In a bit to compensate people for the high energy prices, Germany offers regional transport tickets for only nine Euros per month during June, July and August. Apparently to get commuters out of their cars and into public transport. Good luck to those of us living rurally. For example, my husband. He works in Ettal. That's only 18 km from where we live. He starts work at 9:30h. Public transport can either get him there at 7:20h or 9:50h. He ends work at 17:30h. Last travel option 17:05h. My husband would be perfectly willing to have a public transport commute of 45 minutes instead of the usual 20 by car. However, he is simply unable to take up the offer as there is no public transport available. On the upside: I use my ticket to do a bit of research travelling! Yes, it takes a long time to paste regional trains together to get from the South of Germany to the North, but it is practically free. Besides, there are only regional trains running when you go from the South to the East on many routes. Something that was never fixed since the wall came down. You also need to be flexible as the trains are very crowded and there is no guarantee that you can be transported. So, what did I visit? Three of the most important medieval and Renaissance textile collections in the world. We'll kick off with two of them: Domschatz Halbertstadt and St. Annen Museum Lübeck.
My travels started off in Halberstadt. The cathedral treasury houses one of the most important cathedral treasures in Europe. It is probably also one of the museums with the largest permanent display of medieval textiles. Over 70 pieces, from luxurious patterned silks, to amazing goldwork embroidery to stunning whitework and huge tapestries, can be seen. There are only two major downsides: the level of lighting is so poor that you will have a hard time seeing the embroidery clearly. And secondly: you are not allowed to take pictures (which I doubt you can without flash anyway). Modern LED-lighting concepts for museums can allow for a better visitor experience but this costs money. Luckily, there is a beautiful publication (see literature list at the bottom of this post) which has beautiful colour pictures and detailed descriptions of about 60 pieces. It even contains many close-up pictures where you can literally see every stitch. There is also a full collection catalogue underway which will be published through the Abegg Stiftung. In my personal opinion, their publications are the gold standard when it comes to embroidered textiles.
When you are interested in medieval embroidery, the Domschatz Museum should be on your 'to visit list'. You can easily spend several hours here. I'll recommend that you come prepared and have read the below-mentioned publication. This way you'll have so much more information as the museum captions are rather anecdotal. For those of you who cannot visit in person, the museum website has an excellent digital tour. Click on 'menu' at the top right and choose between DE or EN for language. Then click on the door opening. Depending on your internet connection and your device, be patient while the application loads. Click on 'floor selector' bottom left and choose 'floor 2'. The textile rooms are on either side of the main structure. Left for the whitework and the tapestries and right for the embroidered vestments. Enjoy!
From Halberstadt, I travelled on to Lübeck in the North. That's almost 900 km from home :). The St Annen Museum is located in a former convent and also houses one of the most important textile church treasures in Europe. Due to the peculiarities of (recent) European history, Lübeck houses the treasury of St. Mary's church in Gdansk (formerly Danzig). For conservational reasons, only a tiny fraction is on display at a time (check the website to see which pieces). However, recently a complete collection catalogue was published (see literature list below). The texts are detailed, but could contain a bit more on the embroidery in most cases and not all pictures are as detailed as an embroiderer wishes. Nevertheless, it is a must-have addition on your shelves when you are into medieval (embroidered) textiles.
My main reason for visiting the St Annen Museum now, was that the cope hood with a stumpwork version of St Georg and his pet was on display. This stunning piece of stumpwork embroidery was made around AD 1500 in Northern Germany. Sorry for those of you who think that stumpwork is an English invention. It is not. It was invented on the continent a good 100 to 150 years before 17th-century English stumpwork was made. Due to language barriers and not much appreciation on the side of art historians, these pieces have not gotten the scholarly attention they deserve. St George and his pet are pretty high on my recreation wish list :). Unfortunately, the construction of his head needs the help of a specialist wood cutter and a lot of trial-and-error. But this is definitely something I want to tackle in the future!
Borkopp-Restle, B., 2019. Der Schatz der Marienkirche zu Danzig: Liturgische Gewänder und textile Objekte aus dem späten Mittelalter. Berner Forschungen zur Geschichte der textilen Künste Band 1. Didymos, Affalterbach.
Meller, H., Mundt, I., Schmuhl, B.E.H. (Eds.), 2008. Der heilige Schatz im Dom zu Halberstadt. Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg.
The 30 hours of teaching have come to an end at the Alpine Experience. One more fantastic dinner tonight and then my husband and I will drive back after breakfast tomorrow morning. All students have done a fantastic job and I am very proud of their progress. Or nue is both a very simple technique and one of the hardest things you can do. You start off swimming a bit (and I will let all able-bodied persons swim a bit, but not drown ;)) but when it clicks with you, you will have learned a skill for life. Or nue is a very versatile embroidery technique and I can't wait to see my students incorporate it into future projects (but please finish Elisabeth first!) and encourage others to learn the technique too. By the way, the scientific part of this course has yielded the first results. All students used the same pricking and the resulting inked outlines lay within 0.3 mm length-wise and 0,1 mm width-wise. This shows that when a medieval pricking and a preserved embroidery (the underlying ink drawing rather) are out by several millimetres, they likely do not belong together.
Here are the results of a week of hard work:
Today we had another full day of stitching at the Alpine Experience. The ladies were competing in a friendly race on who would be able to introduce the green silk first (Elisabeth has a red dress and a green mantle). Lots of laughter and bending of the rules :). We also had another visitor. After lunch, a beautiful red cat came walking in as though he totally owned the place.
As it is quite impossible to finish all of Elisabeth during the 30 hours of tuition at the Alpine Experience, students will have access to a set of instruction videos. They also have the choice of working Elisabeth in the same shades of silk that I have used, or they can colour match using this lovely collection of Chinese flat silk. In a couple of weeks (months?), we will all meet on Zoom to check in on progress and discuss any questions which might have come up.
Today we had a full day of stitching at the Alpine Experience. Interspersed with fabulous food made by Mark and served by Nadine. And we had a couple of interesting visitors. Firstly, Harry the lizard. He seems to like sunbathing on Cathryn's trestles. We are pretty sure that he sleeps in the couch at night :). As the Alpine Experience is situated in a beautiful area, most of us like to take walks after class to stretch after a whole day of sitting and to let our eyes rest on the horizon. There is a particularly lovely short walk through the forest to the next hamlet. Plenty of wildflowers and butterflies included. And some gorgeous old buildings and cottage gardens to admire. Today, I picked up a mildly lost man from Guadeloupe. We stroke up a conversation in English (with a bit of my broken French) on our concepts of God. And it was really quite amazing! He also asked if he could see our embroidery as his mum used to embroider. As you know from a previous post, my ladies are not averse to a beautiful male :). This kind soul was very impressed and thanked us for the wonderful opportunity and then continued on his walk. Les Carroz is a truly magical place!
Tomorrow, I'll show you Cathryn's version of Elisabeth; I took a picture of her piece at the wrong angle ...
After another wonderful breakfast with pain au chocolat at the Alpine Experience, we went to Annecy. This is a lovely medieval town with crooked streets, narrow passageways and lots of old buildings with lovely independent shops. One of these shops is a well-stocked needlework shop. The window display sported many stitched models of the famous French cross-stitch brand of 'Le bonheur des dames'. But they also had a huge selection of quilting fabrics and ribbons. And printed canvasses with Annecy town scenes. Now that makes for a lovely souvenir to take home!
Tomorrow, we will continue with our or nue. But having such a lovely break in good company was an excellent idea. We laughed so much about Nadine's stories and we nearly took one of the waiters home as a kind of a toy boy...
After a fabulous breakfast with hot croissants, it was time to start the or nue proper. By the end of the day, all ladies had a couple of rows in. Nobody cried and they seem to seriously enjoy themselves. We also had a lovely visit from a French couple passing by on foot. They were suitably impressed with our stitching. Here are a couple of pictures of today's class.
This week, I am teaching or nue at the Alpine Experience in France. I am joined by Cathryn, Eleanor, Jane, and Tricia from the UK, as well as Bolivia from the US and Caroline from Chile. They will recreate the orphrey figure of Elisabeth of Thuringia. The original can be found on a red dalmatic kept at the Museum Catharijneconvent (ABM t2093c). It was made in Amsterdam around AD 1510-1520. All students will share the same pricking and will try to copy the original. In my mind, this setting comes very close to medieval practice. This week, I'll try to blog daily about our progress and our stay at the Alpine Experience. No worries; you will not receive a daily newsletter. I will not spam you :).
The students did really well today. By the end of the day, they all had their slate frames dressed and their design inked onto their linen fabric. They also coloured a line drawing of Elisabeth. This makes you look real close at the original and will help with the actual stitching.
The workshop has these fantastic big windows with a spectacular view of the mountains. Magnifier lamps and trestles are available for student use as well.
And Mark and Nadine make sure that we do not go hungry nor thirsty :). The food is amazing. These blueberry muffins with a crumbly topping were just divine.
And I brought boxes full of coloured metal threads, silks and embroidery kits. You do not want your students to go home with an empty space in their suitcases :).
See you tomorrow for more Alpine Stitchyness!
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