HNW - Tristan quilt (long)

Connie Carroll Connie.Bunny at
Mon Mar 26 07:01:18 PST 2001

Where did you find this book?

Mistress Bunny

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-h-needlework at
> [mailto:owner-h-needlework at]On Behalf Of Sarah Randles
> Sent: Monday, March 26, 2001 3:19 AM
> To: H-Needlework at
> Subject: Re: HNW - Tristan quilt (long)
> Hi all,
> Well, the book I've been editing for the last 18 days straight (that's no
> days off!) is spewing out of the printer and will be on its way to the
> publisher this afternoon, so I finally have time to deal with my email.
> There have been numerous interesting topics on the list, so it's been
> particularly frustrating to have been so busy.
> Roberta wrote:
> >I am trying to figure out how to recreate the Sicilian Tristan
> quilt.I just
> >bought Kay Stanilands book, "The Embroiderers".I finally got to
> see pictures
> >of what the quilt looks like but they are in black and white.Having read
> >verbal descriptions of the quilt doesn't make the colors specific
> >enough.Brownish and various shades of green just aren't
> descriptive enough
> >to recreate the quilt.Can anyone give me some DMC floss #'s, or a color
> >source of pictures?
> I am currently writing the chapter of my PhD on these quilts, so I have
> quite a bit to say about them, and quite a lot of information which isn't
> readily available which you might find useful in recreating them.
>  Firstly,
> though, these are my own conclusions, based on my PhD research, and the
> thesis has not yet been completed or published, so I'd like to remind you
> that the information is copyright to me. Please don't disseminate it
> without crediting me (Sarah Randles, unpublished PhD thesis, Australian
> National University).  Thanks.
> In answer to your question about colours, I know of no publication of
> coloured photographs of the quilts, and the museums which hold
> them have no
> official coloured photographs in their picture libraries, so I don't think
> you're going to be able to find any.  The staff at the V&A took some
> coloured photos for me when I was there in 1998, and they brought
> the quilt
> out for me to see, but they stressed that they are unofficial and
> I am only
> to use them for my own research.  I have to check with them as to whether
> this means I can include them in my thesis, so it may be possible to
> disseminate them that way when I've completed it.
> However, I can tell you about the colours.  Essentially, the outlines of
> the figures etc. (i.e. the bits that show up dark on the black and white
> photographs) are executed in brown thread.  There has never been a fibre
> analysis of either quilt, and the fibre composition is described variously
> in the different publications, so I can't be certain, but the brown thread
> seems quite lustrous, and is possibly silk, although it may be cotton or
> linen. On the V&A quilt the brown thread has been completely restitched
> (it's possible to see where it it deviates from the original stitching by
> virtue of the remaining stitch holes), so it is certainly not original but
> there is no way of telling when this repair was made.  I don't have a DMC
> chart, but it is a mid caramel colour. On the Bargello quilt, the brown
> thread is a somewhat darker, chocolate brown, and does not seem to have
> been restitched.  This means that the restitching was done after
> the quilts
> were separated (see my comments below on the issue of the number and
> purpose of the quilts).  The background stitching - i.e. the small running
> stitches which fill in all the areas which are not raised, is off
> white, of
> a very similar colour and thread type and weight to the threads in the
> ground fabric.  This has been described as linen by most of the writers on
> the subject, but may actually be cotton - without a fibre analysis, it's
> not possible to be sure.  A slightly heaver white thread is used in some
> parts of the V&A quilt to outline details of waves.  There is no green (or
> even greenish) thread in either quilt.
> As you will have gathered from the above, there are actually two quilts;
> one at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the other is at the
> Bargello Museum, part of the Museo Nazionale in Florence.  Neither is on
> display to the public, and both are considered too fragile to be displayed
> again.  When I requested to see the quilts the staff at the V&A initally
> told me that their quilt was stored folded in a drawer, and I
> would only be
> able to see the part which was visible.  However, when I arrived for my
> appointment the conservator had made the decision that the quilt should be
> taken out and refolded along different points to minimise the
> stress on the
> fabric, so I was lucky enough to be the first scholar to see the quilt in
> its entirety in 25 years! I believe that it has now been refolded, so that
> a different part might be seen.
> There is a certain amount of contention about whether the quilts were
> initially part of a single quilt, or whether they might have been
> made as a
> pair.  The view that they were made as a pair of bed quilts for
> the wedding
> of Piero Guicciardini and Laodimia Accuoli (sp?) in 1395 or 1396, stems
> ultimately from speculation made by Pio Rajna in the only extensive study
> of the quilts yet made, in an article published in Italian in the journal
> _Romania_ in 1916.  This is a long and detailed article (about 80 pages)
> and I hope to make my translation available at some point when someone has
> corrected it for me.  Most subsequent writers on the quilts have accepted
> Rajna at face value, even though he's only floating a hypothesis, and
> Colby, Staniland, Loomis and others have perpetuated the theory as though
> it were fact.  I am not convinced by the argument either that the quilts
> were made as bed quilts for the wedding, or by the argument that they were
> made as a pair - there is quite significant structural evidence that they
> were once part of a single textile, which would probably have been too big
> to use as a bed quilt, even given the large beds of the late middle ages.
> (The argument is quite complex and depends on the identification of seam
> types and the placement of seams, so I won't go into it here.) While there
> is certainly evidence that the quilts have an association with the
> Guicciardini family (and the Bargello quilt was in their possession until
> around 1918), the evidence linking the to the Accuoli family is pretty
> slender.
> There is also a problem with identifying the quilts as bed quilts.  As in
> English, the same word is used in Italian (coltre) to refer to
> both an item
> that is quilted (ie. constructed using two or more layers that
> are stitched
> together), and a bed cover which may or may not have been constructed in
> this way. There is evidence for both bedcovers and for quilting in the
> fourteenth century, but not that bed covers were necessarily quilted
> (although I'm inclined to think that they could be).
> The other common misconception about the quilts is that they are executed
> in trapunto quilting, which involves making small cuts on the back of the
> quilt, inserting the padding through them and then sewing them up.  I
> wasn't able to examine the back of the Bargello quilt, but I did get to
> look at the back of the V&A quilt, and this is not the case.  There is no
> evidence of any cuts on the back of the quilt, nor of any sewing up.  This
> leaves two possibilities: firstly that the padding (which is
> clearly cotton
> wool, not wool as has sometimes been suggested) has been poked through in
> small quantities between the separated threads of the ground fabric from
> the back or the front, which have then been smoothed into place, or
> secondly, that the entire quilt has been padded, and that the small,
> closely worked background stitches have been used to control the loft of
> the padding in the background areas, allowing the main design elements to
> stand out in relief.  Given the large amounts of padding used and
> the scale
> of the designs, I'm inclined towards the second theory.
> I hope this helps - let me know if you have any more questions.
> Sarah
> ******************************************************************
> ************
> Sarah Randles
> s-randles at
> Australian National Dictionary Centre
> Australian National University
> ACT 0200
> Phone: (02) 6125 0476 Fax: (02) 6125 0475
> (On Thursdays and Fridays, I am at the School of English, ADFA on Ph: (02)
> 6268 8842, same e-mail address.)
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