In a minute, I'll take you on a trip to see some world-class medieval embroidery in the Musee Cluny in Paris. But first, I'd like to thank those generous souls who responded to my donation plea at the bottom of last week's blog. Thank you so much for sponsoring what amounted to a tank of gas! Very much appreciated.
Last week, I and my husband visited the exhibition "L'art en broderie au moyen age" at the Musee Cluny in Paris. The exhibition draws together medieval embroidery from the museum's own collection and from other collections in Europe. Private textile collections from the 19th century (such as the one from Franz Bock) got split up at some point and fragments of the same piece would end up in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Musee Cluny in Paris. It was great to see some happy reunions!
I encountered many new to me pieces as well as some 'old friends'. The exhibition was very popular with a wide range of visitors. And there was so much on display that we actually visited twice. Hence, I can't cover it all in one blog post. Today we'll look at the masterpieces from the Germanic lands and the Mosan region (the old Bishopric of Liege). These pieces are characterised by a Romanesque style which still contains many elements of classical art. They have an older feel to them. In addition, these pieces are often completely stitched in coloured silks on linen.
One of my favourite pieces of the whole exhibition was the altar cloth or antependium from Mechelen (now part of Belgium). The piece measures 82,5 x 186,5 cm and was made in the early 14th century. The piece depicts four scenes from the Saints lives: Saint Martin healing the infirm, Saint Mark being persecuted during Easter Mass, Saint John sleeping on Christ's lap and Saint John drinking poison in front of Aristodemus of Ephesus. The whole piece consists of counted needlepoint in silks and some gold on a linen background. The different parts of the design are filled with a myriad of counted needlepoint stitches made up of satin stitches. The stitches used for the background give it an embossed appearance. Look at the picture of the face of Saint Mark to see the fineness and the quality of the linen background used for this stunning piece of embroidery.
Another stunning piece is this frieze for an antependium made AD 1320-1330 in either the Mosan region or greater Paris. This piece was very hard to photograph due to the way it was displayed. The piece shows scenes from the life of Saint Martin of Tours. You can see him in the second picture sitting on his horse and cutting his mantle in half. The piece is only 19 cm high, but a staggering 256 cm long! The embroidery uses coloured silks and both gold and silver threads. Where the embroidery has worn away, the pattern drawing and the linen padding can be clearly seen. I especially like the treatment of the hair of the figures: very textured with a lot of tiny knots.
The third and last piece I like to draw your attention to is a beautiful alms pouch. It is made in the same counted needlepoint technique with silks and gold threads as seen on the antependium from Mechelen. The shine on the silken stitches is unbelievable! This particular purse was made around AD 1300 in either the Mosan region or the Germanic lands. As medieval clothing came without pockets, people wore purses like these to store their money and other belongings such as prayer beads, a book of hours etc. The name 'alms pouch/purse' refers to the common practice of giving alms to the poor as part of your everyday Christian duty. You can find an excellent article on these purses here.
There were many more beautiful pieces on display in this part of the exhibition. For those of you who were not able to visit in person, I can highly recommend the exhibition catalogue. It is packed full with good quality pictures and many close-ups. And for those of you who would like to try their hands at counted needlepoint in silk on linen: have a look at my very profane and modern embroidery kits for this technique: Autumn Pumpkin & Winter Snowman. More on my textile adventures in Paris in further blog posts!
Descatoire, C., 2019. L'art en broderie au moyen age. Musee de Cluny. ISBN: 978-2-7118-7428-6.
Müller-Christensen, S. & M. Schuette, 1963. Das Stickereiwerk. Wasmuth. No ISBN.
Wilckens, L. von, 1991. Die textilen Künste von der Spätantike bis um 1500. Beck. ISBN 3-406-35363-0.
P.S. Did you like this blog article? Did you learn something new? When yes, then please consider making a small donation. Visiting museums and doing research inevitably costs money. Supporting me and my research is much appreciated ❤!
P.P.S. Don't forget to sign up for my newsletter so you'll have a chance of winning a selection of embroidery threads each month!
Happy New Year to you all! My 2020 started with a 630 km round-trip to Bamberg. The diocesan museum houses some of the finest medieval goldwork embroideries in Europe. These exquisite pieces are a staggering 1000-years old! I was able to take some good pictures, which I am going to share with you here. Unfortunately, there was virtually no information available in the museum so I can't really tell you much about the pieces. However, I've ordered some literature and will do a further post with those details when the papers arrive.
Probably the most famous piece held at the museum is the so-called "Sternenmantel Kaiser Heinrich II des Heiligen" (star mantle of Saint emperor Henry II). It was used as a cope or pluviale and measures 297 cm by 154 cm. The mantle shows Christological depictions, astrological signs and 14 roundels with busts of saints and many Latin inscriptions explaining what is depicted. Unfortunately, the gold embroidery was re-applied to the blue Italian silk damask we see today in 1503. The original design got mixed up and not all writing makes sense. Some scholars argue that in fact two mantles were made into one.
The original background fabric was a dark-purple silk samite. Traces can still be seen on the inside of the different design elements. When the pieces were transferred onto the new blue damask, the edges were covered with a thick white strand of silk couched down with a thinner strand of white silk. To have an even better attachment, some of the design lines on the inside were covered with split or chain stitches using red silk. The original gold embroidery uses VERY fine passing thread and white, red, blue and green silk for the couching stitches. It looked to me that the passing thread has been couched as a single thread, rather than in pairs.
Traditionally, this mantle is dated to AD 1010-1020 and its place of origin as Regensburg with a ?. The mantle is seen, based on the embroidered inscriptions, as a gift from Melus of Bari (died 1020 in Bamberg) when he sought the support of Emperor Henry II for his revolt against the Byzantine Empire. It is, therefore, more logical that the mantle was made in Southern Italy.
The second famous mantle held at the diocesan museum in Bamberg is that of Saint Kunigunde, wife of emperor Henry II. This cope measures 286 cm by 162,5 cm and shows biblical scenes, a.o. related to Christ saviour and to the lives of the patrons of Bamberg Cathedral: St. Peter and St. Paul. Lettering around each roundel explains the stitched scenes. This cope was likely a donation by empress Kunigunde to the cathedral and made around 1020 AD in Southern Germany.
The original VERY fine goldwork embroidery was stitched on a background of blue silk twill. There are 56 parallel passing threads per centimetre (!!!) and this means that each passing thread (a strip of gold foil spun around a silk core, see my previous blog on the manufacture of gold threads) had a width of about 0.18 mm. In comparison: my finest passing thread (Stech 50/60 CS) has a width of 0.22 mm. Pretty mindblowing, don't you think?! For the figures, these parallel passing threads lay vertically and are couched down in several different patterns using white, red, light- and dark blue silks. Further details are stitched in stem stitch. The embroideries from this mantle have also been re-applied onto a new fabric in the 16th century.
Why have these two pieces survived in such splendid condition? This is due to the fact that both copes or mantles were related to the emperor and his empress. Both were sanctified. Bamberg employed these famous saints for their own marketing purposes since the late Middle Ages. This is likely the reason why the pieces were re-applied and probably altered then. Quasi to strengthen the case of the link between Bamberg and these two saints.
Currently, a four-year research project on these vestments runs until 30-09-2020. For the first time, the art historians are employing scientific techniques to determine the origins of the materials used in these exquisite goldwork embroideries. We can thus look forward to a volume of papers being published on the subject in the coming years!
Enzensberger, H., 2007. Bamberg und Apulien, in: Das Bistum Bamberg in der Welt des Mittelalters (=Bamberger interdisziplinäre Mittelalterstudien. Vorträge und Vorlesungen 1), C. & K. van Eickels (eds), p. 141–150.
Kohwagner-Nikolai, T., 2014. O Decus Europae Cesar Heinrice? Die Saumumschrift des sogenannten Bamberger Sternenmantels Kaiser Heinrichs II, Archiv für Diplomatik, Schriftgeschichte, Siegel- und Wappenkunde 60/1, p. 135–164.
Schuette, M. & Müller-Christensen, S., 1963. Das Stickereiwerk. Wasmuth. No ISBN.
P.S. Did you like this blog article? Did you learn something new? When yes, then please consider making a small donation. Visiting museums and doing research inevitably costs money. Supporting me and my research is much appreciated ❤!
P.P.S. Don't forget to sign up for my newsletter so you'll have a chance of winning a selection of embroidery threads each month!
Since we are on the threshold of a New Year, I thought it a good idea to introduce a give-away. I assume that most readers of my blog are avid thread users and collectors. You probably won't mind me providing you with a monthly chance to win some more :).
Here is what I will do: at the end of each month (starting January 2020) I will randomly draw two winners. One winner will be from all the people who were already on my newsletter mailing list prior to that month and one winner will be drawn from the new subscribers of that month (I'll count any new subscribers signing up today or tomorrow in as well!). This is my new way of thanking all of you who have signed up for my weekly newsletter. The first two winners will be announced in a blog post on February 3rd 2020. I will contact the winners by email to ask for their mail address and the colour they want their threads to be. The only thing you will have to do is either stay on my list or get on my list. Easy peasy.
How was 2019 for me? A bit of a mixed bag. Early in the year, I finished my Pope Francis gothic goldwork embroidery. He was one of the stars during my first solo-exhibition in Roßhaupten in August and in the exhibition organised by the Society for Embroidered Work in London in November. At the same time, I had to stomach the fact that I cannot be recognised as an artist in Germany since my medium is embroidery. And embroidery is a craft, not an art. Basta! Not deterred, I started my new art-embroidery: "On the shores of St. Nick".
Fortunately, I was able to travel a bit to see some spectacular embroidery up close. First up was my trip to Cheb in the Czech Republic to see the famous beaded Egerer Antependium made in the 14th century. I and my husband also visited the Schwalm Museum to see exquisite whitework embroidery and the Dommuseum in Fulda to see spectacular goldwork embroidery on vestments. And we went to Paris to see life-sized goldwork embroideries from Romania in the Louvre Museum. But my best trip was to Trento in Italy to see a temporary exhibition on Gothic and Renaissance embroidered vestments.
Late 2018, I took the plunge and developed four online embroidery courses: crewel embroidery, goldwork embroidery, Schwalm embroidery and Apenzeller fine whitework. They were never popular. Although the few people who signed up for them were very pleased with the products. Unfortunately, I sold so few, that it didn't even cover the expenses for the video hosting platform. I decided to stop offering them before my contract with the video hosting company was up for renewal.
Six students from Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland came to do a five-day embroidery course at my studio in Bad Bayersoien. Another four joined me for a workshop. We had great fun and some spectacular pieces were produced. They all have plans to return in 2020! For those of you living too far away to join me in my studio, I've started to develop new embroidery kits. Something I definitely want to expand in 2020.
What will 2020 bring? More teaching opportunities. It has proven to be very difficult to get potential students to come to my beautiful corner of the world. Although I have Munich airport within easy reach, accommodation is good and cheap and my teaching fees reasonable, students just don't come. I am therefore very pleased to be able to meet many more new students at the Stratford-upon-Avon retreat by the Crewelwork Company in March and the retreat at the Alpine Experience in September. I will also offer embroidery workshops for children and adults at my local open-air museum "Glentleiten" next year.
And I'll kick-off the New Year with travelling to see and study goldwork embroidery. You'll read all about those adventures in my first blog post of 2020! Happy New Year to you all and thank you for your support in 2019. Much appreciated!
Nope, I had not retired for Christmas. Anyone following me on Instagram saw that I am very busy stitching a new goldwork teaching sample for one of next year's teaching jobs. The first version was unfortunately rejected. And whilst my whole body is aking from sitting behind my slate frame and computer for too long, I did learn a lot from the experience. In the new year, I will put together a document with lots of questions and options for needlework business owners who approach me with a teaching request. It will hopefully ensure that they know exactly what I can and can not offer. And I will have a far better idea of what it is they are looking for. In the meantime, I have stumbled upon a lovely small needlework and hand-dye business from Hungary: Barbaral Creations.
Many of you know that I am a huge fan of the FiberTalk podcasts and video shows. Being a one-woman-show, it can often feel a bit lonely. Gary, Vonna, Debby and Arlene are my overseas stitching buddies. Listening to them chatting away on needlework topics and the occassional Big Foot story, makes for good working vibes. Lately, they are sponsored by Stitchy Box. This is a thread and needlework goodies subscription service in the US.
Some of you might remember that I took out such a subscription two years ago with Nordic Needle. I loved it! And I was totally bummed when they went out of business. I have been on the lookout for a replacement ever since. However, ordering these things from outside the EU comes with a lot of customs-hassle when you live in Germany. So I started searching for an alternative from the EU.
I found Barbaral Creations on Etsy. Barbara lives in Hungary near the Rumanian border. She dyes threads, ribbons and embroidery fabrics by hand. Now that has my full attention. I am a self- diagnosed thread-addict :). I bought her Stitchers Subscription Box Winter/Christmas edition. Do click through the slideshow to see what was in the previous editions of these boxes. Be sure to check out here lovely hand-dyed ribbons, silk threads, perle, stranded cotton, trims and fabrics too!
This Stitchers Box contained a cross-stitch embroidery kit for two heart-shaped ornaments. The fabric, stranded cotton and ribbons in the kit were hand-dyed by Barbara. They are slightly variegated and have a lovely vintage feel to them. The embroidery chart was very straight-forward and even comes with thread conversions for DMC. So when the supplies from the kit are finished (which were plenty, by the way), you can still use the patterns using regular DMC stranded cotton.
The kit also contained: a needle, backing fabric, fusible interfacing and toy stuffing. I ended up swapping out the backing fabric for a piece from my stash which was of the exact same colour as Barbara's red-dyed thread :). And I did not stitch the hand-dyed green rick-rack over the seams of my ornaments. They simply didn't need it and I'd rather save the pretty rick-rack for another project.
The pattern and instructions were straight-forward but do assume that you know your cross-stitch, French knots and basic finishing/sewing skills. It took me about two days to stitch both patterns, haul my sewing machine out and finish them into ornaments just in time for Christmas.
What is rather unique about Barbara's Stitchers Boxes, they contain lovely additions besides the needlework. In this case, the box contained a very fine fruit tea called Balthasar. A small jar of honey to sweeten it. And two wooden decorations: a snowflake and a gingerbread man.
I've asked Barbara if she is going to release more Stitchers Boxes and she has confirmed that she will be doing boxes themed: Christmas, Easter, Summer and Halloween next year. This edition was priced at €21 and postage to Germany was an additional €10,90 (this totals at 35 US Dollars or 27 Pound Sterling). In order to be notified in time when a new box is released, be sure to make her Etsy shop one of your favourites!
Goldwork on vestments form the 19th and 20th centuries in particular often incorporates shapes made out of gilt foil. The most common ones are the domes representing grapes or the seals on the book with the seven seals (see picture below). Another common shape is that of a grain which was used to make up a wheatear. It isn't often that you find these pieces for sale nowadays, so I am really pleased that I am now able to offer you a wide selection of these shapes in my webshop! They range from the classic shapes to very finely worked flowers and stars. But first, let's explore their historical uses a little bit with some beautiful ecclesiastical embroidery.
This picture was taken at the 'Goud, zilver & zijde' exhibition in 2011 in Deurne, the Netherlands. It shows a detail of a chasuble by Leo Peters made between 1910-1915. The scene shows the Lamb of God on the book of seven seals of the Apocalypse as described in Revelation. The domed shapes used as seals clearly show the tiny holes in the rim whit which the shapes are attached. Interestingly, the shapes come without holes. They are punched as required by the embroiderer. I use a sharp, sturdy needle and a thimble with a metal piece to punch these holes in. I usually lay the foil to be punched on a large eraser. Working carefully and slowly is key!
And here is a red chasuble (late 18th-early 19th century) from the Church Museum in Vilnius, Lithuania, sporting a bunch of grapes. The bunch of grapes is made up of domes of different sizes. The domes are stitched to a piece of gold-coloured fabric before being appliqued onto the chasuble. Each dome is surrounded by fine purl.
And here is an example of the wheatears from a banner from the 'Onze Lieve Vrouw Parochie' in Arnhem, the Netherlands which I photographed in 2011. Holes were punched into the tips of each shape and then attached. The outer holes also have a tiny little piece of purl stitched into them to represent the spikes.
And here is another lovely example of both the grapes and the wheatears. This is also from a banner photographed in the Walburgis in Arnhem in 2011.
If you are thinking of stitching your own bunch of grapes or even a book with seven seals, there are now four different sizes of domes/grapes available from my webshop.
And I can also help with wheatears :)! From the simple to the exotic.
But I like the flowers best! Think of all the possibilities. And those of you not adverse to a dab of glue every now and then can get very creative with even the tinier ones. Just make sure you test your glue first with your chosen fabric.
Which ones will you choose? Christmas gifts to self are allowed :).
Here in Bavaria, the first snow has fallen and everything is dusted in white. Lovely to watch from the comfort of my warm and cosy home :). The view from my studio windows over the lake is amazing. Especially as the swan couple have not yet migrated to the Lech reservoir which will not freeze over in the midst of winter. The swans were recently joined by some funny great crested grebes. This is the perfect time of year to enjoy some extra guilt-free embroidery time. After all, you don't miss out on any warm weather and there is nothing better to do in the garden either :). And I have the perfect snow inspired patterns for you!
First up is my Winter Snowman, the second pattern in my petite needlepoint series (you can read more about the first pattern here). This cute snowman is stitched with beautiful hand-dyed variegated silk threads by House of Embroidery on natural 40 count Zweigart linen. This pattern explores seven different needlepoint filling stitches, whilst also introducing you to some surface embroidery and simple beading. The cherry on the cake is, in this case, a charming enamel carrot from Susan Clarke Originals. Your kit comes with fabric, all the threads, all the beads, carrot charm and needles. Upon purchase, you are given a download link for the instructions (which come in either English, German or Dutch). The Winter Snowman embroidery kit costs €30 and this INCLUDES worldwide shipping. In order to be able to ship cheaply and quickly to you, I omit fancy packaging. That way I can take advantage of a special worldwide flat shipping rate which applies to padded envelopes only. And since this does not count as a parcel, customs is not really interested in them either :).
For those of you who live close enough to my Bavarian embroidery paradise: do come and join me for a winter workshop in which we will stitch the needlepoint snowman. The workshops are held on Tuesday the 14th of January and on Saturday the 25th of January. You can book your place here.
My second embroidery pattern inspired by snow is a series of cross-stitch snowflakes. Or at least I think of them as snowflakes. However, as my ever-helpful husband pointed out, snowflakes have only six dendrites and these folksy patterns have eight. He thinks they are poinsettias instead of snowflakes. I just like them :). My kitchen windows were in need of some new decoration. And thanks to FiberTalk, linen banding is all the rage at the moment. However, I don't like to make things that gather dust; my hobby is embroidery, not cleaning :). BUT, I do like linen banding! So I decided to stitch these snowflakes/poinsettias onto pretty Vaupel & Heilenbeck 28 ct linen banding. If you follow the link, you can buy directly from these traditional high-quality German producers. They have a huge array of different linen bands and their website is in English.
For my window treatment, I used a vintage variegated DMC stranded cotton. The label says it is number 91. I embroidered one of the bands with three strands as that worked best on this 28 count linen. However, I did not have enough of the floss to do that with the second band too. Instead, I used only two strands. And it turned out fine too :). You can find this FREE cross-stitch pattern in the download section of my webshop! Single snowflakes/poinsettias would be lovely as ornaments for your Christmas tree!
Two weeks ago, I delivered the Pope to the Clerkenwell Gallery in London for the first-ever exhibition of the Society for Embroidered Work. It was the start of a fantastic, but exhausting week meeting lots of lovely people and seeing some fantastic embroidered pieces. The gallery space itself was wonderful with beautiful lighting and enough room on two levels for all our works to be beautifully exhibited. I did manage to make three videos:
I do apologize for the poor quality, but I hope you get an impression of the huge variety of works on display. Participating artists were: Cat Frampton, Emily Tull, Lou Baker, Edith Barton, Vivienne Beaumont, Rachel Brown, Rebecca Bruton, Stacey Chapman, Nancy Cole, Deborah Cooper, Claire Cooper-Walsh, Elizabeth Griffiths, Sarah Gwyer, Amanda Hartland, Catherine Hicks, Jacqueline Hockley, Sue Hotchkis, Sarah J. Hull, Aran Illingworth, Heidi Ingram, Lina Izan, Anne Kelly, Angela Knapp, Rowena Liley, Anna Liversidge, Marna Lunt, Christina MacDonald, Reena Makwana, Niki McDonald, Ellen Moon, Claire Mort, Lydia Needle, Sue Nicholls, Julia O'Connell, Vicky O'Leary, Frances Palgrave, Sharon Peoples, Yvette Phillips, Imogen Rhodes-Davies, Christine Rollitt, Holly Searle, Arlene Shawcross, Jo Smith, Sue Spence, Bridget Steel-Jessop, Sue Stone, Dionne Swift, Annie Taylor, Olga Teksheva, Kate Tume, Lilach Tzudkevich, Alison Wake, Maria Walker, Helen Walsh, Joan West, Alison Whateley and Holly Yates.
A huge thank-you to Cat Frampton and Emily Tull for all their hard work in curating such an incredible exhibition. Those two ladies put in their heart and soul to make it all a success. Let's hope we can pull off an exhibition at regular intervals around the world to promote stitched art as art!
Today I am possibly going to spent your money :). I bought my copy of Alison Cole's latest book 'The Goldwork Masterclass: adventures in metal thread embroidery' a couple of weeks ago. As with her other book 'The Stumpwork Masterclass', which I wrote about here, this is another splendid addition to your needlework library.
The book starts with a brief history of goldwork embroidery. Nothing in-depth, but enough to give you a bit of a background. Illustrated with pictures of historical pieces, sometimes from Alison's own collection. This chapter is followed by a chapter on basic requirements (answering questions on which fabrics to use), one on transferring and framing up (a proper slate frame is best for most projects) and a chapter on all the different forms of padding (slight differences with how I learned at the RSN, will definitely try to see what actual difference it makes).
After these introductory chapters, the real deal starts with a detailed chapter on all the different forms of couching gold threads. Including instructions on how to do double-sided brick stitch petals (I must SO try this one day!). Alison not only looked at English-style goldwork embroidery, but also remarks on goldwork embroidery from China, India, Spain, France and Turkey.
The next chapter describes my favourite goldwork technique, or nue, in great detail. This is basically a form of needle painting over pairs of goldwork couching threads such as passing thread. As I have studied this technique in-depth myself, I do not agree with everything Alison says. For instance, the hey-day of or nue lasted well into the 16th century in the Low Countries and long-and-short stitch in silk is indeed worked over the goldthreads for the hands of the saintly figures on these particular orphreys.
The chapter on or nue is followed by similar in-depth chapters on other couching threads, pearl purl and plate, purl and other traditional materials. Oh, the possibilities! The two chapters that follow these are centred around the techniques used in a particular historical period: Opus Anglicanum and Elizabethan & Stuart goldwork (packed full with braided stitches I SO must try one day!). The final chapters cover techniques and design elements such as fillings, creative materials taken further, combining goldwork with other embroidery techniques, ceremonial goldwork and other golden goodies (making your own braids). The whole book is packed full with beautiful and detailed pictures of antique goldwork embroideries from Alison's own collection, modern pieces by Alison or from collections around the world. Very inspirational indeed!
This book is not your average project book. Each chapter comes with a sampler showcasing all the techniques described in the text. This is really cleverly done. You work a small design in a particular technique to just master this particular part of goldwork embroidery. A masterclass, indeed!
I really love this book and I think you should definitely have this on your shelf when you are interested in goldwork embroidery. Compared to all the other famous goldwork embroidery books I own, this one is the most complete. It even contains techniques I wasn't familiar with. This is absolute bliss and unfortunately happens less and less when you reach a certain level in your embroidery practice. But, as with all of the other famous goldwork embroidery books I own, this book is also essentially written from an English perspective. What do I mean by this? Some of Alison's pertinent remarks regarding the availability of certain types of threads (particularly different sizes of plate, whipped plate and shaped folien) or how they are used are simply not true when you have access to German and Dutch sources (in the broadest sense of the word). It reminded me that language can be such a barrier. And I am sure I would have been guilty of the same as I find it hard to decipher the romano languages, let allone Greek or Russian ...
Where to find this fantastic book? I've bought mine directly from Alison. With the shipping to Germany it came to about €57. Perfectly good value for a book packed full with so much information. And it worked out about €3 more expensive than when I had bought from a European source. As Alison probably earns the most from books bought directly from here, the price difference of a cappuccino should be worth it, I think :).
This week I am having fun passing on my silk-shading skills to two very willing students: Mari-jan from the Netherlands and Pauline from two villages down the road. Very enjoyable indeed. If you would like to learn a new embroidery skill in a friendly atmoshpere: next year's dates can be found in the 'learn' section of this website. You can choose from silk-shading, stumpwork, surface embroidery, goldwork, blackwork and canvaswork. These classes take place in my studio here in Bad Bayersoien, Germany. The village where I live provides ample affordable accommodation. Most hosts will pick you up from the train station in the next village down the road. As I put lunch on the table every course day, you probably don't need to go out for dinner at night. However, if you want to, there are several good restaurants in Bad Bayersoien. We also have a well-stocked village shop with a large section of fresh produce and a great bakery. You are not going to starve :). Just let me know if you need some suggestions on how to get here and/or where to stay!
New in the shop are two beautiful 100% linen fabrics manufactured by Zweigart. I already stocked 40 ct Newcastle and 35 ct Edinburgh. These are now joined by 46 ct Bergen and 56 ct Kingston. Both available in their unbleached natural colour.
And last but not least: I received a picture of this beautiful finished goldwork project started earlier this year during the goldwork course by Olga. I think she did a stunning job!
Nowadays we have a plethora of different gold threads at our disposal. Or better: metal threads as they are available in a wide array of colours too. However, it all started much, much humbler thousands of years ago. Yep, that's how long these beauties have been around. The oldest mention of gold threads is in the bible (Exodus 39, 3): "They hammered the gold into thin plates and cut them into threads in order to work it into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn and the fine linen crafted by the skilled artisan." Personally, I think a link between the eruption of the volcano on ancient Thera and the story of Exodus is very plausible. New C-14 dating evidence showed that this eruption took place around 1613 BC +/- 13 years. Bear in mind that the book of Exodus existed as oral tradition for many generations before it was finally written down. However, it could mean that the manufacture of gold threads is at least nearly 4000 years old.
What did these earliest gold threads look like? Well, if we read scripture carefully, it suggests to me that they looked a lot like our modern plate. Thin strips of flat metal thread. On the other hand, the fact that they are "worked into the blue, purple and scarlet yarn" sounds a bit like it is being used as blending filament. Now modern-day blending filament is a super-thin polyester. Certainly not what the ancient Hebrews had at their disposal. Their thread must have been stiffer, heavier and thicker. But it might just be that they used it in a similar way as modern embroiderers use blending filament. Or they used the thin strips of metal just like the embroiderers in Turkey. They take a large flat needle and use lengths of plate IN the needle. Not like the way I was thought to use plate at the Royal School of Needlework where we couched it down.
A disadvantage of used hammered precious metals as a base for your gold threads is that they are very expensive. Furthermore, when you work them into the garment, that garment becomes quite heavy. To overcome the first problem, gilt threads were introduced. This means that you use a more base metal such as silver or copper and you adhere a very thin layer of gold to it. This reduces the cost. But you are still left with the weight issue. In comes the invention of hammering the metal into even tinner sheets, cutting them into strips and adhering these strips onto animal gut or plant material such as mulberry paper. The combined material is then wrapped around a yarn core by means of spinning. These threads would have been comparable to today's Japanese Threads and Passing Threads.
When and where were these new metal threads invented? Unfortunately, the exact origin and time are unknown, but a pure gold strip likely wound around a fibrous core (not survived as it was a cremation) has been found in a Roman grave of a young woman in Cadiz, Spain. The tiny dimensions of the gold strip are mind-boggling: 0.2 mm wide and only 3.6 microns thick.
There is a second method for producing metal threads: wire drawing. By passing a strip of metal through a progressivly smaller series of holes, very fine metal wire could be obtained. These were probably first used in jewellery production, but archaeological finds show that they were also used in textile production in China from the 2nd century BC and in the port of trade Birka (Sweden) from the 9/10th century. Some of these threads consist of tightly wound wires around a textile core. Although some researchers suggest that these wires were actually imported from the East (Byzantium) it is noteworthy that these kinds of wires have been known to the Sami people. However, they use pewter and not silver or gold. I wrote a blog article on their type of embroidery. These threads look like very fine pearl purl, but with a fibrous core. They are still produced today and can be obtained online from Swedish webshops.
Gilded silver threads began to appear in the 9th century, but might be older. The oldest type consists of hammered sheets of silver covered with a thin layer of gold. When strips are cut from these sheets, they are gilded on only one side. These strips were then spun around a fibrous core. This type of gold thread is known as or de Milan. Were they invented in Milan or simply traded from Milan into the rest of Europe? These threads further developed in the 16th century as gilded drawn silver threads were hammered flat and spun around a fibrous core. These threads are all-over golden. These drawn threads have the huge advantage that they are much longer than the strips from the sheets and thus reduce the number of joints whilst spinning.
And then there is yet another method to produce a gold thread with a fibrous core: membrane gold. This is where animal tissue is gilded and then cut into strips which are then spun around a fibrous core. This method was likely invented in the 11th century and was both a much cheaper way to produce gold threads and it reduced the weight considerably. These threads were hugely popular and used in great quantities. These threads are commonly called Cypriot gold. However, new research by David Jacoby suggests that this is a misnomer. Furthermore, historical documents suggest that this type of thread was not at all cheap. Jacoby pushes for further research into the compositions of the alloys of the surviving gold threads as well as the identification of their cores and animal tissues to identify their origins. This would indeed make for exciting research and answer many questions regarding the how, where and when.
If you are interested in the topic, do click the links for the Jacoby and Katzani papers as they make for interesting and detailed reading. They also provide lots of further papers in their references.
Friedrich W. L., et al., (2006): Santorini eruption radiocarbon dated to 1627–1600 BC., Science 312, p. 548–548.
Jacoby, D., (2014): Cypriot Gold Thread in Late Medieval Silk Weaving and Embroidery. In: S. B. Edgington and H. J. Nicholson (eds), Deeds Done Beyond the Sea: Essays on William of Tyre, Cyprus and the gate Military Orders, p. 101-114.
Karatzani, A., (2014): Metal thread: the historical development. Keynote lecture at the conference "Traditional Textile Craft - An Intangible Cultural Heritage?", The Jordan Museum, Amman.
Stern, D.H., (1998): Complete Jewish Bible. Jewish New Testament Publications.
Jessica M. Grimm
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