The National Silk Museum in Hangzhou had a small number of embroideries made by several ethnic minorities on display. After last week's book review on the textile traditions of one of these minorities, the Miao (Hmong), I thought it a good idea to share my pictures with you!
First up is an embroidered apron worn by women of the Dong minority. The Dong are matrilinear people from the south of China. The embroidery on this apron consists of brightly coloured satin stitches (possibly over a cut paper template) and some applique. The pattern is made up of stylised flowers and the sun symbol (probably the swirls; Chinese explanations at museums are notoriously vague ...). Other parts of the apron consist of strips of wax-resist dyeing.
Unfortunately, the only thing stated on this apron is that it was worn by an ethnic minority from Guizhou province. What I understand from the museum's description is that this is a single panel and that several of these embroidered panels would make up the actual apron. Do you see all these white buttonhole wheels? There are also chain stitches and knots. I think they used chain stitches to create the star shapes on the left and the maple leaves on the far right. Quite a clever and visually pleasing piece, I think!
This panel was embroidered by the Ge people who also live in Guizhou province and who are officially considered to be a sub-group within the Miao. This piece mainly consists of outlines stitched with fine and very regular chain stitches. There is also some back stitch and some satin stitch visible.
This piece of clothing (called 'braces' in the description) was also embroidered by the Ge people. It is again covered with very regular chain stitches and interspersed with satin stitches. The regularity of both pattern and stitching is absolutely stunning!
The last piece on display was an embroidered shawl made by the Miao. The geometric pattern is based on an old song and represents flower beds. The stitching is entirely done in a form of long-armed cross-stitch.
This is even a better close-up of the flower bed pattern. The movement created with the stitching is absolutely sublime! Keep staring at it and see how many different patterns you are able to see :).
Book review: One Needle, One Thread: Miao (Hmong) embroidery and fabric piecework from Guizhou, China
I was given this lovely book about ethnic embroidery from China by the lady who organised my teaching trip to China last year. This book on an interesting topic has a rather special and highly pleasing visual concept as well. Although it is not your classic project book, the step-by-step photographs and descriptions mean you can easily recreate particular stitches and patterns. Especially for those of you who are already adept at wielding a needle, there is a lot of 'new stuff' in this book which will make your hands itch.
The book is written by Dr. Tomoko Torimaru, a Japanese woman who studied Chinese textiles at the University of Shanghai, China. She is the daughter and research-associate of her mother Dr. Sadae Torimaru. Together they have studied the textile traditions of the Miao and related ethnic groups for many decades. They are both well-known and respected textile researchers and deserve to be more widely known among Western embroiderers as well. Full details of the book: Torimaru, T., 2008: One Needle, One Thread: Miao (Hmong) embroidery and fabric piecework from Guizhou, China, University of Hawai'i Art Gallery, ISBN: 978-1-60702-173-5.
And this is what a typical two-spread from the book looks like. Many detailed pictures with explanatory text. In this particular case, the darning stitch is worked from the back in order to protect the finished embroidery. One needs great skill to not make a mistake when carrying threads or otherwise the pattern on the front will show a mistake. There are several embroidery techniques detailed in the book where the embroideress works from the back to avoid soiling the finished embroidery.
Throughout the book, you will learn about the myriad ways of pattern design and transfer. I am blown away by the fact that some paper-template cutters are so skilled that they do not need to make an outline drawing prior to cutting ... There are also many 'recipes' in the book for making starch and thread conditioner from local plants. You'll be amazed at how often the silk threads for embroidery are conditioned to behave during embroidery. I am always quite reluctant to use thread heaven or the like on my silk threads. I usually talk them into submission (with various degrees of success, I must admit).
Another thing I was reminded by when reading the book from cover to cover, is how ingenious people are. We can be one heck of a clever naked ape! For the Miao, embroidering their folk costumes is typically done in between other tasks. When waiting or tending the family, for instance. There's often no ergonomic position to be had or good lighting. Slate frames or hoops for perfect tension? How about using your knees and thighs instead? And it is almost always an activity you'll share with other females. Knowledge transferred from mother to daughter. Underlining and taking pride in one's ethnic identity one peaceful stitch at a time!
Last week, I showed you the vestments from the 17th and 18th century on display at the Dommuseum in Fulda. This week we will have a look at the medieval ones. Although the lighting was much better in this part of the exhibition, the glass of the showcases posed a huge problem when photographing the pieces. And to make matters worse, the warden revoked my permission to photograph. Nevertheless, I have a hand-full of nice pictures of very high-end goldwork and silk embroidery to share with you!
First up are two pictures of an embroidered cross which would have adorned a chasuble. These embroideries were so precious, that they were mostly re-used on a new vestment when the old one was worn. In this case, the embroidery is a little special: it is raised embroidery. We often associate stumpwork embroidery with 17th-century England. In this case, however, the embroidery was done around 1500. The exact provenance was not stated, but these stumpwork embroideries were all made in the German-speaking parts of Europe. The most exquisite examples can be found in Mariazell, Austria. Here the figures stand about 3 cm proud of the background fabric!
In the detail picture above, one can clearly see that the faces of both Peter and Jesus are padded. Jesus's ribcage is defined with a piece of string padding. The whole figure of Jesus seems to be somewhat padded. And the flesh-coloured fabric looks quite stiff and a bit like paper or vellum.
And here we have two depictures of God from two different late-medieval chasuble crosses. Unfortunately, no further information was displayed for these two. Or maybe I forgot to take a picture ... I quite like these two. The clouds remind me somewhat of Chinese embroidery on the imperial Dragon Robes.
Last up are these two. They are chasuble crosses embroidered around 1480. No provenance is given. These two caught my eye as the embroidery techniques used are quite different from the other vestments on display. No or nue here; the figures are stitched in silk using long-and-short stitch.
In this detail shot, you can see what I mean. No or nue for the figures here. Instead, there is meticulous tapestry shading on the clothing (i.e. silk shading strict vertically instead of naturally). And the couching patterns for the goldwork threads in the background are so full of movement and quite different from the strict geometrical patterns seen in the late-medieval vestments from the Low Countries.
I had a strange feeling that I had seen this before. And luckily for me, my mind sometimes does a good job :). Instead of needing to go through my thousands of pictures taken at museums, I knew at which museum I had seen this: the Diözesanmuseum Brixen, Italy.
This late-15th-century (same date as the one from Fulda!) chasuble cross has a similar couched background. And most of the figures are stitched in tapestry shading rather than or nue (Mary being a notable exemption). So maybe the chasuble cross held at the Dommuseum Fulda has a more southern origin?
Being able to make these connections only works when I am allowed to take pictures. As lighting conditions or the way things are exhibited often do not permit studying the embroidery with the naked eye, my pictures are a great help. The camera is able to pick up details even when lighting is poor. I can zoom while taking a picture and again when looking at my pictures on the computer. Applying filters will tell me even more about the way things were made. It is therefore always very sad when the taking of pictures is not permitted. As long as you do not use flash (or use another source of light such as your phone!), you are not damaging the exhibits. And me taking pictures of the exhibits as is, has other benefits too. I don't need to make an official appointment for which museum staff needs to 'host' me (they have better things to do) and I don't need to handle the exhibits either.
Some museums argue that by taking photographs and publishing them in a blog or on social media will mean fewer people will actually visit the museum. Really? I have the sneaking feeling that more people will visit a museum when they know what is on show. Especially museums with a wide range of exhibits of which textiles are only a small portion. The museum's website often does not specifically state that there are gorgeous embroideries on display (they are a somewhat neglected category, especially when in competition with bling made of precious metals) which might interest the curious embroiderer. And I know that several of my readers have visited museums which featured in my blogs. I have been guilty of doing the same. Maybe we should start mentioning these things to staff on duty when visiting a museum after reading a blog or seeing a picture on social media. What do you think?
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Dommuseum in Fulda. I knew from their website that they had at least some embroidered vestments. Little did I know that they had quite a lot of them! And when I asked if I would be allowed to take pictures, the clerk on duty said that he didn't mind me taking pictures. Unfortunately, he was quite a character and rather unpleasant. Half-way through the exhibition, he told me to stop photographing. No reason was given. Lucky for you and me, I had been able to take quite a few pictures before I was told to stop :). Enjoy the bling ...
The above short video was shot with my phone. What you see here is one of the rooms where the vestments are shown. There are several of these large displays. They are reserved for the 'younger' vestments dating to the Baroque and Rococo (17th and 18th century). The vestments are shown in a kind of altar setting interspersed with other liturgical objects. Sets of matching liturgical vestments (cope, chasuble and dalmatic) are grouped together. As you can see the lighting is rather sparse. And the fact that most pieces are placed at a distance from the glass wall, makes studying them almost impossible. The written information was mostly limited to the name of the vestment, the date and the person who paid for it or for whom it was made. Not ideal for the curious embroideress! That said: the dim light and the 'scenic' placement of the vestments did give a good idea of how these gold embroidered vestements would have sparkled all those centuries ago. And that is an impression not many of us get to see nowadays. After all, how likely would it be to sit in a church service in the semi-dark (safety hazard!) with enough senior clergymen present (they are thinly spread these days!) that a full set of these antique vestments (museum people in uproar!) can be worn?
And this is a picture of the same display made with my Canon digital camera (no flash, just a very steady hand). On the far left, you'll see a yellow cope behind a yellow dalmatic and maniple. They belong to the so-called Harstallscher Goldornat made in 1802 for the last Prince-Bishop of Fulda Adalbert von Harstall (1737-1814). The vestments are made of silk and gold brocade with some goldwork embroidery.
Prominently in the middle of the picture are some red vestments. From the left: chasuble, stola, cope, palla, bursa, pink chasuble, pink stola and dalmatic. They belong to the so-called Roter Schleiffrasornat made in 1702 for Prince-Bishop Adalbert von Schleiffras (1650-1714). It is the oldest complete set of vestments in the museum. The vestments are made of silk and heavily decorated with goldwork embroidery.
Detail of the cope hood of the Roter Schleiffrasornat.
And this exquisite piece of goldwork embroidery can be found on the hood of the cope belonging to the Weisser Buseckscher Ornat made in 1748 for the Prince-Bishop Amand von Buseck (1685-1756). The fact that Amand was very good at drawing and a sponsor of the arts is probably reflected in the high quality of the padded goldwork on his vestments.
Amongst all the bling I discovered what looks like a 17th-century casket of some sorts. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't take decent pictures of it. And there was no information on the piece either. But since I know that there are several 'casketeers' reading my blog, I am including it here anyway.
That's quite enough bling for today me thinks! Although it is quite difficult to see the beautiful goldwork embroidery up close due to the way the pieces are presented, the museum is well worth a visit and even a detour when you are in the area. Especially as they have some even greater embroidered treasures dating to the Middle Ages. But that's for another blog post ...
Inclusion in the craft world, mostly meaning also using people of colour or with a disability in promotion, has been a topic in the English-speaking world for some time now. Contrary, I am unaware of similar discussion in either the Netherlands or Germany. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed looking at the pictures Mary Corbet published in a recent blog post regarding an embroidery book for kids. Amongst white kids, there were kids of colour proudly showing their projects. And even the diagrams showed fingers of colour. How cool is that?! But when I prepared my large stash of vintage embroidery yarn for sale, I found a stark reminder of how different things were not that long ago ...
Amongst the far too many vintage coton a broder (Vierfachgarn) skeins in my ridiculously large stash, was one skein that stood out like a sore thumb: Neger Glanzstickgarn Nr. 25, 40m. The logo is that of a negro man with rays of sunlight. Although my collection includes a lot of obscure and now extinct brands of embroidery yarn, I had never before come across this particular brand. Time to ask Google :).
And this is what Google replied: the Neger brand of embroidery yarn was produced from 1901 till 1950 in the Negergarn (= negro yarn) factory of the Gebrüder Wolf in Neukirchen über Crimmitschau in Saxony, Germany. During the times of the DDR, this factory became part of the VEB (Vereinigte Baumwollspinnereien und Zwirnereien = Cooperation of cotton spinners and pliers) which ceased to exist in 1991. You can find pictures of the factory and many different old labels on this excellent website. And here you'll find a vintage alphabet cross-stitch pattern for Negergarn as a free download. Typing 'Negergarnfabrik' into Google will find you many vintage patterns for sale. Just like Anchor and DMC do till this day, the Gebrüder Wolf too published patterns which would go with the yarn they produced.
Using Africans or Asians to promote a certain brand was done to certify that the particular goods were something exotic. After all, how many people of colour did the average white person came into contact with in the first half of the 20th century? This type of ethnic-branding was not at all frowned upon. How different that would be nowadays. Just imagine 'House of Embroidery' sporting an African in its logo ...
Even harder to stomach for us enlightened people of the 21st century, is the fact why the Gebrüder Wolf promoted their colourfast Negergarn with a negro man: Just like negroes wouldn't lose their colour when they wash, this yarn wouldn't wash out either. Thank goodness this is unthinkable for DMC or Anchor today!
Those who follow me on Instagram @jessicagrimmartembroidery will have seen that I am #stashbusting. Over the past years, I have collected way more vintage embroidery yarn than I (or my students) can ever use up. That's why I have decided to part with most of them! You will find these vintage skeins of coton a broder (Vierfachgarn) in my webshop. Each skein costs €1,75 and I ship worldwide. Postage starts at €3,70.
Last week, I and my husband, my parents and my younger sister with husband and two kids met up in Lauterbach for a family holiday. I quickly realised that this is 'little red riding hood country'. Apparently, my namesakes the brothers Grimm were inspired by the embroidered little red caps of the Schwalm folklore dress worn by young girls. A small, but dedicated museum with lots of Schwalm embroidery can be found in nearby Schwalmstadt. And since so many of you live too far away to go visit, I am happy to take you there by means of this blog! Let's start with the red caps ...
For most embroiderers, Schwalm embroidery is a whitework technique. We will get to that in a moment. Let's start with the more colourful embroidered pieces of the Schwalm folk dress. As you can see in the pictures above, there are not only red caps (Betzel in the local dialect). The colour depends on the age and marital status of the female wearer. Red is only worn by girls before they get married. The embroidery on the caps consists of satin stitch over cardboard padding. Making these cut cardboards was a special craft and usually performed by man. Similar to the prickings made for Appenzell embroidery; that's men's business too. No wonder these crafts disappeared as soon as they were no longer economically viable ...
The Ecken (squares) are embroidered in the same style. These extra decorations were worn on feast days over the apron on the hips. The stomachers are also embroidered the same way. As are some bits of the highly decorative endings of the bands which keep the caps in place. These also sport elaborate needlelace. And last but not least, highly decorative garters. All the above pictures show folk dress items from the 18th till the 20th century. Those pieces also sporting goldwork embroidery, are at the later end of the spectrum.
Let's end our trip to the museum with some beautiful 'typical' Schwalm embroidery in white. The Schwalm whitework does incorporate a little colour every now and then. And some pieces where actually dyed with indigo blue or even dyed black. All depending on the age of the wearer and the occasion. Male and female blouses were typically decorated with this type of embroidery. As are very fine and highly decorated handkerchiefs. And bedlinen. Probably not practical, but boy I want one!
The museum also has modern Schwalm embroidery on display. Many pieces are even for sale. They also organise special exhibitions every other year. The beautiful catalogues of the past exhibitions can be obtained in the museum shop. And best of all: they sell antique linen. And they have a whole big cupboard full of the stuff. I was really good and only bought about four meters :). Two different qualities and rather fine. Someday they will inspire me to a beautiful whitework piece!
P.S. Please visit Luzine Happel's blog if you would like to know more on Schwalm embroidery and Schwalm folk dress. Make yourself a cuppa and prepare for a fall down the rabbit hole ...
I and my husband had a most lovely trip to Cheb (German: Eger) in the Czech Republic. The local museum houses a spectacular medieval bead embroidery: the Egerer Antependium. Although the museum is closed to the general public due to renovations, Alena Koudelkova kindly agreed to show us around. Check my previous blog post if you want to read the story on how I discovered this gem of a medieval embroidery.
The Egerer Antependium measures 2,18 m by 90 cm and was probably made by the Poor Clares of Cheb in the early 14th century (it is a staggering 700 years old!). There are two identical rows with ten saints. Each saint is framed by two columns topped by an arcade. For easy identification, the name of the saint is stitched into the column and the arcade. The bottom row shows (from left): John the Evangelist, James son of Zebedee, James son of Alphaeus, Margaret the Virgin, Mary of Intercession, Jesus (who blesses Mary to his left), Agnes of Rome, Saint Cecilia, Cunigunde of Luxembourg and Saint Ursula. The row above shows: the Archangel Gabriel visiting the Virgin Mary, Agatha of Sicily, Mary with the six-year-old Jesus, Clare of Assisi, Mary Queen of Heaven with baby Jesus, Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Lucy, Saint Barbara and Saint Bibiana. The columns-arcade-frames measure 35 cms in height. The figures themselves are about 28 cms in height.
The iconography of this piece supports the thesis that the Poor Clares of Cheb were the embroiderers of this Antependium. For starters: it is very female heavy :). The Virgin Mary is represented four times. She is accompanied by other holy virgins (Margaret, Barbara & Catherine as well as Agnes, Lucy & Cecilia). Clare of Assisi is the founder of the Poor Clares and therefore prominently displayed in the middle of the Antependium. Agatha and Ursula often accompany Clare of Assisi. Cunigunde of Luxembourg is especially venerated in the diocese of Bamberg to which Eger belonged. Bibiana possibly refers to a local veneration or to the sponsor of this piece. Furthermore, in the lower left corner, we see John the Evangelist celebrating mass with the two Jameses as supporting diacons. Especially John the Evangelist was widely venerated by nuns in the High Middle Ages.
There is a third row sitting above the previous two rows. This smaller row, a mere 16 cms in height, comprises of the busts of Mary and Jesus flanked by the twelve Apostles. It is quite possible that this row is of a later date. The busts were probably originally silk and goldwork embroideries on linen. The embroidered parts were then covered with paint (I've seen another medieval example in Vilnius, Lithuania). The busts were then cut out and placed on top of the beaded halos. Each bust is alternated with beaded floral motives. A possible later date is supported by the fact that the beads in this row a slightly darker and the metal decorations of a different type.
As there are no contemporary written sources, the dating of the piece is mainly based on stylistic grounds. Several of the iconographic scenes are first seen during the mid- to late 13th century. But also the style of the figures themselves discloses the period this piece was likely made. Some of the figures are somewhat stiff and depicted frontally (the Jameses and Clare) whereas most others are depicted more life-like with garments full of movement as was the norm in the later Gothic period. The piece as a whole breathes the strict order of the older Romanesque style.
Probably originally made for the chapel of the Poor Clares of Cheb, situated in the Franciscan Church of the Ascension, the Antependium did not stay there. When the Poor Clares got their own church in 1465, they probably gifted the Antependium to the St. Jodok church in Cheb where it stayed until it was transferred to the newly opened museum of Cheb in 1874. Major restorations have transformed the Antependium somewhat. The last one took place in 1928 by Sr. Virginia Erhart of the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Cheb. She worked under close supervision of the County Conservator. It took her over a year to take the beaded applications off the red silk backing from the Baroque period. All beads were cleaned and re-strung when necessary. Then the beaded applications were re-applied to a red silk backing re-enforced by linen. During an earlier restoration, the writing between the first and the second row had already been muddled up and so doesn't make sense anymore.
The beaded applications consist of strung beads couched onto vellum. This is clearly seen in those places where the beads are now missing. Sometimes even glimpses of the blue design lines can be seen. The order of work likely has been that firstly those contours were couched. Then the metal decorations were applied before the whole design element was filled with more couched beads. The colour palette is quite restricted with blue, green and white beads being the main colours. Black beads are used sparingly as are the red coral beads and the real gold beads. The size of the beads is remarkably uniform and mainly seems to correspond to a modern bead-size 11. The beads of the face of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus are real freshwater pearls.
These kinds of bead embroideries are very rare. This is due to the fact that their raw material was precious and could easily be recycled. Their origin lies in the pearl embroideries from Byzantium which were made since the 6th century. The idea came to Central Europe in the 9th century through Charlemagne with his contacts to the court of Byzantium. Glass beads were produced in Venice since 1200 AD and they started to supersede the real pearls from the 13th century onwards. These beads had to be imported from Venice well into the 14th century when local production took over (especially in Bohemia, now the Czech Republic). In turn, bead embroidery was superseded by silk embroidery in the 15th century. On the one hand, while beaded embroideries where quite heavy and impractical (in effect, the Egerer Antependium consists of many small embroideries forming a larger piece) and on the other hand while the Renaissance demanded ever more realistic and life-like depictions which couldn't easily be achieved with beads.
Siegl, K. (1929): Das Egerer Antependium, Unser Egerland, pp. 80-81.
Tietz- Strödel, M. (1992): Das Egerer Antependium. In: L. Schreiner (ed.), Kunst in Eger, pp. 248-258.
P.S.: This research was partly sponsored by a most generous PayPal-donation of one of my dear readers. If you like what you read on this blog and you can spare some small change, please consider making a donation via the PayPal button at the top of this page!
A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by Mary Gobet, President of the Portland Bead Society, about the beaded antependium (altar cloth) in the Regensburger Domschatz. We had both visited the Regensburger Domschatz a couple of years ago and were intrigued by the piece. However, as it is located behind glass at the top of a flight of stairs, it was impossible to shoot good pictures. And the information only read: Antependium, Regensburg, um 1890, design Vicar Dengler, embroidery with strung pearls, vellum, catalogue number 114. Alles klar? Nope, not really. Together we started to look for literature on the piece and we also contacted the museum for more information. And then it became really interesting!
As far as we now understand it, the piece consists of strung pearls couched down on vellum for support. The vellum pieces are then cut out and sewn onto the background fabric. In this case, gold brocade backed by a double layer of linen. The detail and shading of the beads are absolutely exquisite! The piece was originally made in several monasteries of the diocese of Regensburg for the private chapel of the Bishop of Regensburg. It shows Christ Pantocrator flanked by the four evangelists. The two smaller pieces which would have covered the sides of the altar are also held at the museum but are not on display.
Mary and I did not know of any other beaded Antependiums. But when we researched the history of this piece, it became clear there are more! Vicar Georg Dengler was the editor of the Magazin Kirchenschmuck (you can browse the magazine by clicking the link; beautiful drawings!) which was printed by Josef Habbel in Regensburg between 1888 and 1895. In the article on the Regensburg Antependium, Dengler states that the antependium was stitched in several monasteries in the diocese of Regensburg. A certain Prof. Klein from Vienna (who had already died before the magazine was printed between 1888 and 1895) had made cardboard templates for the figures. These templates (made of cardboard and in use for embroidery transfers since the Middle Ages) were partly copied by Dengler for his design.
But Dengler got his initial idea from somewhere else. And that somewhere else is modern-day Cheb in the Czech Republic. In Dengler's time better known by its German name of Eger. The museum there houses a medieval beaded Antependium. So I contacted the museum in Cheb and asked if the Antependium is on display. Initially, they told me that the Antependium is on display, but the museum is currently closed for renovations. Bummer! But then I got a second email asking if I would be able to get to Cheb within two to three weeks as renovations on the room with the Antependium had not yet started. Yeah! I am going on a field trip next week :). And I will tell you all about it in my next blog post!
P.S. I have, quite reluctantly, started a new Instagram account @jessicagrimmartembroidery However, as I am having a few exciting collaborations coming up in the next years, we need to be able to promote these and we feel that my website alone is not enough. So please do follow me and spread the word!
Remember the two small black clutches with goldwork embroidery? One of my readers, Monica, suggested contacting the V&A in London to see if they knew some answers to my questions. I immediately wrote them an email. However, the autoreply I got stated that they generally don't do email consultations, but that I would be most welcome to bring my bags to a consultation day in London. Great was my surprise when I did receive an email back a couple of days ago! And this is what their Assistant Curator Jess had to say about my bags:
"Many thanks for getting in touch and sharing the images of your bags. These appear to be what have become known as Zardozi bags, based on the Indian Zardozi embroidery technique, and were very popular in the mid-century. They also underwent a bit of a revival in 1980s, with many black velvet bags with vivid gold embroidery upon them in various designs, but usually in a standard size and rectangular shape. The quality and design of your bags suggest these are earlier examples, perhaps even the 1920-30's when exoticism in fashion was rife. I'd suggest these have been made for the tourist/export market, probably hand-worked but by a professional working on quite a mass scale."
How cool is that? And Jess's answers explain a few things about the previous answers I got too. For starters, there is the confusion about the dating: 1920-30s, 1950s or 1980s. And as they were mass-produced in India it is small wonder that they are relatively unknown in the Netherlands. But since they were mass-produced, it is quite clear that your average flea market dealer is not going to tell you so even if they know :).
Now that I had a name for this type of embroidery, I could search my books and the internet for more. By just typing 'Zardozi bags' into Google, I came across an image of something else my mum had acquired at a flea market:
Yup, a glasses case made with Zardozi embroidery. So what is Zardozi? Looks like ordinary goldwork to me, you might think. Right! Zar means gold and dozi means work in the Persian language. The term Zardozi is used for traditional goldwork embroidery from Turkey, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Central Asia and Azerbaijan. A browse through my needlework books resulted in a beautiful picture of Turkish goldwork in Mary Gostelow's "Embroidery: traditional designs, techniques and patterns from all over the world" published in 1977. As is usually the case with these overview books, there is not much additional information in the text. But lo and behold, my library contained two books with large sections on goldwork embroidery from the Ottoman Empire and the Arab World.
The book 'Flowers of Silk & Gold: four centuries of Ottoman Embroidery' by Sumru Belger Krody describes the collection of the Textile Museum in Washington D.C. It is a beautiful book with in-depth chapters about the history of the Ottoman Empire, embroidery techniques and embroiderers and the designs and types of embroidered goods as well as a great catalogue of the collection. The book was published in 2000 and the pictures are really good; I highly recommend it if you are interested in Ottoman textiles!
What does the book say on zardozi? It describes zerdüz (Turkish form of the Persian word) as an Ottoman embroidery using gold or silver wire or a braid and couching it down with a similar coloured thread. It is apparently similar to Ottoman dival embroidery. So what is dival embroidery? From the description, in the book, it becomes clear that this is gimped couching over cardboard padding. The design could be further enhanced with purls, sequins and pearls. I get the feeling that dival is seen as native to Turkey and zerdüz as foreign. The Ottoman Empire encompassed large stretches of Europe and Asia, so that is understandable.
The last book with zardozi embroidery has been written by Gillian Vogelsang-Eastwood of the Textile Research Centre in Leiden. It is called 'Embroidery from the Arab World' and was published in 2010. This is an excellent book detailing the history of embroidery in this part of the world from the earliest examples in Egyptian Pharaonic tombs (early 14th century BC) to the modern era. With lots of background information on the history of the regions and social contexts of the embroidery and embroidered items. And the pictures are spectacular and come in great numbers. Another must-have for those of you interested in embroidery from this part of the world!
In this book, zardozi embroidery is called zari (metal thread embroidery). Badla is another form of metal thread embroidery associated with India, the Gulf region, Syria and Egypt. The later includes plate being used as a 'sewing thread' rather than being couched onto the fabric as is done in Western goldwork embroidery.
As can be seen from the terminology above, there are many terms which refer to particular types of goldwork embroidery. This is due to the fact that 'the Arab World' stretches from Mauritania to Syria to Oman and Somalia. Regional differences are likely reflected in these terms. At the same time, as these distinct regions function within the cultural meta-system of the 'Arab World', techniques, materials and designs blend and influence each other.
About four years ago, my mum discovered a little black velvet clutch with goldwork embroidery and white beads at a flea market. Now she has found another one! It is clearly of the same general type, but with another goldwork design. Let's have a closer look! The first clutch was covered in detail in this blog post.
Contrary to the first clutch my mum discovered, I really like the embroidery on this one! The trellis is made with pearl purl #1. The junctions are covered with a cross-stitch using two pieces of rough purl #6. The trellis is completely filled with pretty little flowers. Each little flower is made up of four petals: a larger cross-stitch with two pieces of rough purl #6 with each 'leg' of the cross encased with a piece of bright check bullion #4. The border surrounding the trellis consists of rectangular shapes made of 9-10 parallel pieces of rough purl #6 encased by four pieces of bright check bullion #4. The rectangles are surrounded by more pearl purl #1 and pairs of large chips made of bright check bullion #4.
The bag has clearly seen much love :). Especially the bright check bullion has come unwrapped in many places. This is such a rough thread that you can easily imagine how it got caught on clothing. There is also a spot in the middle, a little off centre, where the threads are heavily tarnished. This is precisely where the thumb of a right-handed women would rest when she holds her clutch.
As I never received any comments on the first blog post regarding these fascinating little bags, I asked some experts for help. First up was the curator of the Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam. I was hoping that these bags are so common that she would be able to assess its provenance and age. Unfortunately, she couldn't as the bags have no label. However, she recommended asking Dr. Gilian Vogelsang-Eastwood of the Textile Research Centre in Leiden. As I've met Gilian years ago, it was really nice emailing my questions to her. Her suggestion was that these bags are not very old: second half of the 20th century and made by fashion houses for the tourist industry. It is clear to goldwork embroiderers that the embroidery on the bags is rather cheap and cheerful than exquisite. The construction of the bags is also rather simple and done with cheaper materials (see first blog post for details).
Personally, I still think that these bags were made by needlework enthusiasts rather than fashion houses or workshops. And I think they are a bit older: first half of the 20th century. And I think they were made, broadly speaking, in the Low Countries. If they were a cheap mass product from India, the curator of the Museum of Bags would have come across them before, I think. But what about you? What do you think regarding the age and provenance of these adorable little bags? Do leave your comment below!
Jessica M. Grimm
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