As I am originally from the Netherlands and learned to do goldwork at the Royal School of Needlework in London, I was, until a couple of years ago, not very familiar with all the medieval goldwork embroidery that has survived in Germany. There is a lot! But it is sadly almost always published in German. Not very accessible for the worldwide embroidery community or indeed embroidery researchers from outside of Germany. The German embroidery community is very small and mainly interested in cross-stitch and whitework. I am thus sometimes a bit at a loss for whom these magnificent German publications were actually written. They are often full of very technical details. Things makers want to know, not necessarily your average archaeologist or (art) historian. Last year, I uncovered another one of these brilliant publications on the textile finds from the imperial and episcopal graves of Speyer Cathedral. Let me introduce you to some pretty amazing pieces!
Firstly, we have the mantle of Philip of Swabia (1177-1208) made in the last quarter of the 12th or the early 13th century. On it are two medallions with goldwork embroidery. One shows Christ, the other Mary. The mantle's fabric and probably also the embroideries came from Byzantium. Philip had married Irene Angelina (1181-1208), a daughter of Byzantine emperor Isaac II Angelos (1156-1204). He thus had easy access to textile products from Byzantium. The embroidery is executed on a piece of fine samite with silk and gold threads. The goldwork is quite fine with about 40 parallel threads per centimetre. Interestingly, the gold threads are couched in normal surface couching, apart from the turns. These are done in underside couching (for instance also seen in the Reitermantle in Bamberg (DMB Inv.Nr. 3.3.0003)).
For years, this combination of normal surface couching with a turn in underside couching eluded me. Why did they do that? When it came up in a discussion with Cindy Jackson recently, she immediately came up with a perfectly logical explanation: the turn is neater/easier. I had never thought of that. Although I know that many people struggle with making neat turns, I never found them hard or daunting to do. Doing an underside couching stitch with silk comes with the risk of breaking your couching thread. However, I perfectly understand that it is probably worth the risk when turns are not your forte. Mystery solved!
Another spectacular find is a pair of episcopal socks from one of the bishop's graves. The embroidery is completely executed in underside couching. It is therefore possible that these luxury socks were made in England around the year 1200. However, as we have seen in the contemporary mantle of Philip of Swabia, the underside couching technique was by no means exclusively practised in England. My gut feeling is that underside couching = Opus anglicanum = England is sometimes a little too eagerly applied for goldwork embroidery found in continental Europe.
Apart from describing the original excavations in the early 20th century, the publication also has very good chapters on medieval textile techniques (weaving, finger looping and tablet weaving). Another chapter compares the finds from Speyer with contemporary finds from elsewhere. The chapters on the scientific investigations of the finds are also very good with a whole chapter on the gold threads. If you are interested in archaeological textiles (some with goldwork embroidery), this book is for you. As the book is a little older, you can sometimes find it second-hand. However, you might be able to get it through a library.
Herget, M., 2011: Des Kaisers letzte Kleider. Neue Untersuchungen zu den organischen Funden aus den Herrschergräbern im Dom zu Speyer, Historisches Museum der Pfalz Speyer.
Quite a while ago, I filmed myself setting up a small slate frame. When I started filming the instructional videos for the 2023 Glentleiten workshop, I finally came around to editing the old video and uploading it. The older video is in English and shows you how to apply a piece of linen to your slate frame. The newer video is in German and goes a step beyond the linen. It shows you how to sew a piece of silk onto your linen. Even if your German isn't very good or non-existent, you will probably still understand the procedure when you first watch the English video. I hope these videos give you a good impression of my teaching style and the teaching materials I provide for embroidery courses and workshops. Please enjoy!
Apart from my passion for medieval goldwork embroidery, I am also interested in all kinds of folk embroidery. I particularly like the geometric cross-stitch patterns of Fallahi embroidery found in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Palestine. A couple of years ago, I bought my first vintage Bedouin dress from Egypt and last year, I bought a second one from the same source:). I love dissecting these dresses and their very colourful patterns! And since I was without a proper internet connection for so long after we moved house in November, transcribing the cross-stitch patterns was one of the few things I could do as the software does not require an internet connection. So, let's unravel the mystery of another vintage Bedouin dress!
The dress, or thob, is 130 cm long and measures 125 cm across the arms. The dress originates in the Sinai (Egypt) and was once worn by an adult Bedouin woman. The satin stitched dark-blue hem differentiates the dress from Palestinian village dresses that do not sport such a hem. The Bedouin travelling lifestyle and the fact that this geographical area has seen a lot of political upheavals makes attributing precise provenance to the dress impossible. Over time, too much mixing has happened. However, certain characteristics do point to the Western part of the Northern Sinai, possibly Al-Qantara: wide neck opening, the use of many bright colours in simple geometric patterns of which some are based on the carnation.
The dress has been patched many times. Especially in the cuff area. These dresses took a long time to decorate and were thus highly valued. Instead of throwing them away when they were worn, they were repeatedly patched. Recycling, upcycling and mending are usually the norm in pre-industrial societies.
As most of you know, embroidering on black fabric is really hard. Especially for older eyes :). Therefore, the Bedouin women tacked a piece of waste canvas onto the black cotton satin or polyester fabric. In the picture above, you can see a few white canvas threads left in the embroidery.
The cross-stitch patterns and bright colour combinations found on the vintage Bedouin dress are perfect for decorating needle booklets, pincushions and the like. I used three of the five patterns found on the dress to make a small needle booklet and a cute biscornu. For the stitching, I matched the original floss colours to the closest DMC stranded cotton equivalent. My fabric is a piece of 40 ct natural coloured Zweigart linen (I dyed some black in my washing machine).
You can find a 39-page eBook with more pictures and all embroidery charts of the five geometric patterns, three loose elements and a decorative border in my webshop. Due to the fact that I am legally forbidden to sell to UK residents (with the exception of Northern Ireland), the eBook is not a direct download. However, after receiving your order, I will try to send it to you via WeTransfer as quickly as possible. Please keep in mind that I might be in a very different time zone than you are; I do tend to sleep from time to time :). When you decide to embroider the patterns from the eBook, please share your endeavours on Mastodon!
Happy New Year! May it be filled with lots of exciting embroidery adventures. And I can help you with that :). Below you will find details of two embroidery workshops I am organising this year. I have also returned to Social Media. Thanks to Elon Musk and his imperial behaviour on Twitter, I became aware of Mastodon. It is a social network but not as we know it from Meta. It is federated, has no algorithm and you have total control over your data and privacy. How do they do it? Quite simple. Mastodon is a non-profit and its software is open-source. The tone is very friendly and I have already met a few amazing embroiderers and embroidery artists. Most of them are new to me as the tribe on Mastodon is generally a bit different from the Meta tribe. So, if you share my concerns about privacy, Meta's threats to democracy and are generally fed up with an ever-changing algorithm, why not try Mastodon? You can find me here. I'll post pictures of what I am currently stitching. But I will also boost other interesting embroidery posts to make more people aware of this amazing artform.
After last year's successful embroidery workshop in Glentleiten, the museum and I decided to do it again this year. During the first weekend of August, we will again turn one of the historic buildings into a medieval embroidery workshop. This time, I will teach you how to recreate a golden bird inspired by the 11th-century Wolfgang chasuble. You will learn how to transfer the design and work on a professional slate frame. The actual goldwork embroidery consists of a few simple stitches (split stitch, stem stitch and couching) and is ideally suited for beginners. More advanced embroiderers can hone their skills in free-hand couching patterns. More information and how to sign up can be found here.
As Germany is quite a large country, I am slowly trying to find fitting workshop venues in other parts of the country. I am delighted to have been invited to teach at the Cathedral Treasury Museum in Halberstadt. Their medieval textiles collection on permanent display is probably the largest in Europe. We will be sitting in the medieval cloisters right next to the collection. This gives us ample opportunity to compare our own work with that of the medieval embroidery masters. During the workshop, you will learn three couching techniques which are commonly seen in medieval goldwork embroidery. You will also learn how to set up a professional slate frame. More details and information on how to book can be found here.
By now, you will probably have noticed that I am passionate about the use of quality embroidery tools and materials. Especially the use of a professional slate frame is something I am now adamant about. Why? Because I have seen some pretty ugly things happening outside the Royal School of Needlework. Ignorant me thought that all seasoned embroiderers would work on slate frames as soon as they tackled serious embroidery. That's how I was taught at the RSN. Especially for the full-coverage goldwork embroidery I usually teach, the good old slate frame simply rules. Just before the pandemic hit, I was made to teach my orphreys on a cheap roller frame. It wasn't fun. You need drum-taut fabric that stays that way for a long time. Roller frames and the like can't do that. Hoops can't either. That's why I now provide each of my students with a 12-inch slate frame from Jenny Adin-Christie. Together with a Lowery stand and a magnifier lamp, it forms the perfect workstation for my mobile classroom. Hope to see you in class soon!
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