The most daunting task about the whole St. Laurence goldwork project, are his face and his hands. You don't want to end up with a deacon with an 'oh-no-it's-Sunday-again' look. Equally, you don't want him to have a size hands not matching up with the rest of his body. And then there is the whole technical side to the face and the hands, as well. Let's start with a detailed picture of his face and the 'problem' hand holding the book.
The hand holding the book is actually silk shading over and through the laid gold threads forming his or nue clothing. It soon turned out that just leaving them un-couched and then covering them with the silk shading, didn't work. The gold threads just started to roll away, gaping and even affecting the nice or nue of the book and the green dalmatic. Time for a 21st century trick: linen batiste, bondaweb and glue. Yes, you read that correctly, I used glue. Only a tiny amount :). I traced the hand onto the bondaweb, ironed it onto the linen batiste, peeled the paper off and glued it onto the gold threads. From there on, silk shading as usual. I used two shades of skin tone and a dark ox blood red for the detailing.
Faces. Probably the hardest thing in embroidery, or indeed any other art form. As you can see from the detailed pictures above, my face is totally different from the original one. For starters, I used a different technique: silk shading, as I am most familiar with this way of thread painting. The original piece uses encroaching satin stitch in horizontal rows. Both faces are similar in size and use the same amount of shades. The detailing in the original is absolutely breath taking. My eye-sight is still very good, but I am not able to stitch this amount of detail without magnification. I suspect, my medieval counterpart must have needed the same. That said, I was able to see the details when I removed my contact lenses. Just stitching with your nose almost touching the fabric, is not much fun.
Next problem: my linen is too coarse. Adding so many tiny stitches in such cramped space, needs a tightly woven ground fabric. Also, the prick-and-pounce transfer system does not allow for such detailed facial features to be transferred accurately. That's why Laurence ended up with a completely different shaped head in the first place. How would I circumnavigate this problem in the future? I would use the same trick as I used for the hand holding the book. First carefully transfer the face onto the linen batiste and then glue in place. Add a few tiny tacking stitches to make it stay put and then start the silk shading. It would definitely improve the result. However, I get the suspicion that stitching the face was a specialised step in medieval times. Done by a professional 'face-only' stitcher. Research has found that the figure and the background were stitched by two different people. And I think we can add a third one: the face stitcher.
And this is what Laurence looks like now. It is impossible to capture the movement of the figure in a photograph. These or nue saints must have looked magical on the priest's chasuble in the candle light. Almost as if they were alive or floating on the background.
Stitching the details with all sorts of gold and silver threads over the or nue, was a treat. This step was so much fun as it really put some dimensionality to his robes. And it wasn't hard at all to stitch through the dense or nue. And not having to plunge your threads, but simply tightly over sew them, is a real time saver too! A big thank-you to my medieval counterparts for pointing this out.
I have now moved on to stitching the background. These are the windows and dome above Laurence's head. I particularly like the layered way of working. Putting in the laid work (grey silk) for the windows first. Put the trellis on top using silver passing thread and anchoring the crossing points with silk. Then stitch the window's stone work in dark grey silk using satin stitch. Cover the line between glass and stone work with a tiny row of chain stitch in anthracite silk. Then add the gold check thread to the stone work and finally couch the dark blue silk bars in place. A similar thing will happen to the blue ceiling. It looks quite 'spotty' for now, but that will all be over in a couple more hours of stitching.
After the window area, I will continue with the tiled floor. Before tackling the cloth of gold covering most of the area behind Laurence. But that's stuff for a future blog post.
Something completely different: trestles. Remember those very sturdy beech wood trestles the Royal School of Needlework used to sell? I acquired a pair years ago and have tried to find a wood worker willing to supply the same quality for the same price. Fat chance. German wages are higher than English ones. However, one of my student's asked a wood worker friend if he could make her a couple for a special price: €480. Please contact her directly, if you are interested in acquiring a pair of excellent trestles!
Jessica M. Grimm
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