This might not come as a surprise to you: I love books on embroidery! Not only the so-called project books or books on a particular technique, but also museum catalogues and research papers. Whilst the first are usually promoted by and within the embroidery community, the later are a little harder to find. Second-hand bookshops are a good place to look for them. Since the topic is such a specific one, the people in the bookshop can often tell you in an instant if they carry some. Recently I rediscovered one such book in my extensive library. It is a Dutch doctoral thesis from 1948 written by Dr. Beatrice Jansen (1914-2008). The title of the thesis defended at the University of Utrecht is: Laat gotisch borduurwerk in Nederland (Late Gothic embroideries from the Netherlands). I bought the book years ago as I liked the technical and design drawings, but I had never actually read it ... Until now. And it actually is a gem! Let's explore together ...
The first chapter concerns itself with the embroidery techniques used. Dr. Jansen was probably not an embroiderer, but certainly a true art-historian. Back in the late 1940s, art-historians used French and German sources for their research. Dr. Jansen copied the French names of embroidery techniques from 'La broderie du XIe siecle jusqu' a nos jours' from L. de Farcy printed in Paris, 1892. You can find an online digitised copy of the catalogue and all the black-and-white photographs here. Although these are truly lovely, I would rather have had a digital copy of the chapter with the embroidery techniques explained. It is quite difficult to understand what Dr. Jansen is talking about.
The other source used is a German one: 'Künstlerische Entwicklung der Weberei und Stickerei' by M. Dreger written in 1904. This book can also be viewed online. However, this is only the text. They didn't digitize the plates ...
Both books are still around and can be purchased from book dealers. However, they sell for hundreds (till thousands!) of euros. So I probably go to the library in Munich :).
That said; when Dr. Jansen really dives into the embroidery seen on the Dutch liturgical vestments, she does present a lot of rather lovely technical drawings. And that's the true merit of this book.
The next chapter is a lovely one too! Dr. Jansen presents all the historical sources concerning medieval embroiderers or acupictores as they were called. The female form, acupictrix was rare and only used as 'wife-of'. Indeed, professional embroidery was a male occupation and females only seemed to have contributed in the ateliers of their husbands (and maybe fathers). What is also interesting, the embroiderers did not have a guild of their own. They were usually part of the guild of the painters as they were seen as 'painters with thread'. The embroiderers did not only stitch new vestments; they are explicitly required to mend existing ones as well. And, this doesn't really come as a surprise: the job wasn't well paid and did not have the same standing as that of artisans working in the 'high arts' like painters and sculptures. Discrimination against textile art certainly has deep roots!
The next two chapters try to divide the gothic vestments into a group made in the Northern Netherlands (roughly present-day Netherlands) and a Southern group (roughly present-day Belgium). These chapters are pure art-historian. Due to the fact that this book is so old, not all pieces talked about are represented by a black-and-white photograph in the catalogue. But lo-and-behold, I own a modern catalogue from the exhibition in the Catharijne Convent in 2015! So I wrote the modern catalogue number and, if applicable, the inventory number into the margins for quicker reference.
Even before the publication of Dr. Jansen, art-historians have tried to name the artists who made the design for these vestments. Successful matches could be made with paintings, woodcuts and sculptures of which the names of the artists have survived. It becomes evident that prints circulated in the embroidery ateliers after which the embroidery was executed. Clients would have had very specific ideas about what they wanted on their vestments and in which style.
Chapter V tries to further categorize the vestments by looking at the embroidered architecture. When you start looking at these vestments, you soon realize that certain elements of the architecture are very similar between different pieces. This chapter is richly illustrated with line drawings of all the different architectural styles found on the orphreys of the vestments.
Chapter VI high-lights that these kind of embroideries were made at least a century earlier than the pieces that have survived in modern-day museum collections. The oldest painting depicting this type of embroidery is the Ghent Altarpiece made by Hubert and Jan van Eyck between 1427 and 1432. This chapter lists nearly 60 other paintings depicting this type of embroidery. The thesis concludes with a sammery in Dutch and English.
I also found a rather embarrassing remark in the margin made by a previous owner. It reads 'Hier had ik nu eens graag gehoord, welke mof dit woord invoerde en welke hollander dit germanisme' (I would have loved to hear which mof (= Nazi) introduced this word and which Dutchman came up with this germanism). Remember, this book was published only three years after the end of the Second World War ...
Since this book was published so long ago, you can only find it in libraries (all over the world as it is a doctoral thesis!) or second-hand. Unfortunately, only more modern theses are available online from the University of Utrecht. And since the author died only 11 years ago, it will take another 59 years before the book can be digitised by me and put into the public domain :). I can probably just manage that before turning 100!
P.S. I am taking a blogging-break during July. I'll be back in August with lots of information on my first solo-exhibition!
At the end of March, I started a new project: On the shores of St. Nick. Whilst I regularly post updates on my Instagram account, I suddenly realised that I have not been sharing updates here. One of the reasons being: the piece is HUGE and progress thus rather slow. But I think you might find my musings interesting. Especially those of you who design their own pieces.
This is how far I have come to date. As this is all done on 40ct natural linen by Zweigart, you can imagine the many, many hours of stitching to come this far :). Although I now know that it is unrealistic to get it finished before the start of my exhibition in August, I am rather pleased with how it is coming together! And since I have to man the exhibition myself, guess who will be stitching what :).
This is a close-up of the migrant boat afloat on the mediterranean sea. The dark blue waves are stitched with House of Embroidery fine silk colour True Blue. The lighter waves use colour Forget me not M. Quite an apt name, don't you think? The stitch used is a common canvaswork stitch named Byzantine stitch. Another rather apt name since the migrants start out from modern-day Turkey.
The boat itself is a rather simple affair. I used padded satin stitch for the light-grey parts. The silk used is a heavy (60-fold or 1200 denier), slightly twisted one from DeVere Yarns called Glacier for the padding. The satin stitches itself are stitched with Chinese flat silk. As are the darker parts and the life-jackets of the migrants. To achieve some distinction between the persons, I used different stitch directions and added some padding in a few cases. The migrant's heads are made up of a French knot made with the same thick silk in the colour acorn. For anybody not liking French knots: try one with this type of sligthly twisted silk. They turn out perfect. Promised! To close the little gaps between the canvas stitches of the sea and the satin stitches of the boat, I added a couched line using Glacier again and the accompanying very thin 6-fold (120 denier) silk. That's the great thing about the DeVere Yarns silks: you get them in a wide range of sizes and twists!
In person, the boat has a very high-sheen and therefore a real 3D-effect. It does not come across well today in my pictures. We are preparing ourselves for a heatwave here in Bavaria and all my windows are completely covered in order to keep the heat out as best we can.
And here is a close-up of the beach. I changed the size of the 'sand' pattern as it was too small. Typically, you would like the canvas filling stitches to be largest at the front (the beach in this case) and smaller in the background (the sky). This enhances the depth of the piece. The stitch used is oriental stitch and it is stitched with House of Embroidery fine silk (for the wet areas) and raw silk (not shiny) for everything else. The colour used is Mud.
The letters of the word Peccatum (Sin) are stitched with lines of stem stitch all going in the same direction. To give the impression of the word being written in the sand, I will add French knots around the edges as soon as the background is fully stitched.
And last but not least, a close-up of the sky and the goldwork frame. The filling stitch for the sky is condensed Scotch stitch and the thread used is House of Embroidery fine silk colour Forget me not. The variegated nature of this thread gives a really good impression of the sky, I think!
For the goldwork frame, I am using #8 and #12 Japanese Thread. This is only the first layer of gold threads. All the small gaps you see at the moment will be covered when the next layer is added. For the shading of the couching stitches, I am using three shades of very fine silk (6-fold or 120 denier) by DeVere yarns. The colours are: Allspice, Fox and Ray. I used to use split Chinese flat silk to do my shading and or nue on St. Laurence. However, the flat silk does not have a consistent thickness and this can cause difficulties when following the grain of the fabric. I now prefer using this very fine silk made by DeVere yarns as it does not have this problem.
That's it for now! On a wholly different matter: you can now find a Google calendar with all my upcoming teaching engagements here. There are a few international opportunities coming up in 2020 and 2021. Maybe I'll see you there?
The National Silk Museum in Hangzhou had a small number of embroideries made by several ethnic minorities on display. After last week's book review on the textile traditions of one of these minorities, the Miao (Hmong), I thought it a good idea to share my pictures with you!
First up is an embroidered apron worn by women of the Dong minority. The Dong are matrilinear people from the south of China. The embroidery on this apron consists of brightly coloured satin stitches (possibly over a cut paper template) and some applique. The pattern is made up of stylised flowers and the sun symbol (probably the swirls; Chinese explanations at museums are notoriously vague ...). Other parts of the apron consist of strips of wax-resist dyeing.
Unfortunately, the only thing stated on this apron is that it was worn by an ethnic minority from Guizhou province. What I understand from the museum's description is that this is a single panel and that several of these embroidered panels would make up the actual apron. Do you see all these white buttonhole wheels? There are also chain stitches and knots. I think they used chain stitches to create the star shapes on the left and the maple leaves on the far right. Quite a clever and visually pleasing piece, I think!
This panel was embroidered by the Ge people who also live in Guizhou province and who are officially considered to be a sub-group within the Miao. This piece mainly consists of outlines stitched with fine and very regular chain stitches. There is also some back stitch and some satin stitch visible.
This piece of clothing (called 'braces' in the description) was also embroidered by the Ge people. It is again covered with very regular chain stitches and interspersed with satin stitches. The regularity of both pattern and stitching is absolutely stunning!
The last piece on display was an embroidered shawl made by the Miao. The geometric pattern is based on an old song and represents flower beds. The stitching is entirely done in a form of long-armed cross-stitch.
This is even a better close-up of the flower bed pattern. The movement created with the stitching is absolutely sublime! Keep staring at it and see how many different patterns you are able to see :).
Book review: One Needle, One Thread: Miao (Hmong) embroidery and fabric piecework from Guizhou, China
I was given this lovely book about ethnic embroidery from China by the lady who organised my teaching trip to China last year. This book on an interesting topic has a rather special and highly pleasing visual concept as well. Although it is not your classic project book, the step-by-step photographs and descriptions mean you can easily recreate particular stitches and patterns. Especially for those of you who are already adept at wielding a needle, there is a lot of 'new stuff' in this book which will make your hands itch.
The book is written by Dr. Tomoko Torimaru, a Japanese woman who studied Chinese textiles at the University of Shanghai, China. She is the daughter and research-associate of her mother Dr. Sadae Torimaru. Together they have studied the textile traditions of the Miao and related ethnic groups for many decades. They are both well-known and respected textile researchers and deserve to be more widely known among Western embroiderers as well. Full details of the book: Torimaru, T., 2008: One Needle, One Thread: Miao (Hmong) embroidery and fabric piecework from Guizhou, China, University of Hawai'i Art Gallery, ISBN: 978-1-60702-173-5.
And this is what a typical two-spread from the book looks like. Many detailed pictures with explanatory text. In this particular case, the darning stitch is worked from the back in order to protect the finished embroidery. One needs great skill to not make a mistake when carrying threads or otherwise the pattern on the front will show a mistake. There are several embroidery techniques detailed in the book where the embroideress works from the back to avoid soiling the finished embroidery.
Throughout the book, you will learn about the myriad ways of pattern design and transfer. I am blown away by the fact that some paper-template cutters are so skilled that they do not need to make an outline drawing prior to cutting ... There are also many 'recipes' in the book for making starch and thread conditioner from local plants. You'll be amazed at how often the silk threads for embroidery are conditioned to behave during embroidery. I am always quite reluctant to use thread heaven or the like on my silk threads. I usually talk them into submission (with various degrees of success, I must admit).
Another thing I was reminded by when reading the book from cover to cover, is how ingenious people are. We can be one heck of a clever naked ape! For the Miao, embroidering their folk costumes is typically done in between other tasks. When waiting or tending the family, for instance. There's often no ergonomic position to be had or good lighting. Slate frames or hoops for perfect tension? How about using your knees and thighs instead? And it is almost always an activity you'll share with other females. Knowledge transferred from mother to daughter. Underlining and taking pride in one's ethnic identity one peaceful stitch at a time!
Last week, I showed you the vestments from the 17th and 18th century on display at the Dommuseum in Fulda. This week we will have a look at the medieval ones. Although the lighting was much better in this part of the exhibition, the glass of the showcases posed a huge problem when photographing the pieces. And to make matters worse, the warden revoked my permission to photograph. Nevertheless, I have a hand-full of nice pictures of very high-end goldwork and silk embroidery to share with you!
First up are two pictures of an embroidered cross which would have adorned a chasuble. These embroideries were so precious, that they were mostly re-used on a new vestment when the old one was worn. In this case, the embroidery is a little special: it is raised embroidery. We often associate stumpwork embroidery with 17th-century England. In this case, however, the embroidery was done around 1500. The exact provenance was not stated, but these stumpwork embroideries were all made in the German-speaking parts of Europe. The most exquisite examples can be found in Mariazell, Austria. Here the figures stand about 3 cm proud of the background fabric!
In the detail picture above, one can clearly see that the faces of both Peter and Jesus are padded. Jesus's ribcage is defined with a piece of string padding. The whole figure of Jesus seems to be somewhat padded. And the flesh-coloured fabric looks quite stiff and a bit like paper or vellum.
And here we have two depictures of God from two different late-medieval chasuble crosses. Unfortunately, no further information was displayed for these two. Or maybe I forgot to take a picture ... I quite like these two. The clouds remind me somewhat of Chinese embroidery on the imperial Dragon Robes.
Last up are these two. They are chasuble crosses embroidered around 1480. No provenance is given. These two caught my eye as the embroidery techniques used are quite different from the other vestments on display. No or nue here; the figures are stitched in silk using long-and-short stitch.
In this detail shot, you can see what I mean. No or nue for the figures here. Instead, there is meticulous tapestry shading on the clothing (i.e. silk shading strict vertically instead of naturally). And the couching patterns for the goldwork threads in the background are so full of movement and quite different from the strict geometrical patterns seen in the late-medieval vestments from the Low Countries.
I had a strange feeling that I had seen this before. And luckily for me, my mind sometimes does a good job :). Instead of needing to go through my thousands of pictures taken at museums, I knew at which museum I had seen this: the Diözesanmuseum Brixen, Italy.
This late-15th-century (same date as the one from Fulda!) chasuble cross has a similar couched background. And most of the figures are stitched in tapestry shading rather than or nue (Mary being a notable exemption). So maybe the chasuble cross held at the Dommuseum Fulda has a more southern origin?
Being able to make these connections only works when I am allowed to take pictures. As lighting conditions or the way things are exhibited often do not permit studying the embroidery with the naked eye, my pictures are a great help. The camera is able to pick up details even when lighting is poor. I can zoom while taking a picture and again when looking at my pictures on the computer. Applying filters will tell me even more about the way things were made. It is therefore always very sad when the taking of pictures is not permitted. As long as you do not use flash (or use another source of light such as your phone!), you are not damaging the exhibits. And me taking pictures of the exhibits as is, has other benefits too. I don't need to make an official appointment for which museum staff needs to 'host' me (they have better things to do) and I don't need to handle the exhibits either.
Some museums argue that by taking photographs and publishing them in a blog or on social media will mean fewer people will actually visit the museum. Really? I have the sneaking feeling that more people will visit a museum when they know what is on show. Especially museums with a wide range of exhibits of which textiles are only a small portion. The museum's website often does not specifically state that there are gorgeous embroideries on display (they are a somewhat neglected category, especially when in competition with bling made of precious metals) which might interest the curious embroiderer. And I know that several of my readers have visited museums which featured in my blogs. I have been guilty of doing the same. Maybe we should start mentioning these things to staff on duty when visiting a museum after reading a blog or seeing a picture on social media. What do you think?
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Dommuseum in Fulda. I knew from their website that they had at least some embroidered vestments. Little did I know that they had quite a lot of them! And when I asked if I would be allowed to take pictures, the clerk on duty said that he didn't mind me taking pictures. Unfortunately, he was quite a character and rather unpleasant. Half-way through the exhibition, he told me to stop photographing. No reason was given. Lucky for you and me, I had been able to take quite a few pictures before I was told to stop :). Enjoy the bling ...
The above short video was shot with my phone. What you see here is one of the rooms where the vestments are shown. There are several of these large displays. They are reserved for the 'younger' vestments dating to the Baroque and Rococo (17th and 18th century). The vestments are shown in a kind of altar setting interspersed with other liturgical objects. Sets of matching liturgical vestments (cope, chasuble and dalmatic) are grouped together. As you can see the lighting is rather sparse. And the fact that most pieces are placed at a distance from the glass wall, makes studying them almost impossible. The written information was mostly limited to the name of the vestment, the date and the person who paid for it or for whom it was made. Not ideal for the curious embroideress! That said: the dim light and the 'scenic' placement of the vestments did give a good idea of how these gold embroidered vestements would have sparkled all those centuries ago. And that is an impression not many of us get to see nowadays. After all, how likely would it be to sit in a church service in the semi-dark (safety hazard!) with enough senior clergymen present (they are thinly spread these days!) that a full set of these antique vestments (museum people in uproar!) can be worn?
And this is a picture of the same display made with my Canon digital camera (no flash, just a very steady hand). On the far left, you'll see a yellow cope behind a yellow dalmatic and maniple. They belong to the so-called Harstallscher Goldornat made in 1802 for the last Prince-Bishop of Fulda Adalbert von Harstall (1737-1814). The vestments are made of silk and gold brocade with some goldwork embroidery.
Prominently in the middle of the picture are some red vestments. From the left: chasuble, stola, cope, palla, bursa, pink chasuble, pink stola and dalmatic. They belong to the so-called Roter Schleiffrasornat made in 1702 for Prince-Bishop Adalbert von Schleiffras (1650-1714). It is the oldest complete set of vestments in the museum. The vestments are made of silk and heavily decorated with goldwork embroidery.
Detail of the cope hood of the Roter Schleiffrasornat.
And this exquisite piece of goldwork embroidery can be found on the hood of the cope belonging to the Weisser Buseckscher Ornat made in 1748 for the Prince-Bishop Amand von Buseck (1685-1756). The fact that Amand was very good at drawing and a sponsor of the arts is probably reflected in the high quality of the padded goldwork on his vestments.
Amongst all the bling I discovered what looks like a 17th-century casket of some sorts. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't take decent pictures of it. And there was no information on the piece either. But since I know that there are several 'casketeers' reading my blog, I am including it here anyway.
That's quite enough bling for today me thinks! Although it is quite difficult to see the beautiful goldwork embroidery up close due to the way the pieces are presented, the museum is well worth a visit and even a detour when you are in the area. Especially as they have some even greater embroidered treasures dating to the Middle Ages. But that's for another blog post ...
Before we dive into some gorgeous embroidery art, I have a favour to ask. The past two weeks I have worked hard on some ideas to promote my studio locally. The best way to do that is to collaborate with others. And one of these fellow power-women is Valia Dikova of 'Oberammergau Erleben'. She writes a lovely blog about all things interesting in Oberammergau. Can you please click the link to help her generate more traffic to her blog? That would be awesome!
And now on to embroidery related stuff. As you probably know, I am a member of the Fiber Art Network. Not only do they sent informative newsletters once a week, but they also produce the magazine 'Fiber Art Now'. Periodically, I peruse the latest issues to search for embroidery art which captivates me. Here are my latest discoveries:
Sherrell Cuneo's 'Mourning Gown' was selected for the exhibition Excellence in Fibers IV in the category wearables. It immediately caught my eye as the gown has a LOT of hand-stitched lettering on it. It says things like: 'Ending', 'extinct mammals' & 'August 12, 1883'. The dress chronicles the more recent extinction of species. This is what Sherrell writes on her website about the Mourning Gown:
"The Mourning Gown is a simple gown with incredibly long sleeves and a hem, seen from above, in the shape of an equal armed cross. It is made of old muslin with somewhat tattered dagged edges. Encircling the neck it reads “She cries as each dies…” There are thoughts on extinction, the definition of the word ending, the lyrics to Moondog’s ‘All Is Loneliness’, and a circle dance prayer at the womb. But mostly it is an ongoing list of the names of relatively recent extinctions. I have tried to separate somewhat taxonomically. It has occurred to me that in embroidering a name I am perhaps spending more time on some of these species than has been spent in a very long time."
She adds in the magazine: 'The gown will be done when all of the dress is covered, as the extinctions continue to go on at an alarming rate'. Very thought provoking indeed! You can also find Sherrell on Instagram @sewtheseeds
Although not embroidery, the colourful work of Bisa Butler really captured my eye! There is so much to see in each of her quilts. They are so full of life. Bisa uses old black-and-white photographs to make her compositions. Each piece is extensively researched and incorporates aspects of her own multi-racial background. Enjoy exploring her work at her Instagram account @bisabutler.
Inclusion in the craft world, mostly meaning also using people of colour or with a disability in promotion, has been a topic in the English-speaking world for some time now. Contrary, I am unaware of similar discussion in either the Netherlands or Germany. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed looking at the pictures Mary Corbet published in a recent blog post regarding an embroidery book for kids. Amongst white kids, there were kids of colour proudly showing their projects. And even the diagrams showed fingers of colour. How cool is that?! But when I prepared my large stash of vintage embroidery yarn for sale, I found a stark reminder of how different things were not that long ago ...
Amongst the far too many vintage coton a broder (Vierfachgarn) skeins in my ridiculously large stash, was one skein that stood out like a sore thumb: Neger Glanzstickgarn Nr. 25, 40m. The logo is that of a negro man with rays of sunlight. Although my collection includes a lot of obscure and now extinct brands of embroidery yarn, I had never before come across this particular brand. Time to ask Google :).
And this is what Google replied: the Neger brand of embroidery yarn was produced from 1901 till 1950 in the Negergarn (= negro yarn) factory of the Gebrüder Wolf in Neukirchen über Crimmitschau in Saxony, Germany. During the times of the DDR, this factory became part of the VEB (Vereinigte Baumwollspinnereien und Zwirnereien = Cooperation of cotton spinners and pliers) which ceased to exist in 1991. You can find pictures of the factory and many different old labels on this excellent website. And here you'll find a vintage alphabet cross-stitch pattern for Negergarn as a free download. Typing 'Negergarnfabrik' into Google will find you many vintage patterns for sale. Just like Anchor and DMC do till this day, the Gebrüder Wolf too published patterns which would go with the yarn they produced.
Using Africans or Asians to promote a certain brand was done to certify that the particular goods were something exotic. After all, how many people of colour did the average white person came into contact with in the first half of the 20th century? This type of ethnic-branding was not at all frowned upon. How different that would be nowadays. Just imagine 'House of Embroidery' sporting an African in its logo ...
Even harder to stomach for us enlightened people of the 21st century, is the fact why the Gebrüder Wolf promoted their colourfast Negergarn with a negro man: Just like negroes wouldn't lose their colour when they wash, this yarn wouldn't wash out either. Thank goodness this is unthinkable for DMC or Anchor today!
Those who follow me on Instagram @jessicagrimmartembroidery will have seen that I am #stashbusting. Over the past years, I have collected way more vintage embroidery yarn than I (or my students) can ever use up. That's why I have decided to part with most of them! You will find these vintage skeins of coton a broder (Vierfachgarn) in my webshop. Each skein costs €1,75 and I ship worldwide. Postage starts at €3,70.
Last week, I and my husband, my parents and my younger sister with husband and two kids met up in Lauterbach for a family holiday. I quickly realised that this is 'little red riding hood country'. Apparently, my namesakes the brothers Grimm were inspired by the embroidered little red caps of the Schwalm folklore dress worn by young girls. A small, but dedicated museum with lots of Schwalm embroidery can be found in nearby Schwalmstadt. And since so many of you live too far away to go visit, I am happy to take you there by means of this blog! Let's start with the red caps ...
For most embroiderers, Schwalm embroidery is a whitework technique. We will get to that in a moment. Let's start with the more colourful embroidered pieces of the Schwalm folk dress. As you can see in the pictures above, there are not only red caps (Betzel in the local dialect). The colour depends on the age and marital status of the female wearer. Red is only worn by girls before they get married. The embroidery on the caps consists of satin stitch over cardboard padding. Making these cut cardboards was a special craft and usually performed by man. Similar to the prickings made for Appenzell embroidery; that's men's business too. No wonder these crafts disappeared as soon as they were no longer economically viable ...
The Ecken (squares) are embroidered in the same style. These extra decorations were worn on feast days over the apron on the hips. The stomachers are also embroidered the same way. As are some bits of the highly decorative endings of the bands which keep the caps in place. These also sport elaborate needlelace. And last but not least, highly decorative garters. All the above pictures show folk dress items from the 18th till the 20th century. Those pieces also sporting goldwork embroidery, are at the later end of the spectrum.
Let's end our trip to the museum with some beautiful 'typical' Schwalm embroidery in white. The Schwalm whitework does incorporate a little colour every now and then. And some pieces where actually dyed with indigo blue or even dyed black. All depending on the age of the wearer and the occasion. Male and female blouses were typically decorated with this type of embroidery. As are very fine and highly decorated handkerchiefs. And bedlinen. Probably not practical, but boy I want one!
The museum also has modern Schwalm embroidery on display. Many pieces are even for sale. They also organise special exhibitions every other year. The beautiful catalogues of the past exhibitions can be obtained in the museum shop. And best of all: they sell antique linen. And they have a whole big cupboard full of the stuff. I was really good and only bought about four meters :). Two different qualities and rather fine. Someday they will inspire me to a beautiful whitework piece!
P.S. Please visit Luzine Happel's blog if you would like to know more on Schwalm embroidery and Schwalm folk dress. Make yourself a cuppa and prepare for a fall down the rabbit hole ...
I and my husband had a most lovely trip to Cheb (German: Eger) in the Czech Republic. The local museum houses a spectacular medieval bead embroidery: the Egerer Antependium. Although the museum is closed to the general public due to renovations, Alena Koudelkova kindly agreed to show us around. Check my previous blog post if you want to read the story on how I discovered this gem of a medieval embroidery.
The Egerer Antependium measures 2,18 m by 90 cm and was probably made by the Poor Clares of Cheb in the early 14th century (it is a staggering 700 years old!). There are two identical rows with ten saints. Each saint is framed by two columns topped by an arcade. For easy identification, the name of the saint is stitched into the column and the arcade. The bottom row shows (from left): John the Evangelist, James son of Zebedee, James son of Alphaeus, Margaret the Virgin, Mary of Intercession, Jesus (who blesses Mary to his left), Agnes of Rome, Saint Cecilia, Cunigunde of Luxembourg and Saint Ursula. The row above shows: the Archangel Gabriel visiting the Virgin Mary, Agatha of Sicily, Mary with the six-year-old Jesus, Clare of Assisi, Mary Queen of Heaven with baby Jesus, Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Lucy, Saint Barbara and Saint Bibiana. The columns-arcade-frames measure 35 cms in height. The figures themselves are about 28 cms in height.
The iconography of this piece supports the thesis that the Poor Clares of Cheb were the embroiderers of this Antependium. For starters: it is very female heavy :). The Virgin Mary is represented four times. She is accompanied by other holy virgins (Margaret, Barbara & Catherine as well as Agnes, Lucy & Cecilia). Clare of Assisi is the founder of the Poor Clares and therefore prominently displayed in the middle of the Antependium. Agatha and Ursula often accompany Clare of Assisi. Cunigunde of Luxembourg is especially venerated in the diocese of Bamberg to which Eger belonged. Bibiana possibly refers to a local veneration or to the sponsor of this piece. Furthermore, in the lower left corner, we see John the Evangelist celebrating mass with the two Jameses as supporting diacons. Especially John the Evangelist was widely venerated by nuns in the High Middle Ages.
There is a third row sitting above the previous two rows. This smaller row, a mere 16 cms in height, comprises of the busts of Mary and Jesus flanked by the twelve Apostles. It is quite possible that this row is of a later date. The busts were probably originally silk and goldwork embroideries on linen. The embroidered parts were then covered with paint (I've seen another medieval example in Vilnius, Lithuania). The busts were then cut out and placed on top of the beaded halos. Each bust is alternated with beaded floral motives. A possible later date is supported by the fact that the beads in this row a slightly darker and the metal decorations of a different type.
As there are no contemporary written sources, the dating of the piece is mainly based on stylistic grounds. Several of the iconographic scenes are first seen during the mid- to late 13th century. But also the style of the figures themselves discloses the period this piece was likely made. Some of the figures are somewhat stiff and depicted frontally (the Jameses and Clare) whereas most others are depicted more life-like with garments full of movement as was the norm in the later Gothic period. The piece as a whole breathes the strict order of the older Romanesque style.
Probably originally made for the chapel of the Poor Clares of Cheb, situated in the Franciscan Church of the Ascension, the Antependium did not stay there. When the Poor Clares got their own church in 1465, they probably gifted the Antependium to the St. Jodok church in Cheb where it stayed until it was transferred to the newly opened museum of Cheb in 1874. Major restorations have transformed the Antependium somewhat. The last one took place in 1928 by Sr. Virginia Erhart of the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Cheb. She worked under close supervision of the County Conservator. It took her over a year to take the beaded applications off the red silk backing from the Baroque period. All beads were cleaned and re-strung when necessary. Then the beaded applications were re-applied to a red silk backing re-enforced by linen. During an earlier restoration, the writing between the first and the second row had already been muddled up and so doesn't make sense anymore.
The beaded applications consist of strung beads couched onto vellum. This is clearly seen in those places where the beads are now missing. Sometimes even glimpses of the blue design lines can be seen. The order of work likely has been that firstly those contours were couched. Then the metal decorations were applied before the whole design element was filled with more couched beads. The colour palette is quite restricted with blue, green and white beads being the main colours. Black beads are used sparingly as are the red coral beads and the real gold beads. The size of the beads is remarkably uniform and mainly seems to correspond to a modern bead-size 11. The beads of the face of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus are real freshwater pearls.
These kinds of bead embroideries are very rare. This is due to the fact that their raw material was precious and could easily be recycled. Their origin lies in the pearl embroideries from Byzantium which were made since the 6th century. The idea came to Central Europe in the 9th century through Charlemagne with his contacts to the court of Byzantium. Glass beads were produced in Venice since 1200 AD and they started to supersede the real pearls from the 13th century onwards. These beads had to be imported from Venice well into the 14th century when local production took over (especially in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic). In turn, bead embroidery was superseded by silk embroidery in the 15th century. On the one hand, while beaded embroideries where quite heavy and impractical (in effect, the Egerer Antependium consists of many small embroideries forming a larger piece) and on the other hand while the Renaissance demanded ever more realistic and life-like depictions which couldn't easily be achieved with beads.
Siegl, K. (1929): Das Egerer Antependium, Unser Egerland, pp. 80-81.
Tietz- Strödel, M. (1992): Das Egerer Antependium. In: L. Schreiner (ed.), Kunst in Eger, pp. 248-258.
P.S.: This research was partly sponsored by a most generous PayPal-donation of one of my dear readers. If you like what you read on this blog and you can spare some small change, please consider making a donation via the PayPal button at the top of this page!
Jessica M. Grimm
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