This particular embroidery was of the Drachenwald Broiderer's Guild. I thought it was kind of appropriate a patch to start with. I considered filling in the fingers, but couldn't decide on the colour, so that's it for now. If I even have this patch left, I doubt it will be made up into anything useful. I used a cotton brocade to work on in left over cotton embroidery floss. I believe I threw this piece out at some point.
One of the most important things for me when I start a new project is that it has some practical purpose. Doing embroidery for the sake of embroidery will likely result in projects that are never finished (see the guild patch above). However, when there is a clearly defined goal and purpose to embroidery, I can get very caught up in it. This realization made me search for techniques I could incorporate in my garb. I settled upon blackwork.
Blackwork is a debated topic which can be defined in any number of ways, but I am working from the definition presented at the Historical Needlework Resources
site, a most excellent site for such information. So far, I have only done blackwork in the linear school, which, being counted, helps me keep my work neat. It also means I do not have to trace the pattern onto my fabric, and if I can just make sure I start in the centre I will end up with a perfectly symmetrical piece of embroidery which appeals to my scientific mind.
Further links for blackwork
The first piece of blackwork embroidery I did was take some left over piece of linen from sewing a smock to try out some patterns and practice. I did a small hanky and you can see that the front
of the repetition look essentially the same.
Tudor Court Gown Embroidery - After that, it was time to apply blackwork to a project I was working on; namely my Tudor court gown. For that project I wanted blackwork on the cuffs of the chemise sleeves that are seen, so I looked for patterns in "German Renaissance patterns for embroidery: A facsimile copy of Nicolas Bassée's New Modelbuch of 1568" where I found many nice things.
The Blackworked Sture Shirt
The cuffs were started and I discovered that I really liked this kind of counted work. I had already made up the sleeves, so what I did to get the embroidery even was start at the centre and work my way out to the edges. I ended up only a little off, but it can't be seen in the end. Here is a mock-up of the finished sleeve showing the embroidery finished.
For the same project I also embroidered the neckline of my smock, to be shown above the edge of the dress itself. I chose a very narrow band of blackwork from the Nicolas Bassée book, which was quick to do, and produced a very pretty border. All in all, the embroidery on this outfit worked out gorgeously, as can be seen in this photo of me wearing it at an event, and inspired me to start on another, larger blackwork project.
- For this project I took my love of planning to the nth degree. I charted the entire pattern
for my collar on the computer, marking out top, bottom, middle, centreline and each stitch from one end of the collar to the other, starting by counting the threads I had in my fabric. The patterns were taken from Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd
, by Janet Arnold. And then I got down to work.
It took me quite a while to finish all the embroidery on this collar, but I didn't get bored with it, despite the repetition. It is, as I said, a type of meditation. Once the embroidery was finished, I made it up and the finished collar became quite spiffy, if I may say so myself.
July 2007: A suite of blackworked collar and cuffs - As an encouragement and for some goal to work towards I offered to blackwork a set of collar and cuffs for a Lady whom I thought would look fantastic in 16th Century clothes. Said and done, I decided on a pattern and set to work.
The pattern was taken from the teaching material given out by Viscountess Helwig Ulfsdotter at one of her blackwork courses. She has cleaned up several blackwork designs from pictures in Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlock'd by Janet Arnold and provided them for use through her classes. I chose a simple but pretty design and got to work.
The collar took most time, being twice as long as the cuffs, and worked in two rows. The cuffs are worked with the same design, but only one row. Using an even weave linen ground I worked up the pattern using Güterman's black sewing silk thread, making each stitch over two threads of the ground fabric. Since I was sending this work through the mail I decided to leave the linen un-cut, the recipient can then cut the pieces out for attachment to a shirt when appropriate.
June 2011: Blackworked tablecloth for a Laurel vigil - In march I got the news that a good friend and personal hero in the SCA was going to be put on vigil and elevated to the Order of the Laurel at Double Wars XLIV this year. It has got drawn-thread hemstitch all around, and I started with just the blackwork border from page 64 of Paganino's pattern-book "Il Burato" found at the University of Arizona. I chose long-armed cross-stitch to work this, so when I wanted to add more black to the tablecloth I continued with the same stitch and put a pelican in the centre. The pelican is taken from another book online at the Arizona University site, Frederico Vincolo's "I Singolari e Nuovi Disegni". The recipient, Meisterinne Katheryn Hebenstreitz was already a Pelican and she was being elevated to the Order of the Laurel, so once the pelican was on there I had to improvise a Laurel wreath around it. It worked surprisingly well.
In the spring of 2006 (AS XL) Nordmark went through a bit of a crisis, so my local shire decided to arrange a day of crafts to benefit the Principality. We got together a bunch of materials and got to work being crafty. For myself, I had the idea of making needlecases using left over wool cloth.
There is an excellent article on the West Kingdom Needleworkers Guild webpage about needlecases
. But the basic design is really quite simple. Cut two strips of wool one to two inches wide and up to 6 inches long. Put them on top of each other and stitch in the middle to make a "book" of four wool "pages" - voila your basic needlebook is finished.
I went with this rather simple method of making my needlebooks
. But in addition to just cutting the strips I also did blanketstitch in a contrasting colour
all around the pages using DMC embroidery floss. With that done, I was still not entirely happy with my needlebooks, so I went ahead and started embroidering the front
of one with Nordmark's arms (Per pale sable and azure, a chevron argent and overall a laurel wreath Or
). This was lovely - but since they are supposed to be given out to the populace of Nordmark I changed the embroidery to the populace badge (Per pale sable and azure, a chevron argent and a bordure Or
) for the rest of my needlebooks.
Talking technically, on the first one, with the Nordmark Arms, I used all DMC embroidery floss for the design. The shield shape was outlined in black stem stitches, the white chevron was done with laid and couched stitches, and the black half of the shield was then loosely filled in with laid and couched threads. The laurel wreath was then done using stem stitch for the stem and chain stitches for the leaves over the rest of the design. The first two needlebooks with the populace badge I did the border in DMC floss, using two rows of chain stitches, before switching to wool yarn. Couching the black half of the shield first I then added the white chevron ontop similarly. The remaining four of my blue needlebooks are all outlined in yellow wool yarn using split stitch, with the black laid and couched and the white chevron laid and couched last.
Another embroidery project - I decided to make an embroidered partlet. I did not, however, want to do blackwork again, rather I wanted something a bit more understated - whitework. Generally, whitework is defined as working a pattern on white linen using white embroidery floss. Simple enough definition, but how to find patterns? Well, I did some searches for period samplers, looked through files saved on my computer and then I winged it. I sketched out a pattern on paper which I transferred to linen (see left). The red running stitch all around is there to keep the two layers together - I embroidered through both layers for stability.
I decided that I wanted to keep it simple, filling in the pattern with DMC cotton embroidery floss using satin stitch.
The outlining of my pattern using stem stitch took me no more than one average length movie, or about two hours. To finally prepare it for mounting on my partlet I blocked the embroidery by folding in the edges and topstitching all around using linen thread. The protect the back of the embroidery a linen lining was applied to the inside. For images of the finished partlet, refer to the dress diary section.
- With a spare bit of linen and some gorgeous red DMC floss I decided to finally learn how to do embroidery in the Assisi style. Broadly, Assisi style embroidery was a voided technique. You fill in the background, leaving the motif itself as a void. Some patterns has outlines done in black inside the voided areas, other just outlines the pattern itself and lets the human mind fill in the blank. It is often referred to as Assisi work because the town of Assisi in Italy was known for producing these kinds of embroideries. The ones that remain today remain as table clohs often, and this seemed like the perfect size on which to practice.
Stitches and Materials
To work this kind of pattern the outlines would first be done in black using either backstitch or Holbein stitch (also known as double running stitch). Then the background would be filled in with an overall covering technique. Often simple cross stitch was used, but equally long-armed cross stitch
was a favourite depending on how much coverage was desired.
The materials used for this style of embroidery is linen ground cloth, and silk embroidery floss; black for outlines, and the fill pattern very often done in red. Blue was also used, but slightly less often.
Assisi-work table setting
For the table setting I went, as so often before, to the On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics
hosted by the University of Arizona. The source this time was the facsimile of Paganini's book "Il Burato"
with patterns for Burato lace. Many of the patterns used at this time were used in different forms. From wood-carvings, to painted borders, to embroideries, to lace - the popular patterns were used and re-used in many forms. For my inspiration I used one pattern from page 64 and one from page 65 of the pdf document (plate vii verso and plate viii).
To begin with I took the hearts pattern and interpreted the black in the design as void, and the white squares as background and proceeded to fill this with long-armed cross stitch. The question was, should I always go from left to right, or right to left, or should I alternate? I chose to alternate rows so as to save some thread, and aso because that enabled me to go up and down in between the voided hearts in a very efficient manner. The back is, as you can see in the photo, nearly as neat as the front and the hearts stand out there as well.
For the other end of the cloth I decided to try something a little more close to the originals I found at the V&A among other places. That is to say, outline first in black, and then fill in with the slightly less ground covering cross stitches.
January 2008 - The table cloth was the first bit of assisi-work I finished, true, but it was not the first I started. Having been given a hank of gorgeous quality hand dyed silk floss in an orange/red tone I wanted to put it to use in a setting worthy of the gift. In the renaissance, if you owned more than one apron you had one that was crisply white and freshly starched with crease-marks still in it from the pressing to wear on dressed up occasions. This type of apron could be additionally adorned with embroidery, and in the inventories of Eleonora of Toledo and of Queen Elizabeth I are listed white linen aprons decorated with silk embroideries. Typically in-graine red (kermes bugs that produce a red dye) and a true black were most favoured for the embroidery thread for two reasons. One being that red and black contrasts very well with white. The second reason being that both these colours were difficult and expensive to achieve.
Though the colour of my floss was not quite the red desired, coming from madder, it wants to be properly red, and it is not inconcievable that a less well-to-do lady had to settle for a cheaper silk for her apron embroidery. So, I looked for inpiration. Again looking to the Universty of Arizona weaving site I found "La Vera Perfezione del disegno di Giovanni Ostavus", published in 1561, and the pattern for a three-row high border on plate LXXXI (page 91 of the pdf document) that would be gorgeous, I thought.
The first line was no trouble at all, although I created problems for myself later on by unthinkingly choosing to always embroider from left to right. Working with the silk floss on linen was such a lovely experience though, and the silk positively sparkles once it is done.
The second line of embroidery is three times the height of the first and third, and is a much more involved pattern. Finding the best path to take from left to right to avoid jumping too many threads took quite a lot of thought effort, and the first few repeats have threads that carry unnessecarily far on the back. The third and final row took practically no time at all in comparison. If I had this to do over again I would do all vertical rows in long-armed cross stitch as well as the horizontals. The singlet stitches and the diagonals you have no choice about, but it was not until well into the second row that I figured out that the verticals could, and probably should, also be done using the long-armed cross stitch technique. However, as the apron is worn and with all the whitespace in the pattern, the fact that the verticals cover the ground cloth a little less fully is completely disguised.
I thought I should also report on a success I had at Double Wars XXI, in 2008.
Meisterinne Katheryn Hebenstreiz asked me in the middle of the week to enter the A&S competition with my apron, which I had out at the time to show off, and I agreed. My documentation was not exhaustive or very long, so I quote it here:
ITEM: Embroidery, 16th Century on an apron. PLACE: Italy.
The embroidey on this apron is done in madder dyed silk thread on linen. The pattern is taken from the facsimile of a 1561 pattern book by Giovanni Ostavus(*) and the stitch is long-armed cross stitch(**) which was commonly used in the period(#).
This kind of counted embroidery was commonly applied to aprons, shift, smocks and shirts. Black and red were the most common colours, being very effectful against white linen. Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlockd lists an apron with "carnacion in graine silke"(##) - being a red colour. In Moda a Firenze a photo of a detail of a painting by Alessandro Allori shows an apron with embroidery done in black(¤).
* La vera perfezione del disegno di Giovanni Ostavus, 1561. Available on-line at the University of Arizona.
**, # Embroideries at Hardwick Hall, a catalogue. Levey, Santina M.
(Stitch diagram drawing here).
## Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlockd. Arnold, Janed. Page 225.
¤ Moda a Firenze. Orsina Landini, Roberta & Niccoli, Bruna. Page 130.
I had no expectations, so when they called my name in court as the winner of the competition it was a complete surprise. But there you go, embroidery can be a winning concept.
- This past fall I wanted to try a new embroidery technique which has been growing in popularity amongst re-enactors and embroiderers, namely brick stitch. It was a common technique for surface covering during the 14th and 15th centuries, and most often done using silk floss on linen ground, and in the Germanic parts of Europe. It is a counted technique, and thus the patterns are all quite geometrical in nature, although figurative motifs do occasionally occur.
Most of my information on brick stitch I have gleaned from five online resources. First of all, Master Richard Wymarc's excellent site A Stich Out Of Time
, which for a good long while was the only place I knew to find such information. But lately I have also been following along with the blogs of some particularily talented people, all of whom have taken the time to draft brick stitch patterns from images of textiles of the period. I highly recommend all five links if you want to read up on the history, and find period patterns.
My brick stitch projects
My very first attempt at using the "brick stitch"-stitch was in 2006, when I wanted to try a little embroidery on a needle book
. But the design was 16th Century inspired, and used a plain brick stitched background to make the motif stand out a bit more. I remember I found it rather an unwieldy technique, but that was because I did not know what I was doing and in what order to tackle things.
After that encounter with the technique I laid it aside, until the fall of 2009, when I needed something to do with the silk floss I had since acquired. The first thing I started on turned out to be a little rectangular piece, just large enough to get a sense of the pattern, but not large enough for me to get bored. I ended up making it up into a pincushion
, stuffed with bits of left over wool. The embroidery pattern is one of the more common ones, and I think several of the gentles listed above have drafted patterns for it, Kathy's pattern
from Medieval Arts & Crafts being the one I used. The colours were chosen by what I had on hand. The purple was a gift and that was what I based it all on, then brought in the other colours as accents.
On the second attempt
I started to get a little more experimental. I used three different patterns from Medieval Arts & Crafts in combination to make a square design. The knot in the middle
is ringed by a series of S:s, or Zeds
, and the entire thing is surrounded with the woven strapwork design
as a sort of background to bring it out to square. The result is quite close to a perfect square, although the ground fabric was not an even weave it was as close to it as I could find in my stash.
For the finishing of the actual pincushion I went a step further this time, surrounding the embroidery with chain stitches to make hold it all together, and also continuing the chain stitches down the four corners, to help keep the fabric together. I also stitched those sides together exactly on grain to make sure that I made an exactly square "box" of fabric, which I then stuffed with more left over bits of wool. In the second image
, you can see how the pins are stored when in transit - stuck in at the sides. When in use the pins of course go in through the embroidery at the top.
Having done those two small items, and promptly given them away as Chistmas presents, I put the whole thing out of my mind, until I visited a weaving cottage where they had some fantastic wool yarns in lovely colours. I thought I could combine a few of those lovely colours and make myself a sturdy, warm, woolen seat cushion. Having also found a piece of quite large even weave linen I combined the two and a pattern from the Medieval Silkwork blog
and started on the embroidery
May 22, 2010: Seat cushion embroidery done
- Since I brought the wool embroidery with me on a daily commute of 40 minutes times two, I progressed quite quickly on this brick stitch project, and on May 21 I finished the work and steamed and pressed it a little for good measure. The result is rather large and overstated, but nice. Hopefully making it up into a cushion will also go well. I intend to back it with wool fleece. The pictures to the right shows the front and back of the work.
For Mistress Katheryn's Laurel elevation I stitched a little napkin for her, with her device in the centre in brick stitch technique. I first oulined in stem stitch, and then filled in the colour fields with Elizabethan brick stitch, that is to say each stitch is taken over four threads, and the second stitch is offset one thread to the side and two threads vertically from the first one, so it looks like a brick wall.
September 17, 2012: V&A brick stitch embroidered bag
- This project was started (first picture) around the same time as the wool seat cushion embroidery above, but once the silk parts were done (second picture) and I started on the linen things slowed down and ground to a halt. I eventually picked it back up again, and after Visby Medieval Week in 2012 I needed something repetitive and brainless for my fingers to do, and I finally finished this embroidery in a matter of a couple of weeks. It is based on a fragment which is in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. I did see the original in person
, but when I started the work in May 2010 I went to the charted version
that Richard Wymarc has published and used that for my pattern.
So, after picking it up again I worked with waxed linen thread, 50/2 doubled, to fill in the bits that were not silk (third picture) and eventually I finished the embroidery. In a handful of places I miscounted the arms of the red pattern and while it is basically impossible to spot with just the silk done, once I started filling in with linen the mistakes become obvious. For a couple of mistakes I spotted it before I came to the discrepancy and was able to make my stitches go over 6 threads rather than four, but in other places I had to fill in voided areas with stitches going over two threads. These are things that I notice now, and when working on it, but once it is made up into a bag I will have to look specifically for them to find them.
You will also notice in the image below of the finished embroidery that the red dye from the red silk floss did not stay entirely in place. I washed the piece after finishing it and this was when I noticed that the red thread was not colourfast. There was some swearing, but I rinced it out as best I could and then decided to go ahead as if nothing was wrong. In low-light situations nobody will notice - or so I hope. This should be a lesson to everyone - check that your threads do not bleed before you start working with them. You do not want to disocver this after dozens of hours of work and a finished piece.
On the left
: Finished embroidery, front. On the right: Finished embroidery, back.
The embroidery made up into a bag. Lined with dark blue silk, the top edge is made by simply folding in the linen twice, and the drawstrings pulled through holes opened up by an awl, but not stitched around.
- At Aarnimetsä Academy in November this year I held a workshop in Elizabethan Metal Thread embroidery, a lecture inspired by a project I started earlier in the year. I am making a reproduction of a coif that exists in the Victoria and Albert Museum
in London, accession number T.28-1975
. The original is worked in black silk and gold metal thread. The pattern is a number of coiling vines which contains 12 different kinds of blooms. Like many similar extant items the vines are outlined in silk, and filled in with the metal thread. This kind of embroidery uses a number of stitches which are designed to maximize the amount of thread on the face of the fabric, and minimize the amount that needs to go on the back. My main inspiration for doing such a project came from the Plimoth Plantation Embroidery Project
, which after two years has resulted in a reproduction of an extant jacket, filled all over with polychrome silk thread embroidery, and with vines filled in with metal thread embroidery.
The handout is now edited and finished enough that I can post it. The diagrams in the handout are made by Tricia Wilson Nguyen who produced the stitch diagrams for the Plimoth Jacket project, by Baroness Felicitas Schwartzenbergin and by myself. It also includes a few close-ups that I took of the extant original which I have worked from.
After finishing the coif and forehead cloth for Double Wars 2011, and eventually doing the write-up for an article it has now been published in the Kingdom's newsletter and I can at long last put the article online here to share with everyone else.