Although Covid-numbers are on the rise again, higher numbers of vaccinated people mean that in-person embroidery events on location are possible again. As the other parties in our apartment block are not vaccinated, I am not comfortable with re-opening my studio. So for the moment, I'd thought to let you know about two upcoming events that might be of interest to you!
In about three weeks time, I will be demonstrating goldwork embroidery at the Open Air Museum Glentleiten. During the weekend of 13-14 November, you can watch many historical demonstrations of textile-related crafts taking place in the original historic buildings of the museum. I'll be working on some late-medieval or nue and would love it if you came by to say hi!
Although I decided early on that I would not go all the way authentic when it comes to reconstructing medieval goldwork embroidery, I do have a small workbox without "offending" materials (replaced the plastic cover of my scissors with a simple cover made of felt and wool). It contains my replica 15th-century pewter needlecase (the original was found during archaeological excavations in the Netherlands), Japanese handmade needles, an original 16th-century thimble from Nuremberg, a replica pair of scissors and its modern Japanese equivalent and a bone needle doubling as my mellor. The wooden box itself is made by sewing the different parts together just as would have been the case in the Middle Ages. Perfect for demonstrating medieval goldwork embroidery in an original late-medieval building at the museum!
In June 2022, I finally hope to be able to teach at the Alpine Experience in France! This will be an excellent opportunity for UK-stitchers to join me as the whole VAT-debacle has been cleverly solved for the occasion. I will be teaching a replica of an original late-medieval or nue figure. At the same time, the results of the workshop will form part of my ongoing research into medieval goldwork embroidery. There is still so much we do not know about the simplest of things. Backing my own experience up with the experiences of my students make the evidence so much more valid. Looking forward to meeting some of you in France!
On Friday I got an email from DHL saying that they would finally deliver the next volume in the monograph series on the Imperial Vestments the next day. And they did! Probably due to the worldwide paper crisis, this book has been on pre-order for more than a year. The third, and last volume, is still on pre-order and is said to be released before the end of the year. Since there are three books on the topic, all written in German, it can be a little difficult to determine which ones to order. Read on for my review of the second volume: Die Bamberger Kaisergewänder unter der Lupe - Methoden und Ergebnisse der aktuelle Forschungen (The Imperial Vestments under scrutiny - methods and results of the current research project).
When I pre-ordered all three volumes in the series, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from each of them. Reading through the introduction of this second volume, I now understand that this volume was intended as the catalogue for the recent exhibition in the Diocesan Museum Bamberg. This means that the first part of the book (p. 14-97) is the catalogue entries for the exhibits. In essence, this is a summary of the first volume: Kaisergewänder im Wandel - Goldgestickte Vergangenheitsinszenierung which I reviewed a while back. Whilst this part contains some new pictures not seen in the first volume, these mainly depict written sources.
A tiny part of the book, pages 101-115, describes the art-technological and material science research conducted on the Imperial Vestments. I assume this is a summary of the third and last volume that hopefully gets published before the end of the year. Personally, this is the volume I am looking forward to the most as it promises to hold a lot of technical information important to us as embroiderers. The "summary" on pages 101-115 does whet my appetite but is not meaty enough to satisfy my appetite.
The second half of the book (p. 119-209) contains papers on the papal visit in AD 1020 and the consecration of the St Stephan Church in Bamberg.
Should you buy this book? Only if you like to have a complete set on your shelves. Whilst the first volume contains a lot of information and beautiful detailed pictures of the Imperial Vestments that are useful to us as embroiderers, this second volume is clearly only intended as a summary for the general public. If I had known what was the content of each volume exactely before buying, I would probably not have bought this second volume. This second volume can be ordered from the publisher Schnell & Steiner. You can also pre-order the third volume!
Jung, N. & H. Kempkens (eds), 2021. Die Bamberger Kaisergewänder unter der Lupe. Methoden und Ergebnisse der aktuellen Forschungen, Schnell & Steiner: Regensburg.
Last week's blog post generated quite a bit of interest. Thank you very much for all your comments! And now on to the second part of the experiment: can you replicate the high goldthread count (30-70 threads per centimetre) seen on the imperial vestments with modern-day materials? Yes, we can :). Let me show you what I did.
As the Imperial Vestments have goldwork embroidery stitched on samite without a linen backing, I decided to use samite without a backing too. I used a reproduction 100% silk samite from Sartor. A piece of the original 8th-century Byzantine fabric is held at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. All my slate frames were already in use, so I used a 10 cm hoop with both rings taped. Using a small hoop ensures that I can still get quite a high tension (which is tricky with samite as it shreds easily on two of its sides due to the type of weave).
The goldthread used in the experiments, to my knowledge, is the thinnest passing thread that is commercially available: Stech 50/60 made by M.Maurer, Vienna, Austria. This gilt thread has a diameter of c. 0.15 mm. In an ideal world, you would thus be able to pack 66 threads parallel to each other to cover a centimetre.
For the first experiment, I used a #6 DeVere Yarns silk thread. I was able to stitch 33 parallel threads per centimetre. Not bad at all! However, I did notice that, although a #6 thread is rather fine, the silk was a bit bulky compared to the fine passing thread. When I looked at the detailed pictures in: Kaiser Gewänder im Wandel- goldgestickte Vergangenheitsinzenierung by Tanja Kohwagner-Nikolai, I noticed that the silk used was a bit finer.
For my next experiment, I used the same fine passing thread and historical samite reproduction fabric, but opted for a finer silk thread: Chinese flat silk split into 8 equal parts. I did the splitting of the silk filaments by eye and did not count them out. Some strands ended up a bit fatter than others which gave a pleasant liveliness to the hue of the gold and couching stitches. This time I was able to pack in 40 parallel goldthreads per centimetre. This is well within the range of 30-70 goldthreads. Getting to the top-end is not possible with this goldthread. It will only do a maximum of 66 threads without the bulk of the silk. In the two macro pictures below, you can clearly see that the bulk of the DeVere silk pushes the goldthreads slightly apart.
How fine does the goldthread need to be to get to 70 threads per centimetre? Well, I did 40 threads with a thread that can do 66 as its maximum. Apply simple maths and you arrive at a passing thread that needs to be about 0.087 mm thick. The vintage Japanese pure goldthread I have in my stash has a thickness of 0.08 mm. As it is so expensive and so rare, I am not quite ready to use it in an experiment :).
A couple of weeks ago, I was alerted to a television appearance of the Imperial Vestments by a blog reader from Germany. In it, one of the researchers is recreating a piece of goldwork embroidery and exclaims that she cannot reach the same quality as the medieval embroiderers once could. The German blog reader wondered in her email what the outcome would have been had a professional embroiderer worked the same sample? As I don't have a television, I hadn't seen the show. However, you can watch it online here, the item starts at 19:48 (you probably need a VPN and set the server to Germany when you are located outside of Germany). It is well worth it, as it has close-ups of the goldwork embroidery on the Imperial Vestments which detail you cannot see when visiting the real pieces. My thought after watching the video? Houston we have a problem!
The lady demonstrating the goldwork embroidery started her educational career as an embroidery apprentice. She concluded her learning after two years with a journeyman examination and switched to becoming a textile conservator. This is a transcript of what is being said during the stitching:
"Sybille Ruß faces the medieval competition. In a self-test, she wants to find out how tightly she can pack the threads. The result: the embroidery performance back then was downright incredible. So I made a test with the thinnest gold thread and came to 28-30 threads per cm and our top density on the blue Cunigunde mantle is 70 threads. So that goes from 35 to 70 so I wouldn't even have made second place."
At the same time, we see her stitch on a pretty slack slate frame. In several close-ups we see her stitch her couching stitches in the wrong direction, i.e. not going down with the needle slightly under the previous row of goldthread. This results in pulling the rows of goldthread apart instead of packing them tightly. It is also evident that the sample we see her work on does have far less than those 28-30 threads per cm.
As I really wasn't sure if she knew her experiment did not work because of these basic mistakes I wrote her an email. I promptly received a reply in which she explained that it wasn't a real experiment and that the filming had led to her working the way she did. She was well aware that you need a taut frame and that you couch goldthread in the opposite direction. After all, she had been stitching all day for two years during her professional education. And I am the Easter bunny!
To me, this video fragment is the umpteenth proof that embroidery is not being taken seriously. Too often, being a female with nimble fingers is enough qualification to speak about embroidery with authority. During my studies as an archaeologist, I did several courses on archaeological conservation and even did an internship at the County Conservation Centre in Salisbury, UK. However, I decided to pursue a career in archaeozoology, not in archaeological conservation. Would I go onto national television and proudly lecture on archaeological conservation? No way.
Whilst the research project on the Imperial Vestments shows that they are being taken seriously at a scholarly level, the video (and the makeup of the research team) shows that the practical side perhaps does not get the attention it deserves. Why is there no professional goldwork embroiderer on the team?
Embroidery and professionalism do not seem to go together. And the uncomfortable truth is that embroiderers themselves are partly to blame for it. When I was still demonstrating embroidery I got so many non-mindful comments of female stitchers passing by that I decided to stop. The core of most remarks? I wasn't something special. They could do that too. That's not exactly lifting each other up. Men, on the contrary, were often in awe of my skill and professionalism. And some even dared to correct their female companions ...
And then there are those embroiderers that proudly exclaim that they are self-taught. In most instances, this seems to mean that they did not go to the Royal School of Needlework :). Learning through books, workshops, blogs, YouTube, etc., for some still seems to mean that they are self-taught. No. You learned self-paced. In all these years, I have never come across someone who was truly self-taught. Not only is it not very nice for the teachers behind the books, blogs and videos that they are not being acknowledged, learning embroidery is also being devalued. Apparently, anyone can figure it out with no help at all! Not good. Please be mindful when you describe your learning journey. Whilst we all figure things out on our own, none of us is truly self-taught. And we teachers know exactly what kind of student you are when you introduce yourself as self-taught. Self-taughts are not the humblest of people and paradox need a lot of attention in class.
Next week, I will show you what happened when I tried to pack as many threads next to each other. Was I able to pack more than 30 threads per centimetre? See you next week!
Today, I am going to introduce you to a fantastic online museum catalogue: the online collection of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. You'll have access to the digital collection of the many important museums in Berlin, Germany. And although not all embroidered pieces have been digitized yet, there are hundreds of gems to be discovered. Whether you like whitework or folk embroidery. Although the website can be changed to English, searching in German gets you the better results. So below are a few screenshots of what you should enter where for best results.
If you follow the link to the online catalogue, this is what the entry page looks like.
Now fill in "Stickerei" in the search box and click the little magnifier.
You'll now see the first 12 entries with pictures of a total of 561 embroidered objects in the museum collection.
You can use the little arrows to navigate through the many pages with results.
Clicking on a picture provides you with detailed information on a particular object. Changing the language to English unfortunately doesn't help. If you click again on the picture it will enlarge.
However, if you would like a really good picture with high-resolution, click on the Multimedia tab below the picture and then click on the picture that appears.
Before I'll provide you with some incredible eye candy, let us return to last week's blog post. Some of you wrote to tell that they were sorry to see another embroidery shop close. A few were even dismayed as it now meant that it was even harder for them to source materials. Please know that it wasn't an easy choice for me to start selling off my stock. Precisely because high-end embroidery materials are harder and harder to find, I had always hoped that I could make a success of my webshop/brick-and-mortar shop. Alas, it never happened. Before the pandemic, I had about five visitors a year. I never managed to become a needlework destination where you could both buy gorgeous threads and feast your eyes on pretty spectacular embroideries. Being located in a National Park with many places to visit, one would think that my shop and atelier had everything going for it. But it didn't. And even now, with a 50% discount on most goods things aren't exactly flying off the shelves. This has proven to me, that although a bit painful, closing my shop is the right thing to do. Onto greener pastures!
At the beginning of the month, my husband and I made a day trip to Salzburg in Austria. We visited the various church museums and saw many spectacular pieces of ecclesiastical art. And although hardly any embroidery was on display, the Museum St. Peter had an amazing chasuble cross on display. As you are not allowed to take pictures of it, I was lucky to find a couple of detailed pictures on a website for tenders.
As you can see from the above picture, this is not your average piece of stumpwork or raised embroidery! The figure of Christ is nearly fully three-dimensional. He really is a textile sculpture. And although those of you familiar with 17th-century stumpwork from England will see some similar techniques and threads, the main figure of Christ was made in a technique not seen in these 17th-century pieces. He was made in a mould. Built-up with linen scraps soaked in glue and stuffed with pieces crafted from wood and leather.
Although "minor" padding can be seen in medieval goldwork embroidery from quite early on, these very three-dimensional pieces were made in the South of Germany, Austria and Hungary during a short period of time. As a group, they are so far not really systematically studied and the academic literature is older and patchy. This seems to be due to the fact that they are an 'in-between': not seen as sculpture, but not quite normal embroidery either. And some people have an aversion to these pieces as they look a bit like the priest has a dolls house on his back ... (just like with those elaborately decorated skeletons of saints, these textile pieces end up in the attic and are forgotten about!).
Wouldn't it be cool to gather a group of interdisciplinary academic researchers and start a research project? Have each piece go through a scanner to see which materials are hiding beneath the outer layers of silk and embroidery? Just like those Egyptian mummies projects! So far, there does not seem to be much interest from those who research the later 17th-century stumpwork embroidery from England. This is likely due to the language barrier. Equally, those 17th-century pieces are not mentioned in the literature on these 15th- and 16th-century pieces. Are both traditions independent of each other or can we find a continuous line of development? By publishing this short introduction on my blog, I hope to alert people to the existence of these amazing textile sculptures!
NOTE: there will not be a blog post next week as my parents are coming to visit.
Before I am going to tell you about all the important changes regarding my embroidery business, I am going to tell you about all the exciting upcoming events! This autumn will see me lecture for MEDATS on the Bamberg Imperial Vestments, for the Weavers Guild of Springfield MA and the San Francisco School of Needlework and Design. More lectures are probably going to be added in the next few weeks so make sure you are subscribed to my newsletter and check the lectures page regularly. During my summer break, I was visited by Stephan Kuhn, the art historian, and we had lovely discussions about academia in general and medieval embroidery in particular. My husband and I visited Salzburg and saw the most amazing piece of medieval stumpwork embroidery. More on that in a future blog! I've also been invited to visit several museum collections. Fingers crossed, COVID-19 numbers stay low and I can actually make travel arrangements. And as the second run of my Medieval Goldwork Course starts today, I have planned the third run: sign-up on 03-01-22 with a planned start on 21-03-22. And now on to the changes and a HUGE SALE!
After 10 years, my embroidery business is finally passing the turnover threshold of €22.000 and this means that I am required to add 19% VAT to everything I sell from the first of January 2022 onwards. Germany loves it when small businesses grow up! Think of all the cool stuff the government will be doing with the approximately €4750 in VAT I will generate for them next year :). It will also mean that I will start to have to pay into my state pension plan again and pay for health insurance. So, whilst I will probably no longer modestly supplement household income each month, I will have a modest pension to look forward to in 2045!
On the upside: I will be a fully-fledged business! This means that I qualify for funding and/or loans. That might come in handy when my research into medieval goldwork embroidery progresses as nicely as it does at the moment. So far, I have always been self-funded with no financial help from anybody. Because I simply did not qualify.
But it all comes with a downside: from midnight CET on the 31st of December 2021, I can no longer sell anything to people in the United Kingdom. When the UK left the EU, she did not set a VAT threshold for small businesses. This means that from the first Euro I make in the UK, I need to pay VAT to the Treasury. This means that I will need a UK bank account and an accountant to run my affairs. This is not worth it for small businesses like mine with a predicted turnover of €25000 in 2022. This is why so many of my colleagues already had to stop selling to the UK. If you are in the UK and you think this sucks, please write to your MP. Thank you!
Does this mean that UK embroiderers cannot get taught by me in the future? On paper: that's indeed the sad consequence. However, UK embroiderers could ask an embroidery pal anywhere else in the world to purchase for them and then ship the goods on. I am also still set to teach at the Alpine Experience next year (Nadine is working on the schedule at the moment) and they are able to have me on the French side of their business.
And now: on to the HUGE SALE. Although many craft businesses saw an uptake in sales during the pandemic, I did not (apart from my courses, that is) (and incidentally, the only brick-and-mortar shop left in my area closed down too!). This is mainly due to the fact that I sell most of my goods to people outside of Germany, and indeed, outside the EU. With postal services severely disrupted and parcels becoming very expensive, my webshop simply imploded. As a small one-woman webshop I was already not able to have the same competitive prices as the big girls had, so adding 19% VAT onto my existing prices just doesn't make sense. Therefore, I am selling off most of my stock at a 50% discount! That's wholesale price. That's very good news for you!
- kid leather, beetle wings, bead finals
- perle, stranded cotton, silk threads and silk ribbons by House of Embroidery
- blackwork threads
- bracing needles
- embroidery hoops, embroidery fabric, aqua trick markers
- monogram stencil sheets
- embroidered jewellery, embroidered food covers
- & lots more!
Not included are: metal threads and slate frames (they just don't have much of a margin) and my kits, ebooks and embroideries (they will be available in the future too, just with 19% VAT added; so you might want to shop for them now :)).
Purchases can only be made through my webshop. Correct reduced prices are stated on the product pages, no need for a discount code. Whilst stock lasts. Sale must end midnight 31-12-21.
When I returned from my lovely family visit to the Netherlands, I had one of these pesky little Deutsche Post notes informing me that I had to pick up a parcel in the next village and pay customs duties. As usual, you have no idea which parcel it is until you have paid the outstanding bill and they hand it over to you. To my delight, it was Tanya Bentham's book Opus Anglicanum: a practical guide! I pre-ordered the book as soon as Tanya announced the possibility on her blog. The blog comes highly recommended as the humour with which Tanya both writes and stitches is unsurpassed. I particularly liked her rendition of a medieval watermill with a CCTV camera above the entrance. So let's dive into the book!
The book is in essence a paper version of all Tanya's embroidery courses. It is filled to the brim with information and tips from a master embroiderer who has practised her art for many years. Best of all: it is written with the same kind of no-nonsense straight-talking dry humour as her blog is. Things like: "It is slow, too, so, if you need a quick fix, go to do some cross stitch; if you want to get your teeth into something, try opus" in the introduction are not for everyone. However, this is honest advice. You will simply not ever get the same level of mastery as Tanya when you are not equally prepared to sit on your butt and STITCH A LOT. Oh, and don't ever try opus with stranded cotton. Ms Bentham doesn't like it :).
The book starts with a chapter on materials, tools and frames. Whilst Tanya stresses that you don't need a lot of fancy stuff to practice opus, it is necessary to use a good (slate) frame that will hold your fabric drum taut (her method of testing with a full bottle of wine is just another version of seeing what happens when a cat sits on it).
The next chapter delves into the mighty split stitch. Tanya not only details stitch length but also shows what happens if you still think it is okay to use stranded cotton :). There's also ample information on different types and brands of silk, as well as picking colours. Medieval embroidery is all about the play of light, so what thread you use and how you place your stitches is very important.
The split stitch chapter is followed by three project chapters. Each project is shown in clear step-by-step photographs with precise instructions. The projects are tailored in such a way that they increase in difficulty and each teaches you new skills.
Opus is not only about the mighty split stitch. Underside couching provides the necessary bling. A whole chapter is devoted to explaining this stitch in depth. And then it is your turn again. Project chapters with (adapted) designs from the Syon cope, the Bologna cope and the Pienza cope give you ample opportunity for wielding your needle. My favourite is "Rumpelstiltskin" with a background of underside couched facing pairs of falcons. Yummy!
The last chapters in the book deal with applying your finished embroideries as slips onto something else and assembling an almoner's purse. The last pages are filled with designs drawings and a list of suppliers.
As said before, the book is packed with tips and troubleshooting. This shows that Tanya is really at the top of her game. A master is not somebody who does not make mistakes, but who knows how to fix them when they inevitably happen. Everything Tanya knows about opus is in here. No information is kept from you. If you want to sink your teeth into opus, follow Tanya's instructions and practice a lot. Along the way, you will pick up the confidence and skill to work your own masterpieces!
Anything I didn't like about the book? Yes. The binding and the cover aren't very sturdy. This makes a book cheaper to produce (GBP 19,95 is a steal for a 208-page book with over 600 pictures!), but it is a trade-off when it comes to longevity. Furthermore, I would have liked to see a suppliers list with entries for mainland Europe, North America and Australia/New Zealand. After all, this book was not written for UK stitchers only. With protectionism on the rise, knowing where to source materials in your own region becomes increasingly important as shipping costs and customs duties are getting insane.
Where to find the book? Please order from Tanya directly! Writing a book does not make you rich. On the contrary. When you order from the writer directly, she/he will get the maximum financial return.
Bentham, T., 2021. Opus Anglicanum: a practical guide. Marlborough, Crowood. ISBN 978 1 78500 896 2.
P.S. It is time for my annual blogging break! I'll be back on Monday the 6th of September. Whilst you will not receive any newsletters during that time either, my webshop stays fully operational!
A couple of months ago, I made the first embroidered beetle for my mum. Now that I am fully vaccinated (and they too), I could finally visit them after 21 months. That did however mean, that I needed to embroider the second beetle as well :). But after so many years, I did not have all the original ingredients to make an exact copy of the original beetle. So the new version is a little more bronze instead of orange. And since my mum is not a huge fan of bright orange, she likes the bronze version even more!
This was the first recreated beetle: Wilhelmina. Incidentally, the completion date on the label is my parents' wedding day.
The orange original on the left and the bronze version of Adriana beetle on the right.
And here is a glamorous picture of Adriana.
And this is how my father hung Wilhelmina and Adriana on the wall at the Grimm's residency :).
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