Before we dive into the re-making of an 11th-century gold and silk embroidery, I would like to thank those lovely people who have already become a patron. Thank you so very much! Writing a weekly blog on medieval (goldwork) embroidery and related topics in English, German & Dutch takes up a lot of my time. If you enjoy the blog (especially the availability in your language!) please consider becoming a patron. You can choose between buying me a weekly coffee (Apprentice) or giving a bit more and getting a bonus with each blog post published (Journeyman). All patrons have access to regular 'behind the scenes' posts. Your monthly contribution makes a real difference! Now let us explore my re-creation of a golden bird from the so-called Wolfgangskasel kept at the Domschatz Regensburg.
Restauration work on the 11th-century Wolfgangskasel has shed light on the order of work for the embroidery. Firstly, the contours were stitched on a layer of silk twill backed with a layer of linen. The contours are stitched in red and dark-brown silk. Then the golden areas were filled with couched gold threads. Probably to stiffen the embroidery further, another layer of linen was added before the remaining areas were filled with coloured silk. We know that the embroidered orphreys were often stiffened by glueing paper on their backs in later times. The whole process of starting with red and dark-brown outlines and then filling in the other areas reminds me a lot of how illuminated manuscripts were made. The order of work and the colours used are very similar. As is the design. It is well possible that the design was drawn onto the silk by a person who also worked on illuminated manuscripts.
I am teaching 'avis aurea' in a two-day workshop at open-air museum Glentleiten in early August. You will learn to set up a professional slate frame and to transfer the design the medieval way: with pounce and ink. The actual embroidery stitches (stem stitch, split stitch and couching) are not very difficult to learn. Instead, the emphasis will be on executing them as regularly as possible. All stitches are in this case 'free-form' embroidery. There is no counting and you are not working on an even weave fabric. Instead, you determine stitch placement and stitch length.
The original 11th-century embroidery on the Wolfgangskasel is very, very fine. It has about 40 parallel gold threads per centimeter. I was able to get to about 32. Not bad at all! As you can see from the picture above, there is certainly room to pack in more threads. But not with the thickness of the red silken couching thread used. Splitting Chinese flat silk isn't easy for students. And I did not want them to despair. That's why you will only split the flat silk twice. To pack in 40 threads per centimetre you will need to split the silk four times. You can read all about that experiment here.
I realise that coming to Glentleiten to attend my workshop is not possible for most of you. Would you be interested in an online version instead? The online version would comprise of a kit (the right materials are sadly not readily available) and video instructions. Please do let me know in the comments below if this is something you are interested in!
For my Journeyman patrons: hop over to Patreon for a short video on suitable silken fabrics for medieval embroidery and where to buy them. Enjoy!
Hubel, A. (Ed.), 1976. Der Regensburger Domschatz. Schnell & Steiner.
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