wonderfully exhausting week! 

Monday morning off to the Worshipful Company of Saddlers to examine their Hearse Cloth. 
Afternoon to the Guildhall Library to learn a little more about how they were used by searching City Livery Company histories.
Tuesday morning it was the Vintners’ Company hearse cloth featuring the story of their patron saint St Martin of Tours.
After lunch a quick visit to the banks of the Thames for a little mudlarking…
…and then on to to the British Library to see the special exhibition Elizabeth and Mary:  Royal Cousins, Rival Queens.
All day Wednesday was spent back at the British Library examining six 16th century embroidered book bindings.
Thursday a day spent a little off topic travelling down the Thames to Greenwich via the river boat for a spectacular look at London from the and from the Royal Observatory.
It just so happens that all three Armada Portraits are on exhibit at the moment.  You can always find Tudor embroidery – painted representations count too!
Friday back to the City and the Merchant Taylors’ two hearse cloths.
An enormous thanks to Challe, fellow Tudor enthusiast, for her company, her exceptional knowledge and her superb photography skills.  More to come!

Tudor Rose Leaves

The Douce bible is one of the Bodleian Library’s great treasures.  It can be seen on their collection website at https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/objects/db9330ae-0b61-413a-8751-cdc31235d898/.  The description that accompanies the image is as follows:  A Bible, presented by the printer, Christopher Barker, to Queen Elizabeth on New Year’s Day, 1584. it was described at the time as “covered with crymson vellat alouer embradered wythe venys golde and seade perle” and the donor received 11 1/8 ounces of gilt plate for his gift. With Tudor Rose.

The image on the website is very poor quality and it is impossible to appreciate the creativity and skill of the embroiderer.  I ordered special photography for my research and while it is far superior to that on the website, it still cannot provide the details required to understand the very diverse materials and techniques used.   According to the website, the “upper cover” of the bible measures 430mm by 280mm, however, on the images that I purchased there is a scale in the photograph that indicates the front cover measures less then 28cm from the top edge to bottom edge and is less than 20cm wide.  Is it possible the website measures the entire surface across the front, spine and sides? For the purposes of this experiment, I used the measurements provided on the most recent images – approximately 11 inches by 8 inches.  These dimensions are similar to the embroidered bible in the Museum of London of approximately the same date.

The design is the same on the front and back.  A large Tudor rose is featured in the centre with smaller roses facing forward and from the side with buds, leaves and rosehips arranged on a curving stem above and below.  Each element is worked differently in a variety of metal threads layers with red and green silk providing a little colour and incorporating seed purls in the stems.  The spine is divided into 4 sections with two roses in the centre spaces and a sprig in the upper and lower compartments.  The embroidery is trimmed with gold file and plate lace.

I haven’t seen the bible in person as yet but I have examined the images very carefully.  There is so much to explore on this object and I have not encountered some of the layering sequences on any other object.  I looked for something familiar to start with and the leaves were the obvious choice as they were quite recognizable.  They use threads in a similar manner to the some of the leaves on the Broderers’ Crown and the BM Burse.  As I was having a closer look, though, I noticed that the outlines of some were treated a little differently.  On the front cover, the sprig of three leaves in the top right and the bottom left use a coiled wired to outline and not the zig-zag file used on the rest of the leaves that so clearly emulates the zagged edges of rose leaves. 

After drawing the outline to scale, I was surprised at just how small the leaves actually are – smaller than my fingernail.  I’m a bit pressed for time this week so I won’t describe all the steps involved.  I hope the images will convey the delicacy of the embroidery, the challenge of working on velvet and how beautifully the aged and tarnished metal threads show the embroidery in a way that it may not have been evident at the time it was worked. 

I’m not quite sure what will be posted next week – I’ll be on my way to the UK on Monday to see some more spectacular examples of Tudor embroidery.

Silk and Gold Tudor Feathers

Sometimes you just have to seize the opportunity when it arises… This beautiful red velvet cloak was not the reason I went to the Museum of London that day but I knew it would be important to future study.  I took as many close ups of the embroidery as I thought I might need but when it comes right down to it you can never take enough!  And at the time, I really had no intention of trying to reproduce the threads or techniques.  Hindsight…

Luckily, I have enough to begin with one of the motifs that you can’t see on this image from the website.  The three feathers alternate with a stylized leaf flourish situated between pairs of crescent shaped motifs on the deep embroidered border around the circumference of the cloak.

At the time, I was only interested in the techniques used to create the embroidery and I didn’t take any specific measurements, but I did get some information from the conservation report.  The border is about 4.3 inches wide so I made a drawing to fit that scale.   It isn’t perfect – but that won’t affect the experiment.

I began with the central feather.  The embroidery itself looks fairly straight forward but once again there are always challenges in finding the correct threads and methods of application.  It isn’t clear how the linen padding was applied because there is no access to the underside of the embroidery.  For the first half, four separated plies of linen string were couched to the velvet with fine linen thread.  Establishing the correct size of purl for the barbs was challenging without having taken specific measurements but I did take a nice close up of the left side of the motif.  For now, it’s a matter of taking photos of the experimental purls and comparing them with the photo of the original. 

The wire of the purl on the cloak is a larger diameter than the commercially made purl available now.  I started on the left side of the central feather with a #7 rough purl because the rough is made with a round wire (smooth purl is made with a flattened wire), but it was too small, so out it came.  #5 is the largest I have on hand and it seemed to work quite well, however, in comparison to the original, the modern purl is very tightly wound while the Tudor purl is less compact, with space between the coils. 

I carefully stretched the #5 to finish the other side of rest of the feather, but first the padding had to be stitched in.  Changed the linen thread for padding to a doubled strand of 35/3 and put in 4 long stitches in.  It was couched with long diagonal stitches using a finer linen thread in the opposite angle to the direction the purl will go in.  Finished stitching in the purl and found that the stretched #5 purl was very fragile and got quite damaged so the diameter of the wire will have to be larger to make the coils firmer.

The centre vein is called a rachis.  The thread used on the original is a coiled purl with a threaded core.  It took a few tries to get the correct size of purl stretched just enough and coiled again to the correct diameter to thread with the core. The images are not quite detailed enough to tell exactly what type of thread is used so I started with a linen thread on the turn over.  It was couched between the coils with a finer linen thread but that didn’t look quite right.  For the main part of the rachis, I used 4 strands of a coloured silk couched with one strand of the same. 

Moving on to the curved feather on the left, the gaps between the barbs are filled with coloured silk and the padding is visible but it really doesn’t help to identify how it is applied.  The curve made it difficult to put in long stitches but I persisted.  It wasn’t very pretty but it was firm so I left it in and moved on.  For the barbs, I purled a 0.20mm wire around a 22 gauge wire.  A 0.20mm wire is more or less the same size as a 36 gauge wire and a 22 gauge wire is about the same as 0.6mm.  So confusing for a dyslexic… I read backwards much better than forwards… and never ask me for directions! 

I filled between each barb with 8 strands of floss silk in a light green.  Working with 8 strands in the needle is not ideal and I will work on finding something else.  The rachis went in very nicely.

Finished up the feather on the right using a brighter green just to see how it would work.  I extended the rachides to quills with a core of passing because I thought I saw a little bit of metal that looked like wrapping, but the passing I used really wasn’t heavy enough.  The centre line of the tie is a piece of heavy check that I removed from something else.   It’s not quite the same as on the cloak and I’ve never been able to find any check made with wire as heavy and square.  It was used quite often on Tudor goldwork so I’ll have to keep looking!

As I worked on this motif and struggled to find the correct wires and purls, I was thinking about how the Tudor embroiderers might have worked with the metal threads.  Did they purchase them embroidery ready as we do now?  Or did they purchase wires and coil them as required?  Did they experiment with them to create new threads as they worked out a design? I have no answers yet but the picture may become clearer as I continue to experiment.  There are certainly many more techniques, wires, threads and fabrics to investigate!

Next week: A Tudor Rose Leaf

A Tudor Knot Mystery Part 2

Experiment #2 Individually Cut Purls

I almost gave up before I started because the knots look so continuous and compact on the original.  The ends of the purl aren’t really visible and it didn’t seem possible to put the purls in, tucking all the ends under other purls.  I took another very close look and decided it might be possible and the logical place to start would be the four pairs in the centre.  Below is the result… a bit loose and wonky but it was promising.

Above left, the centre was a bit too open and the larger loops on the outside tended to lift.  In the picture on the right, I closed the centre up by making the four pairs into a pinwheel and then (below) I tried a series of two knots to see if the join would help the outside loops to sit a bit flatter.  It turned out better than expected!

Below, using the same sequence of stitching, I tried to make a series of four knots equally spaced.  I started by marking the centres at one centimeter apart. To keep the centres square, I began each pinwheel with an “X” to help place the pairs of purls and kept the cut lengths of purls uniform.  I was trying to establish a rhythm of stitching by doing the same action down the row and then moving on to the next step. 

Somehow, this knot looks more like the original – a little less perfect and more compact – but it may simply be that the experiment #1 knot wasn’t pulled tight enough.  Determining which method was used will have to wait until the 16th century embroidery can be examined.  Hopefully, the back of the little panel will be accessible to see the stitching on the underside. If not, it may be possible to tell from a close study of the front. Next week: A Tudor Feather…

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑