HNW - 15th/16th c. embroidery (long)
claning at igc.org
Wed Mar 21 11:59:48 PST 2001
At 9:45 PM -0800 3/20/01, Avien wrote:
>I'm hoping to get some help. I'm sort of new to embroidering, I do some
>cross-stitch and a few other things. Anyway, I'm making another set of
>RenFest costumes and I would like to embroider them. I'm looking at late
>15th and early 16th c. I have quite a few books on order through ILL and
>I'm always happy to order a few more. Basically, I was hoping someone could
>recommend books or other sources for historically accurate embroidery. I
>know blackwork was used but after reading some of the recent messages, I
>think the books I ordered won't work. Any help would be greatly
Looking at portraits and illustrations of English, French, Italian
and Spanish men and women from Elizabeth's time, by far the commonest
decoration on gowns, doublets, jerkins, robes, and other "main" or
"outer" garments seems to be either bands of cloth (velvet, silk,
ribbon-like bands, etc.) or elaborate patterns made out of cords and
braids which are stitched down to the fabric. These are every bit as
time-consuming (!<g>!) as embroidery, and look a lot more authentic.
It's an over-simplification to say "Outer garments were rarely
embroidered in Elizabethan England," and like all
over-simplifiactions, it's WRONG a lot of the time. (Awright, you
guys -- I know you will come up with counter-examples!) But so many
of us start out with the assumption that *all* gowns, doublets, etc.
were embroidered that I always encourage people to go look at lots of
portraits first, and think about what they see.
For one thing, if you look at portraits showing elaborate fabrics, in
some cases it is fairly clear that the design is woven in, not
embroidered. This was, if anything, even *more* ostentatious than
having your clothing embroidered, because you had to import it from
Italy, France, or somewhere else where they were weaving silk with
elaborate 'dobby' looms. Remember that buying a new gown was about
the equivalent in cost to us buying a new car -- brocade or woven
patterns made it a Mercedes or a Jaguar!
Among the nobility, you also do see some clothing that is, or could
be, embroidered with similar allover designs, especially late in the
Elizabethan era, but it is still not common among people below the
highest noble ranks (earls, dukes, marquesses). I maintain in general
that what the Queen is wearing is not a good model for ordinary
If you go to popular books with titles like "medieval cross stitch"
or "Celtic samplers" or "Elizabethan floral embroidery" you will not
find the sort of thing that you see being used on outer garments. But
these are things I see a lot of people at Renaissance Faires trying
to do, especially if they have not thought things through or haven't
looked at a lot of period pictures beforehand. I would never say that
cross stitch is not period, but THIS kind of cross stitch on THIS
kind of garment certainly isn't.
Also, the kind of wool embroidery with twining flowers, birds, et
cetera that we are all familiar with from American Colonial times
doesn't seem to become fashionable in England until at least a decade
or so after the death of Elizabeth. (You do see floral embroidery in
a somewhat different style as early as 1600 -- but it's in silk and
gold, not wool, and it's on a few specific garments, namely women's
jackets and men's linen "nightcaps," which were both items worn
mostly at home in private, not out in the street.)
Now, for underwear -- especially shirts, chemises or smocks,
handkerchiefs, and women's caps, the story is different. In
portraits you see a lot of blackwork in silk thread on linen (which
is occasionally done in red, just to confuse us!). There are also
rather simple embroideries done in stem or outline stitch, and
occasionally other stitches such as braid, chain, speckling and
buttonhole stitches. Some of the blackwork patterns have a few cross
stitches as part of the pattern, but usually not a lot of them.
Again you have to consider not only time, but country and context.
You will see somewhat different styles of embroidery in the Germanies
and the Low Countries, where Kayta is from, than you do in England.
(Kayta, most of the elaborate scroll and cherub bands I see on linen
still seem to be done mostly in straight stitch, but I'm sure you
have more examples than I do.) You will see different styles used on
towels, cushions, and table carpets that are not used on clothing at
all, as far as we can tell (needlepoint "tapestry" is definitely for
furniture, not people!).
You can find blackwork patterns in a number of sources, but read the
descriptions carefully, because a lot of very nice patterns are
actually modern designs in a period style (including all those on
Marmor's excellent Web page, I believe). Of course there is nothing
"wrong" with these if you like them and know what they are. For
braidwork patterns and more blackwork, the Big Three sources (all in
paperback) are Bassée, Vinciolo, and Nourry (listed below).
Kim Salazar's _New Carolingian Modelbook_ is another excellent source
for period blackwork and cross stitch patterns, though I don't know
how easy it is to get right now. (Kim, do you know if people can
order it and from whom?)
German Renaissance Patterns for Embroidery: A Facsimile Copy of
Nicholas Bassée's New Modelbuch of 1568. Introduction by Kathleen
Epstein. Curious Works Press, Austin, ISBN 0-9633-3314-3.
Renaissance Patterns for Lace, Embroidery and Needlepoint: An
unabridged facsimile of the "Singuliers et nouveaux portraicts" of
1587. Federico Vinciolo, Dover publications, ISBN 0-4862-2438-4.
Patterns: Embroidery: Early 16th Century, by Claude Nourry & Pierre
de Saincte Louie. Lacis Publications, ISBN 1-8916-5616-3.
To look for on ILL: (it's been reprinted recently but is still
something like $80):
Apropos Patterns for Embroidery, Lace & Woven Textiles, by Margaret
Abegg. 1978, Abegg-Stiftung Bern, ISBN 3-7272-9005-6.
O "Mistress Christian Ashley" * (Chris Laning <claning at igc.org>)
| gentlewoman to Dorothy, Lady Stafford
+ Guild of St. George, Northern California
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