HNW - Re: Tristan quilt -- long, again

Barbara Maren Winkler barbara at
Thu Mar 29 04:20:56 PST 2001

From: Sarah Randles <s-randles at>
came a very detailed description of two 14th century quilts, thanks
for letting us read some of your Ph.D thesis in advance!
I didn't know about these quilts before, but these seem to be quilts from
the 14th century, as Sarah wrties:

> ....  The view that they were made as a pair of bed quilts for the weddin
> of Piero Guicciardini and Laodimia Accuoli (sp?) in 1395 or 1396, stem
> ultimately from speculation made by Pio Rajna ...

unless Sarah challenges the dating, too, which she didn't say explicitly.

Okay! Nancy asks:

From: SNSpies at
>May I please ask if you think the brown ?silk quilting threads on these two
>quilts were originally red?  So many of the medieval tablet-woven bands that
>I studied are now in various shades of brown and originally thought to have
>been red

From: Sarah Randles <s-randles at>

> ... but my feeling is that it's unlikely.  Firstly, there is no rea
> evidence of fading - both of the brown threads are quite uniform in colour
> and in the case of the V&A quilt where I could see the back, the sam
> colour on the back as on the front. Of course, the V&A thread is no
> original, and I have no way of telling how old it is, although it has to b
> earlier than 1904 when the V&A museum acquired it, since it has not bee
> restitched since then.  I only saw the front of the Bargello quilt, bu
> again, the colour is quite uniform. The fact that the V&A quilt has bee
> restitched in brown suggests that the restorer was copying the colou
> scheme of the original stitching, as it appeared to them (which may alread
> have been faded at the time).  Assuming that any fading occurred as 
> result of exposure to light, the original colour would have been visible i
> the parts of the thread which were shielded from the light, i.e. thos
> parts which were between the layers of the quilt.  If those parts had bee
> red, it would seem likely to me that the restorer would have used re
> thread for the restitching. 
> None of this speculation precludes the thread having been red, or for tha
> matter black, another possibility which I considered.  The quilts ar
> virtually unique (with the exception of a part of a third quilt, which i
> likely to have been made in the same workshop) so it is impossible to mak
> any judgement on the basis of style - we don't know whether this style o
> work was usually depicted in red, or for that matter any other colour

And Nancy replied (SNSpies at

> ....  One, I have seen complete brocaded tablet-woven bands that are now
> uniformly brown, so I am not sure that an argument that the threads in the
> quilt don't appear faded to be inconclusive. 

I find this discussion very interesting. I am not a professional textile
historian like you two, but just the other day, in the mysterious depths
of my university's library, I found an article:

"The Problem of Brown Wool in Mediaeval Tapestries: The Restoration
of the Fourth Caesar Tapetry" by Mechthild Lemberg in: Studies in Textile
History, Veronika Gervers, ed., Royal Ontario Museum, Canada, 1977,
ISBN 0-88854-192-9

The article is on the restoration 1965-74 of a tapestry (the Fourth Caesar tapestry)
by the Abegg-Stiftung in Bern. The tapestry is in the Historical Museum of Bern
and was woven around 1465-74 and ordered by Charles de Bold, Duke of Burgundy.
In the tapestry, there were a lot of bits woven with brown wool, which was
disintegrating and nearly completely gone. Therefore in the 19th century, the
tapestry had been restorated, weaving/embroidering in a black wool weft where the
brown wool had been. Now in 1965, the black from the 19th century had faded
to an olive green which distorted the whole colour effect of the tapestry. The
restorators removed the olive-green wool, went to find brown wool of the colour
that the disintegrated brown wool from the tapestry had, but when they started
to re-weave the empty spots with this brown wool, they found that the colour
effect was just as bad and didn't seem to be right for a medieval tapestry.
So, doing a dye analysis of the remains of the brown wool from several sections
of the tapestry, they found that what appeared brown had once been all kind of
hues -- mostly red and blue -- which (probably) had had only one thing in
common, namely, that they were rather deep, dark colours. Obvously the agent
or mordant that had made the wool achieve those deep colours had changed
the colours and eaten at the fiber, so that by the 19th century already, all this wool
looked brown and was crumbling away.

"...It can be concluded that when the wool was dyed with indigo, for example,
the iron sulfate solution, used as a neutralizer and reducing agent, was
probably often too concentrated. Sometimes it was not rinsed out carefully
enough, and thus over the years residues of the oxidizing agent had an
oxidizing effect on the dyed wool, not only turning the colours uniformly
brown, but also destroying the fibers...."

May be interesting to check out the article. Anyhow, there are more reasons why
textile dyes could change their colour than just exposure to light.

When you write:

> On the V&A quilt the brown thread has been completely restitched
> ... 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.

couldn't this be a hint that the colour appeared lighter than it does now  
to the one who did the restitching, sometime in the past, maybe 19th century, 
maybe with a dyed thread that was more colourfast, while the original thread has
continued to darken since then?  

Just a thought...

Lemberg also writes:
"Although the exact tones of the former colours interested us, we had to 
subordinate this interest to the colours that have emerged from the originals
in the course of the centuries...All the colours of the old tapestries have changed
by exposure to light. Sometimes the colours simply became paler, but more often
they have changed completely; it is extremely rare for colours to retain their
original tone...."

So, if recreating the quilts and doing a DMC colour chart... one could recreate the quilts
as they may have been once (pure speculation) or as they are now (not much
better given the scarcity of information) or something in between.
What about computer images? If one had a good-quality very detailed image of
the quilt, why not scan it in and try to simulate several colour schemes 
in the computer? Not to prove anything, but to see what the effect would
be. This is what modern information technology can do for us here.

Barbara Maren

Who is German, has lived in the US, plans to move to Australia, and really
has a hard time deciding whether to write "color" or "colour"
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