Months ago, I saw a post on Facebook in which Yvette Stanton worked a bead embroidery kit by Merrilyn Whittle. The design was so lovely, that I ordered the same kit :). This weekend, I had finally time to dabble with it and write this review. If you are thinking of trying bead embroidery yourself, do visit the blogs of Dima Santina and Margaret Cobleigh. Both ladies are beading away on two very different projects: Hanabatake by Margaret Lee and Wild Child by Mary Alice Sinton.
Besides well-written instructions with many clear pictures, the photograph above shows you the other contents of the kit. As you can see everything is clearly labelled. And the quantities of the beads and threads are very generous. Apart from the kit, I had also bought a bead shoe and a wooden koma. Me and koma never became friends, but having a bead show is definitely a plus. Regarding the koma, I feel that you can stitch this design without one. However, bead purists might disagree :). I will definitely give the koma another try in the future and will probably watch some footage on Youtube to get an idea how to hold this piece of equipment when beading.
And off I went: beading away on the central flower. With hindsight, this was probably the most enjoyable part of the whole design. It makes use of two different padding techniques and they were techniques I had never used before. I learned a lot and I will certainly incorporate both techniques in future embroidery pieces.
And this is how the piece progressed. I wasn't going for perfection and only took things out when they were really disrupting the piece. I just wanted to have a nice embroidery experience. And that's what this excellent kit certainly delivers. The finished design is only 6x6cms and can be stitched as a weekend project. I am unsure if this project would suit an absolute embroidery beginner; I am afraid that I take too many things for granted after about 34 years of stitching :).
And this is what the finished piece looks like. It is intended to be a Christmas decoration. In lieu of a tree, it now happily hangs on the knob of my kitchen cupboard. I've thoroughly enjoyed stitching this little gem and I've learned a few new things. You can find this particular kit here. As Merrilyn Whittle is based in Australia, you might need to pay custom duties when ordering this kit. I had to, and all in all I paid a total of €72,73 or $83,89 (kit+shipping+tax). I think, as there are so many talented embroidery designers in Australia, it is high time Australia applies for EU-membership :).
P.S. I am now officially closed for business until the 11-11-18. Any orders placed in my webshop will ship on 12-11-18. China here I come!
Before I am going to tell you what the above entails, I want to say a huge thank-you to all who responded to last week's blog post! There were some great suggestions and I was able to implement one straight away: I became a member of the Society for Embroidered Work by invitation. How cool is that? Do visit their website and follow the links to all the amazing embroidery artists on there! And one more laugh about the craft-tradition-art debate: I picked up the embroideries I had displayed at the Pilatushaus in Oberammergau. It is end of season and I didn't want them locked up until the spring. I was told by a fellow member of this organisation that nothing had sold. The reason given? I needed to understand that embroidery had no great tradition here... Strange! Only a few villages down the main road, I had just been told the previous week that I couldn't join the artist society BECAUSE embroidery had a strong craft tradition here!
Once a year, there is a textile fair not far from where I live. The buildings of the monastery of Benediktbeuern are filled with 140 textile related businesses. Always fun to have a walk around. Most is sooooo exclusive that it is way out of my budget, though. Each year me and my husband catch up with Thomas und Marianne Held who sell books on textiles. We met them one year in Osnabrück at Nadel & Faden where we were neighbours. They are such fun and generous people! This year I bought two books on textile collections held in Germany. Do visit their website as they really do have a great selection on hard to find second-hand books on textiles.
Apart from this happy re-union, I stumbled upon Christine Asböck of 77°Nord. She makes beautiful bracelets with something which looks like very fine pearl purl. I immediately fell in love with the pretty braid patterns and bought a bracelet. The combination of reindeer leather and silver thread is so classical. I watched Christine work on a new bracelet and was amazed that she braids first and then sews the whole braid down using very fine nylon thread. I also learned that this type of craft is called Tenntrådsbroderier or tin thread embroidery. It has been traditionally practiced by the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia as a winter craft to earn some extra money.
I was especially curious about this Tenntråd, which looks like pearl purl. It was easy to find a Swedish supplier and so I ordered a variety of silver plated, gilt and coloured threads in various thicknesses. Contrary to pearl purl, this thread has a textile core. It cannot be stretched like pearl purl. But it is still great fun! It can of course be used in the traditional way to make a braid and use it in goldwork embroidery. It can also be used as is in goldwork embroidery as a substitute for pearl purl. However, you would need to use the very fine nylon thread to be able to sew it down invisibly. You cannot pull the thread between the coils as the thread does not like to be stretched. As this particular supplier has a wide range of coloured thread, I am sure I will order some more in the future and get creative!
P.S. My teaching trip to China is fast approaching. This means I won't be able to ship any orders between 18th of October and the 11th of November. Anything ordered during this period will ship on the 12th of November.
As I have written before, I am trying to get recognised as a textile artist instead of a craftswoman by the authorities. Germany, and indeed some other countries, have legislation in place that provides cheaper health insurance, a modest pension and tax relief for artists. For as long as I have been self-employed, I have been treated like any other small business. That's not really fair when you know that I often can't even charge the legal minimum wage of €8,83 per hour. To give you a sense of perspective here: when I was a self-employed archaeozoologist, I charged €65 per hour like everybody else. Most people who know me and my embroideries thought it would be easy to get this formal recognition as an artist. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. And as my latest down-turn is so hilarious, I am going to share it with you. So what happened?
My official application was finally, after a round of corrections, turned down. However, I was allowed to appeal. One of the things the authorities criticised was my lack of recognition amongst fellow artists. So I decided to join the Fiber Art Network (FAN): a great place to learn about grants and exhibition opportunities. This will certainly help me in the near future! Then I applied to the TAFA-List (Textile Art and Fiber Art List) to be included. As this is a vetted list, it has a little more credibility than FAN. And the list's curator Rachel Biel, has been very helpful in suggesting a few changes to my website in order to make it more obviously art. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a German association for textile artists. So I applied for membership at a local artist society. And then things went bonkers!
I wrote them a lovely email explaining who I am and what I do. What I would like to achieve artistically in the future and how I thought membership could help me achieve this. It was followed by 14, yes FOURTEEN, days of deafening silence. I decided to re-send my original email, minus the pictures; after all you never know if they had clogged up their email boxes :). I promptly got a reply. I was told that 'after lengthy discussions' they had turned down my application as my embroideries are of very high quality but firmly belong in the realm of craftsmanship or are at best 'applied art'. Not 'real art'. Wow, that dampened my spirits. A nagging self-doubt emerged. Luckily I kept my wits about me and started thinking about the whole difference between craft, applied art and 'real art'. I perfectly know that not all my embroideries are automatically 'real art'. For me, a piece of art is art because it has different layers of meaning. So, I wrote a second email.
In that email, I asked them to consider the new project I am working on depicting the pope and the encrusted pebble memory stones I make when beloved people pass on. I firmly believe they are ART. And this is the reply I got:
Dear Mrs Grimm,
Not only for us, but especially here in Bavaria, embroidery is a traditional craft. Your work is really very beautiful and also original, but clearly limited to the tradition of this craft. …. When you would like to mingle with artists, you are very welcome to attend our courses in figure- and portrait drawing or any other course that we will offer in 2019, for instance structures in oil or acrylic. We will publish these new courses on our homepage in January. Please don’t be blue, but we won’t ever exhibit stitched saints – not even when they are so very imaginative- as part of our group exhibitions.
Chairwoman of the Artist Society Tusculum in Murnau
Is she seriously suggesting I should take up drawing or painting so as to further my artistic developement? As the Dutch say: This makes my trousers drop! Then I realised that she excludes all textile artists that use embroidery from ever creating 'real art'. And that's when my self-doubt melted away completely. And I had a good laugh. Although I used to be impressed by this particular artist society, several of its members have attended art school, I now know that they have really limited and prejudiced views when it comes to art.
As you can probably imagine, this whole process is draining me. I am even battling with a cold; the first one in several years :). And although I know I will learn and grow through this experience, I do not have to like it, now do I? But it has helped to understand some of the other experiences I have had over the past seven or eight years in both Germany and my native Netherlands. Up until recently, I tried to be accepted by the artisans. This never really worked. Some fellow craftspeople reacted with suspicion to my embroideries. Visitors of high-end craft shows were openly hostile towards me and my work. Both groups repeatedly commented that my work has nothing to do with 'traditional embroidery'. They made it clear to me that I don't belong. Ironically, the 'other side', the artists, say I don't belong either.
So what will I do? I did write my appeal to the authorities. I am pretty sure they will turn me down again. In the meantime, I will make camp on the fence and get to grips with the fact that I don't belong in either camp. I will keep creating my art embroideries and I will connect with fellow textile artists through FAN and TAFA. There is music in me that seeks a canvas. It will flow through my fingers onto that canvas using a needle and not a brush!
Wow, where did the summer go? We had a lovely 26 degrees yesterday and only 6 this morning... We will even see the first night frost this week! Time to re-home my lovely flowering tropical plants from the balcony to the windowsill :). The cooler temperatures are also a perfect excuse to stay indoors and start a new embroidery project. As I really want to be recognised as an artist instead of a crafter, I need to start making original artwork again. For the past months, I have been thinking about a theme for my upcoming solo-exhibition in August 2019. I seem to be rather good at getting brilliant ideas in the middle of the night :). Luckily for me, I am pretty good at getting back to sleep after these nightly strokes of genius. My husband has a far harder time. After all, I have to tell someone, right?
I am planning to make a few embroidery pieces in the style of St. Laurence. Using 16th century goldwork embroidery techniques and artistic language. But addressing modern-day issues like immigration, climate change and consumerism. All unmistakably linked, by the way. First up is Pope Francis. Ever since his disarming 'Buona Sera', I have been fascinated by this man. But what probably fascinates me even more, is how we all seem to project our hopes and dreams on this one man. Francis should address climate change, the role of women, homosexuality, world peace etc. And 'pronto', please! The inconvenient truth however is, that one man, even when he is the pope, cannot accomplish this on his own. Are we willing to help him?
To show how our projections tend to make Pope Francis larger than life, I've given him a few extra arms. Like many Hindu Gods have. Two arms and hands form what is called the 'Kanzlerraute', the typical 'everything will be all right' posture Angela Merkel often shows. The background will be closely modelled after an orphrey from a chasuble made between AD 1520-1525 in the Northern Netherlands and now held at the Catharijne Convent under inventory number BMH t2911. I am very grateful for this museum to have given me free access to several high-resolution images of this magnificent piece.
That's all for now. I will spend the rest of the afternoon transferring the design onto 40ct natural linen by Zweigart using a normal lead pencil. This is the preferred way of transferring embroidery designs in the Late Medieval period.
P.S. This week's newsletter has a code of 15% off high-quality embroidery scissors by the German-based company DOVO. You can sign up for my newsletter in the right-hand column! You can read a review by Mary Corbet on these lovely scissors here.
After having had a sore arm for three days thanks to 1ml of immunisation fluid, I was hit hard again. Obtaining a visa for China will set you back a whopping €286! So when I received my passport back I was hoping for something sparkling. A little gold dust perhaps? Nope. It is a rather ordinary looking sticker.... Luckily the mailman brought me some promotional material concerning the museum and Hangzhou to cheer me up. Especially the museum and the West Lake look very pretty!
Preparing for China means I don't have much time to do some stitching. I still need to make instructional videos from the footage I shot whilst stitching the class samples. This means I am learning to use Adobe Premiere Pro and video platform Vimeo. Quite fun actually. The first eight videos concerning the crewelwork pomegranate are up there. They will be turned into an online course for beginners in the near future. However, I still need to write some instructions for it and do my calculations. In the meantime, you can have a look at what my video instructions will look like.
And then there is another major thing that gets in the way of stitching: the garden. Whilst the rest of Germany and indeed most parts of Western-Europe had a severe drought this summer, the Alps had a good summer. This means that our 'Belle de Boskoop' is having a bumper crop. Normally, this tree has a hard time coping with the harsh alpine climate and only gives us miniature very hard green fruits. However, it seems we now have a climate change winner here. My kitchen turns into an apple processing plant most days. So far me and my husband have made several pies, Lithuanian apple cheese (google it!) and apple sauce. On top of that, we have the larder full of beautiful pumpkins and herbal teas. I am very grateful for nature's bounty!
Back to making more apple sauce :)!
With a bit of luck I will get my passport back this week stamped with a shiny visa for China! Getting one was my first encounter with Chinese bureaucracy :). I will also see my doctor tomorrow for a refresher jab to protect me against nasty diseases. We embroidery artists lead exciting lives! Although I am not sure if I am an artist. I have been denied this title by the German authorities. They basically say that embroidery is not an art form, but firmly belongs in the realm of craftsmanship. At first I was knocked off my feet by this, but now I am preparing to defend my case. Getting recognition as an artist means that I am able to afford social security fees again and that my health insurance bills are almost cut in half. This would mean that Märchenhaftes Sticken could finally make a modest plus instead of a monthly loss...
What you see here is the kit for my week-long series of workshops at the National Silk Museum in Hangzhou, China later this year. As the workshop-series is open to anyone, it is highly likely that I will have a wide variety of abilities in my class. Apart from the four techniques (Appenzeller whitework, crewel, goldwork and Schwalm), they will have four pieces of Aida band on which they can cross-stitch the names of the techniques. The bands are later used in construction to hide the seams between the different fabrics. Although it is highly likely that there are people in my class who have never done cross-stitching, explaining is easy and people can soon work on their own. With 15 people in class, I won't always be immediately on hand. Having something easy on the side you can always return too whilst waiting will probably come in handy.
One thing I have learned over the years is that people mean wildly different things when you ask them to bring fine-tipped embroidery or craft scissors. Especially beginners manage to bring whopping big blunt paper scissors for goldwork classes. I have therefore included a pair of decent craft scissors in my kit. It is exactly the same pair of scissors I bought all those years ago when starting the RSN Certificate as an absolute beginner. And they are still my favourite goldwork scissors! Thanks to Google Images, I found my non-name scissors and was able to buy them for my Chinese students.
As the kit includes many different materials, I packed each project separately. I printed a picture of the finished project onto re-usable labels. This makes them easily identifiable for non-English speakers and people can re-seal the bag and so keep supplies together. All kit materials will be packed together into a paper bag. I will urge each student to write her/his name onto the bag to avoid misunderstandings.
I've also included a shower-cap into the kit. The museum will provide embroidery hoops with seat frames for each student. The free shower-caps you often get in hotels are perfect to protect your work when you are not actively stitching. The other thing I have included is a simple goldwork cutting board. It is one half of a round plastic containers my dad used to house his screws, bolts and whatnots in. I lined the base with a piece of red velour and presto you have a cutting board. If I had more space in my suitcase, I would prefer to give each student a small round tin (I always upcycle my hair-clay tins this way!). Being able to cut your threads and then screw the tin close is even better.
What else will I have at my disposal in the classroom? I've asked for an iron an ironing board. After all, I had to fold the fabrics to be able to get them into my suitcase. In preparation, I have already drawn all (bar one) patterns onto the fabric using a normal lead pencil. Unfortunately, the lines of aqua trick markers might not be stable when flying. I landed in America once with very faint lines... The only pattern I will have to draw before class, is the Appenzeller monogram. I'll use a trick marker and a copper stencil. It just doesn't work well with a lead pencil.
And last but not least, I will have a sewing machine in my classroom. Although I am not sure any of my students will be able to finish all four projects in time to start the construction of the pronkrol, when some so, they can use the sewing machine for quicker construction.
I am getting so excited!
P.S. you can read an interview with me on the blog of Valia Dikova 'Oberammergau Erleben'. I've also been interviewed for an article by Crafts Industry Alliance on the 'Benefits of limiting your time on Social Media'. Unfortunately, they left out my remark on the dangers of particularly Facebook using our data for commercial gain and the undermining of democracy. This was an important reason why I deleted my accounts after being hacked.
Last week I was fortunate enough to visit the exhibition 'The embroidered Heaven' at the Church Heritage Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania. I also met with Lithuanian embroideress Agne Zemkajute. Discussing pieces in the exhibition with a kindred soul is pure bliss! And Agne proved to be a very knowledgeable guide and fellow cake eater :). As we both have a love of church textiles and love to recreate them, this was certainly not the last time we have met. For those of you not living within two hours flying time from Vilnius, I will try to pack this blog post as full as I can with impressions of the exhibition. And at the end of this lengthy post, I will pass on details of the lovely catalogue produced by the museum.
The exhibits were displayed chronologically from the Late Medieval period until the 20th century. Due to the fact that the Lithuanians were the last peoples in Europe to convert to Christianity in AD 1387, there aren't any really old vestments. And Lithuania's turbulent recent history with 100 years of Tsarist rule, two World Wars and the Soviet Occupation, didn't help in the preservation of what once has been there either. Nevertheless, there were two chasubles and a cope hood on display which dated to the Late Medieval period.
One of the Late Medieval chasubles was 'restored' using paint. Its iconography of saints sitting under an architectural arch is well-known from many other embroidered vestments and paintings dating to the same period.
There were many more chasubles and related vestments on display dating to the 17th century. Contrary to earlier vestments who told a biblical story, vestments from the Baroque period feature large floral motives and an excessive use of gold threads. The height of the padding on some of these pieces is mind-boggling! These vestments were meant to dazzle you and to clearly show you who held power.
Although I am not a fan of the Baroque period, I do admire the skill needed to produce these magnificent pieces of highly-padded goldwork embroidery. Today, this style of embroidery is still in use in the embroidery ateliers of Spain. One of the people teaching this type of embroidery and blogging about it, is Cristina Badillo.
Playful 18th century Rococo with its elegant floral motives is much more my cup of tea. Especially the cope displayed above. Does this not remind you of Jacobean crewel work? However, this is made with silk and silver passing thread. I have never come across a piece like this and I would love to hear from my readers if they know of a comparable piece. Agne and I discussed the piece at length as we can't quite discern how the flowers have been stitched.
In fact, we have so many questions about this piece that we will have no choice (how horrible!) than to try and recreate some of it. Just determining if it is best to stitch the silk before the metal threads or the other way around was just not possible from looking at the piece. We even took pictures if the blown-up detail pictures on display to get a grip on the stitching process...
This chasuble from c. 1909 reminds me of the chasubles made by Leo Peters, a Dutch artist, around that time. It has an Art Nouveau feel to it. And the padding underneath the figure of Jesus and the cross is just amazingly thick.
And I really liked this early 20th century piece as well. I don't remember seeing vestments using panels of needlepoint before. There is even some drawn-thread work in this one.
Apart from the many embroidered vestments on display in the exhibition, the museum also has a few vestments on permanent display. And, best of all, they have a large set of drawers on the organ gallery. Each drawer contains a vestment. They allow you to browse through them and have a good look at them without the hindrance of glass!
Please note: the exhibition 'The embroidered Heaven' will end on the 15th of September 2018. However, the Church Heritage Museum sells a wonderful catalogue, hard-bound, and with full-page detailed pictures of all the vestments held by the museum. Although the regular text is in Lithuanian, there is an excellent summary in English in the back. The catalogue has 222 pages and costs only €15. You can contact the museum here.
As most of you will know, my Instagram account got hacked a couple of weeks ago. I felt gutted when it happened! And even more so after it became apparent that Instagram does not have a help desk with nice and knowledgeable people who will do their utmost best to help you sort the mess. Instagram help pages are scant (even more scant in a non-English language!). None of the suggestions listed there to recover a hacked account worked for me. The hack was so thorough, that I never received the recovery emails you are supposed to get. I even asked my provider to check if there had been unlawful access to my email accounts. Fortunately, that was not the case!
I badgered Instagram (and Facebook, they are one and the same thing!) with emails, snail mail letters and built-in help forms. Nothing helped! For the most part, I am still waiting for a reply. As my Instagram account is linked to my Facebook business page, I in effect, have two hacked Social Media channels. And I can't severe this tie either as I have no access to my Instagram account from where one has to do this. To prevent the hacker acting out through either channel and so harming my business, I reported the hack to the police. That was a fun experience: picture police officer in rural Bavaria making a protocol of my hack...
It became clear to me that, if I wanted to keep using Social Media, I would have to delete my Facebook business page and start again. Building up a new Instagram account and a new Facebook business page would have cost me a lot of time. Besides, which guarantee would I have that those new account wouldn't get hacked too? None! I decided to sit back and mull it over for a while. In the meantime, I would look at other means of promoting my embroidery business. Since I already sent out a weekly newsletter to alert my readers to a new blog post, why not beef that up a bit?
And then I started to note that not being on Social Media was actually a relief. Don't get me wrong, I really loved seeing what everybody was doing! However, seeing it all, comment here and there and posting my own messages took a large chuck out of each day. Think two hours or more... And with hindsight, it stressed me more than I really knew. You see, racking your brains once a week about writing an interesting blog post is quite doable. Racking your brains several times a day to make sure you show your best and sunniest side on your Social Media channels is tiring! As soon as I stopped, I felt my creative juices flow again. Paradoxically, not being visually bombarded all the time, relaxed my own creativeness and all sorts of new ideas started to bubble to the surface again. Great!
All the above, together with the whole unsavoury business of using especially Facebook to undermine our democracy, cemented my resolve: delete most of the Social Media accounts I manage. At present, I am Facebook-free, Instagram-free and LinkedIn-free. Don't get me wrong: I am not against Social Media. But I am against the very large companies behind them. They love the data you and I create, but they don't care when something goes wrong. So, my website, my blog, my newsletter and my studio are the places where I love to interact with you. You probably see less of me, which means you have more time to create. If you want that is :).
On a whole different note: I had to raise prices on the hand-dyed House of Embroidery yarns and ribbons I sell. Earlier this year, House of Embroidery had to raise their prices due to a rise in costs of raw materials. They also had to source a different delivery company as shipping things from South Africa is a nightmare (those who read Trish Burr's blog will know). For me this means that getting the parcel cleared by customs has become more expensive too. My husband joked that I should start importing weapons: far less restrictions :). In order to make the price raise hurt less, there is a 15% off coupon in this week's newsletter! You can sign up for my newsletter using the button in the right-hand column.
P.S. I am off to Vilnius (Lithuania) tonight to visit the Church Heritage Museum :). Back on Friday to ship your House of Embroidery orders!
As I told you in my last blog post, I rendezvoused with the medieval copes at St. Paul im Lavanttal (Austria) last week. And what a delight it was! The weather was quite hot and thus perhaps not ideal for visiting a museum. This meant that I had the copes to myself and could take as many pictures as I liked :). I had also brought a tiny bit of replica-stitching to compare with the original; more on that further down. Let me introduce you to the older cope housed at St. Paul Abbey.
This cope dates to the reign of abbot Bertholdus who died in AD 1141. The piece is thus more than 875 years old!!! It never ceases to amaze me how well these copes are preserved considering their age and the fragile materials they are made of.
The cope displays scenes from the bible: seven from the New Testament and 16 from the Old Testament. These scenes are not just 'pretty' or an incidental record of certain biblical stories. Instead, the scenes from the Old testament have a theological relationship with those from the New Testament. For instance, the Annunciation is paired with the foretelling of the births of Samson and Izsak. Each of these scenes fits into a square. The scenes from the Old Testament have some writing in them as well. Perhaps while they were and are generally lesser known and/or harder to identify.
Further towards the hem, 20 saints are displayed. These saints had a special relationship with the original Abbey of St. Blaise.
Along the hem, 36 small roundels display, amongst others, the edifices of the twelve Apostles, St. Paul, prophets, evangelists and the founder of the Abbey: Holy Roman Emperor Otto I (AD 912-973). The priest wearing the cope was literally a walking theological learning aid :). And not for the 'common folk' as they would not generally attend mass in the Abbey church. Instead, the cope would remind the monks themselves of Christian theology and the lives of the saints.
To separate each square, there are smaller squares with mostly geometrical patterns (there are birds and floral patterns displayed in the squares on the 'cross-roads'). And there are a lot of them! I have half-heartedly started to catalogue them and have already counted more than 25 different geometrical patterns. And it is one of these patterns that I started to replicate.
At first I thought that the stitch used was closed herringbone. This is however not the case. A row of closed herringbone stitches produces two parallel lines of stitches on the back: back-stitch on the one and split stitch on the other. It was long hold that this was the stitch used on the cope. However, when I stitched my copy, I ended up with small gaps where two rows 'bud'. Upon checking the literature again, I saw that during the restauration of the piece it was found that the stitch used is in fact long-armed cross-stitch with a small compensating stitch at the start (option three in this diagram).
I decided to stitch the same pattern again using DeVere 60-fold loose-twist silk on Zweigart Newcastle 40ct natural linen. And presto! No more gaps and the pattern became nice and square (it really is! pardon my photography). It is still at 41,5 mm a bit bigger than the original. This means that the linen background fabric used was finer than 40ct (!) and the silk too. What I further learned from my wee bit of replica-ing, is that the end-result becomes quite stiff. The bulk of the silk thread is on the front and adds quite a bit of weight to the finished piece.
In the future, I would like to try my hand at one of the non-geometrical scenes. After all, copying a geometrical pattern with what is in essence a geometrical stitch, is not a problem. However, I am in awe at the craftsmanship needed to execute curves and natural forms using rows of long-armed cross-stitch! To me, that makes stitching a scene from the Bayeux Tapestry (c. AD 1070) like a walk in the park :).
Last year I made a trip to the Benedictine abbey of St. Paul im Lavanttal, Austria. The abbey houses two important medieval vestments. The friendly monk on duty was happy for me to take pictures without flash. Unfortunately, upon returning home, the first 30 or so pictures were lost during the transfer from my camera to my computer. Luckily, I am going to visit these beauties again in the next couple of days! And, as only the first pictures were lost, I can introduce you to the younger of the two pieces: a beautiful cope from the 13th century.
Although these pieces are now housed in an abbey in Austria, they were originally made for the Benedictine abbey of St. Blaise in the Black Forest (Germany). During the dissolution of the monasteries in Bavaria in 1806, the abbot moved his convent and the treasure to St. Paul im Lavanttal and thus preserved them. Amongst the treasure were three medieval vestments: a cope from the 12th century (now in St. Paul), a cope from the 13th century (also in St. Paul) and a chasuble from the 13th century (now in the Österreichische Museum für angewandte Kunst in Vienna).
The cope from the 13th century is stitched with silks and gold threads. The main stitches used on the cope are long-armed cross-stitch and brick stitch for the silk and underside couching for the gold threads. However, details are also worked in other surface stitches like chain stitch and split stitch. The silk used for the brick stitch is untwisted, but looks softly twisted and thicker for the long-armed cross-stitch. Originally, no linen background fabric showed; the whole cope was covered in stitches! During conservation, it became clear that the cope had been sown together from loom-width strips of linen before the stitching commenced.
Depicted on the cope are the hagiographies (legends of the saints) of St. Blaise on the one side and St. Vincent of Saragossa on the other. Both saints were the patron saints of the abbey church. Scenes of the hagiographies are depicted as medallions as would have been the norm for stained glass windows in the 13th century. Each scene is accompanied by a few words to aid identification.
There are two possibilities regarding the maker of this excellent piece of medieval embroidery in the 13th century. It is quite possible that the cope was stitched by the monks of the abbey of St. Blaise. But it is equally possible that this cope was stitched at a professional workshop. Either way, it is highly likely that the person who made this was a man rather than a woman. A fact I love to "share" with male visitors to the Pilatushaus who exclaim that my stitching is a "mere female past-time they are thus not interested in" :).
Who provided the capital needed to produce these 'top-end' liturgical vestments? The St. Blaise abbey belonged to a reform movement in the Benedictine tradition. A movement highly endorsed by the nobility. Not only were many of the monks of noble birth, but noble families would endow the abbey with cash, lands, rights and works of art. These vestments were far costlier than the golden monstrance on the altar. Not only were the materials needed to stitch one quite costly, the countless man hours invested made the end-result VERY expensive. Another 'fun fact' for my visitors at the Pilatushaus who exclaim that the price tag on St. Laurence means the piece is unaffordable. I pleasantly inform them that in the Middle Ages they, as the commoners they are, would not have come this close to such a work of art :). Oh, you should see their faces! Truly priceless :).
If you are ever in the area, do visit St. Paul! They have many embroidered liturgical vestments on display. Everything is quite well lit so that intricate details are visible. Essays on the art historical background of the pieces and the conservation of two of the three pieces can be found in: Braunsteiner, M. & H. Kaindl (1998): Historische Textilien aus dem Sakralbereich (=Schriften zur Kunst- und Kulturgeschichte des Benediktinerstiftes Admont, Band VII), ISBN 3-901810-02-1.
Jessica M. Grimm
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