Due to the pandemic, we won't do much travelling this year. However, I did want to visit at least one museum new to me that has some medieval embroidery on display. As my husband cannot get time off work due to, you guessed it, the pandemic, we decided to visit the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. It is huge, so we will need to return. This time we concentrated on the medieval embroidery on display. There's not much, but the pieces that are on display are rather magnificent!
What to think of this hairnet (Inv. Nr. GEW 2980) from the 13th-century? It was apparently found in the grave of a Hessian landgrave. Very fine filet embroidery on silk net.
Look at this reliquary pouch made in Trier around AD 993 (Inv. Nr. KG 562). It was my favourite piece on display. Extremely hard to photograph as it is placed on a glass plate above a mirror as the back looks very different. The pouch consists of silk fabric embroidered with metallic threads, metal shapes, glass, gemstones and silk threads. Unfortunately, it does not come across well in the pictures, but this piece has a real presence. It never ceases to amaze me how long ago these pieces were made and how well they have survived. It's like somebody blogging about St. Laurence in AD 3047 :).
This rather large piece of very fine silk embroidery on fine linen (Inv. Nr. GEW 2464) was probably used as an altar cloth or antependium. It shows Christ in the winepress and the Seat of Mercy. It was embroidered in a Nuremberg convent around AD 1370. Look how fine the split stitches are and the use of colour and shading is superb. You can even see the design drawing on the very fine linen.
This tiny medallion shows John the Baptist in very fine silk and pearl embroidery (Inv. Nr. GEW 2430a). It was made in the 13th or 14th-century in Byzantium.
That's enough eye-candy for now! I hope you enjoyed seeing some beautiful embroidery from so long ago. During August, I am taking a break from blogging. See you again in September with, hopefully, more details on the next online goldwork embroidery course!
Before I tell you about my progress on the Royal Garden counted needlepoint SAL organised by FiberTalk, just a quick shout-out about my sale of Heathway Milano Crewelwool. There is not much left, so if you want to take advantage of this sale, you better start ordering. Each 10 m skein is only €1 (was €1,75) and 500 grams can be shipped WORLDWIDE for only €3,70. Skeins not sold by the 1st of August will become part of my stash :). As the current price is what I paid for them whole-sale, there will not be a further price reduction! Equally, there is thus no bulk discount, etc. You can order your Heathway Milano Crewelwool here. Hurry! Only 11 days left.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram will have seen frequent progress pictures on Royal Garden in the past few days. What is Royal Garden? This is a counted canvas/needlepoint design by Debbie Rowley of Debbee Designs. FiberTalk organises a SAL for it. Yesterday, saw the first live-show in which Debbie demonstrated the double fan doubles stitch. There will be future live-shows, but there doesn't seem to be a schedule for them yet.
Counted needlepoint uses embroidery stitches such as: waffle stitch, walnettos, Jessicas, crescents, sword amadeus etc. to form colourful and highly textured geometric designs. You use a plethora of speciality threads like those produced by Rainbow Gallery, together with stranded cotton and perle. Counted needlepoint is huge in the USA, but not very well known in Europe. That's precisely why I joined the SAL!
The embroidery technique is not very difficult as long as the instructions are well-written and clear. And Debbie's instructions are. However, I did stumble upon a few mistakes. I've pointed them out to Debbie and she has corrected them in her master-copy. Future instruction booklets will be updated. However, if you already own a copy, you might benefit from knowing what these mistakes are:
- on page 5, the before last sentence should read: 'Bring the needle up one hole above 5 and park the needle on top of the canvas.'
- on the master chart, there are two blocks of reverse Scotch stitches missing on the right-hand side just right of the waffle stitches.
- the numbering in Diagram 31 on page 22 is partly illegible. If you email Debbie (address on the instruction booklet) she will happily mail a correct diagram to you.
It was all plain sailing until I hit the weaving on page 32 :). I just could not get it to look pretty. And my hands hurt a great deal after working only one side. Asking Debbie for help during the live-show did provide me with some helpful tips on how to manage this stitch, but I kept struggling. As one of the points of advice was to perhaps change the stitch, I decided to do just that. To keep a bit of a 'woven look', I opted for condensed Scotch stitch. It worked a treat!
If you would like to swap the woven filling stitch for the Condensed Scotch stitch, I think you will be able to use the above photograph for stitch placement. However, if you struggle, do let me know and I will ask my husband to produce a technical drawing.
Who else is joining in with the Royal Garden fun?
Maybe you have already noticed my new logo on my various Social Media channels. If so, I hope you like it as much as I do! It was time for something new. And what does one do when one has such a talented husband as I call my own? One asks for a new logo! He drew the medieval version of me with a slate frame several years ago for my birthday. So for this birthday, he only (she says :)) had to streamline it into a beautiful logo. What was wrong with my old beautiful logo? (also drawn by my husband). A few small things. Firstly, having a somewhat complicated German company name when in fact 90% of the people you engage with are non-German speakers is probably not a good idea. Acupictrix is Latin and means female needlepainter. Secondly, the German word for knitting (stricken) differs only by a single letter from that of embroidery (sticken). By no means do I want to suggest that people in Germany should perhaps get eye-exams more regularly, BUT ... And then we had the odd one every so often who thought that I was running a Kindergarten based on the logo. Most people here did not at all associate it with the high-end hand-embroidery on offer. This makes me kinda curious what they will associate the new logo with ... Acupuncturist? Weaving? Traditional Chinese Medicine? Doesn't matter. I like it. As my stitching journey has evolved over the past couple of years, the new logo represents much better what I stand for now.
From new logo to a SALE. The beautifully fine crewel wools by Heathway Milano (100% merino wool) changed hands a couple of years ago. They are now owned and sold by Hazel Arnott of Catkin Crown Textile Studio. A chapter has come to an end for me and I am therefore selling off my remaining stock. Each 10 m skein is only a Euro (1€) and up to 500 grams (many, many skeins) can be comfortably shipped in a padded envelope worldwide for only €3,70. Hurry, as there are not many left and once they are gone, they are gone! GO TO SALE.
On to the first of two SALs: on the 19th of July, FiberTalk starts Royal Garden by Debbie Rowley. This is a beautiful counted canvas needlepoint piece in gorgeous purples and greens. The SAL kicks off with a live show with Debbie herself 2 pm Eastern on the 19th of July. That should be 20:00 h CET. As I have never done a counted canvas needlepoint design before, I am going to join in the fun. Who doesn't want to stitch Jessicas? This Jessica does! If you are in need of a kit, contact Susan Winter of Fire Poppies. She got mine here quite quick considering the pandemic mail restrictions.
If you are more an off-the-grid person, and a bit adventurous, I have you covered too! There is a SAL starting on the 20th of July. The teacher is Alena Petrova who lives with her family in a small village on the Crimea. She teaches in Russian. No, I don't speak Russian either. But my phone does! How this works for me: watch the instruction videos (Instagram or YouTube) on your computer/tablet/laptop and use your phone with the transcribe function of Google Translate. It works well from Russian to English. Or at least well enough to understand your teacher. Alena will teach us to stitch an 8 cm high portrait of a lady in silks on silk the traditional Russian way. Although the stitch marathon is on the 20th of July, she has already posted many short videos on Instagram and YouTube with explanations and samples for you to practice with. Seeing her explain things and the emphasis on drawing and proportions (no worries! You can just copy her drawing) is a completely different way of teaching than that we are used to here in the West. The way she copies her drawing onto her embroidery frame is new to me too. You can join into the fun by contacting her on her Instagram profile. She will send you a PayPal invoice for 500 Russian Rubles (about 7 USD or a little below 7 Euros). You can then join the dedicated course account on Instagram. You can ask questions in English and Alena replies in English too.
That's all for today! Don't forget to pick up some of the Heathway Milano wools before they are gone. Hope to see you at the Royal Garden SAL, Alena's Russian portrait or my own Imperial Goldwork Course. Happy Stitching!
If you are after a book with lots of pretty pictures of medieval embroidery on vestments, this is not it. Yes, there are some pretty pictures in there, but it is not what the book is all about. Why do I still think it is worth your time? It has a very interesting chapter on the role of women in making vestments and donating them. As the author places their making into the wider context of church reform during the Middle Ages, it explains a lot about the position of women today in the Western world.
From the late 12th-century onwards, increased urbanisation leads to a dominance of the textile trades by men. Especially the 'higher end' of the market is dominated by them. That's why I have written in several blog posts that certain vestments I saw in museums were most likely made by men. The written data for the Late medieval period and beyond from the Netherlands does, for instance, not mention one female embroiderer. But this had not always been the case. The author, Maureen Miller, writes that when we know the name of the maker of earlier vestments, it is always a woman. And here the labour is divided up too: slaves for the 'hard labour' of growing, spinning, weaving, dying etc. and elite women for the fashioning of the vestment. For the more elaborate vestments, male religious would assist with the designing.
Why would women spend time and money on creating (and maintaining) these elaborate vestments? Maureen Miller comes up with several explanations. Firstly, from the ninth century, ecclesiastical legislation prohibited women from entering the church sanctuary or come near the altar. By providing vestments, these women were present at the altar. Secondly, by cultivating such a relationship with clergy, these women could exercise some influence for themselves, but most likely for their families. Maureen Miller thus rightly asks how freely were these gifts really given?
In addition, these relationships between elite women and clergy were always viewed with suspicion. On the one side, elaborate stories about the piety of the women who worked these vestments were drawn up (reciting scripture or singing psalms whilst working). On the other hand, there were plenty of stories in which the 'lewdness of the female maker' transferred through the vestments onto the wearer. These poor clergy felt mightily uneasy when it came to women making and maintaining their intimate clothing.
At the same time, there is a wider reform going on in the church. In order to claim status and visualise hierarchy, an ornate style of vestments started to emerge in the 9th century in Anglo-Saxon England and Francia (modern-day Normandy and parts of Belgium). By the 11th-century it had spread throughout Europe. The makers of this new ornate style were women. They (unwittingly?) provided part of the means with which the Gregorian reforms could be implemented (most notably clerical celibacy). These were particularly bad for the position of European women as they emphasised extreme notions of purity. These ideas live on in particular in the Catholic church till today.
And those poor holy men? They were relieved when they could order their splendid vestments from men in urban centres. They no longer needed to foster close relationships with women to obtain and maintain their vestments. For the visualisation of their status, they no longer depended on women. Women lost a way to exercise their influence. But they lost so much more. Till today, in many Christian traditions, women are not seen as pure enough to serve at the altar. Argue in the other direction and time might have come to strip these holy men of their fancy clothes in order to restore some much-needed balance between the sexes!
Miller, M.C. (2014): Clothing the clercy. Virtue and power in Medieval Europe, c. 800-1200. Cornell University Press.
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