Last year, I visited the CIETA conference in Switzerland and we made a field trip to the Bernisches Historisches Museum. It has a large permanent display of medieval textiles well worth a visit. One of the many beautiful pieces is a large two-part antependium made in Vienna around AD 1340-1350. It was gifted by Albert II, Duke of Austria (AD 1298-1358) to the abbey of Königsfelden (now in Switzerland) where his sister, Agnes of Austria (AD 1281-1364) resided. Very kind of him, indeed. It is a stunning piece of embroidery and very well preserved. Let's explore!
The antependium consists of a larger part (90 x 318 cm) with seven scenes from the life of Jesus. From left to right we see: Gethsemane, Christ in front of Pilate, Christ carrying the cross, Crucifixion, Ascension, Crowning of the Virgin and Christ in Majesty. And a smaller band (18 x 292 cm (cut)) with angels surrounding Mary and Jesus in the middle.
My personal favourite is this Ascension scene. I just love the naive way this is depicted in medieval art. And this is a particularly detailed depiction. We even have the footprints :).
The smaller band with the angels is really lovely. Two of the angels are playing string instruments. Two others are carrying what looks like a tall white candle. The rest is having a blast. They seem to dance and clap their hands to the music. They form a rich resource for anyone looking to work a medieval musical angel.
The embroidery itself is very fine. The under drawing on the linen is of high quality. The faces of the angels are worked in very fine directional split stitch in untwisted silk. The same technique is used in Opus anglicanum. The other parts of the angels are worked in slightly longer split stitches. Probably because they don't need to be as detailed as the faces. The noses seem to be a little bit padded. And I think they used a knotted stitch for the hair. And it seems that the silk in the halos is laid flat and then couched down. A few additional embellishments on the clothing are stitched in couched gold thread on top of the silk. The background is formed by couching down parallel rows of gold thread with a light-coloured silk. The diaper patterns are relatively simple for the angels but more elaborate for the scenes of the life of Jesus.
All in all, the embroidery reminds me a lot of the embroidery made in Bohemia at the same time. This isn't too surprising as Vienna and Prague are relatively close. The Habsburg rulers and the Bohemian kings were also related by marriage and fighting for supremacy in the region.
If you ever have the chance, do visit the Bernisches Historischen Museum in Bern, Switzerland. My Journeyman Patrons will have access to many more pictures of this gorgeous embroidery. Please note: I will take a two-week blogging pause whilst teaching for the Alpine Experience. A fresh blog post will go up on the 10th of July.
Schuette, M., Müller-Christensen, S., 1963. Das Stickereiwerk. Wasmmuth, Tübingen.
Stammler, J., 1891. Königsfelder Kirchenparamente im historischen Museum zu Bern, Berner Taschenbuch 40, p. 26-54.
Those of you who listen to the FiberTalk podcast will probably know that Gary and Beth have this thing going whereby they are not adding to their stash until June next year. Some (most?) of their listeners are predicting that their resolve will crumble very soon. I am of a different opinion. I think that they will last. They will just add another exception to their already very long list of exceptions:). And as always, they have no problem coming up with ways in which we, their loyal listeners, can spend our money. In my case, on a membership of the EGA. I was a Member at Large many years ago, but this wasn't really what I was looking for. I was missing out on connecting with a local chapter. Thanks to the pandemic and some promotion on FiberTalk, I am now a happy virtual member of the Day Lilies chapter in Medina, Ohio. I think this might be a solution for others too, so let me explain how it works.
For years, I have tried to set up stitching groups both in my native Netherlands and, once I moved, here in Germany. To no avail. Some ran for a while and then faltered as the commitment to travel, make time or spent a little bit of money was just not there. At other times, people just did not get along with each other and I had to dissolve the group. However, I very much like to stitch and chat! So, when Beth mentioned that some EGA chapters now offer Zoom meetings, I wondered if that could be the solution for me. After all, the EGA has been going for a while and has a strong structure in place. No inventing the wheel here. I contacted EGA and they were very helpful in helping me find a chapter with hybrid meetings at a time that's compatible with my time zone. I also preferred a small town/rural chapter as that would match better with where I live (a small village with 725 inhabitants).
Last Thursday, I attended my very first 'local' chapter meeting. About 18 members live in the Medina library, two members Zooming in from Georgia and me Zooming in from Germany. Chapter President Angelia moderated us through the meeting and carried us through the room so that it really felt like we were there too. I did a quick screenshot to show you what that looked like. I made sure that Marie from Georgia ducked, and all others are only recognisable when you know them. It is just me staring into the camera like a deer into the headlights :). It turns out that another relatively new member has better cameras which we can use next time to make the experience even better. We are going to try that out on Thursday 13th of July during our Stitch in Public Day at the Medina Library. I will be there too; on a screen.
Apart from meeting so many other stitchers, I also got to participate in a blackwork project. Bonnie, a Master Craftsman and member of my chapter, taught her blackwork daffodil design. This was the perfect opportunity for me to try my hand at something new. Yes, I had done blackwork before for my RSN Certificate and I have taught it many times for the RSN, but that's different. This time, I could play.
First of all, I changed the colours. I had never tried blackwork in colour and was wondering what that would look like. Furthermore, the way blackwork is taught at the RSN is very specific and not historically correct. Bonnie's approach is much more in line with historical blackwork. At first, this new approach was very hard for me to get my head around! In the instructions, Bonnie provides a sequence of diagrams that would make up a single blackwork filling pattern. You work layers of darning patterns on top of each other and that makes the pattern. At the RSN, you get a diagram of the complete pattern, and you are told to stitch that as economically as you can with as few 'wandering' threads on the back as you can. Not having a 'complete' diagram to work off was very hard for me at first. But it provided me with an alternative way of how to teach somebody how to 'read' these patterns. Not all students see the best stitching paths when confronted with a traditional diagram. And this is exactly why I still take classes and work kits. There is always something new to discover!
When I started my embroidery business many years ago, freshly out of the Royal School of Needlework, I simply continued to use the materials they use there. It was very convenient. I was familiar with the product, and I knew where to get it. After a while, I discovered products I liked better and so started to swap things out as and when needed. When the catastrophe of BREXIT became final in 2021, I needed to find even more replacements for 'typical' British products or pay 19% extra tax + a customs handling fee. One of the last products I have so far not found a replacement for is pounce powder. Theoretically, you could make your own from drawing charcoal (white chalk powder is easily available in a good art store). Practically, though, it is very messy, and you might end up with a black powder that smudges your white embroidery fabrics when you apply the baby brush to brush the excess off. Not good. So, I still ordered my pounce from Sarah Homfray. However, she has been having supply problems herself. Time to find an alternative. And no, it won't be an aqua trick marker :).
To my surprise, there is a small family business in Germany that has been making and selling pounce since 1876! That's like since dinosaurs roamed the earth. The only drawback: there's no black. They do white, light blue, yellow and red. I decided to order the white and the blue. On their website, the blue looks rather dark. In real life, it is VERY light baby blue (DMC 3747). Main question: is the pounce suitable for the prick-and-pounce method? Let's run a few experiments!
For my experiment, I used a small pricking from my collection. Pinned it to 46 ct linen that's on my slate frame at the moment. Rubbing the pounce through was not a problem. It made nice small dots on my fabric. Although the blue is very light, I found the dots easy to see. I was working in front of my window: no direct sunlight and no additional artificial light either. I used some iron gall ink for part of the design and some watercolour paint for the rest. The ink was nicely inhibited by the pounce so that it didn't spread. The only blobs are actually in the area where there was no pounce dot. The pounce also worked well with the paint. Overall, I had the impression that my brush did not clog up as much as it does with charcoal pounce.
Once the paint had dried, I brushed the excess pounce off with a baby brush. The pounce was easy to brush off and it did not leave a trace on the fabric. The design lines are crisp and easy to work with. I think I have found myself a new favourite pounce! How historically accurate coloured pounce is, is difficult to say. We know about the white (chalk/burnt bone) and the black (charcoal). And possibly a yellow. Unfortunately, not much research has been done on the actual materials used in the Middle Ages. I did not yet experiment with the white pounce as it looks and feels exactly the same as the white pounces I already have.
The pounce powder comes in a box with 10x 100 gr bags in one colour. Most stitchers won't go through a kilo of pounce in their stitching lives. Besides, you probably want more than one colour. Maybe order as a group? Or see if they are willing to sell a combi-pack where you get a 100 gr bag of each of the four colours? Although I could see the light-blue dots perfectly well, I am going to order a box of the red and the yellow pounce as well. If those colours behave as well as the blue did, I will see if they are open to selling specifically to embroiderers and doing the combi-pack. It is probably a market they have not thought of. By the way, their pounce is normally sold for those puff machines with which you encircle a person wearing a skirt that's too long and needs shortening.
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