Today we had another full day of stitching at the Alpine Experience. The ladies were competing in a friendly race on who would be able to introduce the green silk first (Elisabeth has a red dress and a green mantle). Lots of laughter and bending of the rules :). We also had another visitor. After lunch, a beautiful red cat came walking in as though he totally owned the place.
As it is quite impossible to finish all of Elisabeth during the 30 hours of tuition at the Alpine Experience, students will have access to a set of instruction videos. They also have the choice of working Elisabeth in the same shades of silk that I have used, or they can colour match using this lovely collection of Chinese flat silk. In a couple of weeks (months?), we will all meet on Zoom to check in on progress and discuss any questions which might have come up.
Today we had a full day of stitching at the Alpine Experience. Interspersed with fabulous food made by Mark and served by Nadine. And we had a couple of interesting visitors. Firstly, Harry the lizard. He seems to like sunbathing on Cathryn's trestles. We are pretty sure that he sleeps in the couch at night :). As the Alpine Experience is situated in a beautiful area, most of us like to take walks after class to stretch after a whole day of sitting and to let our eyes rest on the horizon. There is a particularly lovely short walk through the forest to the next hamlet. Plenty of wildflowers and butterflies included. And some gorgeous old buildings and cottage gardens to admire. Today, I picked up a mildly lost man from Guadeloupe. We stroke up a conversation in English (with a bit of my broken French) on our concepts of God. And it was really quite amazing! He also asked if he could see our embroidery as his mum used to embroider. As you know from a previous post, my ladies are not averse to a beautiful male :). This kind soul was very impressed and thanked us for the wonderful opportunity and then continued on his walk. Les Carroz is a truly magical place!
Tomorrow, I'll show you Cathryn's version of Elisabeth; I took a picture of her piece at the wrong angle ...
After another wonderful breakfast with pain au chocolat at the Alpine Experience, we went to Annecy. This is a lovely medieval town with crooked streets, narrow passageways and lots of old buildings with lovely independent shops. One of these shops is a well-stocked needlework shop. The window display sported many stitched models of the famous French cross-stitch brand of 'Le bonheur des dames'. But they also had a huge selection of quilting fabrics and ribbons. And printed canvasses with Annecy town scenes. Now that makes for a lovely souvenir to take home!
Tomorrow, we will continue with our or nue. But having such a lovely break in good company was an excellent idea. We laughed so much about Nadine's stories and we nearly took one of the waiters home as a kind of a toy boy...
After a fabulous breakfast with hot croissants, it was time to start the or nue proper. By the end of the day, all ladies had a couple of rows in. Nobody cried and they seem to seriously enjoy themselves. We also had a lovely visit from a French couple passing by on foot. They were suitably impressed with our stitching. Here are a couple of pictures of today's class.
This week, I am teaching or nue at the Alpine Experience in France. I am joined by Cathryn, Eleanor, Jane, and Tricia from the UK, as well as Bolivia from the US and Caroline from Chile. They will recreate the orphrey figure of Elisabeth of Thuringia. The original can be found on a red dalmatic kept at the Museum Catharijneconvent (ABM t2093c). It was made in Amsterdam around AD 1510-1520. All students will share the same pricking and will try to copy the original. In my mind, this setting comes very close to medieval practice. This week, I'll try to blog daily about our progress and our stay at the Alpine Experience. No worries; you will not receive a daily newsletter. I will not spam you :).
The students did really well today. By the end of the day, they all had their slate frames dressed and their design inked onto their linen fabric. They also coloured a line drawing of Elisabeth. This makes you look real close at the original and will help with the actual stitching.
The workshop has these fantastic big windows with a spectacular view of the mountains. Magnifier lamps and trestles are available for student use as well.
And Mark and Nadine make sure that we do not go hungry nor thirsty :). The food is amazing. These blueberry muffins with a crumbly topping were just divine.
And I brought boxes full of coloured metal threads, silks and embroidery kits. You do not want your students to go home with an empty space in their suitcases :).
See you tomorrow for more Alpine Stitchyness!
Yesterday, I gave a brief introduction to the or nue embroidery on the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece held in the Imperial Treasury in Vienna, Austria for the 500th show of FiberTalk. My bit runs from 1:08:55 until 1:17:02. When I was preparing my pictures for this short presentation, it suddenly struck me that there were some similarities with a couple of pieces in the collection of the Museum Catharijneconvent in the Netherlands. Not exact matches, but enough similarities to propose that whoever drew the designs for the orphreys from the Catherijneconvent probably knew about the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Let me show you what I mean.
Here you see an orphrey from the Mary cope of the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece and on the left an orphrey on cope BMH t622 in Museum Catharijneconvent. Can you see the similarities in the background architecture? The two columns with the arch and the two sharp triangles above look similar on both vestments. Even the colour scheme is the same. The actual blue vault is different in both pieces. In the orphrey on the left, we see a barrel vault and on the right, we see a groin vault. But they are both blue (a popular colour, but not the only one used). Yes, the embroidery on the orphrey from the Order of the Golden Fleece is much more elaborate and of higher skill, but I think the similarities are quite convincing. Interestingly, BHM t622 and ABM t2114 & ABM t2115 are the only orphreys with this type of simple quite bold architecture.
But there is more. Something which has always intrigued me regarding ABM t2115 is the fact that the figure of Philip the Apostle is seen on the back. As far as I am aware, there are no other single-figure orphreys where this is the case. However, figures seen on the back are present on the copes of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The figures on the orphreys from Museum Catharijneconvent are worked in a form of long-and-short stitch characteristic of the medieval period. It is more worked like the systematic types of silk shading seen in Chinese embroidery than like the completely random type taught at the Royal School of Needlework. The figures in the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece are worked in or nue. However, in this case, both techniques are executed with a lot of skill. You cannot say that the or nue figures are of higher quality than the silk shaded ones (there is a difference in skill when you compare the backgrounds, see above). Again, the colour scheme in these two figures is remarkably similar.
However, the drawings of the figures depicted on the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece are much more sophisticated. The figures from the Catharijneconvent orphreys are simpler and perhaps not so stylish. This is best illustrated when you compare the figure of Saint Barbara. Barbara on the left is hot, Barbara on the right not so much :). What is also interesting, the silk shading of Barbara on the right is of far lesser skill than that seen for the figure of Philip the Apostle. This indicates that the orphreys from the Catharijneconvent were stitched by embroiderers with different skill sets.
The vestments for the Order of the Golden Fleece were made around AD 1425-1440 in the Southern Netherlands. The orphreys from Museum Catharijneconvent were made c. AD 1490-1500 probably in the Northern Netherlands. Had the person who drew the design drawings for the orphreys from the Catharijneconvent seen a cope of the Order of the Golden Fleece? Perhaps when visiting the Order's chapel in Brussels? Or was this person perhaps even involved in the management of the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece? After all, they were already between 50 and 75 years old and must have received regular care to be preserved in such good state until the present day. Both embroiderers and designers needed an education before they could execute their professions. Maybe travelling to see famous vestments was part of their Continued Professional Development? Whatever the case, I think the similarities seen between the pieces in Vienna and those in the Netherlands show that there is a connection of some sort. What do you think?
Leeflang, M., Schooten, K. van (Eds.), 2015. Middeleeuwse Borduurkunst uit de Nederlanden. WBOOKS, Zwolle.
Schmitz-von Ledebur, K., 2010. Das Messornat des Ordens vom Goldenen Vlies: Sticker im Dienste der burgundischen Herzöge, in: Bergemann, U.-C., Stauffer, A. (Eds.), Reiche Bilder. Aspekte zur Produktion und Funktion von Stickereien im Spätmittelalter. Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg, pp. 25–36.
Today, I should have been in Bukhara enjoying the first International Festival of Gold embroidery and Jewelery. Instead, I have been in isolation for the past 11 days as I was down with Covid. I finally tested negative this morning. For the past two years, I and my husband have been careful not to contract nor spread the virus. We got ourselves vaccinated as quickly as possible and we stuck to the rules concerning distance and hygiene. We continue to wear our masks voluntarily in shops and other public spaces. Unfortunately for us, we live in an area with a low vaccination rate and many people give a fig about the rules. We always suspected the virus would get us someday. The timing was just very wrong.
This lovely chap waited in vain for me at Tashkent airport. The bitter part about it all? It turned out that the virus was circulating in the extended family we live with. They did not warn us. Some did not go for a test (they are free in Germany!). Instead, they kept coming into our apartment for a chat or to hand over the mail. We were only informed when my husband informed them that we had Covid and needed to go into isolation. They never asked if we needed any help (luckily I have a well-stocked pantry) or if we were physically okay (we were only really ill for a couple of days). We have put up with their ludicrous anti-vax stories for two years, but this amount of egoism is very hard to stomach.
Luckily, I can still enjoy a bit of the festival as Alison Cole very sweetly keeps me informed. Head over to her Facebook page to see beautiful pictures of ethnic goldwork embroidery. Let's hope the Uzbek government invites me again in 2024 for the second edition of the festival!
As the coming month is going to be rather full of exciting things, I'll take a blogging break. First, my parents are coming to visit. And then, I'll be preparing for my visit to the first International Festival of Gold Embroidery and Jewelery in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. I still can't quite believe that I have been selected to attend. It will be such a privilege to meet all these talented goldwork embroiderers from all over the world! I will be able to see the tools and techniques all these people are using. So far, I know that Alison Cole and Jo Dixey are also attending. It will be lovely to meet them for the first time. You will read all about it in my next blog post on Monday 30th of May. But before I'll take a break, there are some other exciting tidbits that I want to share with you!
FiberTalk, the twice-weekly podcast for people who stab ground cloth with a needle, is having its 500th (!) show on the 29th of May. The jury is still out on the exact length of that 500th show :). But, as it starts at a for Europeans convenient time (2 p.m. Eastern, I believe), I have been asked to be a guest. So do put that date in your diary if you would like to hear me talk about medieval goldwork and possibly Uzbekistan. And for those who missed it: my 4th podcast with Gary and Beth which was released during the Easter weekend. Click the link and you can listen to that podcast directly on the FiberTalk website. Don't forget to subscribe to the FiberTalk podcast through the podcast app of your choice (I use Podbean).
This coming Sunday (1st of May), I'll be demonstrating goldwork embroidery at the Openair Museum Glentleiten. Do stop by for a chat on medieval or nue! And don't forget to sign-up for my padded and unpadded diaper patterns workshop at the museum in July. Places are limited!
That's it for now. I'll be cleaning the house and mentally preparing for the many pieces of cake I'll be eating when my parents are here :).
Last week's beautiful Bohemian chasuble cross was a bit large to discuss in a single blog post. And it turned out to be even more interesting. So here is part II. On a personal note: I rarely display the crucifixion scene prominently on my blog. Just like the early Christians I see an execution. However, this particular crucifixion has such beautiful embroidery and such an interesting alteration story to tell that it would be a shame not to show it to you. And there is a mystery padding technique I hope you might be able to identify. But above all, it prominently displays my favourite biblical power woman: Miriam of Magdala. Unlike Yeshua's male companions, Miriam of Magdala did not cowardly flee but endured watching Yeshua's execution. Her grief of losing her best friend is beautifully captured in this Bohemian embroidery. As is often the case in Central Europe, Miriam kneels and embraces the wooden column of the cross. She is all alone. Emphasising the special bond between Yeshua and her. Not an adultress (that's an invention by Pope Gregory I and was revised by Pope Paul VI) but a primary witness of the life and death of Yeshua.
The very fine split stitch embroidery on the body of Yeshua has degraded to such an extent that the beautiful underdrawing has become visible. It is more than a simple line drawing and also shows shadows and many anatomical details. There is a red dye (probably madder) under the halo and on the beams of the cross (but avoiding the left arm). Clearly the work of a pro. The figure of Yeshua was worked as a slip and couched over the voided area of the sunny spiral background. You can see a gap between the top of the halo and that background. The halo has been elaborately padded with different shapes of parchment.
If you look closely, you can also spot some later repairs. There are newer silk stitches in the crown of thorns, the hair and around the outline of the cross. You can even spot some newer goldthread under the right arm (left side of the picture). Also, the crude couching stitches visible on the right (left side of the body) are not original.
And here is another detail. See the vertical line in the middle above the arm? That's a seam. Two different pieces of linen were joined here. The linen on the left is a bit finer than the linen on the right. It looks like a seam on both pieces was turned under and then the two pieces were slip stitched together. This seam was not visible when the embroidery was new. Because, if you look closely along the edge of the beam of the cross you can spot the remnants of a golden coloured fabric (probably silk). The order of work seems to have been to draw the cross on the linen background (pieced together from at least two pieces of linen) with ink and/or charcoal. Red paint was added to the beams of the cross. Then the golden background was stitched. Then the silk was appliqued over the beams of the cross and embroidered over (where the seam is, the silk of the beam lays on top of the spirals to straighten the beam and correct the line drawing). Then the figure was stitched to the background. Again, the red line along the beam and the blood splatters are later additions. The red of these later additions is much brighter than the original red silk used to edge the vertical beam (to the right of the halo).
And here is the figure of Miriam of Magdala. For the most part, she is worked as a slip too. However, to get the perspective right, the last part of her right forearm is worked directly on the linen background of the sunny spirals. It even looks like there is a partial sunny spiral below the silken split stitches. It seems the embroiderer changed the design when the slip was attached. The colours are a little off too and the stitching isn't as neat as that of the rest of the arm. What is going on here?
Here is another detail of the figure of Miriam of Magdala. As with the cross, there is a piece of green silk attached behind her halo. But something isn't quite right. The figure is appliqued onto the halo. The green silk is backed with a piece of coarse linen dyed a dark brown. It is not the same linen as seen behind the sunny spirals. The halo was thus not directly stitched onto the background linen on which the sunny spirals were stitched. And look at the gold thread. The gold thread in the halo (and that running along the seam of the headdress and the garment) is much shinier and hasn't oxidized in the same way as the gold thread of the sunny spirals. This is an indication that the thread in the halo is of a later date than that of the background. The thick crude white string at the top part of the halo would have been the padding for pearls. This again seems a later addition.
And what about the broad padded seam along the edge of the headdress? What is it? How was it made? It seems to be stitched on top of the fine split stitches and could thus be a later addition as well. Do you recognise the technique? If so, please leave a comment below!
And then there is her nose! When I first saw this, I was reminded of the parchment padded noses sometimes seen in Opus anglicanum (for instance: V&A 28A-1892). However, could it be that Miriam's nose was instead damaged at some point? The stitches are a little different and the colour of the silk seems a bit off too. The repair might account for the padded effect seen today.
So. What the flip is going on? Well, I think that this beautiful Bohemian embroidery was taken apart when the current chasuble (or possibly an older predecessor with the same cut) was constructed. You see, when the original chasuble cross was stitched around AD 1380 the form of the chasuble it would have been appliqued onto was very different. It was much larger. Chasubles before the 13th-century were voluminous bell chasubles. Due to changes in the liturgy (elevation of the host) the priest needed more arm room and the chasuble became increasingly smaller. This eventually lead to the minimalist violin case shape of this 19th-century chasuble. This meant that older embroideries were too large and needed to be adapted. Often, they were simply cut off with little regard for the embroidered scenes.
Not so in this case. It seems that the figures were carefully taken off the sunny spiral background. The crucifixion cross was probably remodelled (cross beams and column shortened) and the silk was added. Miriam was given a new halo. She would have originally sat further down the column of the cross. When she had to be moved up, she either never had a halo or the halo could not be moved because it was part of the background (now possibly beneath her clothes). Due to the now shortened 'canvas' the pelican was moved down and now sits almost on top of Yeshua's halo. The figure of Yeshua is probably not quite in its original place either. A patch of newer gold thread next to his feet (big toe right foot) shows that originally something else was going on here. Maybe all the additional silk embroidery dates from this major remodelling too. All in all, it shows that this beautiful embroidery was valued and got a second lease of life.
Stolleis, K., 2001. Messgewänder aus deutschen Kirchenschätzen vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart. Regensburg, Schnell & Steiner.
Wenzel, K., 2016. Görlitzer Kasel. In: J. Fajt & M. Hörsch (eds.), Kaiser Karl IV, 1316-2016. Ausstellungskatalog. Nationalgalerie in Prag, p. 505-508.
A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate to visit the Museum in Görlitz to study their medieval goldwork embroidery. You can read my first blog article on a 15th-century chasuble with scenes from the Life of Mary here. Today we will have a look at a very special chasuble cross made at the end of the 14th-century in a royal workshop in Bohemia. Görlitz belonged to the kingdom of Bohemia during this time. It was an important trading city that controlled the trade with woad and woollen cloth. No wonder such a high-quality chasuble cross has survived in the treasury of Saint Peter's church. Bohemian goldwork embroidery flourished in the late 14th- and early 15th-century under the patronage of the Bohemian kings. They were of the House of Luxembourg. Bohemian embroidery is quite distinctive and once you know what it looks like you can easily link other pieces. Not many pieces have survived and I don't think all of them have been published in a cohesive overview. The chasuble cross in the Museum in Görlitz is one of the lesser-known pieces.
The red chasuble the Bohemian cross is mounted on is of a younger date (as is the embroidered cross mounted on the front). This shows that this piece of embroidery was still highly valued hundreds of years after it was originally made. Although the embroidered design is a classical one, I don't think that there is another Crucifixion scene with Mary Magdalene embracing the cross and with a pelican's nest above the cross within the corpus of Bohemian embroidery.
Now let's have a detailed look at the embroidery by picking (plucking?) the pelican apart. The pelican and her three young are stitched in coloured silks. The split stitches used are very fine and follow the contours of the birds. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? This is a very similar technique as seen in contemporary Opus anglicanum. However, the background consists of these golden spirals that have been couched down with normal surface couching. Underside couching is absent from Bohemian embroidery. Another peculiarity of at least some of the Bohemian embroideries seems to be that these background patterns, be them spirals or diaper, are drawn onto the fabric. In this case, each spiral with its 'rays' has been individually drawn onto the fabric.
Here you can see that the embroidery was worked onto two layers of linen: a very fine linen (c. 53 ct) backed by a coarser linen. Another piece of linen seen at the bottom left is from a later repair. The pelican and nest were worked as a slip and then sewn onto the chasuble cross.
Here you see the later repair as a whole. Aparently, the area between the adult bird and the chicks had completely worn away at some point. It was repaired with a piece of linen and then embroidered over. The stitches are much larger and the red silk is of a different colour than the original red silk used (see blood splatters on the head of the chick on the left).
And then there is the nest. It is padded with small strips of parchment. The gold threads are couched on either side of each strip in a technique known as gimped couching. By changing both the direction of the parchment strips and the gold threads, you get the illusion of a woven nest. When you look carefully, you can sometimes spot the little holes in the strips of parchment that were used to sew them onto the linen background fabric. I am also wondering what the dark-yellow substance is on the parchment. Is it paint so that the stark white colour of the parchment would not shine through? Or is it yellowed glue? This would probably help to fixate the gold threads whilst you are working.
As far as I know, none of the art historians who studied the Bohemian embroideries has ever noticed the similarities with Opus anglicanum. Although underside couching is absent from the Bohemian pieces, the very fine split stitch following the contours of the figures is indeed very similar. Are there any links between Bohemia and England at the end of the 14th- and the start of the 15th-century? Yes. The House of Luxembourg. King Richard II was married to Anne of Bohemia (AD 1366-1394) in AD 1382. Anne was a sister of Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg (1368-1437), who was also King of Bohemia and Hungary. Prior to her marriage, she lived in Prague castle. In addition, the mother-in-law of Henry IV was Jacquetta of Luxembourg (AD 1415/16-1472). Her family had been living in England for a couple of generations. She was also a fourth cousin twice removed from Sigismund of Luxembourg. As the earliest preserved pieces made in England are about 100 years older (MET 17.190.186) than the earliest preserved pieces of Bohemian embroidery (V&A 1375-1864), it seems possible that the technique travelled from England to Bohemia in the second half of the 14th-century. Clearly, additional research is necessary to shed some more light on this tantalizing possibility.
Browne, C., Davies, G., Michael, M.A. (Eds.), 2016. English Medieval Embroidery: Opus Anglicanum. Yale University Press, New Haven.
Wetter, E., 1999. Böhmische Bildstickerei um 1400. Die Stiftungen in Trient, Brandenburg und Danzig. Gebr. Mann Verlag, Berlin.
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