A few weeks ago, I visited a most spectacular exhibition at the Catherijne Convent, Utrecht, Netherlands. From their own collection and from the collections of other museums, convents and churches, they had brought together the largest exhibition on medieval paraments I have ever seen. Copes, chasubles and dalmatics were exhibited free standing on a dais so you could have a good look without being hindered by glass. Lighting levels were however still kept modest.
Since only the best was good enough for God, medieval paraments were made of the most expensive fabrics finely embroidered with gold thread and silks. This meant that only the rich could afford to pay for them. One such a lucky bastard (literally: he was the illegitimate son of Philip the Good) was David of Burgundy, bishop of Utrecht from AD 1456-1496. Especially for the exhibition, the golden set of a cope, chasuble and two dalmatics donated by David to the St. Jan church of Utrecht was displayed together again. You couldn't tell that these pieces were more than five centuries old!
And isn't this a delightful example of late mediaval embroidery? The silk embroidery on Christ's face and hair is so expertly done. Unfortunately, the level of lighting was particularly low in this part of the exhibition. This is a detail of a cope shield from AD 1520 depicting the resurrection.
From a completely different quality is the above detail of a late 15th century chasuble. The angel is far less detailed and the gold threads are of a lesser quality. Hence they lost their lustre and became oxidized. After all, not everybody was a rich enough bastard like lucky David.
For those of you who missed the exhibition or simply lived too far away, the exhibition catalogue is a gem. More than 270 pages of embroidery goodness with many detailed photographs and a whole chapter on embroidery techniques by master embroideress Ulrike Mülners. Don't be put off by the fact that the book is in Dutch; the pictures will do the talking. Although I do agree that standard works shouldn't be written in such an obscure language like Dutch. You can order your copy with the publisher. Book plus oversees shipping is just shy of €60 or 69 American Dollars. Not bad at all.
In the coming months, I will show you more pictures of this exquisite exhibition. However, with the show at Osnabrück a mere four weeks away, I am up to my neck into writing tutorials, ordering materials and packing kits. See you next week after a short break in Vienna where my path hopefully crosses more gold threads...
I was never much of a Barbie's girl, however I do now wonder if Mattel ever made a bishop version. I would definitely buy one! And you might one too after you've seen the splendid gold and silk embroideries in this third post on the Regensburger Domschatz.
When you enter the exhibition, you are greeted by this splendid mitra pretiosa, and precious she is indeed. Heavily encrusted with gold and silver embroidery, fresh water pearls and gem stones. The floral motives are worked in the guimped couching technique with a fine passing thread over card. Fillings are worked in various fine basket stitch patterns. Wheat ears are worked with looped purls and sequins are sewn down with fresh water pearls. The piece was made in 1793/94 AD in Regensburg.
The mitre consists of two tapered shields (cornua) sewn together at the sides. The lining of the mitra is essentially still a cap. The two bands on the back are called vittae and symbolise the Old- and the New Testament.
These episcopal gloves date to the mid-18th century and were made in southern Germany. The extended cuffs (anicalia) are embroidered with delicate coloured silk and gold thread embroidery. Today, episcopal gloves are only seldom worn by bishops and other prelates.
Of a completely different style is the cope of the so called Stingelheim set. These liturgical vestments were donated by Dean Georg von Stingelheim (1741-1759). The vestments were made in 1740 AD in southern Germany. Colourful floral silk and gold embroidery on withe silk fabric.
Look at the beautiful shading of the green leaves and the red central flower.
One of my favourite pieces in the exhibition is this chasuble covered in beautiful silk shaded flowers on a satin background. Texture is added by basket weave couching techniques in the cornucopias from which the flowers sprout. The shading is exquisite and the colours are still really strong and vivid. I can clearly see my little bishop doll wearing a miniature version of this!
I hope that these pieces have brightened your day too. And maybe they have even inspired you to a new embroidery piece. Do share your ideas below.
Last week the Mayoress called to let me know that Andreas Baar of the Münchener Merkur paper would come to interview me. After all, a Dutchie stitching traditional Bavarian braces is a bit of a story, don't you agree? So here is Andreas' nice story about me and my folk stitching:
And now I am a bit of a local celebrity... Visiting the post office, my local cake dealer, the bookshop or waiting for the buss is no longer an anonymous activity. People's reactions are heart warming! And it has brought me many new stitching enthusiasts. Last Wednesday, I started a two day class on stitching Bavarian braces. We had a jolly good time at the Gunkelstube. Next month, I'll be teaching monogramming on Bavarian folk shirts. If you are interested, there are still a few spaces available. Please contact me.
On the stitching side of things: here is the progress on my silk shading Hollyhock. It is slow going, but I am looking forward to the finished piece. It will be on display at Nadel & Faden in September. Would you like to learn silk shading? Then why not join me at one of my classes at Nadel & Faden? You can register here.
Last but not least: this is the current view of my embroidery studio. Where has all the stitching go, I hear you wonder. Well, my dear husband brought me some medieval animal bone from Middelburg, Netherlands. I will be analysing six lovely boxes full of butchery remains for the rest of this week. No more stitching. Sometimes a girl just needs to make some money :)!
My guilty pleasure are richly decorated, sparkling chasubles (in the mists of time, one of my ancestors for sure must have been a crow). A couple of years ago, I was introduced to the chasubles designed by Leo Peters when they were on display in the Willibrordus church in Deurne, Netherlands. Peters worked in the style of the Art Nouveau with which he was successful around 1915-1920. His designs are very characteristic and easily recognisable once you have seen one. So here comes a bit of eye candy:
Ever since I did my first silk shading embroidery (purple anemone), I wanted to do another but then use real silks instead of stranded cotton. I have a lovely collection of real Chinese flat silks as used in Suzhou embroidery; so why not put it to good use? Several years ago, I took this picture of a hollyhock and occupant in my back garden:
Before the actual stitching fun with feisty split flat silk threads could begin, I had to get to know this flower intimately... So, I coloured one version in and I made a stitch plan which shows direction and order of stitch.
Time to dress my slate frame with a gorgeous dark green dupion silk (Silk Society) stitched on top of a piece of calico backing (old bed sheet, in fact!). I transferred the design onto the silk with the help of a light box and a white marking pen by Clover. The bundles of Chinese silk come in 6 to 8 tonal values. Obviously, I choose yellow and green for the flower and leaves and some additional colours for the bumble bee and its shadow. Time to use my beautiful wooden spools to keep them tidy.
Here you can see my setup in front of my balcony doors. No artificial lighting, just pure day light. As you can see, I use a colour image as well as a grey scale image to more clearly see tonal value whilst stitching. Apart from a general colour plan, I also make a detailed plan of each bit. This is very important as the right shading is what the picture will give its lifelikeness. Before the actual embroidery started, I basted the outline of the flower all the way around with a green sewing thread. This should minimalize movement of the silk versus the calico, and thus puckering.
It has been a while since I done any 'serious' silk shading, so some of it inevitably had to come out again. That's one of the wonders of silk shading: you do a lot of reverse stitching. And it is painfully slow (some would say 'utmost relaxing'). And you need to keep at it to develop routine. I am not quite there yet. This is why I try to put in a few hours of stitching each day. The total piece will take up between 120 and 150 stitching hours. However, I am very much looking forward to the results as I really like silk shading. In my opinion, nothing beats this Queen of embroidery techniques!
The coming weeks, I will share progress on a regular basis with you. If you would like to follow another silk shading project 'done the RSN-way', why not pop over to the Unbroken Thread? This is a blog maintained by Kathy Andrews, a Berlin based RSN student. In the mean time, I will keep diligently at it. Promised.
I've been challenged by my dear friend Marina Berts to participate in an Art Chain and publish my artwork five days in a row in my blog. Challenge accepted! So here is the first piece:
This piece is very dear to me and has a prominent place on the wall above my kitchen table. I made the piece as part of my Royal School of Needlework Diploma modules applique and advanced silk shading. What's the piece all about? Well, when I once read a book on Buddhism the whole bascically boiled down to 'doing the right thing at the right moment'. This was illustrated by a parable saying that leaves shouldn't fall from their tree in summer, neither should they cling on in winter.
As part of the Challenge, I should now nominate somebody else. However, although it is a nice opportunity to showcase your work, I do appreciate that everybody is quite busy. So instead, I invite you, dear reader to go and have a look at Andrea's work on her fun blog Andiva. See you tomorrow for part two of the Challenge!
The National Museum has a handful of Late Medieval/Renaissance chasubles on display. By far and large, these are my favourite embroidered objects in any museum. You are in for a treat.
The embroidery on the first chasuble was executed in Cologne in the third quarter of the 15th century (1450-1475 AD). The intricate diaper patterns were made using 'Häutchengold' or skin gold also called Cypriot gold thread. It is comparable to Japanese gold, but was made by gluing gold leaf onto animal gut subsequently wrapped around a core of coloured silk. Here you can find an interesting article on medieval gold thread production by David Jacoby (2014). And here you can find an older article in German by Brigitte Dreyspring (2007). In the early 16th century, the embroidery was rearranged on the green velvet it is attached to today.
Another chasuble with re-used late medieval (c. 1500 AD, Rhineland) embroidery. Click on the pictures to see a close up of the figures executed in fine silk embroidery and surrounded by diaper motives in skin gold.
However, the most elaborately stitched chasuble is the one above. Do click on the pictures as the detail is stunning. The gold and silk embroidery was executed in Italy around 1500 AD. To achieve such a rich texture, the embroiderers used string padding and applique slips on both the silk figures and the oriental architecture. The style reminded me a bit of chasuble remains in the Catherijne Convent Museum, Utrecht (NL), showing the vita of St. Martin and St. Willibrord. However, those were made around the same time, but in the Netherlands.
I have been toying for a while with the idea of trying to replicate some of the highly textured architectural background of these pieces. If only I could find the time :). However, when I do, I will share the process with you. I have a few more goodies to show you from the National Museum, so stay tuned!
Until late 2016, the National Museum has a small exhibition on embroidered clothes from 1780-1800 on show. Together with the other textile collections, it is well worth a visit. Living too far a way to pop over and have a look? No worries. Let me show you some exquisite silk embroidery.
Centrepiece of the exhibition is a Robe paree, a French female court dress from 1780-1790. It was altered three times to follow changes in fashion. The dress ended up in the museum as 20 separate parts and was recently pieced together again. Its cream satin is lavishly embroidered with silk embroidery using satin stitch, stem stitch, knots, needle lace, goldwork, paper padding and applique. In all, there are 20 different dainty little flower patterns consisting of roses, pansies and bellflowers scattered on the dress. Larger patterns consisting of garlands and bouquets of roses, carnations and forget-me-nots. They are stitched using 14 different colours of silk.
Now that we've seen the dress of a lady at the French court, what did the accompanying boys look like? Very colourful! Their mostly unicolour satin frock, trousers and waistcoat were richly embellished with colourful silk embroideries. These embroideries were placed along the seams, the cuffs and collar. Patterns mainly consisted of floral motives, little birds or Chinese scenes in satin stitch, stem stitch and knots. Again goldwork techniques, padding and applique are used as well. Tambour embroidery was used on garments made in Italy. Matching passementerie buttons completed the stylish outfits.
Who made these lovely embroideries? The French court employed its own embroiderers and maintained its own embroidery workshops. Apart from that, Lyon was an important centre of silk and goldwork embroidery. In the late 18th century, apparently 6000 female embroiderers were occupied. The garments were stitched on large embroidery frames and tailored into clothes afterwards. The many uncut finished embroideries show that clients could buy these and have them custom made into a finished garment. Alternatively, they could flip through a catalogue with sample pieces. Either drawings or actual pieces of embroidery.
The Bavarian National Museum sells a lovely little booklet on the exhibition. With only 67 pages it gives a good discription of pieces on show. And more importantly, it is jam packed with detailed close up photographs of the embroidery. Good enough to see individual stitches. There are even a few photographs of the backs of the embroideries! You can order your copy of Mode aus dem Rahmen here.
My absolute favourite would have been the uncut finished ambroidery with the large flowers and tulips on the cream coloured satin. It is absolutely spectacular! However, my husband did not seem keen on wearing it... What's your favourite? And do you own and wear embroidered garments? Please leave your comment below.
First of all: Happy New Year! Me and my husband spent the last day of the year reading, stitching, eating nice food and watching a documentary on Charlemagne (what a nasty guy that was...). And now it is back to business as usual. My students were here on Saturday for another day of stitching fun as part of the professional embroidery course I offer. Lets have a look at their progress!
Jessica M. Grimm
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