Until I was asked to write a book review for the current issue of the Journal of Dress History, I had never heard of either the journal or the Association of Dress Historians accounting for its publication. You might have the same 'problem'. Let me, therefore, introduce you to this fantastic free open-source publication that has plenty to offer for textile enthusiasts and lovers of embroidery. And if you like to support this initiative, please consider becoming a member too. At only 10 GBP per year, it is a good way to help support academic research in the field of dress history.
I haven't yet read every single issue of the journal, but I did find some embroidery related articles from combing through the index. The first article you might be interested in was issued in the Spring issue of 2017: 'Professional and Domestic Embroidery on Men's Clothing in the later Eighteenth Century' by Alison Larkin. It focusses on the female makers of these embroideries whether in a professional setting or not. If you were taught to embroider at all, depended on your social status and your gender. Paradoxically, professional embroidery was seen as a female lower-class job whilst middle and upper-class women would learn to embroider in their domestic setting to show off their suitability as a chaste wife and their status. Meanwhile, the men were the owners of the professional workshops or the designers of the embroidery patterns. Alison Larkin concludes with pointing out some technical and material differences between the pieces made in a professional setting and those in a domestic setting.
The spring issue of 2018 contains the paper: 'Fashion Victims: Dressed Sculptures of the Virgin in Portugal and Spain' by Diana Rafaela Pereira. Apart from the interesting discussion, this paper includes some pretty pictures of beautiful goldwork embroidery on these lavish clothes. The clothing of saintly sculptures can be traced back to medieval times. However, there has always been opposition against the practice as it was seen to be too profane. And the lavishly decorated clothes were not at all in keeping with the supposedly poor reality of the saint's real life.
If you are familiar with the embroidery books of Yvette Stanton, you have probably heard of the Norwegian folk dress called bunad. In the autumn issue of 2018, Solveig Strand writes about this 'Peasant Dress, Embroidered Costume and National Symbol'. I found this a most interesting paper as it explains that bunads were created in the 20th-century to reflect modern taste and the need for a national symbol, rather than historical accuracy. This is similar to the story of the Dirndl worn in the South of Germany. Historically accurate peasant dress looks very different indeed, but you better not discuss the topic with a local ...
P.S. The winners of the thread packs for August and September are: Dewilla Hooper, Kathleen Mason, Andrea Boulton and Anne Holly. All winners have been notified. For your chance to win one of these thread packs, please make sure you are subscribed to my newsletter!
Between chasing supplies for the next online embroidery course, trying them out and processing fruit and vegetables for winter storage, I managed to finish Royal Garden by Debbie Rowley. This was originally a SAL organised by FiberTalk to promote counted canvas/needlepoint. As this is a technique not taught by the Royal School of Needlework, I was curious to try it out (NOTE: the RSN does teach canvaswork/needlepoint, but either as a shaded version using tent stitch or as a free-er version using traditional canvas stitches mainly based on satin stitch). The technique is quite popular in the US, but virtually unknown in Europe. Designs make extensive use of speciality threads. The technique is well-suited for beginners as long as the instructions are clear.
As noted in my previous blog post on the project, the instructions contain a number of mistakes. Some more serious than others. I spotted one additional mistake when finishing the project. Page 41: "Begin with the silk/metallic braid, and stitch as shown in Diagram 56" (and not 55 as stated). Furthermore, the numbering in some of the diagrams is rather difficult to read as they are placed on top of each other or other elements in the drawing.
As with previous parts of the design, I decided to make some changes. For the life of me, I could not execute a Chilly Hollow stitch with the threads specified. The rayon cord (Rainbow Gallery Panache) was so slippery that in order to maintain tension, I distorted the canvas and broke the centre foundation stitches. I decided to opt for simple satin stitches mimicking the shape of a Chilly Hollow stitch. Unfortunately, I had run out of the correct colour Rainbow Gallery silk lame braid. That was a major annoyance. In my opinion, kits should contain enough material so that occasional ´backwards stitching` is covered. Luckily, I had some leftover silk lame braid in a slightly different colour. In the middle, I stitched a bead on a silver-plated spangle for some added interest.
Whilst I enjoyed the first part of Royal Garden (centre part, before adding the lilac crescents with a tail with the yellow teardrops), I did not particularly like stitching the rest of the design. I think some colours do not work so well with the middle part of the design. Especially the Sword Amadeus in DMC #320 are an odd choice. The colour does not really harmonise with the rest. One wonders if DMC changed the colour between when the design was created and me stitching it.
Is counted needlepoint for me? Not really. Although I liked learning new stitches, I did not like working with threads that are, if you are honest, not suitable for the job. Most of the speciality threads are made of artificial fibres. Some need ironing to get the wrinkles out or glue to stay put. That's not my cup of tea. My other problem is that most of these threads, whilst some are even made in Europe, must be ordered from the US. This makes counted needlepoint for me more expensive than goldwork embroidery. Personally, I also missed further instructional videos by Debbie Rowley or FiberTalk. It would have been nice to keep the SAL going and finish the project together.
Has anybody else stitched Royal Garden? What were your experiences? Please leave a comment below!
Looking for some small embroidery kits to learn some new stitches and work with speciality threads? Learn a new skill with my petite needlepoint kits stitched on 40ct natural linen! Each kit contains all the materials needed to complete the design (bar hoop and scissors) and comes with downloadable instructions. The kits are packaged in such a way that they can be shipped all over the world in a padded envelope. Postage is included in the kit price. Let's examine each kit in a bit more detail! The finished designs are about 8,5 x 8,5 cm.
The autumn pumpkin kit contains three gorgeous colours of hand-dyed House of Embroidery raw silks. This is spun silk and very easy to work with. If you are used to stranded cotton, you will have a similar stitching experience. The kit further contains a skein of hand-dyed House of Embroidery perle #12 and a piece of DMC memory thread. Apart from learning 11 needlepoint stitches, you will also explore chain stitch, couching and beading!
The winter snowman kit also contains three beautifully hand-dyed House of Embroidery raw silks and a skein of hand-dyed House of Embroidery perle #12. You will learn a total of six needlepoint stitches based on the Hungarian stitches. Chain stitch, French knots and beading are also covered. A hand-painted enamel carrot completes your charming snowman!
The Spring is in the Air kit contains three bobbins with lovely hand-dyed raw silk and two skeins of hand-dyed perle #12 by House of Embroidery. Apart from learning chain stitch and seven needlepoint stitches, this kit will ensure that you become a pro when it comes to French knots. You will also practice regular beading and making beaded daisies!
There has been a summer kit in the planning stages for some time now, but it will not be released until next year due to the Corona pandemic. You can order your petite needlepoint kits here. Happy Stitching!
Organising the Imperial Goldwork Course during the lock-down posed a real challenge. I couldn't send out course materials due to international mail not going out. I needed to invest in a high-spec webcam and software at a time when our household income was low due to the pandemic. Teaching live on Zoom for an international crowd in which often three languages were spoken, was new for me too. But I tremendously enjoyed sharing my knowledge and skills. And I learned a lot. Which changed the way I will do similar things in the future.
As my husband lost 40% of his already meagre income at the start of the lock-down, I was very aware of the struggle many people were in. Especially those who do not live in a welfare state like Germany. That's why I came up with a donation payment structure for the course. The idea is that people with disposable income donate when they take the course and those who lost (part) of their income can join for free (as explained in this blog post). As the warmth and the solidarity of the embroidery community is so often praised, it should not have been a problem for me to draw an income from my efforts. But it was and still is.
Of the 108 stitchers who have taken the course to date, 30 made a donation. Donations range from €10 to €265, with an average of €59. Producing each lesson and supporting students via email took me to date about 3,5 days per lesson. If we subtract the cost for the webcam and the software, I am left with €484. If we divide this by the working hours I invested, I worked for €2,16 per hour before taxes.
As most people took the course during or immediately after the live zoom classes, I sent out a survey to those who downloaded the PDF-handouts. After all, I wanted to learn from my mistakes. And I thank all who took the trouble to respond and provide me with valuable feedback.
One of the questions asked why people did or did not pay for the course. And the replies where illuminating. Reasons for not paying in order of their frequency: 1) others don't pay so why should I?, 2) when I cannot attend (all) of the live zoom classes and need to watch (some of) the recordings, I am not really participating in the course so I do not need to pay and 3) only wanted to see how you do it so that I can use your format for my own offerings/report format back to my organisation.
From the above, it becomes clear that the donation payment structure does not work. Thanks to Social Media, I could watch people, who took my course without paying, showing-off their latest buys and sign-ups for embroidery courses. I will thus not use this payment structure again. For all future courses, I will make a proper costing. If you want to take the course, that is what you will need to pay. I am aware that some will probably not be able to afford my future courses. However, if all 108 students, who have taken the course so far, would each have donated €32,64, I would have earned the German legal minimum wage of €10 per hour. That's for a person without qualifications and experience, by the way.
Before the pandemic, but certainly now during the pandemic, some colleagues and stitchers have started to 'shop' for ideas from my blog, Instagram and YouTube channel. Thank you to those of you who have warned me. I had seen it with my own eyes too. As you probably have noticed, I am posting very sparingly on Instagram and I am not sure if I will make more FlossTube videos. I am also struggling with how much detail to post on my blog. It is a real dilemma. On the one hand, I need to be engaging so that I keep myself in the picture and sell my products and services. But on the other hand, it is soul-destroying to see others turn your ideas into blockbusters.
My academic background and language skills should give me an edge over many of my colleagues. But this only works if the potential costumers are able to distinguish the difference in quality. But fake news and alternative facts show that increasingly people are unable to do so. Quality news outlets suffer and so do quality embroidery tutors.
Last year I visited the Dommuseum in Fulda and was struck by a particular goldwork orphrey. It sported a beautiful rendition of Saint John in or nue with a rather unusual background. Not one of these typical golden backgrounds with architectural features and a cloth of gold in diaper couching. Nope. His background consisted of blue silk satin stitches with some basic architectural features and less gold. What was going on here? There wasn't much information displayed in general in this museum and the information on Saint John was even more basic. But this wasn't the end of the story. Those who have watched my latest FlossTube with the Acupictrix video on YouTube, already know that I found Saint John's identical twin in a book on the Frankfurter Domschatz. But that's not all. Here comes the rest of the story.
The chasuble that sports the identical twin of Saint John in the Frankfurter Domschatz is part of a set consisting of one chasuble and two dalmatics. The cope, which would have made the set complete, is missing. Although the set is now housed in Frankfurt, it probably originated in the church Klein St. Martin in Cologne. Below the orphrey with Saint John are the names 'Merten' and 'Drutgen' stitched. The beneficiaries of this set of vestments. Merchant and member of the city council, Merten Moench and his wife Drutgin von der Groeven. Merten was born in 's-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands, but his wife was from Cologne. She died in AD 1451 and he died in AD 1466. This is slightly too early for the set of vestments; they were made around AD 1475. What happened? Merten had a niece, Alheit van Buckhoven, she was the executrix of his testament. Her coat of arms is also displayed on one of the vestments. From the written sources, we know that Alheit spent a perpetual mass for the souls of her uncle Merten and his wife, her own soul and the souls of her parents at the altar of Mary Magdalene in the church Klein St. Martin from AD 1476 onwards. This fits the date of the vestments perfectly and it seems that she paid for this mass including all the thrills and frills.
The chasuble is made of red velvet shot with goldthreads. It is one of these famous red velvets made in Florenz, Italy sporting pomegranates. The orphreys on the front show: Paul, Peter and Mary Magdalene. The ones on the back show: God, Mary with child, John the Baptist and our Saint John. All of them sport high-quality or nue figures set in a golden architectural background with blue silk stitches with a similar tiled floor stitched in yellow, red and green silks. Whilst the figures look very Dutch, the backgrounds don't. The blue vaguely reminds of the 'Kölner Borte'. These were mass-produced woven orphreys that sometimes showed additional stitching for the details.
The two dalmatics are made of the same red velvet. But this time the orphreys are 'right'. High quality or nue figures sitting in a proper golden background so typical of the Dutch style.
What is going on here? We know from the historical records that the vestments were extensively restored in 1842/43 by the painter and 'parament worker' Edward von Steinle in Cologne, with the help of another painter and conservator, Johann Anton Ramboux. It took Edward, with the help of his two daughters, about a year to clean the vestments up and make them presentable again. They were paid 100 Taler for their work. That's about €4860 in today's money according to Google. I really hope they had additional income ... Anyway, although the vestments were extensively restored, the difference in backgrounds between the chasuble and the dalmatics is a medieval one and not the result of these restorations.
How does the single orphrey from Dommuseum Fulda fit into this story? As this orphrey has the same figure and background as the ones on the chasuble from Frankfurt, he is very likely part of the original set of vestments from the church Klein St. Martin. Beneath the original orphrey, another coat of arms is displayed. On the chasuble, the names of the beneficiaries are stitched beneath the orphrey of Saint John.
Looking closely at the figures on the chasuble, we see that they either look to the left or to the right. Furthermore, the orphreys are significantly wider than those on the dalmatics. This is a typical convention. Orphreys on a chasuble, but also on a cope, are wider than those on a dalmatic. The orphreys on a cope sit opposite each other at the front when the cope is being worn. The orphrey figures face each other: one faces to the right and the other faces to the left. This means that both the orphreys on the chasuble and the single orphrey from the Dommuseum Fulda were originally made for a cope. God would have sat opposite of Mary with child, Peter and Paul, Mary Magdalene and Saint John and John the Baptist is missing his partner in crime.
Now, this can mean several things:
1) Merten and his family were merchants with connections to the (Southern) Netherlands. They knew this type of goldwork embroidery well and valued it. Getting it from the Netherlands instead of opting for locally produced 'Kölner Borte' shows that these vestments were quite valuable and perfect to show off.
2) They were able to lay their hands on a number of loose orphreys and figures from the Netherlands and velvet from Italy.
3) These orphreys, figures and precious velvet were turned into vestments in Cologne by local craftsmen. These saw the 'complete' Dutch orphreys and worked orphrey backgrounds in a similar style, but with local influences to go with the loose Dutch figures. Names and coats of arms were added to make clear who bestowed these riches onto the church.
4) Orphreys intended to go onto a cope were instead applied to a chasuble. Or were they moved from a cope to the chasuble between AD 1476 and AD 1842/43? Does Saint John from the Dommuseum Fulda come from the original missing cope or copes? Or were so many figures bought at the same time and turned into 'Cologne-style' orphreys by the same workshop and then spread within Germany? Is the orphrey of Saint John in the Dommuseum Fulda the only remnant of a whole different set of vestments made in Cologne? One way of finding out is by identifying the coat of arms on the loose Saint John orphrey. I intend to write to both museums to ask if they know more. So exciting! I will keep you posted.
Stolleis, K., 1992. Der Frankfurter Domschatz Band I Die Paramente. Kramer, Frankfurt.
During my break from blog writing and after the success of the first online goldwork course, I have come up with a new online course: Medieval goldwork techniques - a journey through 500-years of embroidered history. In this new ten-week online course we will explore different forms of couching: underside couching, pattern couching, couching over padding and the queen of couching techniques: or nue. We will explore each technique in its (art) historical setting. In each sample worked we will use as authentic materials as feasible. The beautiful goldwork techniques of the Middle Ages deserve precious gilt threads and real silk!
Over the past five years, I have travelled extensively to visit museum exhibitions, research facilities and libraries in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Austria, England, Italy and Lithuania. Many of these trips were covered on this blog. The resulting research now forms the basis of the course. By attending the course you will gain in-depth knowledge of how medieval goldwork embroideries were made. What technical inventions revolutionised the process and the workshop setup. What inspired the stylistic language? You will learn about the close relationships between embroiderers, goldsmiths, painters and sculptors. Who were these embroiderers? Did they see themselves as artists? How were they organised? Who did they work for?
The core of the course form the embroidery samples you will work. They are all inspired by actual medieval embroideries. You will handle luxury fabrics like samite and silk twill, as well as high-quality gilt threads and different kinds of beautiful silk yarn. After taking this course, you will know the benefits of using madder, sienna and iron gall ink. This course is directed at embroiderers of all levels. With the possible exception of or nue, none of the techniques are (technically) difficult. The techniques covered will form the basis for future (online) historical goldwork embroidery course I am developing.
The medieval goldwork course will start February 2021 (registration will start 1st November). This enables me to assemble a full kit and get it shipped in time to all participants. Class size will be limited to 15 to enable me to give proper attention to each of the students. Each lesson will comprise of a PDF-download with all the historical and technical information on the particular technique explored, a video abstract of that information, a video of me working the sample and giving tips, a zoom-meeting where you can meet fellow students and discuss the lesson and a classroom on NING where you can find all the course material and keep in touch with your fellow students. And as always, I am only an email away!
Updates on the course and registration will be disseminated through this blog, my newsletter and on Instagram. Looking forward to sharing my enthusiasm for medieval goldwork embroidery with you in this new course!
Due to the pandemic, we won't do much travelling this year. However, I did want to visit at least one museum new to me that has some medieval embroidery on display. As my husband cannot get time off work due to, you guessed it, the pandemic, we decided to visit the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg. It is huge, so we will need to return. This time we concentrated on the medieval embroidery on display. There's not much, but the pieces that are on display are rather magnificent!
What to think of this hairnet (Inv. Nr. GEW 2980) from the 13th-century? It was apparently found in the grave of a Hessian landgrave. Very fine filet embroidery on silk net.
Look at this reliquary pouch made in Trier around AD 993 (Inv. Nr. KG 562). It was my favourite piece on display. Extremely hard to photograph as it is placed on a glass plate above a mirror as the back looks very different. The pouch consists of silk fabric embroidered with metallic threads, metal shapes, glass, gemstones and silk threads. Unfortunately, it does not come across well in the pictures, but this piece has a real presence. It never ceases to amaze me how long ago these pieces were made and how well they have survived. It's like somebody blogging about St. Laurence in AD 3047 :).
This rather large piece of very fine silk embroidery on fine linen (Inv. Nr. GEW 2464) was probably used as an altar cloth or antependium. It shows Christ in the winepress and the Seat of Mercy. It was embroidered in a Nuremberg convent around AD 1370. Look how fine the split stitches are and the use of colour and shading is superb. You can even see the design drawing on the very fine linen.
This tiny medallion shows John the Baptist in very fine silk and pearl embroidery (Inv. Nr. GEW 2430a). It was made in the 13th or 14th-century in Byzantium.
That's enough eye-candy for now! I hope you enjoyed seeing some beautiful embroidery from so long ago. During August, I am taking a break from blogging. See you again in September with, hopefully, more details on the next online goldwork embroidery course!
Before I tell you about my progress on the Royal Garden counted needlepoint SAL organised by FiberTalk, just a quick shout-out about my sale of Heathway Milano Crewelwool. There is not much left, so if you want to take advantage of this sale, you better start ordering. Each 10 m skein is only €1 (was €1,75) and 500 grams can be shipped WORLDWIDE for only €3,70. Skeins not sold by the 1st of August will become part of my stash :). As the current price is what I paid for them whole-sale, there will not be a further price reduction! Equally, there is thus no bulk discount, etc. You can order your Heathway Milano Crewelwool here. Hurry! Only 11 days left.
Those of you who follow me on Instagram will have seen frequent progress pictures on Royal Garden in the past few days. What is Royal Garden? This is a counted canvas/needlepoint design by Debbie Rowley of Debbee Designs. FiberTalk organises a SAL for it. Yesterday, saw the first live-show in which Debbie demonstrated the double fan doubles stitch. There will be future live-shows, but there doesn't seem to be a schedule for them yet.
Counted needlepoint uses embroidery stitches such as: waffle stitch, walnettos, Jessicas, crescents, sword amadeus etc. to form colourful and highly textured geometric designs. You use a plethora of speciality threads like those produced by Rainbow Gallery, together with stranded cotton and perle. Counted needlepoint is huge in the USA, but not very well known in Europe. That's precisely why I joined the SAL!
The embroidery technique is not very difficult as long as the instructions are well-written and clear. And Debbie's instructions are. However, I did stumble upon a few mistakes. I've pointed them out to Debbie and she has corrected them in her master-copy. Future instruction booklets will be updated. However, if you already own a copy, you might benefit from knowing what these mistakes are:
- on page 5, the before last sentence should read: 'Bring the needle up one hole above 5 and park the needle on top of the canvas.'
- on the master chart, there are two blocks of reverse Scotch stitches missing on the right-hand side just right of the waffle stitches.
- the numbering in Diagram 31 on page 22 is partly illegible. If you email Debbie (address on the instruction booklet) she will happily mail a correct diagram to you.
It was all plain sailing until I hit the weaving on page 32 :). I just could not get it to look pretty. And my hands hurt a great deal after working only one side. Asking Debbie for help during the live-show did provide me with some helpful tips on how to manage this stitch, but I kept struggling. As one of the points of advice was to perhaps change the stitch, I decided to do just that. To keep a bit of a 'woven look', I opted for condensed Scotch stitch. It worked a treat!
If you would like to swap the woven filling stitch for the Condensed Scotch stitch, I think you will be able to use the above photograph for stitch placement. However, if you struggle, do let me know and I will ask my husband to produce a technical drawing.
Who else is joining in with the Royal Garden fun?
Maybe you have already noticed my new logo on my various Social Media channels. If so, I hope you like it as much as I do! It was time for something new. And what does one do when one has such a talented husband as I call my own? One asks for a new logo! He drew the medieval version of me with a slate frame several years ago for my birthday. So for this birthday, he only (she says :)) had to streamline it into a beautiful logo. What was wrong with my old beautiful logo? (also drawn by my husband). A few small things. Firstly, having a somewhat complicated German company name when in fact 90% of the people you engage with are non-German speakers is probably not a good idea. Acupictrix is Latin and means female needlepainter. Secondly, the German word for knitting (stricken) differs only by a single letter from that of embroidery (sticken). By no means do I want to suggest that people in Germany should perhaps get eye-exams more regularly, BUT ... And then we had the odd one every so often who thought that I was running a Kindergarten based on the logo. Most people here did not at all associate it with the high-end hand-embroidery on offer. This makes me kinda curious what they will associate the new logo with ... Acupuncturist? Weaving? Traditional Chinese Medicine? Doesn't matter. I like it. As my stitching journey has evolved over the past couple of years, the new logo represents much better what I stand for now.
From new logo to a SALE. The beautifully fine crewel wools by Heathway Milano (100% merino wool) changed hands a couple of years ago. They are now owned and sold by Hazel Arnott of Catkin Crown Textile Studio. A chapter has come to an end for me and I am therefore selling off my remaining stock. Each 10 m skein is only a Euro (1€) and up to 500 grams (many, many skeins) can be comfortably shipped in a padded envelope worldwide for only €3,70. Hurry, as there are not many left and once they are gone, they are gone! GO TO SALE.
On to the first of two SALs: on the 19th of July, FiberTalk starts Royal Garden by Debbie Rowley. This is a beautiful counted canvas needlepoint piece in gorgeous purples and greens. The SAL kicks off with a live show with Debbie herself 2 pm Eastern on the 19th of July. That should be 20:00 h CET. As I have never done a counted canvas needlepoint design before, I am going to join in the fun. Who doesn't want to stitch Jessicas? This Jessica does! If you are in need of a kit, contact Susan Winter of Fire Poppies. She got mine here quite quick considering the pandemic mail restrictions.
If you are more an off-the-grid person, and a bit adventurous, I have you covered too! There is a SAL starting on the 20th of July. The teacher is Alena Petrova who lives with her family in a small village on the Crimea. She teaches in Russian. No, I don't speak Russian either. But my phone does! How this works for me: watch the instruction videos (Instagram or YouTube) on your computer/tablet/laptop and use your phone with the transcribe function of Google Translate. It works well from Russian to English. Or at least well enough to understand your teacher. Alena will teach us to stitch an 8 cm high portrait of a lady in silks on silk the traditional Russian way. Although the stitch marathon is on the 20th of July, she has already posted many short videos on Instagram and YouTube with explanations and samples for you to practice with. Seeing her explain things and the emphasis on drawing and proportions (no worries! You can just copy her drawing) is a completely different way of teaching than that we are used to here in the West. The way she copies her drawing onto her embroidery frame is new to me too. You can join into the fun by contacting her on her Instagram profile. She will send you a PayPal invoice for 500 Russian Rubles (about 7 USD or a little below 7 Euros). You can then join the dedicated course account on Instagram. You can ask questions in English and Alena replies in English too.
That's all for today! Don't forget to pick up some of the Heathway Milano wools before they are gone. Hope to see you at the Royal Garden SAL, Alena's Russian portrait or my own Imperial Goldwork Course. Happy Stitching!
If you are after a book with lots of pretty pictures of medieval embroidery on vestments, this is not it. Yes, there are some pretty pictures in there, but it is not what the book is all about. Why do I still think it is worth your time? It has a very interesting chapter on the role of women in making vestments and donating them. As the author places their making into the wider context of church reform during the Middle Ages, it explains a lot about the position of women today in the Western world.
From the late 12th-century onwards, increased urbanisation leads to a dominance of the textile trades by men. Especially the 'higher end' of the market is dominated by them. That's why I have written in several blog posts that certain vestments I saw in museums were most likely made by men. The written data for the Late medieval period and beyond from the Netherlands does, for instance, not mention one female embroiderer. But this had not always been the case. The author, Maureen Miller, writes that when we know the name of the maker of earlier vestments, it is always a woman. And here the labour is divided up too: slaves for the 'hard labour' of growing, spinning, weaving, dying etc. and elite women for the fashioning of the vestment. For the more elaborate vestments, male religious would assist with the designing.
Why would women spend time and money on creating (and maintaining) these elaborate vestments? Maureen Miller comes up with several explanations. Firstly, from the ninth century, ecclesiastical legislation prohibited women from entering the church sanctuary or come near the altar. By providing vestments, these women were present at the altar. Secondly, by cultivating such a relationship with clergy, these women could exercise some influence for themselves, but most likely for their families. Maureen Miller thus rightly asks how freely were these gifts really given?
In addition, these relationships between elite women and clergy were always viewed with suspicion. On the one side, elaborate stories about the piety of the women who worked these vestments were drawn up (reciting scripture or singing psalms whilst working). On the other hand, there were plenty of stories in which the 'lewdness of the female maker' transferred through the vestments onto the wearer. These poor clergy felt mightily uneasy when it came to women making and maintaining their intimate clothing.
At the same time, there is a wider reform going on in the church. In order to claim status and visualise hierarchy, an ornate style of vestments started to emerge in the 9th century in Anglo-Saxon England and Francia (modern-day Normandy and parts of Belgium). By the 11th-century it had spread throughout Europe. The makers of this new ornate style were women. They (unwittingly?) provided part of the means with which the Gregorian reforms could be implemented (most notably clerical celibacy). These were particularly bad for the position of European women as they emphasised extreme notions of purity. These ideas live on in particular in the Catholic church till today.
And those poor holy men? They were relieved when they could order their splendid vestments from men in urban centres. They no longer needed to foster close relationships with women to obtain and maintain their vestments. For the visualisation of their status, they no longer depended on women. Women lost a way to exercise their influence. But they lost so much more. Till today, in many Christian traditions, women are not seen as pure enough to serve at the altar. Argue in the other direction and time might have come to strip these holy men of their fancy clothes in order to restore some much-needed balance between the sexes!
Miller, M.C. (2014): Clothing the clercy. Virtue and power in Medieval Europe, c. 800-1200. Cornell University Press.
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