Today I am possibly going to spent your money :). I bought my copy of Alison Cole's latest book 'The Goldwork Masterclass: adventures in metal thread embroidery' a couple of weeks ago. As with her other book 'The Stumpwork Masterclass', which I wrote about here, this is another splendid addition to your needlework library.
The book starts with a brief history of goldwork embroidery. Nothing in-depth, but enough to give you a bit of a background. Illustrated with pictures of historical pieces, sometimes from Alison's own collection. This chapter is followed by a chapter on basic requirements (answering questions on which fabrics to use), one on transferring and framing up (a proper slate frame is best for most projects) and a chapter on all the different forms of padding (slight differences with how I learned at the RSN, will definitely try to see what actual difference it makes).
After these introductory chapters, the real deal starts with a detailed chapter on all the different forms of couching gold threads. Including instructions on how to do double-sided brick stitch petals (I must SO try this one day!). Alison not only looked at English-style goldwork embroidery, but also remarks on goldwork embroidery from China, India, Spain, France and Turkey.
The next chapter describes my favourite goldwork technique, or nue, in great detail. This is basically a form of needle painting over pairs of goldwork couching threads such as passing thread. As I have studied this technique in-depth myself, I do not agree with everything Alison says. For instance, the hey-day of or nue lasted well into the 16th century in the Low Countries and long-and-short stitch in silk is indeed worked over the goldthreads for the hands of the saintly figures on these particular orphreys.
The chapter on or nue is followed by similar in-depth chapters on other couching threads, pearl purl and plate, purl and other traditional materials. Oh, the possibilities! The two chapters that follow these are centred around the techniques used in a particular historical period: Opus Anglicanum and Elizabethan & Stuart goldwork (packed full with braided stitches I SO must try one day!). The final chapters cover techniques and design elements such as fillings, creative materials taken further, combining goldwork with other embroidery techniques, ceremonial goldwork and other golden goodies (making your own braids). The whole book is packed full with beautiful and detailed pictures of antique goldwork embroideries from Alison's own collection, modern pieces by Alison or from collections around the world. Very inspirational indeed!
This book is not your average project book. Each chapter comes with a sampler showcasing all the techniques described in the text. This is really cleverly done. You work a small design in a particular technique to just master this particular part of goldwork embroidery. A masterclass, indeed!
I really love this book and I think you should definitely have this on your shelf when you are interested in goldwork embroidery. Compared to all the other famous goldwork embroidery books I own, this one is the most complete. It even contains techniques I wasn't familiar with. This is absolute bliss and unfortunately happens less and less when you reach a certain level in your embroidery practice. But, as with all of the other famous goldwork embroidery books I own, this book is also essentially written from an English perspective. What do I mean by this? Some of Alison's pertinent remarks regarding the availability of certain types of threads (particularly different sizes of plate, whipped plate and shaped folien) or how they are used are simply not true when you have access to German and Dutch sources (in the broadest sense of the word). It reminded me that language can be such a barrier. And I am sure I would have been guilty of the same as I find it hard to decipher the romano languages, let allone Greek or Russian ...
Where to find this fantastic book? I've bought mine directly from Alison. With the shipping to Germany it came to about €57. Perfectly good value for a book packed full with so much information. And it worked out about €3 more expensive than when I had bought from a European source. As Alison probably earns the most from books bought directly from here, the price difference of a cappuccino should be worth it, I think :).
This week I am having fun passing on my silk-shading skills to two very willing students: Mari-jan from the Netherlands and Pauline from two villages down the road. Very enjoyable indeed. If you would like to learn a new embroidery skill in a friendly atmoshpere: next year's dates can be found in the 'learn' section of this website. You can choose from silk-shading, stumpwork, surface embroidery, goldwork, blackwork and canvaswork. These classes take place in my studio here in Bad Bayersoien, Germany. The village where I live provides ample affordable accommodation. Most hosts will pick you up from the train station in the next village down the road. As I put lunch on the table every course day, you probably don't need to go out for dinner at night. However, if you want to, there are several good restaurants in Bad Bayersoien. We also have a well-stocked village shop with a large section of fresh produce and a great bakery. You are not going to starve :). Just let me know if you need some suggestions on how to get here and/or where to stay!
New in the shop are two beautiful 100% linen fabrics manufactured by Zweigart. I already stocked 40 ct Newcastle and 35 ct Edinburgh. These are now joined by 46 ct Bergen and 56 ct Kingston. Both available in their unbleached natural colour.
And last but not least: I received a picture of this beautiful finished goldwork project started earlier this year during the goldwork course by Olga. I think she did a stunning job!
Nowadays we have a plethora of different gold threads at our disposal. Or better: metal threads as they are available in a wide array of colours too. However, it all started much, much humbler thousands of years ago. Yep, that's how long these beauties have been around. The oldest mention of gold threads is in the bible (Exodus 39, 3): "They hammered the gold into thin plates and cut them into threads in order to work it into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and the fine linen crafted by the skilled artisan." Personally, I think a link between the eruption of the volcano on ancient Thera and the story of Exodus is very plausible. New C-14 dating evidence showed that this eruption took place around 1613 BC +/- 13 years. Bear in mind that the book of Exodus existed as oral tradition for many generations before it was finally written down. However, it could mean that the manufacture of gold threads is at least nearly 4000 years old.
What did these earliest gold threads look like? Well, if we read scripture carefully, it suggests to me that they looked a lot like our modern plate. Thin strips of flat metal thread. On the other hand, the fact that they are "worked into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn" sounds a bit like it is being used as blending filament. Now modern-day blending filament is a super-thin polyester. Certainly not what the ancient Hebrews had at their disposal. Their thread must have been stiffer, heavier and thicker. But it might just be that they used it in a similar way as modern embroiderers use blending filament. Or they used the thin strips of metal just like the embroiderers in Turkey. They take a large flat needle and use lengths of plate IN the needle. Not like the way I was thought to use plate at the Royal School of Needlework where we couched it down.
A disadvantage of used hammered precious metals as a base for your gold threads is that they are very expensive. Furthermore, when you work them into the garment, that garment becomes quite heavy. To overcome the first problem, gilt threads were introduced. This means that you use a more base metal such as silver or copper and you adhere a very thin layer of gold to it. This reduces the cost. But you are still left with the weight issue. In comes the invention of hammering the metal into even tinner sheets, cutting them into strips and adhering these strips onto animal gut or plant material such as mulberry paper. The combined material is then wrapped around a yarn core by means of spinning. These threads would have been comparable to today's Japanese Threads and Passing Threads.
When and where were these new metal threads invented? Unfortunately, the exact origin and time are unknown, but a pure gold strip likely wound around a fibrous core (not survived as it was a cremation) has been found in a Roman grave of a young woman in Cadiz, Spain. The tiny dimensions of the gold strip are mind-boggling: 0.2 mm wide and only 3.6 microns thick.
There is a second method for producing metal threads: wire drawing. By passing a strip of metal through a progressivly smaller series of holes, very fine metal wire could be obtained. These were probably first used in jewellery production, but archaeological finds show that they were also used in textile production in China from the 2nd century BC and in the port of trade Birka (Sweden) from the 9/10th century. Some of these threads consist of tightly wound wires around a textile core. Although some researchers suggest that these wires were actually imported from the East (Byzantium) it is noteworthy that these kinds of wires have been known to the Sami people. However, they use pewter and not silver or gold. I wrote a blog article on their type of embroidery. These threads look like very fine pearl purl, but with a fibrous core. They are still produced today and can be obtained online from Swedish webshops.
Gilded silver threads began to appear in the 9th century, but might be older. The oldest type consists of hammered sheets of silver covered with a thin layer of gold. When strips are cut from these sheets, they are gilded on only one side. These strips were then spun around a fibrous core. This type of gold thread is known as or de Milan. Were they invented in Milan or simply traded from Milan into the rest of Europe? These threads further developed in the 16th century as gilded drawn silver threads were hammered flat and spun around a fibrous core. These threads are all-over golden. These drawn threads have the huge advantage that they are much longer than the strips from the sheets and thus reduce the number of joints whilst spinning.
And then there is yet another method to produce a gold thread with a fibrous core: membrane gold. This is where animal tissue is gilded and then cut into strips which are then spun around a fibrous core. This method was likely invented in the 11th century and was both a much cheaper way to produce gold threads and it reduced the weight considerably. These threads were hugely popular and used in great quantities. These threads are commonly called Cypriot gold. However, new research by David Jacoby suggests that this is a misnomer. Furthermore, historical documents suggest that this type of thread was not at all cheap. Jacoby pushes for further research into the compositions of the alloys of the surviving gold threads as well as the identification of their cores and animal tissues to identify their origins. This would indeed make for exciting research and answer many questions regarding the how, where and when.
If you are interested in the topic, do click the links for the Jacoby and Katzani papers as they make for interesting and detailed reading. They also provide lots of further papers in their references.
Friedrich W. L., et al., (2006): Santorini eruption radiocarbon dated to 1627–1600 BC., Science 312, p. 548–548.
Jacoby, D., (2014): Cypriot Gold Thread in Late Medieval Silk Weaving and Embroidery. In: S. B. Edgington and H. J. Nicholson (eds), Deeds Done Beyond the Sea: Essays on William of Tyre, Cyprus and the gate Military Orders, p. 101-114.
Karatzani, A., (2014): Metal thread: the historical development. Keynote lecture at the conference "Traditional Textile Craft - An Intangible Cultural Heritage?", The Jordan Museum, Amman.
Stern, D.H., (1998): Complete Jewish Bible. Jewish New Testament Publications.
When I was in Trento, Italy, a couple of weeks ago, I did also visit the Diocesan Museum. It houses an important and impressive collection of ecclesiastical art. The building itself is the old Praetorian Palace where the Prince-Bishops of Trento lived. From one of the rooms you can actually look down into the Cathedral. Quite a spectacular sight! Although the museum houses many exquisite works of art, my main concern where the embroidered vestments. There are a few very fine examples of medieval goldwork embroidery on display.
The most important pieces consist of a chasuble cross and five orphreys from a dalmatic (vestment worn by the deacon). The sublime silk and goldwork embroidery was executed between 1390 and 1400 in Bohemia. Now part of the Czech Republic, but then an important and independent kingdom ruled by the House of Luxembourg. Charles IV (1316-1378) became king of Bohemia and also Holy Roman Emperor in 1346. He is the founder of the Charles University in Prague, the first one in Central-Europe. This was Bohemia's Golden Age and it is thus no wonder that there were embroidery artists of this skill working within its borders.
The chasuble cross and the orphreys are part of the vestments made for Prince-Bishop Georg von Liechtenstein (reign 1390-1419). He was born in Moravia. Now part of the Czech Republic and bordering Bohemia. Since AD 955 it formed a union with Bohemia. It seems that Georg patronised local Bohemian/Moravian embroidery artists when he moved to Trento in AD 1390. But on the orphreys he had them tell a typical Tridentine story: the vita of Saint Vigilius of Trent. The patron saint and first bishop of Trento. I can see why he used his fellow countrymen to make these works of art: the style is rather distinctive. With friendly round faces and bodies. Once you pay attention, you can spot a Bohemian embroidery before reading the museum caption. Perhaps, similarly today, Czech and especially Czechlowakian postal stamps have a very distinctive style.
Also on display was a chasuble made of white linen and embroidered with silks. I've written an ebook on these particular vestments made in the 17th century in Tyrol. This particular piece isn't made with great skill :). But the patterns and the colours of the flowers are identical to the flowers on the chasuble from the Diocesan Museum of Brixen. However, the Museum in Trento dates the piece much later: first half of the 19th century. But also admits that not much is known about its provenance.
When Trento does not happen to be next door to where you live, the museum published two excellent books (in Italian I am afraid) on its textile collection:
Devoti, D., D. Digilio & D. Primerano, 1999. Vesti liturgiche e frammenti tessili nella raccolta del Museo Diocesano Tridentino, no ISBN. Officially out of print, but available second-hand when you ask Google :).
Primerano, D. 2011. Una storia a ricamo. La ricomposizione di un raro ciclo boemo di fine Trencento, ISBN 978-88-97372-02-8. Ask Google :).
Some of you will know that I don't have a tv. Instead, I watch interesting documentaries (and highly necessary series like 'The Great British Bake Off`) directly on my laptop. One of my favourite channels is 'Arte' a French-German co-production. During this weekend's browse, I found a five-part series on the artisan production of fabric in Asia. Very beautiful and informative! The one on India zooms in on an embroidery atelier in Mumbai directed by the Italian professional embroiderer Maximiliano Modesti. He employs 600 embroiderers. All male, 98% muslim. Women do embroider, but not in a professional setting. This made me wonder how things were done in the 15th and 16th centuries in the Low Countries? After all, my favourite style of goldwork embroidery that I use as a basis for my artwork was made during this time. Would master embroiderer Jacob van Malborch have employed me if I had also lived in Utrecht in the first quarter of the 16th century?
Someone who has done extensive research during the '80s and '90s into the organisation of professional embroiderers during the late Middle Ages and the Early Modern Times in the Low Countries is Prof. Dr. Saskia de Bodt. She extended and corrected the earlier attempts of Dr. Beatrice Jansen executed some 40 years earlier. In more recent years, art historian Dr. Marike van Roon researched the Dutch embroidery ateliers active between 1830-1965 extensively. As far as I know, more recent research into the role and organisation of medieval embroiderers is not available for the Low Countries. Note: It seems that the above-named scholars started their careers researching embroidery, but soon gave up in favour of more 'real' art history like 19th-century paintings or ceramics. Even in research, embroidery seems to have an image problem ...
After going through many written sources such as the financial records of churches and towns, baptism records, marriage registers and death records from the 15th- 17th century located in the Northern Netherlands, Saskia de Bodt concludes that the professional embroiderer was a man. Only the men, like Jacob van Malborch and many others, are named. If a woman does show up in the records it is not under her own name but only as huysvrou van (housewife of) followed by the name of the master embroiderer. However, women were not explicitly excluded from the guild either. On the contrary. When the embroiderers of Utrecht formed their own guild in 1610, the guild ordinance speaks of meestersschen (female masters). The guild of embroiderers in Leeuwarden probably only consisted of men as the ordinance only mentions meesters and inwoonderssonen (masters and sons of poorters). But in Dordrecht, the embroiderers split from the St. Luke guild in 1487 as a result of a feud between the women ...
So would master Jacob van Malborch have taken me on as an apprentice? Possibly. Would someone have written down my name? Certainly not in the Low Countries. Female embroiderers are known from the written sources in other European countries. So I could have learned the ropes with master Jacob and then, after fretting over not making it into the written record, emigrate to Cologne or over the seas to England. But that's stuff for a further blog post.
Bodt, S.F.M. de, 1991. Borduurwerkers aan het werk voor de Utrechtse kapittel- en parochiekerken 1500-1580, Oud Holland 105, pp. 1-31.
Bodt, S.F.M. de, 1987. De professionele borduurwerkers. In: S.F.M. de Bodt, M.L. Caron et al, Schilderen met gouddraad en zijde, Museum Catharijneconvent Utrecht.
Jansen, B., 1948. Laat Gotisch borduurwerk in Nederland, Boucher.
Last week I was finally able to visit this magnificent embroidery exhibition in the Castello Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy. It is on until the third of November and I urge you to visit if at all possible as it is as important as the Dutch exhibition in Utrecht in 2015 or the Opus Anglicanum exhibition in London in 2016. And yes there is a wonderful catalogue, but just as the Dutch did, the Italians thought it a brilliant idea to publish the scientific papers on these extraordinary pieces in their own language. At 423 pages, it will take me aeons to translate ...However, it is packed full with stunning pictures of the embroidery. Including many close-ups. Together with the 400+ pictures I took during my three-hour visit, it will be a treasure trove for years to come! You will hopefully understand that I can't publish all the 400+ pictures in this one blog post. Instead, I will concentrate on three (well actually four) extraordinary pieces that were on display.
First up is a chasuble made in the middle of the 15th century in Venice. Why did I pick this particular one to show you? If you are used to the orphreys from the Low Countries, these Venetian examples look very different. They show the same main principle: saint in front of some fancy architecture. But the embroidery techniques used are somewhat different. The examples from the Low Countries use much more gold thread for the architectural backgrounds. And their linen background is fully covered with embroidery. Not so in this piece: the background is stitched on green silk. They look airy and light; a typical sign of the art of the Renaissance. The examples from the Low Countries are in comparison much stiffer and heavy.
The figures themselves are also embroidered in a different way than the majority of the pieces from the Low Countries. As in the Low Countries, the figures are embroidered onto a linen base. However, the embroidery technique used is a form of shaded laid-work using untwisted coloured silk for the undergarments. Simple couching of pairs of fine passing thread for the cloak and fine silk shading for the faces and hands. The figures in the orphreys from the Low Countries are mainly done in splendid or nue. Unfortunately, the stiffness of the linen base in comparison to the lightness of the green silk makes the piece pucker. Not easy to photograph!
Most incredibly, this chasuble is still worn every 3rd of May on the feast of the Apostles Philip and James!
Next up is an example of a chasuble which fascinates me hugely. This is serious stumpwork made at the start of the 16th century somewhere in the German-speaking parts of Central Europe. You come across this type regularly in this part of the world (there are in fact two more in the exhibition), but this is an exceptionally stunning piece with highly sculptured figures. The faces are incredible! And look at Jesus's curly hair.
A theory put forward by Aleth Lorne (2015, p. 99-102) to explain these highly sculptural pieces is that the embroiderers and the woodcarvers in the German-speaking parts of Central Europe influenced each other in their search for the three-dimensional rendition of the world. Both craftsmen were often part of the same guild and probably used the same designs made by yet another craftsman. These pieces were so well-known that they are recognisably depicted on paintings from the same period, but not necessarily from the same area. People were clearly fascinated by these pieces. Particularly good examples further adorned with thousands of fresh-water pearls can be seen in the treasury of the Basilica of Mariazell in Austria.
There is just one thing about this chasuble which I do not understand. See the bottom? Someone brutally cut through Saint Joachim when the taste in chasuble shapes changed from wide to a violin-case. This probably happened in the 17th century (Stolleis 2001, p. 29). I hope the scissors wore out :).
And last but not least, I am going to show you two dalmatics (vestments worn by the deacon) made in the Netherlands at the start of the 16th century. These new acquisitions by the museum lead to this exquisite exhibition. They are displayed in the last room together with three other chasubles. And the best thing is: they are not behind glass! You can get up close and personal with them :). The orphreys on these dalmatics are of the typical type seen on vestments from the Low Countries from this era (you now clearly see the difference with the first chasuble I showed you which was made in Venice). Completely covered in embroidery and featuring beautiful or nue on the figures. The pieces are quite similar to the vestments made for David of Burgundy, bishop of Utrecht in the 15th century. They are in fact so similar that I for a moment thought that they were the ones made for David.
The vestments made for David were probably embroidered by an atelier in Utrecht. These slightly later dalmatics could either be embroidered in Amsterdam or indeed Utrecht. I got the giggles when I saw that the museum Castello Bonconsiglio thinks that Amsterdam and Utrecht are situated in Flanders. Not quite. But close :).
Dal Pra, L., M. Carmignani & P. Peri (2019): Fili d'oro e dipinti di seta. Velluti e ricami tra Gotico e Rinascimento. Castello del Buonconsiglio.
Lorne, A. (2015): Borduurwerkers en beeldhouwers in de Nederlanden en het Rijnland in de late Middeleeuwen. In: M. Leeflang & K. van Schooten, Middeleeuwse borduurkunst uit de Nederlanden, Museum Catharijneconvent Utrecht, pp. 95-103.
Stoleis, K. (2001): Messgewänder aus deutschen Kirchenschätzen vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, Regensburg.
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In time for the official start of autumn, I present to you my latest embroidery kit and accompanying classes! It has been quite a while since I offered a new embroidery kit or indeed day-classes. Mainly because there were so many other exciting things going on in my embroidery life. However, one of the things I was asked by quite a few people, who came to my exhibition in August, was if I could offer day-classes again. I heard you and I listened (some will say this is rare, so take advantage!). And since these requests were mainly uttered by embroidery novices, I thought it a good idea to start with something not too complicated. Something remotely related to the well-known and beloved cross-stitch: needlepoint, also known as canvaswork or tapisserie in both German and Dutch.
Many of you will know that in this part of the world cross-stitch is by far the most popular form of embroidery. And that's okay! I love to do cross-stitch myself. In fact, I have several cross-stitch projects on the go. They usually don't require as much concentration as my other embroidery projects. And they are usually small enough to get out when travelling or sitting with company. They are just perfect for that! As are small needlepoint/canvaswork/tapisserie projects. Unfortunately, unlike in the US where they are hugely popular, they have a far harder time in this part of the world. Mainly because they are perceived as being not refined enough. I tried for years to warm my students to the type of canvaswork taught at the Royal School of Needlework (RSN) with little success. However, those who took a course became as hooked as I became after my first encounter with this technique at the RSN.
Since the main remark regarding traditional canvaswork on 18 TPI antique canvas was that it is not fine enough and therefore not pleasing to the eye, I needed to shrink it. How about using Zweigart 40 ct natural linen and hand-dyed silk threads? People love the background of 'On the shores of St. Nick' and are surprised to find out that these are indeed canvaswork filling stitches worked in fine silks. As an added bonus they get to work with various speciality threads. Something which blew my mind when I visited the US in 2012 and entered a needlework shop where the walls were covered in whole series of speciality threads. IF you are able to find a needlework shop in Germany or the Netherlands these days, you are very lucky if they carry at least some DMC/Anchor perle alongside the stranded cotton. Finding any silk threads in the wild is very rare indeed.
And since everything just becomes better when you add some sparkly beads; I added some sparkly beads :). The finished design measures only 8,7 cms square. That's pretty refined me thinks!
The whole kit is packaged in such a way that it can be shipped worldwide in an all-paper padded envelope. Over the past years I have tried to minimise packaging materials and the use of plastics. My website now proudly sports the green badge by BioBiene, my German packaging supplier. However, I sometimes need to use plastics. Mainly because the goods are delivered to me in plastics. It doesn't make sense to re-package them in paper. Or the bio-plastic bags I use. I bought a large amount of them years ago when they were marketed as the 'green' alternative to oil-based plastics. They are not. I now know that and will switch to a paper-based alternative once these are out. Although I do enjoy luxury packaged embroidery kits, I feel switching to minimal packaging is the way to go to do my bit for a greener future.
As the last of the threads going into this kit are going to arrive in the next few days (the boys and girls at the customs office in Weilheim are playing with them at the moment), you can pre-order your kit here. The instructions in either English, German or Dutch are available for direct download. Once your payment has come through, you will receive an email confirmation with a download link. As soon as the last threads arrive, I will ship the materials to you. The kit costs €30 and INCLUDES worldwide shipping. Would you rather like to stitch this design as part of a day-class? Then sign-up here for Saturday 5th of October or Tuesday 5th of November. Classes run from 10h till 16h and cost €80. This includes materials, coffee/tea and lunch.
Let's see how many of you I can tempt into giving needlepoint/canvaswork/tapisserie a go!
Whenever I could, I have been joining these wonderful young people who take to the streets each Friday as part of the Fridays for Future movement. I've been to large demonstrations in Munich and to much smaller, cosier ones in Murnau and Weilheim. These young people are so full of energy and creativity; it's infectious and it fills me with hope. This Friday they invite us all to stand with them in their demand for change. I hope many of you will find an opportunity to attend a demonstration near where you live. And if you are in need of some inspiration on what to wear:
If we happen to be stitcher's-bum-buddies and you feel so inclined, please copy! As most T-shirts are stretchy nowadays, I used chain stitch to accommodate for it. I found myself a nice rounded font (Comic Sans to be precise) in Word to create a pattern. The pattern was transferred onto my T-shirt using a blue aqua-trick marker. My huge stash of embroidery threads coughed up a rather brightly coloured variegated Anchor perle #8 colour 1375. Just perfect, don't you think?
When you dare to see me wear it, LOL, follow me on Instagram this coming Friday!
Ever since my visit to Cheb in the Czech Republic earlier this year, when we went to see the Egerer antependium, I wanted to try my hand at a small replica. Since the beading on the antependium is done on parchment/vellum, that was easier said than done! However, I finally managed to recreate a small portion of this stunning medieval beadwork. And I am going to share my journey with you in this blog post.
The first thing I needed for my efforts was a piece of parchment/vellum. Luckily there is a German online-shop (run by archaeologists!) who sell all sorts of re-enactment stuff. And they do parchment/vellum too. I ended up buying good quality parchment rather than vellum, I think. They are in essence the same material: thinly scraped animal skin. Vellum is the absolute premium version made of the skins of young animals. For months I was actually afraid to start the stitching. On the one hand my fingers were itching to start, but on the other hand I did not quite know where to begin. So my sheet of parchment sat on the shelves, patiently waiting.
The main question I needed to get answered was how to work with the parchment. Does one hold it in hand and stitch or does one put it in some sort of embroidery frame? Searching the internet, I came across a blog entry of a re-enactment lady. She just stitched a small motive in the hand and was successful. I decided to do the same and worry about the framing of a larger piece of parchment later :). The parchment is actually so stiff that you can hold it comfortably in hand whilst stitching.
The second main component would be the beads. On the original, the beads are quite small but irregular. Using some of my collection of perfectly formed Japanese high-quality beads would just not be the same. Luckily, I hade some, otherwise crappy, cheap hobby beads in about a size 9 and a size 10. Perfectly irregular :). The original beads are more like a size 11. I even had these in roughly the right colours: sea-green, dark blue, pearly white and coral red.
The third component proved to be quite difficult and partly impossible to get. In amongst the beadwork on the original are stamped metal decorations. The closest I could get were those gilt 'folien' used to make a bundle of grapes in goldwork embroidery. Whilst they worked fine for some parts of the capital motive I had chosen to replicate, it did not work for the centre. I ended up using a fancy 'folie' and filled in the empty space with small golden-coloured beads.
On to the stitching! But first, I transferred my chosen motive onto the parchment using a pencil. From my pictures and the written information I had on the antependium, I was able to deduce that the capitals of the columns between the saints were about 5.4 cm in height. That's what I based my pattern on. I then started by stitching the design lines of the petals first using my blue beads, a number 10 needle and Coats Dual Duty glaced hand-quilting thread made of polyester and cotton. In the original piece they probably used a linen thread.
According to the written sources and from what I could see in my pictures, the appropriate number of beads were strung first and then couched down with a separate thread and needle every two beads or so. At first, this felt as if I needed an extra pair of hands! Holding the parchment in one and manipulating two working threads with the other wasn't easy. Especially not as the needle only pierces the parchment when a certain amount of force is applied. However, after struggling for a while, I changed my method slightly. Firstly, I did away with the couching thread. Instead, I laid out the strung beads carefully on the design-line, go down with my needle in the appropriate spot, and then couched between the beads using the same thread. In this way I could eliminate the extra pair of hands :). As it proved very hard to hit the exact spot from the back of the parchment (parchment is surprisingly slippery stuff), I ended up making holes from the front and subsequently finding them from the back. Much, much easier!
To attach my 'folien', I carefully punched two small holes in the rim using a larger needle and a normal hammer. Usually only one hole turned out successfully, but that proved to be enough to hold the piece in place long enough until I had couched the beads around it. As the folien have a small flat rim or lip, the couched ring of beads keeps it in place.
Once all the beading was done, I cut out the beaded element as close to the beads as I dared. In my embroidery hoop, I stretched a piece of terracotta dupion silk over 36ct even-weave linen (the original has a linen support too) and appliqued the beaded element in place using the Coats Dual Duty thread. Last but not least, I mounted my small replica onto acid-free cardboard and added a linen backing. I am planning on sending it to the museum so they can use it for educational purposes. As I used slightly larger beads than were used in the original, my motive measures 6.2 cm in height.
I hope you liked my foray into medieval bead embroidery. At some point I would like to attempt one of the saints. However, I will need to find a solution for framing the parchment as that will be too large to hold in hand. I would also like to find a source for larger stamped metal decorations such as were used in the original. If you know of a source, please let me know!
There are quite a few embroidery exhibitions going on at the moment or coming up in the near future. As I am going to all of these (in the name of CPD!), you will all have the opportunity to read about them on this blog. However, with this advance notice, some of you might be able to go an visit yourselves!
First up is an embroidery exhibition in Trient, Italy. Until the third of November, 40 vestments from all over Northern Italy and dating to the second half of the 15th to the first decades of the 16th century are shown in the Castello del Buonconsiglio. There is also a catalogue available. Here are some more beautiful pictures of the vestments on display. As some were specially restored for this exhibition, it is surely going to be a treat!
From the 24th of October till the 20th of January 2020, there is an exhibition on medieval embroidery on at the Museum Cluny in Paris. You can find the general press release here and a full list of high-lights with pictures here.
And last but not least: our 'own' exhibition in London from the 12th till 17th November! My piece of Pope Francis will be joined by many, many amazing pieces from a great number of contemporary embroidery artists from all over the world. An opportunity not to be missed!
Jessica M. Grimm
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