Due to the pandemic, we won't do much travelling this year. However, I did want to visit at least one museum new to me that has some medieval embroidery on display. As my husband cannot get time off work due to, you guessed it, the pandemic, we decided to visit the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. It is huge, so we will need to return. This time we concentrated on the medieval embroidery on display. There's not much, but the pieces that are on display are rather magnificent!
What to think of this hairnet (Inv. Nr. GEW 2980) from the 13th-century? It was apparently found in the grave of a Hessian landgrave. Very fine filet embroidery on silk net.
Look at this reliquary pouch made in Trier around AD 993 (Inv. Nr. KG 562). It was my favourite piece on display. Extremely hard to photograph as it is placed on a glass plate above a mirror as the back looks very different. The pouch consists of silk fabric embroidered with metallic threads, metal shapes, glass, gemstones and silk threads. Unfortunately, it does not come across well in the pictures, but this piece has a real presence. It never ceases to amaze me how long ago these pieces were made and how well they have survived. It's like somebody blogging about St. Laurence in AD 3047 :).
This rather large piece of very fine silk embroidery on fine linen (Inv. Nr. GEW 2464) was probably used as an altar cloth or antependium. It shows Christ in the winepress and the Seat of Mercy. It was embroidered in a Nuremberg convent around AD 1370. Look how fine the split stitches are and the use of colour and shading is superb. You can even see the design drawing on the very fine linen.
This tiny medallion shows John the Baptist in very fine silk and pearl embroidery (Inv. Nr. GEW 2430a). It was made in the 13th or 14th-century in Byzantium.
That's enough eye-candy for now! I hope you enjoyed seeing some beautiful embroidery from so long ago. During August, I am taking a break from blogging. See you again in September with, hopefully, more details on the next online goldwork embroidery course!
Before I tell you about my progress on the Royal Garden counted needlepoint SAL organised by FiberTalk, just a quick shout-out about my sale of Heathway Milano Crewelwool. There is not much left, so if you want to take advantage of this sale, you better start ordering. Each 10 m skein is only €1 (was €1,75) and 500 grams can be shipped WORLDWIDE for only €3,70. Skeins not sold by the 1st of August will become part of my stash :). As the current price is what I paid for them whole-sale, there will not be a further price reduction! Equally, there is thus no bulk discount, etc. You can order your Heathway Milano Crewelwool here. Hurry! Only 11 days left.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram will have seen frequent progress pictures on Royal Garden in the past few days. What is Royal Garden? This is a counted canvas/needlepoint design by Debbie Rowley of Debbee Designs. FiberTalk organises a SAL for it. Yesterday, saw the first live-show in which Debbie demonstrated the double fan doubles stitch. There will be future live-shows, but there doesn't seem to be a schedule for them yet.
Counted needlepoint uses embroidery stitches such as: waffle stitch, walnettos, Jessicas, crescents, sword amadeus etc. to form colourful and highly textured geometric designs. You use a plethora of speciality threads like those produced by Rainbow Gallery, together with stranded cotton and perle. Counted needlepoint is huge in the USA, but not very well known in Europe. That's precisely why I joined the SAL!
The embroidery technique is not very difficult as long as the instructions are well-written and clear. And Debbie's instructions are. However, I did stumble upon a few mistakes. I've pointed them out to Debbie and she has corrected them in her master-copy. Future instruction booklets will be updated. However, if you already own a copy, you might benefit from knowing what these mistakes are:
- on page 5, the before last sentence should read: 'Bring the needle up one hole above 5 and park the needle on top of the canvas.'
- on the master chart, there are two blocks of reverse Scotch stitches missing on the right-hand side just right of the waffle stitches.
- the numbering in Diagram 31 on page 22 is partly illegible. If you email Debbie (address on the instruction booklet) she will happily mail a correct diagram to you.
It was all plain sailing until I hit the weaving on page 32 :). I just could not get it to look pretty. And my hands hurt a great deal after working only one side. Asking Debbie for help during the live-show did provide me with some helpful tips on how to manage this stitch, but I kept struggling. As one of the points of advice was to perhaps change the stitch, I decided to do just that. To keep a bit of a 'woven look', I opted for condensed Scotch stitch. It worked a treat!
If you would like to swap the woven filling stitch for the Condensed Scotch stitch, I think you will be able to use the above photograph for stitch placement. However, if you struggle, do let me know and I will ask my husband to produce a technical drawing.
Who else is joining in with the Royal Garden fun?
Maybe you have already noticed my new logo on my various Social Media channels. If so, I hope you like it as much as I do! It was time for something new. And what does one do when one has such a talented husband as I call my own? One asks for a new logo! He drew the medieval version of me with a slate frame several years ago for my birthday. So for this birthday, he only (she says :)) had to streamline it into a beautiful logo. What was wrong with my old beautiful logo? (also drawn by my husband). A few small things. Firstly, having a somewhat complicated German company name when in fact 90% of the people you engage with are non-German speakers is probably not a good idea. Acupictrix is Latin and means female needlepainter. Secondly, the German word for knitting (stricken) differs only by a single letter from that of embroidery (sticken). By no means do I want to suggest that people in Germany should perhaps get eye-exams more regularly, BUT ... And then we had the odd one every so often who thought that I was running a Kindergarten based on the logo. Most people here did not at all associate it with the high-end hand-embroidery on offer. This makes me kinda curious what they will associate the new logo with ... Acupuncturist? Weaving? Traditional Chinese Medicine? Doesn't matter. I like it. As my stitching journey has evolved over the past couple of years, the new logo represents much better what I stand for now.
From new logo to a SALE. The beautifully fine crewel wools by Heathway Milano (100% merino wool) changed hands a couple of years ago. They are now owned and sold by Hazel Arnott of Catkin Crown Textile Studio. A chapter has come to an end for me and I am therefore selling off my remaining stock. Each 10 m skein is only a Euro (1€) and up to 500 grams (many, many skeins) can be comfortably shipped in a padded envelope worldwide for only €3,70. Hurry, as there are not many left and once they are gone, they are gone! GO TO SALE.
On to the first of two SALs: on the 19th of July, FiberTalk starts Royal Garden by Debbie Rowley. This is a beautiful counted canvas needlepoint piece in gorgeous purples and greens. The SAL kicks off with a live show with Debbie herself 2 pm Eastern on the 19th of July. That should be 20:00 h CET. As I have never done a counted canvas needlepoint design before, I am going to join in the fun. Who doesn't want to stitch Jessicas? This Jessica does! If you are in need of a kit, contact Susan Winter of Fire Poppies. She got mine here quite quick considering the pandemic mail restrictions.
If you are more an off-the-grid person, and a bit adventurous, I have you covered too! There is a SAL starting on the 20th of July. The teacher is Alena Petrova who lives with her family in a small village on the Crimea. She teaches in Russian. No, I don't speak Russian either. But my phone does! How this works for me: watch the instruction videos (Instagram or YouTube) on your computer/tablet/laptop and use your phone with the transcribe function of Google Translate. It works well from Russian to English. Or at least well enough to understand your teacher. Alena will teach us to stitch an 8 cm high portrait of a lady in silks on silk the traditional Russian way. Although the stitch marathon is on the 20th of July, she has already posted many short videos on Instagram and YouTube with explanations and samples for you to practice with. Seeing her explain things and the emphasis on drawing and proportions (no worries! You can just copy her drawing) is a completely different way of teaching than that we are used to here in the West. The way she copies her drawing onto her embroidery frame is new to me too. You can join into the fun by contacting her on her Instagram profile. She will send you a PayPal invoice for 500 Russian Rubles (about 7 USD or a little below 7 Euros). You can then join the dedicated course account on Instagram. You can ask questions in English and Alena replies in English too.
That's all for today! Don't forget to pick up some of the Heathway Milano wools before they are gone. Hope to see you at the Royal Garden SAL, Alena's Russian portrait or my own Imperial Goldwork Course. Happy Stitching!
If you are after a book with lots of pretty pictures of medieval embroidery on vestments, this is not it. Yes, there are some pretty pictures in there, but it is not what the book is all about. Why do I still think it is worth your time? It has a very interesting chapter on the role of women in making vestments and donating them. As the author places their making into the wider context of church reform during the Middle Ages, it explains a lot about the position of women today in the Western world.
From the late 12th-century onwards, increased urbanisation leads to a dominance of the textile trades by men. Especially the 'higher end' of the market is dominated by them. That's why I have written in several blog posts that certain vestments I saw in museums were most likely made by men. The written data for the Late medieval period and beyond from the Netherlands does, for instance, not mention one female embroiderer. But this had not always been the case. The author, Maureen Miller, writes that when we know the name of the maker of earlier vestments, it is always a woman. And here the labour is divided up too: slaves for the 'hard labour' of growing, spinning, weaving, dying etc. and elite women for the fashioning of the vestment. For the more elaborate vestments, male religious would assist with the designing.
Why would women spend time and money on creating (and maintaining) these elaborate vestments? Maureen Miller comes up with several explanations. Firstly, from the ninth century, ecclesiastical legislation prohibited women from entering the church sanctuary or come near the altar. By providing vestments, these women were present at the altar. Secondly, by cultivating such a relationship with clergy, these women could exercise some influence for themselves, but most likely for their families. Maureen Miller thus rightly asks how freely were these gifts really given?
In addition, these relationships between elite women and clergy were always viewed with suspicion. On the one side, elaborate stories about the piety of the women who worked these vestments were drawn up (reciting scripture or singing psalms whilst working). On the other hand, there were plenty of stories in which the 'lewdness of the female maker' transferred through the vestments onto the wearer. These poor clergy felt mightily uneasy when it came to women making and maintaining their intimate clothing.
At the same time, there is a wider reform going on in the church. In order to claim status and visualise hierarchy, an ornate style of vestments started to emerge in the 9th century in Anglo-Saxon England and Francia (modern-day Normandy and parts of Belgium). By the 11th-century it had spread throughout Europe. The makers of this new ornate style were women. They (unwittingly?) provided part of the means with which the Gregorian reforms could be implemented (most notably clerical celibacy). These were particularly bad for the position of European women as they emphasised extreme notions of purity. These ideas live on in particular in the Catholic church till today.
And those poor holy men? They were relieved when they could order their splendid vestments from men in urban centres. They no longer needed to foster close relationships with women to obtain and maintain their vestments. For the visualisation of their status, they no longer depended on women. Women lost a way to exercise their influence. But they lost so much more. Till today, in many Christian traditions, women are not seen as pure enough to serve at the altar. Argue in the other direction and time might have come to strip these holy men of their fancy clothes in order to restore some much-needed balance between the sexes!
Miller, M.C. (2014): Clothing the clercy. Virtue and power in Medieval Europe, c. 800-1200. Cornell University Press.
Before we come to the biscornu, there are just a few other things I need to share with you. First: there is now a dedicated page for my online embroidery class 'the Imperial Goldwork Course'. Here you will find all the PDF-handouts for download as well as all the YouTube videos of the live-zoom-meetings. You can start the course any time you want. If you would like to join the live-zoom-meeting on Saturday evening, you will have to send me an email so I can send you a zoom invitation.
There's a limited number of wooden broche/brodse/Bretsche available from my webshop. As my local master-woodturner is approaching retirement, I will not have more made once these sell out. You can find more information on the historical use of this goldwork embroidery tool in this blog post and this blog post. I have also made a little FlossTube with the Acupictrix video where you can see me use this tool when doing pattern couching.
And now: the biscornu! I was delighted when Gina sent me pictures of her biscornu showing some of the long-armed cross-stitch patterns from my latest eBook. Gina filled her biscornu with dried lavender. This is an excellent way of using these beautiful medieval patterns and stitch!
For those of you who would love to learn more about the long-armed cross-stitch, you can find the English version of my eBook here. And I have recently teamed up with Claire de Pourtales of Le Temps de Broder to come up with a French version of the eBook. Since Claire and I split the proceeds equally, you can either purchase your French copy from my website or from hers :).
During the zoom-meeting on Saturday evening for my online goldwork class 'Imperial Goldwork Course' we stumbled upon the sizing systems for metal threads. Some students from the US had trouble finding the correct sizes of purls mentioned in the PDF-handouts as they claimed that the sizing system in the US is different from that used in Europe. They mentioned that on the websites of Garibaldi's Needleworks and Berlin Embroidery the sizing would run in such a way that the higher the number the thicker the metal thread. This was opposite to my sizing system mentioned in the PDF-handouts. This was new to me. Immediately after class, I started to investigate. However, on the aforementioned websites, I found exactly the same measuring system as I was using. After a while, I realised what had happened. A quick email to the said students confirmed my suspicion. It was a stark reminder that, for somebody starting with goldwork embroidery, it can be a jungle out there! Let me clear the confusion.
In the first eight lessons of the Imperial Goldwork Course, we learn about the different forms of cutwork used in 19th-century goldwork embroidery. For cutwork you normally use: smooth purl, rough purl, wire check and bright check. These purls have a sizing system that runs from #4 (the wire with the largest diameter) to #10 (the wire with the smallest diameter). For the course we use the larger #6 and the smaller #8 as they are the two most commonly used sizes. An opposite sizing system is used for pearl purl. It runs from Very Fine (the wire with the smallest diameter) to #3 or #4 (the wire with the largest diameter) depending on the manufacturer. Said students had previously worked kits with pearl purl in them and logically assumed that the higher the number the fatter the metal thread.
One word of warning here: whilst the sizing system in the English-speaking world is the same for metal threads, the sizing system in the German-speaking world is different. Although I am based in Germany, my webshop uses the English sizing system as it is the most common system used by goldwork embroiderers. Oh, and the French system differs too :).
Another student mentioned that it would be a wonderful idea if I would measure the diameter of the purls the students need to use and then tell them that number instead of the sizing system commonly used. Although I mentioned that my gut feeling was that this would be rather cumbersome for a number of reasons (measuring accuracy would be difficult to maintain and all students would need high-speck calipers too), the said student was not convinced. What does every good teacher do? Investigate! Here we go.
As I have been an archaeozoologist for 15 years and measured 100-thousands of animal bones with scientific digital calipers, I still had several pairs laying around the house. The pair I used are made by Milomex Services in the UK. The measuring range is 0-150 mm with a resolution of 0.01 mm. Measuring accuracy is: 0-100 mm +/- 0.02 mm and 100-150 mm +/- 0.03 mm. This means that if you measure something that's between 0 and 100 mm the inaccuracy is +/- 0.02 mm and for something between 100-150 mm it is +/- 0.03 mm. As the smaller purls have tiny diametres, this measuring accuracy is potentially important.
Apart from the measuring inaccuracy innate to the calipers, there is the problem of the metal threads being rather soft compared to the tips of the caliper. It is therefore rather easy to squash your metal threads ever so slightly and getting a wrong (lower) diametre. To prevent the very pointy tips of the caliper to slide between the coils of the purls, I placed the purls between the broader parts of the caliper's tips (see picture above). To further try to minimise the measuring error caused by the relative softness of the metal threads, I took multiple readings of each wire sample and noted the average.
What were my findings? As my gut feeling told me and the measurements confirmed: samples from different manufacturers can differ. Even different samples from the same manufacturer can differ.
What are the sizes of the most common metal threads used according to my measurements?
- gilt or silver-plated bright check #6: 1.1 mm
- gilt or silver-plated rough purl #6: 0.9-1.1 mm
- gilt or silver-plated smooth purl #6: 0.9 mm
- gilt or silver wire check #6: 1.2-1.3 mm
- gilt or silver-plated bright check #8: 0.9-1.0 mm
- gilt or silver-plated rough purl #8: 0.7 mm
- gilt or silver-plated smooth purl #8: 0.7-0.8 mm
The results are discrete enough that it is possible to distinguish between #6 and #8 purls when you accurately measure their diametre. Can these measurements assist you when you want to buy goldwork supplies? Not so much. For instance, on the website of Berlin Embroidery you will find that the measurements are approximately:
- gilt or silver-plated bright check #6: 1.5 mm
- gilt or silver-plated rough purl #6: 1.5 mm
- gilt or silver-plated smooth purl #6: 1.5 mm
- gilt or silver wire check #6: 1.5 mm
- gilt or silver-plated bright check #8: 1.0 mm
- gilt or silver-plated rough purl #8: 1.0 mm
- gilt or silver-plated smooth purl #8: 1.0 mm
As Tanja Berlin and I use the same goldthread suppliers, her measurements should have been exactly the same as mine. Instead, they differ (she probably used a ruler to measure the purls). As a beginning goldwork embroiderer, what would you have bought from for instance Berlin Embroidery when I would have told you that we are going to use a gilt smooth purl with a diameter of 0.9 mm? You would probably have ordered a #8 from Tanja Berlin's website and then have ended up with a wire that could have had a diameter 0.2 mm smaller than I am using. This does not sound like much, but it makes a huge difference. By just ordering the #6 as stated in my PDF-handout you would have ended up with the correct thread. That's why we use the numbering system instead of accurately measuring the diameter of the threads. Besides, not all goldthread suppliers state the diameter nor do most teachers or books.
And as every good scientist should do, you can find the raw data in the document below.
For most of you, it will come as no surprise: I am a book lover! And many of you regularly mention books on embroidery to me which would be worthy additions to my library. The lost art of the Anglo-Saxon world by Alexandra Lester-Makin is one of these latest additions. It isn't a project book, but a properly published PhD-thesis. Don't let that scare you. As Alexandra is both an archaeologist and a Royal School of Needlework apprentice this makes for an interesting read. Research into other art forms, such as painting and sculpture, never goes out of fashion. Researching embroidery and its makers seems to go through cycles. At the moment we clearly experience a renewed interest in this often under-appreciated art form.
The book is divided up in six chapters and comes with an elaborate catalogue. After a chapter on the introduction of Anglo-Saxon embroidery comes a chapter on the data and its difficulties. As you probably already knew, there isn't much embroidery left from the Early Medieval period (c. AD 410-1066 for the British isles). For the more than 600 years under scrutiny, there are only 41 embroideries to work with. Of these, only three are more or less complete: the Cuthbert embroideries from Durham, the Maaseik embroideries in Belgium and the Bayeux tapestry. All other embroideries are fragments. In some cases, only the holes have survived and not the embroidery thread. In other cases, there is no original material left as we deal with an imprint on a metal object (mineralisation) or complete carbonisation due to fire. Oh, and then there are the fragments that are unavailable for inspection as they are either too fragile, mounted in such a way that they are inaccessible or they have simply vanished... Precisely dating them is often a problem too.
As a fellow archaeologist who worked with animal bones instead of embroideries, I was rather sceptical when I realised the data set the research is based on is so small and wrought with so many difficulties. Would I have written my PhD-thesis on 41 samples of animal bone of which were three more or less complete skeletons, the rest fragments: either burnt, inaccessible or lost? Often only broadly dated. And then come up with a coherent story on husbandry, hunting, fishing, trade and bone working over a period of more than 600 years in all of Germany? Nope. Instead, I had thousands of bones, in very good condition, many well-dated and almost all available for my inspection. Still, I wasn't able to do more than draw tentative conclusions and hypothesise on animal keeping and the use of animal products in medieval Emden.
Does this mean that I think Alexandra did a bad job? No, not at all! But comparing her archaeological data set to mine hopefully shows you how little it is we really know. And that Alexandra had to come up with a theoretical archaeological framework to be able to extract as much information from each data set entry as she could. That she did rather brilliantly!
In chapter 3, Alexandra shows us in great detail how she extracts as much information from an embroidery fragment as she possibly can by writing its object biography. In this object biography, she includes detailed technical analysis, careful study of related attributes and context, and related documentary evidence. And that for the whole life-span of the fragment up until the present day. Being both an archaeologist and a professional embroiderer, Alexandra is very well equipped to undertake this kind of research.
With this theoretical research framework in place, she then analyses all the embroideries at her disposal. The results form the basis of chapter 4 (Embroidery in Anglo-Saxon society) and chapter 5 (Early medieval embroidery production in the British Isles). And I am quite impressed with the ideas she comes up with. For instance, although there are not many written sources on the training of professional embroiderers in the early medieval period, careful analysis of stitch length and execution leads her to conclude that the embroiderers must have had extensive training to be able to achieve the level of perfection they did. Or giving us archaeologist something to think about when we excavate a dwelling site. Could a certain building have housed an embroiderer? Is there enough natural light coming in? Can it be kept clean? Not necessarily lines of thought an archaeologist or an art historian would have come up with.
Other conclusions she draws regarding the use of certain types of stitches going in and out of fashion, I find harder to justify with the patchy nature of the data set. Although they seem to correlate with the pagan versus the Christian nature of society, we should not forget that this might be pure coincidence and might well change when further embroidery fragments are unearthed. That said: I like the idea of looped stitch being viewed as the mythological serpent that both protected the pagan wearer and the seam from coming apart.
Personally, I have learned a lot from reading this book. Too often I am reluctant to publish my own embroidery research as I feel that my database is too patchy. Alexandra's research approach has given me an opening on how to extract more information from my database. And she has given me the guts to put my findings out there despite the patchy nature of the database. After all: if you don't put your hypotheses out there for contesting, you are not helping to advance the research of historical embroidery. Alexandra did and does.
Browne, C., G. Davies & M.A. Michael (eds.) (2016) English medieval embroidery: Opus Anglicanum. London: Victoria & Albert Museum.
Grimm, J.M. (2010) Animal keeping and the use of animal products in medieval Emden (Lower Saxony, Germany), self-published.
Lester-Makin, A. (2019) The lost art of the Anglo-Saxon world: the sacred and secular power of embroidery. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
Schuette, M. & S. Müller-Christensen (1963) Das Stickereiwerk. Tübingen: Wasmuth.
P.S. If you want to join my online Imperial Goldwork Course lesson 3 on this Saturday evening 19h CET, please send me an email for a Zoom invitation. You can download the accompanying PDF handout here.
Saturday night saw the start of my new online goldwork embroidery course. For the kick-off event, I was joined by 13 stitchers from the US, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. It was so nice to see both new faces and students from previous courses. The digital technology worked really well and everybody was able to interact with both me and the other students. For those of you who missed the live-event, below you will find the recording which is now up on YouTube. The next lesson will be this Saturday evening at 19h CET. If you would like to participate, click the appropriate button below. The accompanying PDF handout is now available from my webshop. You can start this course any time you like. See my previous blog post for further details. Hope to see many of you for another great Saturday night in with fun international company!
P.S. If you like my Imperial Goldwork Course I kindly ask that you make a donation to my 'this-is-how-I-am-paying-for-my-weekly-groceries'-fund if you are financially able to do so. This is an excellent way to show your appreciation for all my hard work and it keeps this course affordable to all.
Thank you very much!
Today I am going to share some great news with you all! Rather fitting for Pentecost Monday, don't you think? I've decided to give online teaching a second try. And since I have acquired so many new readers in the past few weeks, I'd better explain my embroidery teaching credentials :). Prior to moving to Germany in 2014, I lead the, now unfortunately no longer existing, Royal School of Needlework satellite in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Over the years, I have been privileged to teach for the National Silk Museum in Hangzhou (China), the Crewelwork Company (UK), the Alpine Experience (France) and ArtTextil Dachau (Germany). In addition, I have taught archaeozoology classes at my Alma Mater: the University of Groningen (Netherlands). Due to the current pandemic and the strict hygiene rules that come with it, I will be unable to teach embroidery in my Bavarian studio until at least the end of the year. Moving my embroidery teaching online seems only logical.
Since historical goldwork embroidery is my thing, I've decided to make that the topic of my new online embroidery course. Regularly diving into older literature for my embroidery research has unearthed a charming German book on goldwork embroidery: 'Die Kunst der Goldstickerei' by Amalie von Saint-George. Miss Amelie was a tutor at the Imperial School of Needlework in Vienna and published a book on goldwork embroidery techniques used in the late 19th-century in Central Europe. These differ quite a bit from how I was taught at the RSN in London.
How will this course work? I will be live-demonstrating during the Zoom meeting and this is followed by a Q & A with the course attendants. These meetings will be recorded and uploaded to my YouTube channel so that those in a 'less-than-perfect' time-zone can still benefit. If you want to attend the Zoom meeting, you will need to send me an email. In order to keep the hackers out, I will only let you into the meeting when I recognize your name from the email. I will announce upcoming Zoom meetings here on my blog, in my newsletter and on my Instagram feed. You should also download the accompanying PDF hand-out from my webshop. The hand-out details the materials needed and explains the lesson.
What will the course fee be? Do you know the principle of Caffe Sospeso? Whereby you pay for more than one cup of coffee in order for a less fortunate person to be able to enjoy a free coffee? I've decided to adopt a similar principle. Like many of you, I and my husband have lost part of our regular income due to the economic downturn. I therefore kindly ask that if you want to attend the course or part of the course, and you are financially able, you make a PayPal donation. The link will be in each PDF hand-out. In doing so, you not only support me by providing my income, but you also enable others who are in economic hardship to attend the course. Thank you!
When do we start? This coming Saturday 6-6-20 at 19:00h CET. Click the button below for the invitation link. Click the other button to download the free PDF hand-out so you'll know what we will be doing Saturday night.
Hope to see you this Saturday for the start of the Imperial Goldwork Course! And please leave your comments below as I am really excited for it to start and would love to know what you think!
P.S. this month's winners of the thread packs are: Patti Carlton for the existing subscribers and Judi Acre for the new subscribers. Congratulations! If you want to have a monthly chance of winning a thread pack in the colour of your choice, please subscribe to my newsletter. Both winners have been notified by email.
Last week's blog sparked a very interesting discussion on the use of the broche in goldwork embroidery. And since two more historical books on goldwork embroidery have arrived since, I thought I'll share the additional information in another blog post. But before we dive into the world of the broche again, I'd like to share another update on the DOVO-scissors with you. These scissors are now steadily arriving at embroiderer's homes in: the US, Canada, the UK, Belgium, the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Switzerland and the Netherlands. My sales rep, Anne, is over the moon and has asked me if I could try to add some new types of scissors to my webshop. She suggested finely tipped and slightly curved embroidery scissors for left-handers and a lightweight pair of scissors for cutting fabric. Thank you so very much to all who have ordered these wonderful scissors in the past few weeks! You have helped secure the jobs of many highly-skilled craftsman and craftswomen. Let's hope DOVO will be able to restructure the business, save all jobs and continue to produce the best embroidery scissors in the world. If you like to help: you can order your pair here.
And now, let's explore the broche/brodse/Bretsche again!
Monica Dutting from the Netherlands reminded me that goldwork embroidery is very popular in the Arab world as well. When we started to look at pictures and videos of the stitching of the Kiswa (the goldwork embroidered covering of the Kaaba in Mecca) we saw that the embroiderers use a wooden broche as well. You can see their broche in action in the above video together with some pretty spectacular goldwork embroidery. Unless you are fluent in Arabic, you probably want to forward the video to 19:25.
If you look closely, you see that their broche is a rather simple piece of rectangular wood on which the gold- and silver threads are wrapped. At one end, the Arab broche has a groove. The metal thread is secured to this groove with a piece of white string or yarn and then wrapped onto the shaft. By the way, the metal threads used on the Kiswa are apparently produced in Germany. Now that's probably Austria, in Vienna, to be more precise :).
Annelies Englram from Germany commented on last week's blog post that she had been advised by an elderly master embroiderer from Germany that you do need to wrap the broche with perle in order to protect the goldthread. By now, I am pretty sure that this advice can be tracked down to Ms Dillmont's needlework encyclopedia. No other historical source (not associated with Ms Dillmont) I have been able to track down uses any kind of 'protection' with the broche. The simple piece of wood used in the video on the Kiswa is a stark reminder of this as well. Instead, I believe, as Ms Dillmont wrote her book to promote the use of DMC needlework products, that the use of the perle must be seen in that light. After all, DMC never sold 'real' goldthreads. In order to be able to include a chapter on goldwork embroidery in her book, she needed to make sure that she promoted DMC products as much as she could. And the advice Annelies was given shows that it worked.
In one respect, however, the advice Ms Dillmont gives, resembles that seen in the Kiswa video above: "The body and the lower part of the prongs are first covered with a double thread of DMC pearl cotton (Coton perle), yellow or grey, ending with a loop, to which the gold or silver thread to be wound on to the spindle is attached. The thread is usually wound double on to the spindle" (Dillmont 1945, 186-187). The embroiderers of the Kiswa also use a loop of thread to secure their metal threads in the groove of their broche. With the type of broche depicted in Ms Dillmont's needlework encyclopedia, this is, however, unnecessary as the metal thread itself can be looped and placed in the groove/prongs.
One of the new historical books that arrived last week was 'The Art of the Embroiderer' by Charles Germain de Saint-Aubin, originally published in 1770. And originally published in French, but luckily translated in English. De Saint-Aubin was embroiderer at the court of the French kings and he wrote down everything he knew about embroidery. And this is what he wrote about the broche: "A boxwood tool about six inches long with a triangular base to keep it from rolling around as it is used. One winds the gold or chenille for couching on the hollowed-out section of the spindle. One passes the end of the thread through the cut in its head while working so that one touches only the spindle and never the gold for fear of tarnishing it. One draws out the thread from the top end or the cut, as one uses it. After it is unwound several turns, it is then replaced in the cut which holds and keeps it firm while being used" (Saint-Aubin 1770/1983, 65).
Now, this is an interesting one: putting the thread end(s) through the groove at the top for more control. In the above YouTube video, I experiment with using the broche this way. It does work, but it comes at the disadvantage of touching the gold more, than when you don't use the broche this way. And after seeing the male embroiderers working with their broche in the Kiswa factory in Mecca, I don't think this has been the common way in which the medieval broche was used.
This is what De Saint-Aubin's broche looks like. And thanks to Jane Drummond from the UK for sending a clearer picture of the coat of arms of the Broderers Guild of London, this is the exact type of broche depicted in that coat of arms.
And last but not least, I managed to find another charming historical source: 'Die Kunst der Goldstickerei' by Amelie von Saint-George published in 1902. She was a tutor at the Kaiserlich-Königliche Fachschule für Kunststickerei in Vienna. Very well possible that this is the same embroidery school Ms Dillmont had been instructed at. Here we read: "... so spult man das Gold - gewöhnlich einen doppelt genommenen Faden - auf die Bretsche, das zum Sprengen nötige Werkzeug. Zur Schonung des Goldes wird sie vorher mit starken Seidenfäden dicht umwickelt" (Saint-George 1902, 13). This translates as: wrap the gold - usually taken double - onto the broche, which is a mandatory tool for couching. To protect the gold, wrap the broche with thick silk yarn first. Above you see a picture from this book with two broche in action. Interestingly, here we have the wrapping again and the threads spool from the groove. What could be behind this?
Remember, this book was published nearly a decade after Ms Dillmont's needlework encyclopedia. Ms Dillmont and Ms von Saint-George probably knew each other personally as they likely went to the same school. Ms Dillmont wraps with perle as this is a cheap and readily available DMC thread. Ms von Saint-George recommends silk as she writes in her introduction at length about the fact that goldembroidery is for the happy few (she tutored at the Imperial School of Needlework!). Silk is a far more expensive thread than perle. Ms von Saint-George clearly knew Ms Dillmont's needlework encyclopedia. She knew the wrapping advice. So when she wrote her book, she had drawings made that look rather similar to those in the needlework encyclopedia, but a little bit more realistic, I feel. I might be wrong, but as no other historical or contemporary source recommends the wrapping of the broche, this seems a logical deduction to me. Personally, I would not wrap my broche. Anyone working with passing threads will know that they have a tendency to snag on any type of yarn. Imagine wrapping your perfectly smooth broche with yarn and then wrap your snag-happy passing thread onto it ...
Please feel free to leave a comment below. I'll keep looking for more advice on using a broche. And maybe I can start a collection of different broche from all over the world past and present:).
P.S. Did you like this blog article? Did you learn something new? When yes, then please consider making a small donation. Visiting museums and doing research inevitably costs money. Supporting me and my research is much appreciated ❤!
Dillmont, Th. de (1945). Encyclopedia of Needlework, revised edition. Mulhouse: Th. de Dillmont.
Saint-Aubin, C. G. de (1770/1983). The art of the embroiderer. Translated and annotated by Nikki Scheuer. Los Angeles: Country Museum of Art.
Saint-George, A. von (1902). Die Kunst der Goldstickerei nebst einer Anleitung zur Verwendung der Goldstickerei in Verbindung mit Applikation. Wien: Wiener Mode.
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