Burden Stitch re-visited
Adding an area of Burden Stitch to my orphrey a couple of weeks ago resulted in some questions and remarks regarding this lovely stitch. First up was the name. A stitch in use during the Middle Ages should probably not be named after a woman who lived in the 19th century. Good point. However, renaming (well-known) stitches is a bit tricky. How do you safeguard that people still know what you are talking about? I could start calling Burden Stitch something like 'Brick Stitch over a foundation thread/padding'. That's technically what Burden Stitch is. Next question: Was Brick Stitch called Brick Stitch during the Middle Ages? I don't know. As far as I am aware, and please correct me if I am wrong, the only technique for which the name can be traced to French accounts of the High Middle Ages is or nue. We could sure do with a Re rustica or Re metallica for embroidery. No such luck. And then there was the mermaid ...
This mermaid. She is lovely and a bit problematic. Typically mermaid I would say :). Due to a free reference to the website of a textile conservation company in an article by Natalie Dupuis for Piecework magazine, this mermaid is quite well-known in the embroidery world. It was later mentioned on Cynthia Jackson's blog too. After all, it is one of the few free online resources with good pictures of the embroidery. Neither Natalie nor Cynthia mentioned the Burden Stitch in their articles as they focussed on a completely different aspect of the Fishmonger's Pall. Burden Stitch is only mentioned on the website of the conservation company. And I think it is a mistake. The skin of the mermaid (and Saint Peter) is not stitched in Burden Stitch.
Identifying embroidery stitches from photographs can be really tricky. When I was alerted to the 'Burden Stitch' on the Fishmonger's Pall by one of my Patrons, I eventually got confused too. When I looked at the pictures, I saw Brick Stitch, not Burden Stitch. As mentioned above, they are similar. Burden Stitch has an added foundation or padding thread. Most needle painting or long-and-short we see in medieval embroidery is actually Brick Stitch or something close to the orderly needle painting as seen in Chinese embroidery. Free-form needle painting as taught by the Royal School of Needlework or Trish Burr, simply does not exist. The medieval embroiderer was a master craftsman and not an artist. Free expression in embroidery was not invented yet.
In order to better understand what was going on on the Fishmonger's Pall, I decided to stitch up some samples. I used 46ct even-weave embroidery linen with Chinese flat silk. In order to cover the fabric nicely, I do go over each stitch twice. This gives a flatter result than when you use a double thread in the needle. For my foundation threads, I used: Barkonie linen thread 50/2, a double thread of the Chinese flat silk, a single thread of the Chinese flat silk and gilt Stech 80/90 (passing thread).
Burden Stitch produces a textured surface. To me, skin should be smooth. As you can see from my samples, even the single thread of silk produces a textured surface. Furthermore, it is really hard not to catch any fibres of the foundation threads (not so with the Stech). No matter if you use a sharp or a blunt needle. But my biggest argument why the stitch seen on the Fishmonger's Pall is not a Burden Stitch is the fact that you always see the foundation thread in Burden Stitch. And we do not see one in the pristine areas of the skin of the mermaid. This rules out Burden Stitch for me. The V&A catalogue for the Opus anglicanum exhibition does also not mention Burden Stitch. I, therefore, think that the conservation company misnamed the stitch.
What do you think? Have I missed something? Very well possible! Please chime in below. I will also organise a Zoom meeting on Saturday the 3rd of June for my Journeyman Patrons to further discuss the mermaid and my experiments. Let's see what we can learn!
Browne, C., G. Davies & M.A. Michael (eds), 2016. English medieval embroidery Opus Anglicanum. London: Victoria & Albert Museum.
Progress on my orphrey background
Currently, I am mainly working on my orphrey background. I will be teaching this design at the Alpine Experience in June. For the past couple of years, I have always combined written instructions with video. This seems to work well for my students. However, as the apartment next door is being gutted and then put back together again, my stitching and recording are very dependent on when the workmen are quiet :). So, let's check in on my progress.
As you can see, the tiled floor is in, the wall with the window has been completed, the sky was added and the basis of cloth of gold with the diaper pattern is in. The cloth of gold needs some minor further embellishment. I was going to do that today, but alas, the workmen are plastering, and it sounds like they are standing right next to me :(. Let's aim for tomorrow!
The diaper pattern has been a terrific candidate for demonstrating goldwork embroidery at my local open-air museum Glentleiten. People were fascinated by the simplicity of it and the lovely effect achieved. I even managed to get people hands-on involved. Two young girls, aged 8 (!), plunged right in and happily stitched a row on my orphrey. In the beginning, they stabbed around a bit before they found the correct hole with their needle. But I kid you not, after about 5 stitches their hand-eye coordination caught up and it all went very smoothly. By the way, I am happy for interested people to work on my orphrey. They can't really break anything. And it is much more fun than when you stitch a mock-up row on the side somewhere. Equally, I don't believe in doodle cloths. But that's a different story :). Would you be happy for strangers to have a go at your embroidery project?
My orphrey background also contains a technique I had not tried before: Burden stitch over gold thread. It is used in the sky. I was familiar with Burden stitch but was a bit sceptical about the gold thread. When you are working the stitch it almost completely disappears below the silk. So, my thought was: "at least the texture is pretty". However, when the Burden stitched area catches the light it really glows! It never ceases the amaze me how little light, natural or artificial, goldwork embroidery needs to reveal its full potential.
Have you ever worked Burden stitch over a gold thread in any of your projects? Would you like to have a go? My Journeyman Patrons find handy PDF instructions on my Patreon page!
In the last few years, there's been an increased focus on the benefit of needlework on your mental health. However, 'modern' principles of good mental health are sometimes also depicted in medieval embroidery itself. One such famous depiction is the scene of 'Noli me tangere' (cease holding on to me). It is based on a biblical story in the gospel of St John. Mary Magdalene returns to the grave site. She talks to a man whom she thinks is the gardener. He tells her not to hold onto him when she finally recognises him to be Jesus. Their former relationship has to change. Depending on what you believe, this is either because Jesus has died or because he just became responsible for the salvation of mankind and is now kinda busy. Either way, they need to let go of what has been. Being able to properly let go is a sign of good mental health. Let's have a look at the different depictions of this intimate encounter.
Among the 1650 pieces of medieval goldwork embroidery, only 21 depict this particular scene. It is clearly not overly popular, but also not completely rare. The oldest pieces date to the 13th century and the youngest to the 16th century. By pulling them together, you start to observe some interesting things. Firstly, most of the embroideries depict Jesus as the risen Christ and not as a gardener. The first 'gardener-Jesus' is depicted on a cope from the St Marienkirche in Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland) (kept at St Annenmuseum Lübeck). It dates from after AD 1460 (but probably not long after). Between AD 1520 and 1530, the 'gardener-Jesus' becomes the norm. And you can clearly tell that the embroiderer knew what a gardener looked like and what equipment they used. In fact, the depiction of Jesus' shovel is so accurate, that medieval archaeologists have no trouble matching them to excavated originals. In the above picture, the brown silk embroidery represents the wooden part of the shovel and the silver threads depict the iron 'shoe' which protects the wooden edge and hardens it for digging. Neat, don't you think?
Putting the 21 embroideries in chronological order also shows developments in embroidery techniques and materials. The two oldest pieces from the 13th century are very different. One is a case of Opus florentinum from Italy (kept in the Aachener Domschatz, inv. nr. T 01001). It shows this characteristic treatment of the golden background: string padding in the form of foliage. The gold threads have been couched over it to create an embossed look (as I don't own a picture of this piece, please compare it with this piece from the MET 60.148.1).
The other piece, the so-called Hedwigkasel (now kept in the Muzeum Archidiecezjalne we Wroclawiu, nr inw. 23/29a), is very different indeed. It is worked on red silk and reminds a bit of the earlier Opus anglicanum pieces. The figures are completely worked in metal thread embroidery. Many different, often very intricate, diaper patterns have been used to fill in the different parts of the figures. It even looks like the embroidery is done in underside couching.
In the later pieces, we see an increased use of the or nue technique. In the beginning (late 15th century), it is only used on parts of the clothing of the most important figure in the scene. Pieces from the 16th century, often show the use of or nue for the full width of the orphrey. Only bare skin is voided. Figures and background are worked in one go. And whilst the youngest piece is also one of the finest when it comes to the execution of the embroidery, two slightly younger pieces show the decline likely caused by the Reformation.
And then there was this absolutely thrilling discovery of another 'twin image'. A chasuble (inv. nr. 138) held in the Frankfurter Domschatz shares an identical depiction of Noli me tangere with a chasuble (inv. nr. BMH t2912a) from the Museum Catherijneconvent. The embroidery techniques used differ a bit, but the design drawing is identical. I have alerted both museums to the discovery just in case they are unaware. As there seems to be little known about the piece in the Netherlands, finding a twin on a piece with known provenance is always very nice!
My Journeyman Patrons have access to a Padlet on which all 21 pieces are introduced.
Sometimes a question pops up in my mind in the middle of the night. These questions usually develop into delightful rabbit holes the next day. My latest 'in the middle of the night question' concerned the embroidered depiction of Palm Sunday. You see, some scenes were hugely popular in the medieval period, and we have many embroidered depictions of them. And then you have scenes that are very rare. Palm Sunday turns out to be one of these rare scenes. By now, I have looked at over 1650 pieces of medieval goldwork embroidery. That's about 4480 orphreys. Only three (!) of those depict the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem. But those three have a rather interesting story to tell. Let's hop down the rabbit hole!
Two of the three orphreys depicting the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem look very, very similar. Above on the left is the scene as depicted on the Bologna cope. This is a famous cope made in the style of Opus anglicanum and it dates to the early 14th century. On the right, you see an orphrey on the chasuble of a Belgian bishop who reigned around the middle of the 15th century. That one was made between about 133 and 157 years later. Yet, the compositions of both scenes are eerily similar. Only the clothing of the Jerusalem citizen spreading a garment onto the street has adapted to the correct fashion of the time. Fascinating, isn't it?
I think that both embroideries are based on the same image. Maybe from a famous illuminated manuscript or from a painting in a church. An image that was clearly widely known in Western Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. Both embroideries are also testimony that the embroidery techniques can be very different and still produce two very similar pictures. Do click on the image on the right as it will take you to the KIK-IRPA database with many more pictures of the chasuble of bishop Chevot.
The third image is clearly different. It comes from a chasuble belonging to an ornate associated with bishop David of Burgundy of Utrecht in the Netherlands. The chasuble is now kept in the Cathedral treasury of Liege. Gone is the delightful chap sitting in the tree. And the Jerusalem street is suddenly paved. Interestingly, this chasuble was made around the same time as the chasuble of bishop Chevot. However, although now both chasubles are kept in Belgium, originally the one made for bishop David of Burgundy was made in the Northern Netherlands. Possibly in Utrecht, his bishopric see.
The Opus anglicanum piece has obviously no or nue. The orphrey made in the Southern Netherlands (bishop Chevot) has a kind of rudimentary or nue in the donkey and for the house/gate of Jerusalem. Contrary, the orphrey made in the Northern Netherlands (bishop David of Burgundy) has Jesus completely rendered in very fine or nue. Throughout the orphreys on this chasuble, Jesus is the only figure wearing clothing (partly) stitched in or nue. That's just in case an onlooker missed who was the most important figure in the embroidered story.
The question remains: why is this particular scene so rare in medieval goldwork embroidery? Did embroiderers not like to stitch donkeys? They seem to do okay-ish when it comes to the Nativity. Was it a part of the Passion story that did not appeal so much to Joe Average medivialis? I do not know enough about medieval liturgy to determine if Palm Sunday was perhaps less significant back than? Or maybe other parts of the Passion were just more popular and appealed more? Trying to get into the heads of people who lived more than 700 years ago is fun, but never quite satisfactory!
Maybe this blog post should come with the warning that there is a severe chance that you will spend money after reading it ... The Abegg-Stiftung has published a new book. In English this time! Some years ago, they conserved the altarpiece from El Burgo de Osma and the new book describes in incredible detail what they have found out about the embroidery. From the materials used to the order of work. It is so detailed that a skilled embroiderer or group of embroiderers could make a copy. Now that's a book worth having on your shelf. Even if it means that you will have to eat dry bread for some time to be able to afford it. We are still in the season of Lent so you will fit right in :). Let's explore!
The embroidered altarpiece from El Burgo de Osma is the only one of its kind that has survived to the present day. It was made around AD 1460-1470 in Castille (Spain) for bishop Pedro the Montoya. The altarpiece is currently housed in the Art Institute of Chicago (Inv. no. 1927.1779a-b) and consists of two pieces. The top part shows four scenes: the Nativity on the left, Mary with baby Jesus in the middle with the Crucifixion above and the Adoration of the Magi on the right. The bottom piece shows the Resurrection in the middle flanked by three Apostles on each side. The top part measures 161,5 x 200,5 cm and the bottom part measures 89,5 x 202 cm. Both parts are all-over embroidered with gold and silver threads, coloured silks, spangles and seed pearls.
The main part of the book consists of a 100-page chapter on embroidery materials and techniques written by Bettina Niekamp. She has identified over 200 different combinations of threads and stitches/techniques on the altarpiece. And she describes them in great detail. Together with the many detailed pictures in the book, you are able to identify them all. It will take you a while but it can be done.
Amongst the embroidery techniques is the over-twisted silk technique for rendering realistic tree tops, grassy areas and dirt. This technique is well-known from 17th century English stumpwork. The many padding techniques are also intriguing. There are tubes made of linen fabric and then stuffed with wool to turn them into the base layer of columns. String is then added for extra texture before the actual goldwork embroidery commences.
The embroidery is mainly executed in very skilfully shaded split stitch. But there is a form of or nue too. And for a more realistic depiction of certain details, multi-coloured threads were used. They were made by blending different silk filaments in the needle. The embroidery is also embellished with twists made of different numbers and combinations of passing thread.
The book also has a whole section with full-page plates of the different parts of the embroidery. You can spend hours looking at the amazing detail. Further chapters describe the times and the life of bishop Montoya, its art historical context, the iconography in relation to the material and embroidery techniques used, late medieval embroidery in Aragon and a case study on vestments from Barcelona. With 427 pages, there is a lot to explore!
The book can be ordered directly from the Abegg-Stiftung in Switzerland. It costs CHF 85 + shipping. It does not seem to be available from the Art Institute of Chicago. The fact that this book was published in English instead of German is a real plus. Please let the Abegg-Stiftung know that we like more of that when you are ordering. They might end up translating some of their equally stunning older publications. My Journeyman Patrons can view a short video in which I flick through the book. Also note: Katherine Diuguid is giving a MEDATS lecture on her sampler, which features embroidery techniques seen on the altarpiece, this coming Sunday.
When I went on my epic road trip by train a couple of weeks ago, I ended my trip in Dresden to visit the Rüstkammer (click the link for short YouTube videos of the exhibition and an online catalogue of the pieces). Although my husband lived in Dresden for about a year, I wasn't into embroidery back then and thus never visited this museum. How times have changed! However, the museum houses the largest collection of Renaissance clothing in the world. And this clothing was often elaborately embroidered. Due to the foresight of the royal family of Saxony, the clothes were collected instead of worn up or placed in the graves. If you study Tudor embroidery, Elizabethan embroidery or 17th-century stumpwork embroidery, this is a collection you absolutely want to visit. And whilst there is no paper version of the museum catalogue, there is an online one (just click the link a little further up and scroll to the bottom of the page). Both the museum website and the captions in the museum are also available in English. As I fully understand that not everybody can travel to Germany, I am going to introduce you to some spectacularly embroidered pieces. Enjoy!
Although there are very many beautifully embroidered pieces on display, the above mantle blew me away because of its sheer size and whimsical embroidery. It was made in 1611 for Johan Georg I of Saxony by Dresden embroiderer Hans Erich Friese. It was given to him by his mother Sophie of Brandenburg as a Christmas present. The embroidery on the cloak shows Dresden and the surrounding countryside. The cloak was part of a whole matching outfit and Johan Georg must have looked splendid wearing all those matching pieces.
Here you see a close-up of the embroidered seam. On the left, there is a lady in a red dress milking a cow. In the middle, there is a herdsman and towards the left, there is a man in red with a couple of swift hunting dogs (Johan Georg was an avid hunter). There are all sorts of watercraft on the river Elbe. And on the opposite river bank, there are wild animals standing on the hillocks beneath the trees.
As you can see, parts of the scenes are being repeated along the seam. Here we have another milkmaid on the right. The main scene consists of the bridge that connects the old part of town with the new part of town. The rectangular raft approaching the bridge has so much detail in it. And do you see the little red man with his fishing rod? I can just imagine how embroiderer Hans Erich Friese enjoyed himself and kept adding whimsical characters like these. There is so much to discover!
The embroidery itself consists of many techniques which can be found on 17th-century embroidery from England (think caskets!). Many elements have some form of padding. And Hans Erich also cleverly incorporates the background silk to form the sky and the river. And I think that the canopies of the trees are made of over-twisted silk.
As said, the embroidered blue cloak was part of an elaborate outfit. Hans Erich Friese must have embroidered for several years with a dedicated team of embroiderers in his Dresden workshop.
And look at the gorgeous hat! There are even pink dolphins swimming in the river Elbe. Not sure the water was clean enough for these animals to enjoy a swim in the river in the 17th-century ...
Do click on the provided links as there are many more pictures online for you the explore. There are also matching trousers and a lovely hunting bag.
It is with great sadness that I inform you that we had to put our cat Sammie down on Friday morning. We brought him, and his brother Timmie, home from the animal shelter in 2012 after returning home from teaching in San Fransisco for the RSN. Just before flying out to San Francisco, our 'third-hand' cat Stimpy had to be put down at the ripe old age of 21+. When we passed an animal shelter in San Francisco and studied the cat pictures in the window display, we knew we were ready for a new cat or two. It was actually a struggle to get five-year-oldish Timme & Sammie as the animal shelter wasn't sure we were the right match for them as both were severely traumatised. But, after hiding under the couch for a couple of days, they bacame the most sociable cats one could have hoped for. In recent years, they even started to greet visitors. Some of you had the 'priviledge' to open the balcony door repeatedly whilst sitting at your slate frame :). Seeing Timmie grieve by hiding under the couch again and by searching for his brother is a touching reminder that animals are far wiser than we often think.
Please note, that I am taking my creative break until the 31th of August. The next blog post will be published on the 5th of September!
Amazing online resource
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.
If you like to embellish your embroidery with beads you are a part of a very old tradition. Especially goldwork embroideries have been made even more exquisite by adding fresh-water pearls, beads made of precious stones, coral or metal. Those of you who use beads in your embroidery will know that you need to secure them well or else you run the risk of them coming off. Small wonder that many beads have now vanished from medieval embroideries. However, they have left traces on the original pieces and in contemporary sources. Let's explore!
On the medieval embroideries themselves, you often see these areas of thick white string padding. Sometimes identified in the literature as silk, cotton or linen. Especially fresh-water pearls would have been attached on top of this white string padding. Not only does this mean that texture is added to the embroidery but it also ensures that the light catches the pearls first and makes them stand out even more. After all, when you are spending a lot of money on these extra embellishments you want the onlookers to take note of your generosity.
Another source of medieval bead embroidery forms the many paintings which depict clergy in their finery. Some painters were specialised in faithfully rendering the costly embroideries on vestments. Possibly because they were also the ones who made the design drawings for these embroideries. For instance, painter Mathias Grünewald faithfully painted the pearl embroidered mitre his friend the silk embroiderer Pflock made (Halm 1957).
And our third source is a collection of books written by the monk Theophilus in the 12th-century on a range of crafts: Schedula diversarum artium. You can find a collection of all the known versions of this manuscript together with three translations (Dodwell for English, Ilg for German and Ecalopier for French) on the website of the University of Cologne. The English translation of the passage on the use of fresh-water pearls reads as follows: "Pearls are found in shells of the sea and other waters. They are pierced through with a fine steel drill, which is fixed in a wooden shaft and a block of wood [at the top]. On the shaft is a small lead wheel and, attached to it is a bow by which it is rotated. If it is necessary for the hole of any pearl to be made larger, a wire is inserted in it together with a little fine sand. One end of the wire is held in the teeth, the other in the left hand, the pearl is moved up and down with the right, and sand is meanwhile applied so that the hole becomes wider. Mother of pearl is also cut up into pieces. These are shaped into pearls with the file they are most useful on gold and are polished as above." The pearls are so small (1-1.5 mm ), and their holes thus even smaller, that loose pearls can only be reattached during restoration with the help of fine surgical needles (Herrmann 1975).
You can get a better idea of how beads were being made by looking at the drawings of the Hausbücher of the Nürnberg Zwölfbrüderstiftungen. There are three depictions of brethren working a lathe borer to drill beads for a rosary. The oldest one dates from before AD 1414. From the same Hausbücher, we have a depiction of brother Alexander Hohlfelder. He was taken into the almshouse on the 3rd of April AD 1626 when he was 80-years old. Alexander had lost his speech and likely had dementia when they took him in. He died after two more years in the almshouse. Alexander had been a Seidensticker (silk embroiderer) and is depicted with a bead dish filled with what looks like fresh-water pearls.
Halm, P., 1957. Matthias Grünewald: Die Erasmus-Mauritius-Tafel. Reclam, Stuttgart.
Hermann, H., 1975. Die Restaurierung einer spätmittelalterlichen Perlenstickerei, Maltechnik restauro 81 (3), p. 113-115.
Medieval silk embroiderers in Munich
Research into professional embroidery goes in and out of fashion. At the moment, it is clearly in fashion with many new exciting publications becoming available in Germany, France and Italy. In many cases, their analysis of the embroidery trade in the medieval period depends on a few older sources. One of these famous sources is Goetz 1911 on the silk embroiderers of Munich. Unfortunately for most of us, it is written in German with the added difficulty of being printed in Frakturschrift. And since it was written more than a hundred years ago, it is quite difficult to get hold of. A few weeks ago, I was able to buy a second-hand copy! And I started to translate it into English. Being originally written in old-fashioned German with at least half of it in medieval and early-modern German, translation was slow. And since these older versions of German are even more fond of VERY long sentences, the resulting English is not always pretty. But it will do! A PDF of the result is available at the end of this blog article :).
So far, I have not been able to find out who the writer, Ms Gertrud Goetz, was. Since her article was published in the Journal of the Historical Society of Upper Bavaria, she was probably a member there. And the fact that she had access to the original historical sources and could decipher them, points at her being a historian or similar. The resulting article is really informative and quite lovely to read. One gains a lot of insight into the lives of embroiderers from the 15th- till the 18th-century.
Throughout the centuries, three main adversaries tried to mess with the official embroiderers of Munich: women, people from Augsburg and the French. Some things never change, LOL. No seriously: this is actually really sad. Although the guild regulations of Munich are often quoted to prove that women were allowed to embroider, when you read the original texts, a different picture emerges. One we already know from the guild regulations in the Netherlands. Women were not excluded from the embroidery guilds, but in real-life they just did not become master craftswomen nor do we see them individually in official documents related to the guilds. Only one of the Munich historical sources mentions a woman: a master's widow with her son. And guess what: she is not playing by the rules. Neither are the others. But she is perceived as a problem.
From what I deduct from the sources, the picture that emerges is this: In the beginning, the professional embroiderers of Munich were all male and they worked for the elite and the church. Since Munich was rather a large village than a metropolis, there was never really enough of this employment. The male embroiderers needed to supplement their schedule with 'simpler' work. Unfortunately for them, this was already the realm of women. One such item made by women was the Riegelhaube. This is a heavily gold-embroidered bonnet typical for the folk dress of the upper-middle class. In 1793, the only leftover embroidery master of Munich, Jakob Gelb, tries to forbid these practices by pressing the city council to hold a police raid. He even hands in a list with the addresses of the culprits. All women and a single man. And Jakob is not an unreasonable man: he demands that he can pull any of these illegal embroiderers in as workers when his workload demands it. Instead of giving them the same full rights to exercise the embroidery trade as he holds them, he wants these women to work for him when he so desires... Only three decades later, this results in new trade regulations for Bavaria. From now on, embroidery is a free trade exclusively executed by women. The reason for this: just like with other female occupations, embroidery is an occupation that does not require training nor learning. Just so you know!
In order for you to study the original sources for yourself and to draw your own conclusion, please find a PDF of the original publication and my crude translation below:
Goetz, G., 1911. Die Münchener Handstickerei zur Zeit der zünftigen Gewerbeverfassung (1420-1825), Altbayerische Monatsschrift 10 5/6, p. 107-114.
Wetter, E., 2012. Mittelalterliche Textilien III Stickerei bis um 1500 und figürlich gewebte Borten. Abegg Stiftung: Riggisberg.
P.S. The publication mentions a roll of coats which contains eight coats of arms of embroiderers. These coats of arms display broche/brodse/Bretsche. Unfortunately, the name of the document is so vague, that the librarian of the Bayrische Nationalmuseum so far could not identify it.
As part of my research into medieval goldwork embroidery, I read many collection and exhibition catalogues. Most are written by art historians and only a small proportion by, or with the help of, textile curators/conservators. Most texts are therefore only partly useful to the embroiderer. The gold-standard, in my opinion, are the books published by the Abegg-Stiftung. One of the aspects of medieval embroidery that particularly interests me is the pattern transfer. As far as I know, there has never been a systematic review of the substances found on these textiles that result from the initial pattern transfer onto the fabric. More recently, detailed chemical analysis did take place for some of these medieval embroideries (for instance the vestments from Bamberg, soon to be published). More commonly, you will find vague references in these catalogues to the materials used for pattern transfer. Either ink or paint. But last week, I came across the silverpoint.
The silverpoint consists of a piece of pure silver mounted on a handle. You can buy them from well-sorted art supply shops. Silverpoints were used by medieval scribes and have been used by some artists till the present day. Silverpoints are the predecessors of our modern lead pencil. But contrary to a lead pencil, the silverpoint will not work on normal paper. The paper, or for that matter vellum, needs to be prepared with chalk and/or egg yolk (or similar products). The chalk makes the surface rough so that small particles of silver are shaved off the silverpoint and the egg yolk contains sulfur that oxidises these particles so they turn from faintly visible grey to dark brown or black. The air oxidises the silver particles too, but the egg yolk seems to speed up the process.
The silverpoint intrigued me and I wondered if it could indeed be used to transfer a pattern onto fabric. Linen is a little raw, so I hoped that I could just scribble onto it. Nope. No lines visible. No further oxidation on the air after a few hours or even days. And I am not at all keen to go the sulfur (egg yolk) road. Because the sulfur will also tarnish my goldthreads as a large part of their composition is silver too. Does this mean the silverpoint could not be used for pattern transfer? Or does it mean that I need to prep my linen in a different way? Any ideas more than welcome!
I read about the silverpoint in the catalogue on the collection of the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne. It was published nearly 20 years ago by Dr Gudrun Sporbeck, an art historian. Apparently, the body of Christ on a chasuble cross with inventory number P223 is drawn with a silverpoint onto the linen. Did she determine this? Or did she copy from the older literature stated? The older literature in which this particular chasuble cross has been described dates from 1888 till 1938. Was it just something that was assumed? Did somebody do some chemical analyses? Only one way to find out: ask her. So that's what I am going to do. Will keep you posted.
Update: I contacted Dr Gudrun Sporbeck repeatedly, but never received an answer. In addition, Enikö Sipos also experimented with the silverpoint on textile and came to the same result as I have: it doesn't work.
Sipos, E., 2005. Proportions and measurements. The making of the chasuble. In: Kovacs, T. (ed.), The Coronation Mantle of the Hungarian Kings, Hungarian National Museum: Budapest, p. 91-107.
Sporbeck, G., 2001. Die liturgischen Gewänder 11. bis 19. Jahrhundert (=Sammlungen des Museum Schnütgen Band 4), Museum Schnütgen: Köln.
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