Hammering of finished goldwork
Sometimes, medieval goldwork embroidery has been purposefully flattened after it was finished. This is for instance the case with the Kaisergewänder in Bamberg. Burnishing or hammering finished goldwork embroidery was probably done to enhance the smoothness of the surface to make it resemble gold leaf or goldsmithing work. Whilst the flattening is clearly visible on high-resolution pictures, and certainly revealed in a cross-section of the goldthread, we do not know how it was done. Did they burnish the finished surface with a rounded piece of bone? Did they actually hammer the threads flat? Time for an experiment:
Hmm, not at all the result I was expecting ... Is this due to the difference in materials? Or is there another way to flatten goldthreads? Or what if they used pre-flattened goldthreads (called flatworm) in the first place? I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter! Please leave your comments below.
P.S. My husband and I are getting vaccinated this week! From today, Bavaria allows everyone, regardless of priority, to get vaccinated by their family doctor if they want to. Bittersweet: due to widespread vaccine-scepticism in our rural area, we got an appointment right away. Feeling immensely grateful!
Leuk, hoe je zo'n vraag wetenschappelijk aanpakt. Volgens mij is er ook geen verschil te zien.
Dank je wel Truus! Ja, daar heb ik ook aan zitten denken. Maar dan zou je verwachten dat er verschillen zijn in de "platheid" van de draden op verschillende plekken in het gewaad en dat lijkt niet zo te zijn. Ineens is me trouwens te binnen geschoten dat er ook gewoon plat gouddraad bestaat: flatworm. Ik vraag me af of ze dat gebruikt hebben. Is eigenlijk veel logischer :).
How interesting - thank you for your video! Some secrets the medieval artisans cherished might never be known, as they were indeed very jealous of their mastery and never wrote down anything for fear of losing their priviledges. But really, I would have thought even the modern threads would have got a little bit flatter!
Thank you Marina! Don't forget quite a few of them couldn't write.
Fascinating experiment with burnishing (or not) modern gold work.
Thank you Lesley!
Very interesting experiment -- sometimes you learn as much when the hypothesis is disproved. I'm presuming that the modern materials make the difference, too, but there's no doubt that the combination of materials and unknown techniques will make it very difficult to discover what craftsmen were actually doing in the 11c. Of course, if the same techniques were passed down through the guilds, is it unreasonable to presume that 15th- or 16th-century masters working with gold might have committed their secrets to paper?
Thank you, Nancy! I am unaware of any written material on the flattening of goldthreads other than that in modern publications by art historians. Most embroiderers in the (late) medieval period could not write. However, I suddenly remembered that there are flat goldthreads: flatworm. Could it be that they used a form of flatworm? It makes much more sense to stitch with a flattened thread in the first place than having to conduct a second and possibly risky step.
This technique is still used in Aari-embroidery. I've learned to flatten the coils with a wooden mallet and a wood block under the work. It is pretty tricky to get it right in the beginning, but once you start to understand how the coils move when flattened it becomes easier to plan.
Could it be that we are talking about two very different types of goldthread? If I remember correctly, aari embroidery is conducted with purls (no textile core) and the above discribed embroidery is conducted with passing thread (textile core).
Congratulations on your vaccination!
Thank you Darcy! It is really difficult so see how the goldthreads actually run. After 1000 years, it is no longer very neat. Turns don't look great :). And yes, wood could have been used if the medieval goldthreads would have been softer.
Thank you very much for this very interesting experiment. My husband, an engineer, was in the room and listened to the audio. According to him, gilded threads are made of a different metal such as silver and coated with gold, either chemically or by electroplating. The mechanical properties of gold and silver are quite different - gold is more ductile. I hope it will make sense to you all your followers.
Thank you, Paula and husband! Yes, the original goldthreads were >95% gold. That's quite different from our modern "real" goldthreads, let alone the modern gilt threads with their 0.3% gold! However, I get the feeling that the threads were flattened before the stitching and not after. Too much could have gone wrong and I am not sure they would have wanted to risk that after all those hours of stitching.
To be honest: I had to sleep on it. But when I woke the next morning, I filmed the second part of the video. No guts no glory :).
Hi Jessica, I wonder whether it would make the threads shinier if the hammering was done under a piece of silk fabric. It wouldn’t make any difference to the results in respect of flattening them, but it may enhance the finished result. Just a thought that popped into my head as I watched your video.
Hmm, that's an interesting idea, Barbara. However, the original threads did not need that. They were >95% pure gold and do not tarnish at all. They are, even after 1000-years, much shinier than any of our modern threads.
We need a campaign in the re-enactment scene, Rachel. Nalbinding and tablet weaving are so 1990s. How about making pure gold threads with a silk core? Please!
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