From 12-14 February, the Bavarian Academy of Sciences will host the 15th international conference on medieval and early modern epigraphy. They have asked me to demonstrate the various ways in which lettering can be represented in goldwork embroidery during this long period. I've decided to concentrate my efforts on five different historical pieces: 1) the Sternenmantel of Henry II Holy Roman Emperor, dating to AD 1010-20, 2) the Bamberger Antependium from AD 1300, 3) the Vice cope from AD 1350-75, 4) the funeral pall of Maria of Mangup AD 1477 and 5) a podea (icon cover) donated by Serban Cantacuzino in AD 1671. I have seen all these pieces in the past couple of years and taken my own pictures. However, determining how the lettering was stitched, proved to be difficult. In order to keep a log of my findings and to teach you a thing or two about goldwork embroidery, I am going to write four blog posts on this project.
First up is preparation. Apart from the Bamberger Antependium, all these goldwork letters were stitched on very luxurious silk fabric. So I dressed my slate frame with Zweigart Bergen linen and kept the tension a bit slack. Then I applied pieces of my silk fabrics using herringbone stitch. It is important to orientate the fabric pieces on the grain of the linen fabric. Once the pieces are applied, the frame is stretched to drum taut. In the two short videos above, you'll see slack on the left and drum taut on the right.
I'd like my lettering to be as close to the originals as possible. The first thing to do is to determine how large the lettering in question is. Lighting in the textile department of the Bayrische Nationalmuseum is rather poor and I had to take all of my pictures under an angle. Not suitable. Luckily, I found a perfect picture in a book. It had the whole height of the Antependium on there and since I knew that height in centimetres, basic math led me to an approximation of their size. The word Baltasar measures about 25 cm from B to S. Since the goldwork was stitched directly onto the linen, I used a pencil and a lightbox for the transfer. The original transfer was probably done free-hand: look at the irregular spacing between the individual letters and the irregular shape of the three As.
Next up I tried to determine the size of the gold threads used. Without actually measuring them, this is a rather wild guess. Since the piece is quite old, the gold thread used is probably very fine. But from my memory, it was not as fine as what I recently saw in Bamberg. So I originally went for a gilt passing thread #3 (but had to later change to the even finer gilt Stech 50/60 CS as my edges became too round compared to the original). From the literature, I knew that couching in goldwork embroidery went from single thread to pairs of thread being couched down in one go, somewhere in the 12th century. Since the Bamberger Antependium was stitched around AD 1300, it could well be that this newer and faster method of couching down pairs of thread was employed. And I think the picture above proves this. From the literature, I knew that yellow silk was used for the couching stitches. I went with DeVere Yarns Chamoix #682.
One of the things I can't tell from my pictures nor is it mentioned in the literature: what happened to the tail of the goldthread? Was it plunged? Did they simply secure them on the surface and clip them close? The latter method is used in the orphreys from the 15th and 16th centuries, so I went with that.
The couching pattern used is not our now very common bricking pattern. Instead, it is a slanted line or slash. And since the ground fabric is linen, the couching process becomes a counted thread embroidery technique. I opted for five fabric threads between each couching stitch.
As stated above, I did stitch the first letter twice as I couldn't copy the sharp turns of the original with the ticker thread. The way the letter is shaped also meant that I had to start and stop my goldthreads several times as just bending them would not have accommodated the shape of the letter. Once I was happy with how my R turned out, I needed to stitch a black silken outline around it. As all of the silk embroidery in this piece is done in stem stitch (yup, everything! Rows and rows of alternating stem stitch to fill every design element that's not filled with couched goldthreads), I used stem stitch for the outline too. I used four plies of black Chinese flat silk.
Durian-Ress, S., 1986. Meisterwerke mittelalterliche Textilkunst aus dem Bayrischen Nationalmuseum. Schnell & Steiner. ISBN 3-7954-0636-6.
Grimm, J.M., 2021. A hands-on approach - Epigraphy in medieval textile art, in: Kohwagner-Nikolai, T., Päffgen, B., Steininger, C. (Eds.), Über Stoff und Stein. Knotenpunkte von Textilkunst und Epigraphik. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, pp. 141–147.
Müller-Christensen, S. & M. Schuette, 1963. Das Stickereiwerk. Wasmuth. No ISBN.
P.S. Did you like this blog article? Did you learn something new? When yes, then please consider making a small donation. Visiting museums and doing research inevitably costs money. Supporting me and my research is much appreciated ❤!
Ever since my visit to Cheb in the Czech Republic earlier this year, when we went to see the Egerer antependium, I wanted to try my hand at a small replica. Since the beading on the antependium is done on parchment/vellum, that was easier said than done! However, I finally managed to recreate a small portion of this stunning medieval beadwork. And I am going to share my journey with you in this blog post.
The first thing I needed for my efforts was a piece of parchment/vellum. Luckily there is a German online-shop (run by archaeologists!) who sell all sorts of re-enactment stuff. And they do parchment/vellum too. I ended up buying good quality parchment rather than vellum, I think. They are in essence the same material: thinly scraped animal skin. Vellum is the absolute premium version made of the skins of young animals. For months I was actually afraid to start the stitching. On the one hand my fingers were itching to start, but on the other hand I did not quite know where to begin. So my sheet of parchment sat on the shelves, patiently waiting.
The main question I needed to get answered was how to work with the parchment. Does one hold it in hand and stitch or does one put it in some sort of embroidery frame? Searching the internet, I came across a blog entry of a re-enactment lady. She just stitched a small motive in the hand and was successful. I decided to do the same and worry about the framing of a larger piece of parchment later :). The parchment is actually so stiff that you can hold it comfortably in hand whilst stitching.
The second main component would be the beads. On the original, the beads are quite small but irregular. Using some of my collection of perfectly formed Japanese high-quality beads would just not be the same. Luckily, I hade some, otherwise crappy, cheap hobby beads in about a size 9 and a size 10. Perfectly irregular :). The original beads are more like a size 11. I even had these in roughly the right colours: sea-green, dark blue, pearly white and coral red.
The third component proved to be quite difficult and partly impossible to get. In amongst the beadwork on the original are stamped metal decorations. The closest I could get were those gilt 'folien' used to make a bundle of grapes in goldwork embroidery. Whilst they worked fine for some parts of the capital motive I had chosen to replicate, it did not work for the centre. I ended up using a fancy 'folie' and filled in the empty space with small golden-coloured beads.
On to the stitching! But first, I transferred my chosen motive onto the parchment using a pencil. From my pictures and the written information I had on the antependium, I was able to deduce that the capitals of the columns between the saints were about 5.4 cm in height. That's what I based my pattern on. I then started by stitching the design lines of the petals first using my blue beads, a number 10 needle and Coats Dual Duty glaced hand-quilting thread made of polyester and cotton. In the original piece they probably used a linen thread.
According to the written sources and from what I could see in my pictures, the appropriate number of beads were strung first and then couched down with a separate thread and needle every two beads or so. At first, this felt as if I needed an extra pair of hands! Holding the parchment in one and manipulating two working threads with the other wasn't easy. Especially not as the needle only pierces the parchment when a certain amount of force is applied. However, after struggling for a while, I changed my method slightly. Firstly, I did away with the couching thread. Instead, I laid out the strung beads carefully on the design-line, go down with my needle in the appropriate spot, and then couched between the beads using the same thread. In this way I could eliminate the extra pair of hands :). As it proved very hard to hit the exact spot from the back of the parchment (parchment is surprisingly slippery stuff), I ended up making holes from the front and subsequently finding them from the back. Much, much easier!
To attach my 'folien', I carefully punched two small holes in the rim using a larger needle and a normal hammer. Usually only one hole turned out successfully, but that proved to be enough to hold the piece in place long enough until I had couched the beads around it. As the folien have a small flat rim or lip, the couched ring of beads keeps it in place.
Once all the beading was done, I cut out the beaded element as close to the beads as I dared. In my embroidery hoop, I stretched a piece of terracotta dupion silk over 36ct even-weave linen (the original has a linen support too) and appliqued the beaded element in place using the Coats Dual Duty thread. Last but not least, I mounted my small replica onto acid-free cardboard and added a linen backing. I am planning on sending it to the museum so they can use it for educational purposes. As I used slightly larger beads than were used in the original, my motive measures 6.2 cm in height.
I hope you liked my foray into medieval bead embroidery. At some point I would like to attempt one of the saints. However, I will need to find a solution for framing the parchment as that will be too large to hold in hand. I would also like to find a source for larger stamped metal decorations such as were used in the original. If you know of a source, please let me know!
A couple of weeks ago I saw a sign in a shop in Oberammergau and it nearly made me wet my pants. I just couldn't stop chuckling. That's sad, I know. But it sometimes just happens. I immediately knew that I wanted to make a stitched version in 'black board style' to go onto my front door. After all: forewarned is forearmed.
I also decided to turn my 'warning in the making' into a tutorial for my faithful blog readers. After all, I could see some difficulties pop up with this whole black board thing-y. So where did I start? Well, by writing out this quote and searching Google Images and Pinterest for examples of ornate black board script. Then I typed the hilarious quote into a Word Document and started to play with layout, fonts and size. Once I was happy, I printed it off. Added swirls, tendrils, lines and other ornaments in pencil. After a few tries, I copied the final version with pencil onto transparent drawing paper. And then I met the first ugly stone on my path...
Black board style means I will be stitching with a white thread onto a black fabric. Obvious. Now the looming sword of less than easy-peasy pattern transfer methods hung over my head. I had chosen a woollen cloth as my black board and wanted to use white cotton a broder as my chalk. Woollen cloth and light box don't scream perfect match. Instead, I opted for the tacking method. Especially as any type of painting or drawing on woollen cloth is difficult too, due to the fluffiness of the surface.
I didn't want to copy my pattern onto pattern paper by hand. Too much hand-copying going on to my taste and too little stitching. This is where my scanner/printer comes in. I scanned the image and printed it onto a fresh piece of transparent paper. Just to be on the safe side, I changed the settings to light weight paper. It came out beautifully!
As you can see, I tacked the sheet in place with black sewing thread. After all, you don't want any obtrusive fibres on your sparkly clean black board after you've ripped the paper off. Contrary, I did use white sewing thread for tacking the lettering. No matter how carefully you tack and subsequently rip the paper, some stitches will come out. Any 'fibre shadows' left can only help. Start tacking from the middle outwards. It helps keeping the paper nice and flat.
Tacking hours later, I ended up with this. I pulled some loose stitched from the back so that the image became clear again. Then I started to play with DMC cotton a broder #12 for the thicker lines and a #30 (I think, it lurked in one of the boxes and had lost its label) for the finer lines. No complicated stitches, just a lot of fun. Try experimenting with straight stitch, chain stitch, fly stitch and running stitch.
So, dear visitors, from now on don't blame it on my cleaning regime. It is all down to bad timing.
Today I am going to show you a stitch my Ukrainian friend Tetiana showed me last week. I showed her and Rushda from Pakistan how to make beautiful bullion roses and spider web silk ribbon roses. In return, I learned of a new stitch which Tetiana calls figure-of-8-stitch. The difference with the stitches I usually use, is that you start with a double thread:
You make a stitch, but don't pull the thread all the way through!
Come up with the needle close to where you started. Now split the two threads and lay one above the needle.
Pull through gently and this is what your first stitch should look like. Now does that remind you of something? A bit chain stitchy, isn't it?
Here are both stitches side by side. I started on the right with both stitches. The new stitch below and ordinary chain stitch above (for which I used a single thread, as you would). I can't really tell the difference. Can you?
However, the difference becomes apparent on the reverse. Above the continuous line of an ordinary chain stitch and below a running stitch. So there really is a difference. And I can see that the cleaner back of the new stitch has its merits for some projects.
I decided to stitch a quick sampler to see how the Ukrainian stitch behaves in curves and points. It follows curves really well. But the real advantage compared to chain stitch is that it can do sharp points easily. You just follow the same trick as when you would make a sharp point with stem stitch (that is; you reverse stitch direction for the first stitch past the point). And it works similarly quick as chain stitch, once you have the hang of it.
So now it is over to you. Have you encountered this stitch before? And if so: where? And what was it called?
As promised in last week's post; here's the tutorial for easy peasy embroidered bookmarks. And don't be fooled. Although mine are aimed at children, grown up bookmarks are just as easy. When I let my imagination run wild, I can come up with elegant silk and goldwork bookmarks quite happily :).
So what do we need? Scissors, pencil/pen, chenille needle #22, various colours of perle #5, broad (white) elastics, (wool) felt, pins and a sewing machine. Start by searching for your favourite book soon to be given its own glorious bookmark. Open it in the middle. Take the elastics and wrap it snug around the cover and half of the pages lengthwise. Head for the sewing machine. Overlap the ends of the elastics and sew together thoroughly. When you now place the bookmark lengthwise over the cover and the pages, you need to stretch it a bit. Cut two circles from the felt. I used my coffee cup as a guide and a sewline chalk pencil. Now you are ready to stitch!
For the star bookmark (left) I started by stitching the large comet star. I knotted the end of a yellow perle thread and made five lazy daisy stitches to form the star. I left the knot at the back and just took care not to pierce it with my needle (children get that quite easily). Since my thread was long enough, I also stitched the central line of the tail in running stitch. Then I secured my thread by weaving it through the back of my stitching. Now I took a pale yellow thread and stitched back stitches inside my lazy daisies and between them. I also stitched both outer lines of the tail in running stitch and the little top star with three crossing straight stitches. The same for the three bottom stars, but now in bright yellow.
Time to attach the felt to the elastics. Place both felt circles over the sewing spot of the elastics. Pin in place. Take a pale yellow perle thread and place the knot between the circles. Stitch the felt together with running stitch and make sure you pierce the elastic on both sides too. Hide your ending stitches on the backing felt circle only. And finished is your bookmark!
For the flower power version: stitch lazy daisy flowers and fill them with backstitches in a contrasting colour. Place lazy daisy leaves in green between the petals. Need help with any of these stitches? Head over to Mary Corbet's fantastic site and have a look at her 'How to' video's!
These bookmarks are really, really easy and perfect to introduce children to the magical world of embroidery. They don't need to worry about following a pattern closely, starting or ending threads in the 'right' way or fraying fabric. Just concentrate on the fun of stitching!
Do you know of other easy and cool looking embroidery projects for children? Do share your thoughts below!
You have seen my lovely nativity figures in the previous post and now you want to make your own? Fantastic! Here are the general instructions.
I am using 36ct natural linen even weave from Zweigart as my embroidery fabric. This guarantuees that I get a nice smooth and strong edge for my figures. And once the threads are cut, my embroidery grid is fairly fine so that the filling patterns look like lace. Using an aqua trick marker and a light box, I transferred the patterns onto the fabric. The embroidery is executed with one strand of Anchor coton a broder #25 in navy blue (224) and light blue (237). In order to keep both hands free and my work taut, I am working using a seat frame.
Now it is time to cut out the good shepherd. It is best not to aim for a close cut end result immediately. Cut him out a bit bigger and get closer to the buttonhole edge bit by bit. Again, don't panic if you cut a buttonhole stitch. Keep calm and put some white glue on it. Let it dry and nine out of ten, you don't need to repair it any further by placing a few fresh buttonhole stitches on top. I don't wash my finished figures, but I spray them with a little water to get rid of the aqua trick marker.
I hope you liked my blogpost on the making of a Schwalm shepherd. Have you tried anything similar? Please share it below with us! In the future, I would love to write a post on the work of my readers. So please don't be shy! My next blogpost will feature Christmas wishes and a picture of the finished result of my nativity scene.
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