HNW - Re: Quilts and Coverlets

Larsdatter, Karen Karen at
Thu Apr 30 12:59:52 PDT 1998

I found another picture of medieval embroidered bed-linens.  (For 
those of you playing along at home, turn to page 57 of "Chronicles of 
the Age of Chivalry: The Plantagenet Dynasty from the Magna Carta to 
the Black Death," edited by Elizabeth Hallam.  Copyright 1995 CLB 
Publishing, ISBN 0-517-14080-2.)

There is a picture on this page, captioned as follows:  "Drawn thread 
work decorates this noble's bed, underneath the woolen coverlet."  It 
is in fact from a 14th century French manuscript at the Bibliotheque 
Ste. Geneviève in Paris, entitled "Le Roman des Trois Pélerinages," 
by Guillaume de Digulleville, and depicts Chastity and Poverty making 
a bed for hope.

The embroidery (it looks a lot like blackwork, actually) features 
quatrefoils within diamonds along bands that go across the width of 
the bed and on either end of the pillow.  I have absolutely no clue 
how this particular drawn thread work would be done if it were 
indeed drawn thread work to the general scale of the rest of the 
illumination (the bands are about as wide as the faces of the two 
human figures).

The text on this page reads (in part):

- ---

Even grand 14th-century homes were sparsely furnished by modern 
standards, but people were coming to expect a higher level of 
domestic comfort.  Glass windows were an expensive luxury, but they 
were increasingly common by the end of the century; and hangings, 
carpets and other furnishings are frequently mentioned in household 

Social activity in the household was no longer centred on the great 
hall.  The lord, his lady and their family lived in the upstairs 
bedchamber, where they slept, received visitors and took occasional 
meals.  The hall was reserved for special festivities, when the 
tables were spread with linen damask tablecloths ...

Furniture was limited to beds, chairs or benches, which could be 
easily transported when their owners went on journeys, as was often 
the case with royal and noble families ...

The bed was the most important single piece of furniture.  It was 
furnished with one dorsal and three side curtains, often richly 
decorated with embroidery in worsted wools on linen.  Some beds also 
had a canopy.  The curtains were suspended by rings from poles and 
were taken down and foled up for travelling when their owner moved 
on.  Only the platform or bedstead was provided by the host.  
Travellers also brought their own mattress and bedding, sheets, 
pillows and coverlets.  Coverlets were occasionally lined with 
miniver and pillow-cases decorated with drawn thread work to add a 
touch of luxury.  Although the curtains could be drawn to provide 
privacy, the bed was part of the ordinary furnishings of the chamber 
where visitors were received and business took place ...

Any splendour in these sparsley equipped rooms was in their soft 
furnishings:  hangings and carpets as well as bed curtains.  Most 
were powdered all over with small repeating patterns rather than 
pictorial designs, and they were often painted as well or 
embroidered.  Carpets of woven tapestry covered the walls as well as 
the floors.

- ---

I hope that's helpful!  :)


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