Before we finish the pope (hmm, for some reason this sounds very wrong), I'd like to tell you about a special place I visited this weekend: the Abbey of Niederaltaich. Here, Benedictine monks live according to the Roman Catholic rite (West) and the Byzantine rite (East). They celebrate divine office parallel in two churches: a Catholic church and a Russian Orthodox church. As, during the Russian revolution, the Russian Orthodox church was suppressed, the pope asked several Benedictine monasteries to study and celebrate the Byzantine rite (and possibly take in refugee monks from Russia) in order to preserve this branch of Christianity. Niederaltaich is such an 'Ark' and continues to function in this unique way. And as a visitor, you are more than welcome to join them and ask lots of questions. I and my husband were fortunate enough to be invited to the Easter service at a small monastery on Crete last year, but couldn't understand much due to the language barrier. At Niederaltaich however, the Russian and Greek have been completely translated into German. And the signing of the monks is just divine. And so are the beautiful icons. If you are interested in such things, this is definitely a place you should visit!
In last week's blog post you could read how I finished the background. This week you'll see how I finished the figure of the pope and how I put the whole picture together. Firstly, I had to build up the rest of the figure with or nue. As the pope is always mainly dressed in white, this isn't an easy task. I've used two shades of white and two shades of grey silk to work the or nue over silver-coloured Japanese thread. Contrasts are rather subtle and the next time, I will probably opt for stronger contrast. You can see in the picture how I use my pencil to add remarks on shading and colour placement.
The hands and faces are always very finely silk shaded. When I worked St. Laurence, I learned that simply silk shading over the Japanese thread doesn't work. Instead, I use Bondaweb and a small piece of very fine linen. The Bondaweb prevents the linen from frying. I've cut out the hands and glued them in place. I then carefully silk shaded the hands and outlined them.
Silk shading the face posed a problem when stitching St. Laurence. The 40ct Zweigart linen was just too coarse to get a fine enough result. I remedied that this time by glueing a small piece of the very fine linen in place using Bondaweb again. It worked really well! I did not attempt to get a life-like image of the face of the pope from the photo I had. In that picture, he has very dark bags under his eyes and quite red ears... Instead, I opted for a more cartoon-style face. Just so people recognise him as Pope Francis.
Last but not least, I defined the figure further by couching down fine silver plated Twist on the pope's clothing. I also added small beads for the buttons. Years ago, I found a small silver-coloured cross and it happened to be perfect for this piece!
With the background and the figure finished, it is time for the scary bit: putting the two together. First comes the cutting-out of the figure. The small seam is turned under and secured with a little dab of glue. The background gets re-framed onto my slate frame. I keep the tension just below drum-taut, this time. I then pin the figure into place and applique him to the background with a matching thread. In this case, I also needed to insert the stumpwork hands I had made from wrapping paper covered wire with a single strand of stranded silk.
One of the hands holds a wooden parrot that came off a pair of earrings I had saved from the bin at a charity shop. The same holds true for the peace-symbol. The venus or female symbol is made of a metal washer. The "plus" part is stitched with metallic thread by Kreinik. By placing a black outline around it, the different parts form a single symbol. The rainbow flag was made by stitching single rows of chain stitch in the appropriate colours using DeVere yarns silks. The stick is a piece of gold-coloured paper covered wire.
For maximum contrast and in keeping with late-medieval traditions, I outlined the pope with black silk. I then cut out the whole orphrey and turned under the seam. I framed a piece of red patterned cotton damask onto my slate frame and appliqued the orphrey onto the new backing. Currently, the piece is at the framers to get the same hand-gilded frame as St. Laurence has. Can't wait for the piece to return to me!
In the mean-time, I have started the drawing for the next piece. Not an orphrey, but the hood of a cope this time. I need a bit more space to tell the story of illegal immigration across the Mediterranian Sea. More on that in a future blog post. You can find the other blog posts on Pope Francis by clicking the category on the right side.
A few days after I had submitted my goldwork piece for the 'Emerging Fiber Artist' print exhibition by the Fiber Art Network, I received an email. Pope Francis had not made it into the exhibition due to the high volume of extraordinary work submitted this year. I did ask if they could be a little more specific, but I did not receive an answer. My guess is that, due to its religious content, my piece might be uncomfortable. Or maybe it is because I am not an emerging, but an established textile artist? Or were they looking for more abstract pieces? Or more mixed-media? We will only know when the print exhibition comes out. In the meantime, let's continue exploring how I made Francis shine!
One of the main differences between modern goldwork techniques and the way Late-Medieval embroiderers used their gold threads, is that they don't plunge. You can see that clearly in the picture above. The ends of the threads forming the lentil around the window are just cut to size and then secured with a few extra stitches. Another difference: gold threads are happily layered. This is often done to accentuate parts of the design. Or to hide an ugly edge as in the picture above. The gilt Twist covers the ends and turns at the top of the gold screen behind the figure. At first, it is really weird to lay a goldthread over other goldthreads and stitching it in place. Yes, you might stitch through the threads, but that's okay! And this layering of threads opens up so many nice possibilities.
As I am not doing a historical reconstruction, I was able to use 'modern' threads. Originally, the separations between the roofing tiles were stitched with passing thread. Due to the pattern, they had to start and stop the thread many times. Far too time-consuming! I decided to use the Coronet Braid #8 by Rainbow Gallery. I couched my long stitches down with a fine metallic threads by YLI.
I struggled a bit with the keystone. The padding was a straightforward yellow cotton string. But then I used the same thread as I had used for the gold screen: gilt passing thread #6. However, I wasn't pleased with the result. The thread was just too stiff to sit smoothly atop the padding. So, out it came... That's not a nice job and it probably took twice as long as putting it in. Due to the fact that some of it went on top of previous stitching, that had to be repaired too. Luckily, my second attempt with a finer passing thread looks very pleasing.
Next up were the city or castle walls. Firstly, I put in all the string padding. When the padding was wider, I simply couched down an additional piece of waxed yellow string. The construction of the city walls is very straight forward: couching down gilt passing thread #6 with red Chinese flat silk.
Again, the edges are covered with two thicknesses of gilt Twist. This defines the shapes and hides the rough edges underneath.
Next up is the construction of the middle section of the city walls. Due to the nature of goldwork, you are often left with gaps between previous stitching and the next. In this case, there is a gap between the passing thread and the red silken lentil of the window. However, this gap nearly disappears when the Twist is couched over the top.
This is what the finished city walls look like. Next up was the 'keystone' on the roof. I padded it with stranded cotton using chain stitches. This is an ideal way to pad irregular shapes as it is very flexible. I then used gimped couching with the thinner passing thread to fill the shape. To let it stand out some more, I added an edge of couched black stranded silk.
I drew the two towers on a separate piece of linen. Making separate pieces and then applique-ing them onto the piece gives the whole embroidery a better sense of depth. This stumpwork is a key characteristic of these Late-Medieval embroideries. After the string padding and the or nue couching, I cut out the pieces. I turned the small seam under and secured it with a dap of white glue. I pinned the towers in place and couched them down. I added a spangle with a 3mm amethyst bead (bought when I visited Crete) to the diamond shapes. And last, but not least, I couched down a black stranded silk edge around the tower shapes for maximum contrast. To finish the background, I couched down two double rows of Rococo thread with red Chinese flat silk.
As this blog post is already rather lengthy, I'll save the finishing of the figure and the putting together of figure and background for a future blog post. You can find all blog posts related to this project by clicking Pope Francis in the categories menu on the right.
My parents love to go to flea markets! My dad searches for postcards and letters written by World War I soldiers and my mum finds all sorts of lovely vintage stuff and the occasional ceramics. But more importantly, they come across needlework! And their latest find is this:
It is a "B" monogram made with very fine shiny cotton thread. The monogram is glued onto an ordinary light weight backing paper (the thicker blue card glued to the original paper has nothing to do with it). It is stated on the paper that the monogram was made in France and patented in France, England, the US and Germany. The date for the US patent is July 18th 1906. I had never encountered them before, but a quick search for 'Plumetis Express" on Google will show you that these vintage monograms can be had a plenty. I and my mum were immediately intrigued, but quite unsure how these monograms worked. Plumetis Express could be translated as "Quick Satin Stitch".
Now that I knew that these monograms are not at all rare, I really wanted to try to use my B! I started by removing the blue backing paper. This is what the thing now looks from the back. The monogram measures 7,8x5,4cm and rises to about 3mm in height at the plumpest parts.
Now, what is one supposed to do with these monograms? Luckily, some of these monograms have the instructions printed on them. One version goes like this:
Ne pas decoller de la feuille support. Faufilez exactement dans le sens de la broderie en prenant initiale papier et linge. Cousez ensuite à l'envers du tissu à points de surjet avec une aguille fine. Ne pas enlever la faufilure. L'initiale étant cousue enlever le papier.
and the other like this:
Faufiler le tulle supportant la letter sur le tissue à la place exacte que devra occupier la letter.
Par intervalles rapprochés, faufiler la letter.
Déchirer et enlever le tulle, arrêter solidement les extrémités de la lettre et finir de la fixer en cousant à l’envers de l’étoffe à points de surget, en ayant soin de bien pendre toule la lar geur de la letter.
Nota – Si le linge est neuf, le mouiller afin d’éviter tout gondolement qui pourrait resulted du retrait de la toile.
Pour la couture de ces lettres, employer des aiguilles courtes et fines.
Although I had french in school and in later life even took classes at the Open University, I couldn't quite understand what they were going on about. Feeding the text to Google Translate doesn't help either, but will probably make you roar with laughter (it works equally 'well' for translations into EN, DE or NL!). Luckily, the original boxes these monograms came in, had instructional pictures with the text. The above picture comes from a Japanese website who sold these monograms at some point. A quick chat with Friar Markus, who grew up in Saarland near the French border, confirmed that by now I probably knew how to do this...
One starts by washing the linen fabric (I am using my favourite: Zweigart 40ct Newcastle) the monogram will be attached to. Omitting this pre-shrinking will result in wrinkles as soon as the finished piece is laundered. Then one arranges the paper onto the linen and presumably pins in place. So far so good!
Now I ran into a problem. According to the instructions I should use the yarn from the box the monogram came in... Bummer. Reading the rest of the instructions, I came to understand that the yarn in the box probably was the same as used for the monogram in the first place. The instructions say that one should place one's stitches in such a way that they fall in line with the thread direction of the monogram. Aha! Let's see if my stash harbours a yarn similar to the stuff used for the monogram. I ended up picking Gütermann Polyester sewing thread Col. 1. Although it seems that the original yarn used is even a bit finer, the Gütermann isn't a bad match. The monogram has aged and stained, so in some places, the Gütermann will be too white. Alas, it is a strong polyester thread and I have a feeling I will need its relative strength compared to cotton or silk. Because the instructions say that I should stitch through the edges of the monogram, the paper and the linen background fabric! I should use a short and sharp needle for the task. I'll better also wear a thimble :).
Now let's do as the picture says. It is actually quite easy to pierce through the paper and the monogram. Only the ends unravel a bit. But this might be due to ageing.
In the next step, we'll turn the work and work from the back. With small stitches, we secure the initial even further. This step was rather difficult and really hard on the fingers. Changing to a curved needle did help a little. But especially the thinner parts of the monogram were quite difficult to 'catch' from the back.
Now it was time to remove the paper. That didn't go well. Short pieces soaked in glue close to the initial were almost impossible to remove. Tweezers and a magnifier didn't help much either. I ended up hand-washing the piece with a little clear dishwashing liquid and scratching the paper away with my nails as best as I could. I assume that either the paper came off much better when the initial was first produced or the little bits of paper didn't bother too much as they would probably come off after a few laundry cycles.
The difficulties to remove the paper resulted in some of my stitches having snapped. I ended up carefully removing them and securing the loose parts of the monogram again. By now I am not sure if the additive Express is very appropriate for this Plumetis Monogram...
Once the monogram was secure again, I decided to embellish it further with some simple flower embroidery. After all, there is not a whole lot of embroidery going on in a Plumetis Express. I used a lovely variegated silk thread by Caron called Black Iris. My flowers were stitched with two strands using detached chain stitch and French knots. As the variegation is distinctively either greens or purples, it worked very well for the petals and the leaves.
I hope my blog post has inspired you to pick up one of these vintage monograms yourself! Mounted and framed they make for stylish French-style embroideries on your wall. Too much trouble? No worries: My "B" is now available for sale from my webshop; mounted and framed, good to go :).
P.S. One thing remains: how were these monograms made? Surely they are machine made. But how did that work? If you have the answers, please comment below!
Only about eight months ago, I would have staged my finished goldwork piece the minute I had put the last stitch in. I would have opened Instagram and take the perfect picture. I would have spent some thought on the right description to go with the picture. Which hashtags would generate the most traffic? And then I would have stayed awake for at least another 30 minutes to be able to answer to the first reactions coming in. All in the name of generating more traffic to my Instagram account and ultimately to my website and my webshop. BUT, it was already far past midnight when I finished Francis. AND I had worked my body to the brink of collapse over the past few weeks in order to make the deadline. So instead, I wished Francis goodnight, turned off the lights in my studio, brushed my teeth in the dark so as not to wake my dear husband and then slipped carefully between the covers for a well-deserved rest. And after a good night's sleep, I didn't immediately write a blog post about the piece either. Francis has been mine alone for a whole other week! That's bliss in a society where we increasingly share our whole life the minute it happens. Hoping to generate as many likes as possible. One must be mad to step away from all the instant digital love :). Enough musings: here he is!
Isn't he gorgeous? I love the over-the-top bling. It satisfies my inner magpie. For those of you who are interested in the technical aspects of the piece: no worries. I will write at least another blog post detailing how I came to this rather stunning end-result. But for now: enjoy the bling!
P.S. You can find the first three blog posts on this project by clicking the "Pope Francis" category on the right.
We finally have warmer temperatures and no more fresh snow here in the south of Bavaria! It is even warm enough to sit outside on the balcony :). Can't wait for all the snow to melt away. I love to go for long hikes and really feel blue when I can't in the winter due to slippery conditions. It will be so good to hike up the mountains again in a few weeks time!
Unfortunately, last week I got some bad news from the Künstler Sozialkasse: my appeal has been dismissed. I tried to gain official artist status with this organisation as it would mean that I get cheaper health insurance and a modest pension plan. The state now sees me as an entrepreneur who makes tons of money each year. The high rates for health insurance and my private pension plan reflect this. You can read my first blog post on this here.
The long letter explaining to me why I am not an artist is written in beautiful lawyer's German. I am so glad that I have a doctorate; it really helps to understand what they are saying. It mainly boils down to: embroidery has never been an artform historically speaking and can thus now not be an art form either. It is simply a craft. That's HUGE!!! This means that unless I am changing my medium, I am never going to be recognised as an artist. Over the past months, several artistic friends have indeed suggested that I should incorporate at least a little paint as that would mean that I can brand my pieces as mixed media. For laypeople: that's one step up from 'textile art' :).
The other point they are making is that my pieces don't have a deeper layer of meaning. And therefore they are no art. Plainly not true. I made the above piece in 2011 for my RSN Diploma. It translates the key-Buddhist principle of 'doing the right thing at the right time' into textile. This was one of the pieces which I submitted to the Künstler Sozialkasse to proof that I am making at least some pieces with this 'deeper layer of meaning'. My RSN advanced goldwork piece, also from 2011, is full of Christian symbolism explaining who St. Alanus was. And my most recent piece of Pope Francis certainly has a whole bunch of layers. I submitted the plans for this piece too. I don't know why they don't acknowledge these points.
But, the whole thing about a deeper layer of meaning = automatically art has a disturbing consequence. What about the hyper-realistic portraits of painters like Holbein? The naturalistic still lives of many famous painters since the Renaissance? Is that not art? Just craftmanship? I also submitted various needle paintings made from photographs of flowers I had taken myself. They were dismissed as not being art.
And what about the wood carvers here in the Ammertal that mainly copy historical wood carvings which sell well to tourists? Most of them are in the Künstler Sozialkasse. My interpretation of a historical orphrey (St. Laurence) was not seen as art either.
My conclusion thus is that my embroidered pieces will never officially been seen as art: I simply use the wrong medium. I now have three options left: 1) take the Künstler Sozialkasse to court and fight the dismissal, 2) change my medium & start a fresh application or 3) become a famous textile artist accepted by peers & start a fresh application. The first option is something I cannot afford and I doubt that I will be able to plead my case successfully. After all, I can't change the history of embroidery. The second option is something I am simply not willing to do. My medium is embroidery, I don't feel comfortable working in paint. The third option is the way I will be going. However, I will probably not submit a new application. As a successful textile artist, I hopefully will be able to pay the full fees for my health insurance and decent pension plan myself. I was raised to be a responsible citizen: you don't ask for benefits unless you really need them.
As suggested by some after my first blog post on this whole matter, I did contact the German embroidery guild to see if they could help. They never replied to my emails.
On the upside: I am now getting health insurance through my husband's employer and don't pay a penny for it. Our family income has fallen below a certain point and that made me eligible. I also met the deadline for finishing my Pope Francis piece (you'll meet him next week!) and submitting it for the Fiber Artist Network emerging fiber artists grant. I just hope that they see me as just starting out and not as somebody who has been a full-blown textile artist all these years without knowing it herself. That would just be too bittersweet....
As I am really pushing to meet a deadline, here are some quick shoutouts you might be interested in. Firstly, the Society for Embroidered Works has an Open Call for membership from the 24th of February till the 2nd of March. Although membership is free, entries are peer-reviewed. The Society tries hard to put embroidered art firmly onto the map. The more we are, the stronger our voice!
Secondly, a fresh batch of Klass & Gessmann embroidery hoops with seat frame or table clamp have found their way into my webshop. Secure yours quickly as they have been selling fast; one flew out before I could give you all the heads up that they are available again :). Not sure why you should probably invest in these hoops? Read my review here.
And last, but not least: I have found a new supplier for the silver coloured Japanese thread! Both sizes, #8 & #12, are available again from my webshop.
This is all for now. I am back to my slate frame, needles, fine silks and metal threads :).
Let's check in with my goldwork project to see what progress I made. First I put the string padding in for the goldwork that sits at the top of the tapestry behind Pope Francis. I used yellow cotton yarn and a matching yellow stranded cotton. I waxed the cotton yarn with pure beeswax to make it firm. I then couched the waxed yarn into the desired position. For the little dots, I made a double cross (at angles) with a full strand of stranded cotton. In the picture below, you also see my favourite embroidery scissors made by Dovo, a German company. Whilst I don't use them to cut my goldwork threads, I do use them for all the silks I am working with. They are super sharp and cut very clean and precise.
Next up were the windows. I started by satin stitching the glass using a light blue Chinese flat silk. The grey lintels are stitched in long-and-short stitch using a grey Chinese flat silk. The red lentils are made of rows of stem stitches using stranded silk (#3093 Campari Soda) by the Silk Mill.
Next, I put in the "lead" for the leaded windows. I used silver plated smooth passing #5. The first layer I couched in place with a grey (LT1322) superfine silk made by Langley Threads. The second layer was then couched in place at the intersections using the same grey Chinese flat silk as was used in the grey lentils. Since you just cut off the passing thread at the border between lentil and glass (i.e. no threads are plunged), you need to hide the ends under a layer of chain stitch using Silk Mill stranded silk. I used the same (near) black silk thread to stitch the dividers between the window panes.
I really loved putting in the red bricks! I just happened to have the ideal colour of Chinese flat silk to do the counted satin stitch with. The white grout is made with stem and straight stitches using a white Chinese flat silk. The lentils were finished by couching Gilt Twist #3 and Gilt Rococo in place. Note how I left a tiny gap between the window/bricks at the bottom and my yellow string padding. I will need this gap later when putting in the passing thread to form the top decorative border of the tapestry hanging behind the pope. You can also see that the gold threads are just cut off and not plunged as we tend to do in modern goldwork.
One of the challenges of recreating these Late-Medieval orphreys is finding out what threads were used. In the original piece, the fringe of the ceremonial tapestry hanging behind the figure has wavy streaks of very fine gold thread. No idea what it is! However, I have noticed that when the ends of Gilt Twist unwind, they look wavy. What would happen when you intentionally unwind a length of twist? Yup, you end up with three strands of very fine wavy gold thread :). So, over my base layer of green and red satin stitches made with Chinese flat silk, I carefully stitched with my "home-made" gold thread. The trick is to use a big needle and not pull to hard as otherwise the waves come out. And yes, I did stitch through the fabric with my gold thread using the same motion as with laid stitch.
Next up was the tapestry itself. For the St. Laurence project I used Japanese thread for this part. However, this would not work well with the intricate padding of the decorative top border. I decided to use Gilt passing thread #6/Stech vergoldet 140/150 CS instead. It is a stiffer and thicker thread than what was used originally. However, I am trying to finish this piece quickly so that I can start the next one for my upcoming exhibition in August. Using a finer thread would mean hours of extra work! And this already took 20 hours... The good news is, it works much better for the red diaper pattern than the original thinner thread works in the original piece. There is a lot of gaping in the original piece. The downside? It doesn't flow well over my padding; here I have gaping. Especially over the little dots.
And I learned something else: framing up both the figure and the background on one frame, make stitching difficult. My arms are too short sometimes. I noticed that I was able to stick to the counted diaper pattern best when turning my frame in such a way that I worked horizontally (as you see in the picture). I couldn't do this for the other half of the background. Instead, I worked vertically. The diaper pattern is not nearly as crisp. However, the couching over the padding is much nicer when I am working vertically. Lesson learned. Next time I will make sure that I can reach my embroidery equally well from all FOUR sides of my slate frame. For the moment, the blank that will eventually be filled with the figure of Pope Francis looks more like a zombie...
P.S. You can find the first two blog posts on this project by clicking the "Pope Francis" category on the right.
Before we dive into more exquisite embroidery from China, just a little shout-out to the Fiber Talk podcasts. On Sunday, I had my second lovely conversation with Gary discussing my ongoing journey from craftsperson to textile artist, my trip to China, the reality of turning your skill into your business and so on. We laughed a lot and hope that you`ll enjoy the conversation too! You can listen via the player on the Fiber Talk website (were you'll find hundreds of other engaging podcasts with fellow embroidery people!) or you can watch the episode on FlossTube.
In previous blog posts I have shown you the oldest pieces of embroidery I saw in China as well as beautifully embroidered rank badges. Today we will examine the court robes worn by the Qing emperor (AD 1644-1911) and his closest relatives. These lavish robes are decorated with the symbol of the emperor: the dragon. Hence their name: dragon robes. But there is more than just gorgeously embroidered dragons on these robes. After all, we are in China :). These robes are packed with meaning. Luckily, there was a very helpful picture in the National Silk Museum, Hangzhou pointing out the different motives and their meaning:
The different symbols are arranged in three distinct circles. Around the neck you'll find the sun (life force) and the moon on the shoulders and constellation of three stars (the handle of the sign Ursa Major; illumination) and the rock (stability) on the front and the back. The next circle runs over the chest and features the axe (distinction between right and wrong) and double bow (dispensing of justice) on the front, as well as a pair of dragons and a pheasant (light and colour). The third circle at knee-level sports a pair of bronze sacrificial cups (courage and wisdom), waterweed (purity), grain (nourishment and sustenance) and fire (warmth and light).
When the emperor conducted certain important ceremonies he would sit facing south. The major symbols on his dragon robe would then allign with the wider architecture of the Forbidden City: the sun on his left shoulder with the Altar of the Sun in the East, the constillation of the three stars on his chest with the Altar of Heaven in the South, the moon on his right shoulder with the Altar of the Moon in the West and the Rock at the nape with the Altar of Earth in the North.
And this is the real thing: a dragon robe featuring nine dragons. This particular robe would have been worn by an imperial prince during the summer. The background cloth is imperial yellow silk only to be used by the emperor and very close relatives.
Above is a picture of one of the dragons featuring in the third circle just above the seam. The dragon mainly consists of couched gold threads (Japanese thread) and accents in silk embroidery. The small motives surrounding the dragon are stitched with silk in satin stitch. Among these small motives are bats (left of the right hind-leg of the dragon), pairs of peaches (at the top of the picture, right above the head of the dragon) and flaming pearls (the couched roundel with red silk embroidery, left of the head of the dragon) and many clouds. The hem is decorated with ocean waves, mountains, coral and rocks.
Here you'll see the tiny bats, peaches and clouds in more detail. I particularly love the bats. Aren't they geniusly stitched? They are tiny, but there is so much characteristic detail. Just look at the ears and the whiskers!
The Chinese word for bat and for happiness are the same. Red coloured bats are even better as the colour red and the word for majestic/subleme are also the same. Bats depicted together with peaches confer the wish `May you live long and happy`.
And here is a detail of the seam of the prince`s dragon robe. I particularly like the way the circular wave in the middle is embroidered. Very effective shaded split stitch for the spiral, surrounded by satin stitched `white heads`. The design lines of the `white heads` are further defined by couching down a single gold thread. The vertical stripes at the bottom represent deep water. Stylished multi-coloured rocks rise from the waters. The ancient Chinese preceived the world as being surrounded by four oceans.
This wasn`t the only dragon robe on display at the magnificent National Silk Museum in Hangzhou. However, as this blog post is already rather heavy with pictures, I`ve uploaded the other robes onto my Pinterest board: Embroideries from China.
You can find more information on dragon robes and embroidered symbols in: Bertin-Guest, J. 2003. Chinese Embroidery traditional techniques, Krause Publications, ISBN 087349718-X. This book also explains the embroidery techniques in detail and comes with 16 (increasingly difficult!) designs to work yourself.
I originally made the drawings for this new goldwork project at the end of September last year. But with the China teaching trip and the holiday season, I hadn't really started in earnest. As I want to include this piece in my first solo-exhibition in August, it became about time to seriously make a start. My first attempt was so 'enthusiastically', that I decided to pull it all out, flip my slate frame and start again. What had happened? My design transfer was just rubbish. As I have only a small light-box, transferring larger designs demands attention. The kind of attention to detail you don't have when you really, really want to start :). The good thing about starting again: the flipped slate frame! Most people probably don't know that you can use a slate frame upside-down; just like the Chinese embroiderers do. It comes with two big advantages. First: your arm rests on the horizontal bar of your slate frame rather than on your embroidery. Secondly: the horizontal bars of your slate frame prevent spools of thread from rolling off your frame. But beware: the second point might tempt you into putting much more onto the frame than is beneficial for the tension of your embroidered piece...
This is what Pope Francis currently looks like. As we have had so much snow with the accompanying dark skies, couching silver coloured Japanese threads with two shades of white and two shades of grey is very hard on your eyes. That's why I decided to work the figure of Pope Francis and the background simultaneously.
What materials and techniques have I used so far? The figure of Pope Francis is created with or nue. This means that I am using pairs of silver coloured Japanese Thread #8 and couch them down with a single thread of DeVere Yarns six-fold (120 denier) silk. I am using Crystal, Lily, Cloud and Foil. His shoes were stitched with satin stitch using a single strand of a stranded silk by the Silk Mill colour Black Alder. I embroidered the fringes on the fascia with Turkey rug stitch using DeVere Yarns 18-fold (360 denier) tightly twisted silk colour Hessian. After all the or nue has been done, I will add pearls for the buttons and I will define some folds by couching a separate metal thread on top. Much as I did with St. Laurence.
As mentioned in my first blog post on this new goldwork project, I am modelling the background on an existing late-Medieval orphrey from the Netherlands. I started by putting in the tiled floor. For the tiles I used four colours of Chinese flat silk: two greens and two reds. Using the darker shades in the back creates a sense of depth. The tiles are stitched with a simple satin stitch following the grain of the fabric. Then I couched a single strand of Gilt smooth passing #5 on top using the matching colour of silk. Last but not least, I embroidered the grout with small chain stitches using two strands of the Silk Mill Black Alder. I had learned from St. Laurence to don't leave too big a space for the figure, that's why bits of the tiling will be covered by the figure.
The small areas of blue sky at the top of the orphrey were embroidered using light-blue Chinese flat silk and long-and-short stitch. Evenly spaced single threads of Gilt smooth passing #5 were couched down on top using the same silk. Since late-Medieval embroiderers mainly worked in commercial workrooms, efficiency was important. Plunging threads? Far too time consuming! Just add a few more anchoring stitches at the end and just snip off the metal thread. In addition, metal threads would frequently continue to run underneath silk embroidery. Securing and snipping off takes more time than just stitch over them. I wondered how far you can take this approach :). The small bright-green turrets were just perfect candidates to try this out. I satin stitched the turrets with Soie Ovale by Au ver a Soie #0199. Then I added an outline of chain stitches using the Silk Mill Black Alder. You wouldn't know that there is passing thread running beneath them!
As this blog post is getting rather long, we will talk about the windows and the padding for the screen behind the figure in a future blog post. I will group all blog posts concerning this goldwork project under the category 'Pope Francis' for quick future reference.
When I was teaching embroidery in China last year, I saw so many beautifully embroidered items. Far too many to put into one blog post. Today we will explore a very distinctive form of embroidered items: rank badges. Those square pieces of densily embroidered cloth that were sewn onto the formal dress of Qing-dynasty (1644-1911 AD) court officials.
The Qing emperors were the last house to rule China. They were not native Chinese, but rather a nomadic minority from Manchuria. Due to a power vacuum in the middle of the 17th century they were able to take over the dragon throne. Native Chinese viewed these newcomers as barbarians. Vice versa, the Manchu viewed the Chinese as too refined. Discrimination and mistrust were the result. In an attempt to at least minimize discrimination amongst the court officials and to legitimize their new dynasty, court dress was completely renewed by the new emperor. Modelled on Manchu dress, but with strict rules on who could wear what and when.
As the imperial administration became ever more complex, it was necessary to be able to easily distinguish people's place or rank in the system. There were nine ranks of civil officials all sporting a different bird on their rank badge. From first to ninth rank these were: Manchurian crane, golden pheasant, peacock, wild goose, silver pheasant, egret, mandarin duck, quail and paradise flycatcher. The badges (called pu zi) were sewn onto the surcoat pu fu, or 'coat with a patch' and worn over the formal court robes. The badges would be sewn onto the front as well as onto the back. That's why a pair always consists of a 'whole' one for the back and a 'split' one for the front.
Why did they use birds to differentiate between civil officials? As always, everything depicted has more than one meaning for the Chinese. Birds collectively were seen as a symbol of literary elegance. Additionally, the crane was associated with happiness and longevity. The wild goose and the mandarin duck represented loyalty; not an unimportant quality for a court official.
Military officials wore rank badges too. Instead of birds, animals associated with courage and ferocity adorn these badges. Again there are nine ranks and from first to ninth rank these are the animals depicted: qi lin (a mythical creature with the head of a dragon, scales on his body, the legs of a stag and a bushy tail), lion, leopard, tiger, bear, panther, rhinoceros, rhinoceros and sea-horse. Lower ranks of the imperial nobility were also permitted to wear the military rank badges. The wives of military and civil officials adorned their formal dress with rank badges too. Rather than being part of the court, they would wear their dress with badges during important social occasions such as marriages.
Besides his official empress, the emperor had many secondary consorts and concubines. They were ranked as well. And with so many potential partners, he had many offspring too. The emperor, his sons, first-rank princes, second-rank princes, third-rank princes, fourth-rank princes, imperial dukes and other non-imperial nobles wore round rank-badges displaying dragons. The number of dragons you could wear depended on your rank. As did the type of dragon you were permitted to wear: front-facing dragons were higher in rank than side-facing dragons. And five-clawed dragons (long) were higher in rank than four-clawed dragons (mang).
If you have enjoyed reading about official court dress, I can highly recommend the book 'Imperial Wardrobe' by Gary Dickinson and Linda Wrigglesworth (2000, ISBN: 1-58008-188-6) for further reading. This is the revised edition of an original from 1990.
Jessica M. Grimm
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